Rabbi Aviya Rosen
Offering the Korban Pesach without a Beit HaMikdash
Introduction We are commanded to offer a Pesach sacrifice every year as part of the regimen of Mitzvos we perform for the Chag. The punishment for not offering the Korban-Pesach is “Karet” (the soul is isolated from the nation and has no part in the world to come).
Such harsh condemnation is reserved only for the most severe transgressions, such as eating in Yom Kippur. Karet applies in only two instances for non-fulfillment of a positive commandment, Mitzvot-Asei.
According to many opinions the “Korban Pesach” can be offered even today in spite of there being no Beit HaMikdash. If this is true, we are not dealing with an academic discussion but with performance of a Torah command and the need to ensure we are not transgressing a serious sin.
The Torah commands, (Shemot 12,3-12, Bamidbar 9,1-13 and Devarim 16) that the entire nation of Israel must gather to eat the Korban that symbolizes our nation’s-creation. Korban Pesach represents the declaration of recognition that the real Gd is our Gd who took us from slavery to freedom and dermined our destiny and our purpose. (Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 380 and Ramban Devarim 12 ,5)
The Mitzvah is to slaughter, roast and eat a complete sheep, as one group which usually includes family and friends. The entire group must be participants from its slaughter. The entire sheep must be consumed, no bone may be broken and it is eaten at the conclusion of the Seder meal. This is known in the Haggada as the Afikomen. And as we said, there is a severe punishment for those who do not eat Korban Pesach.
¨ The first time that Israel celebrated Pesach was on the second year after Yetziat-Mitzraim.
¨ When Joshua led the nation into the Land of Israel he organized a Korban-Pesach with great pageantry and pomp. Here too the purpose was to emphasise and reinforce the unity of all Israel. (Joshua 1 1-12)
¨ Immediately following Josiah’s, the King’s, programme to purify the country and destroy the idolatry that had corrupted the land, he celebrated the Pesach Sacrifice. The prophet tells us that, “Surely there was not celebrated such a Passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel”. The goal of this celebration was to create a new atmosphere and new vision for the People. (Kings chapter 23)
¨ Following many years during which we were unable to serve Gd at the Beit Hamikdash, the king Hezekiah acted decisively. He restored the Beis HaMikdash to its glory and opened the routes to it from all over the country. To publicise and rededicate this great opportunity he called upon all of Israel to celebrate the Pesach in Jerusalem. Here too we see that Korban Pesach was utilized to forge unity and a sense of purpose. As the prophet describes it there: “And there was great joy in Jerusalem; for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.” (Chronicles 2, chapter 30)
¨ At the initiation of the second Beit-Mikdash, Ezra desired to focus the attention of the Jews once again upon Jerusalem, that this city should be the center for all Am-Israel. He also utilized the Korban Pesach. This is how it is described in Sefer Ezra: “and they killed the Passover lamb for all the returned exiles, and for their brothers the priests, and for themselves".(Ezra 6 19-22)
¨ Clearly, there is a great significance and power imbued with this ritual that penetrates to the very core of our national existence and destiny. If we are serious about restoring the glory of our nation, we must do our utmost to sacrifice Korban Pesach, even in our generation, without Beit-Mikdash.
We must consider the following before contemplating bringing the Korban Pesach today:
1. The place:
Is it possible to sacrifice Korban-Pesach without Beit Hamikdash?
Must the Korban-Pesach be sacrificed on Har-Habayit, near the place of Beit Hamikdash?
Is it possible to sacrifice Korban-Pesach in other places, even in other country?
2. The Altar: Is the Altar necessary to sacrifice Korban-Pesach?
Is it possible to build Altar today?
3. Purity: Is it possible to sacrifice Korban-Pesach when we are ritually impure?
4. The Kohanim: Can anyone other than a Cohen sacrifice the Korban-PesacIf we do require a Cohen, what criteria satisfies that he is indeed a Cohen?
We would presume that the place to sacrifice is Har Habayit. Theplace for sacrifices is the Beit HaMikdash and the Korban-Pesach ought to be slaughtered and processed in the Azara (the yard of Beit-Hamikdash on Har-Habayit). This Korban is holy (kodashim kalim to be consumed within the precincts of Yerushalayim). “You may not sacrifice the Passover inside any of your gates, which the Lord your God gives you;But at the place which the Lord your God shall choose to place his name in, there you shall sacrifice the Passover at the evening, at the going down of the sun, in the season when you came out of Egypt.”(Devarim 16 , 5-6)
Today however, although we have no Beit-Hamikdash, the Rambam (Beit Habchira 6 , 14) says that the holiness of Har-Habayit is permanent. This means that we may not offer any sacrifice in any other location.
Nevertheless, perhaps we may or must sacrifice Korban Pesach on Har-Habayit today, without Beit Mikdash?
The Mishna (Edoyoy 8,6):”R Joshua said: I have heard that sacrifices may be offered even though there is no Beit-Mikdash ,and that the most holy sacrifice may be eaten even though there is no Beit-Mikdash, and lesser sacrifice may be eaten even though there is no wall (to Jerusalem.”. The Rambam (Beit Habchira 6:16) rules accordingly.
On the other hand, the RaAved and the Kesef-Mishne say that today there is no Kedusha in that location. Far from being a problem, this in fact makes it easier for us, since there is no problem for anyone who is ritually impure to come to Har-Habayit and sacrifice there.
Additionally, we are in such a case actually permitted to offer a sacrifice in all locations as R’ Yitzchak says (Gemara Megila 10a) one may offer sacrifices everyplace because the holiness of Har-HaBayit canceled after the destruction.
In fact, Chonyo, a Jew, built a temple in Egypt after the destruction of our Beit Hamikdash where he offered all the sacrifices.
The Gemara (Zevachim 107b) discusses whether there is a prohibition of sacrificing outside the precincts of the Beit HaMikdash today. Reish-Lakish permist and R’ Yohanan forbids it. The Rambam rules (Mahase Hakorbanot 19 ,15) that we may not since even today without the Beit HaMikdash, the holiness of Har HaBayit remains.
The Hatam-Sofer (Shahasr korbanot and kapara chapter 1 part b) accordingly understands that we may offer even today, the Korban Pesach and we are therefore obligated offer it, however, it must be offered on Har-HaBayit.
Rabbi Akiva Eiger wrote an article for the magazine “Halevanon” (year 5623) about constructing an altar without a Beit HaMikdash. Rabbi David Friedman published about it (“Zion and Jerusalem” and “Shehelat David”). Both concluded that we may not sacrifice Korban-Pesach because the Tosfot (Masehet Sucah 41a, “deshtakad lo”) and the Rambam (Beit Habechira 2,1-2) proved that an altar is required for Korbanot. Rabbi Kook (Mishpat Kohen chapter 91) also writes that the altar is required for offering sacrifices.
So, can we construct an altar today?
The Gemmara (Chulin 18a) outlines that the critical requirement for constructing the altar is that the stones must be straight and without blemish, not even a small scratch. We also know that it must be constructed without using metal implements. (Tosaphot Sucah 49a D”a “shecol mizbehach”) Rambam (Beit Habechira 2:17 ) adds that it must have precisely square corners.
Rabbi David Friedman and Rabbi Shelomo Sakal (Beit Shelomo Yore-Dea part b ,chapter 125) concluded that it is impossible to offer the Korban-Pesach since we can not construct the altar. Their objection is not of a ritual concern but practical; according to the skills that they possessed in those days, the requirements for perfection required for building the Altar, could not be satisfied. However, today we would have no problems at all to build an altar to all the specifications required.
Tuma, Ritual Impurity
We are commanded to sacrifice Korban-Pesach at its time, “(Bamidbar 9,3) ”In the fourteenth day of this month, at evening you shall keep it in its appointed season; according to all its rites, and according to all its ceremonies, shall you keep it.”. The Gemmara (Pesachim 71a) learns that we must be ritually pure to offer and eat the Korban-Pesach. However, if the entire nation is not ritually clean, we are commanded to offer the Korban Pesach whilst we are ritually impure.
The Rambam (Hilchot Beit Hamikdash 4, 15-16) rules accordingly: ”if all Israel impure the Pesach is brought by the nation in their impure state.”
Similarly, Rambam rules where necessary, even non-Cohanim, even people who are blemished and even those who are ritually impure may enter the Beit HaMikdash.(Rambam Beit Habechira 7,23)
The Hatam-Sofer (Yore Deha 236) and the Rav Kalisher (“Derishat Zion” 124) wrote that in our generation the sacrifice may proceed despite the fact that we are ritually impure.
The Kohanim in our generation
Rabbi Akiva Iger wrote רע"א במכתבים לרב קלישר)) that we can not be sure of the true status of Cohanim today since the family records have been muddled through our long and unsettled travels through history. The Ram”a (שו"ע או"ח סימן תנז סעיף ב ) is the source for this assertion. He ruled that none can claim the Preistly Gifts these days since they can not prove reliably that they are indeed Cohanim. Most of his colleagues agreed. (הריב"ש בסימן צד' וכן בבית אפרים או"ח סימן ו' ומהרש"ל (ים של שלמה בב"ק סי' לה' ) This is so in spite of the Mishna (עדיות פרק ח משנה ז) saying that the Mashiach will not make clarify who is and who is not a true Cohen, and that we must trust the Cohanim as we have them and this is how the Rambam rules (רמב"ם הלכות איסורי ביאה פרק כ הלכה א)
Rabbi Kalisher (in his book “Derishat Zion”) argues convincingly that having a genealogy trace of four generations proves the status of being Cohen. The Hazon Ish (חזו"א אבן העזר , הל' פריה ורביה סימן ב' , ז') comments that not being able to verify the genealogy of Cohanim does not free us from offering the Korban-Pesach.