May Sacrifices be Offered Today?
based on an essay by Rabbi Howard Jachter
The Jewish People have returned to Israel, is it possible that we may be obligated to rebuild the Bait Hamikdash and offer Korbanot?
This may be more important than ever, since some challenge our legitimate connection to the Temple Mount.
This idea was vigorously debated in the nineteenth century, when Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalinscher strongly urged that an effort be made to offer certain Korbanot. His proposal was disputed by the great authorities of the time such as Rav Akiva Eiger, Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, and Rav Moshe Sofer. We will review the basic issues that they discussed.
Building the Bait Hamikdash
Many sources indicate that it is not appropriate to build the Bait Hamikdash today.
Sacrifices Require Ritual Purity
But how can we offer Korbanot we are all ritually impure [Tamei Mait] and cannot be purified since we lack the Red Heifer? [Para Aduma]
Rav Kalischer, accordingly, limited his proposal of offering Korbanot to those Korbanot that can be offered even when Kohanim are impure, namely, the Korban Pesach and communal offerings. Regarding these Korbanot, the rule is: Tuma Dechaya Betzibur, the community offers their sacrifices even when they are ritually impure. This means 50% or more of the population is Tamei. (see Encyclopedia Talmudit 19:559-641).
The first sacrificial process, slaughtering may be performed by all Jews. However, all subsequent sacrificial processes must be performed by Kohanim. These processes are, 1) collecting the blood, Kaballah. 2) Transporting the blood to the Altar, HoLaCha. 3) Applying the blood to the Altar, ZeRiKa.
Only a Kohen Meyuchas, a Kohen who is a certified descendant of a Kohen who was known to have performed the Avoda on the Mizbeach can do the Avoda in the Bait Hamikdash.
Rambam (Hilchot Issurei Biah 20:1) writes that today all our Kohanim are Kohanei Chazaka, they are not authenticated Kohanim but merely presumed to be Kohanim because of a family tradition. Although Kohanei Chazaka are regarded as full fledged Kohanim regarding Pidyon Haben, Nesiat Kapayim, and forbidden marriages (see Aruch Hashulchan Yoreh Deah 305:55), for service in the Bait Hamikdash they must be Kohanim Meyuchasim.
Until the time of Mashiach, when Kohanim will be certified by Eliyahu Hanavi we do not have Kohanim Meyuchasim (see Rambam Hilchot Melachim 12:3).
Although Rabbi Kalischer tried to argue that in our days, the service in the Bait Hamikdash may be performed by Kohanei Chazaka, his view was rejected by the leading authorities of his time, such as Rav Akiva Eiger and Rav Yaakov Etllinger.
Clothing Make the Kohen
Another problem is that a Kohen may not perform the Avoda if he is not wearing the Bigdei Kehuna (priestly garments, see Zevachim 2:1). Wool dyed with Techelet is required for garments of the regular Kohen as well as the Kohen Gadol (Shemot 28:5), and without wool dyed with Techelet the garments are not acceptable. Any Avoda performed by a Kohen wearing unacceptable garments (Mechusar Begadim) is invalid (Zevachim 2:1).
Techelet is derived from an animal known as the Chilazon (see Rambam Hilchot Tzitzit 2:2 and compare with Hilchot Klei Hamikdash 8:13). The Rambam, though, notes that Techelet is no longer available (Peirush Hamishnayot Menachot 4:1). Recently, great efforts have been made to demonstrate that the Chilazon is a snail known as the "murex trunculus" (see Techumin 9:423-446) and is now available for use in Tzitzit and potentially in Bigdei Kehuna as well. Although Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Rav Hershel Schachter regard many of these arguments as persuasive, only time will tell if this Techelet will be widely accepted within the community. Indeed, in some circles Techelet has been accepted, but in others it has not. Rav Schachter regards this Techelet as Safek Techelet, which may be acceptable for Tzitzit but would be unacceptable for Bigdei Kehuna.
Although the Bait HaMikdash is not required in order to offer Korbanot, the Mizbeach is. The Mishna refers to the sprinkling of the sacrificial blood (Zrikat Hadam) on the Mizbeach to be a Matir, to permit the Korban to be offered on the Mizbeach and to be consumed (see Zevachim 2:3).
The Rambam (Hilchot Bait Habechira 2:1) writes, Hamizbeach Mekomo Kivan Beyoter, "the Mizbeach must be precisely located." When the second Bait Hamikdash was constructed, a Navi was required to precisely determine where to place the Mizbeach. It appears that without a Navi to locate the Mizbeach, it cannot function.
Rabbi Kalischer addressed this issue. He argues that we can use the remaining walls of Har HaBayit as a reference from which to reconstruct the precise position as outlined in Masechet Midot.
When we rebuilt the second Bait HaMikdash, every trace of the first had been obliterated; that was why a Navi was required for the building of the second Bait Hamikdash.
However, it is possible that the walls we see today are the walls of the Azara (Temple courtyard) and not the Har Habayit (Temple Mount). Besides, we are uncertain about the size of an Ama, cubit (the unit of measurement used by the Mishna in Masechet Midot; see the many opinions cited in the Encyclopedia Talmud II:29). For a summary of these and other aspects of this issue, see Rabbi J. David Bleich's Contemporary Halachic Problems I:224-269, especially note 1.
There are other key Halachic issues that obstruct the offering of Korbanot today. Rav Akiva Eiger argues that we must consider the opinion of the Raavad that Har Habayit is no longer holy, and according to his opinion Korbanot cannot be offered on Har Habayit before the arrival of Mashiach who will re-sanctify the area (see Raavad to Rambam Hilchot Bait Habechira 6:14).
Rabbi J. David Bleich points out the general inability to resolve Halachic disputes concerning the Bait Hamikdash due to the lack of a tradition on how to conduct the Temple ritual. Only with the arrival of Mashiach will this tradition be renewed (see Tosafot Pesachim 114b, s.v. Echad Zachar, which says that Moshe and Aharon will instruct us on how to offer the Korbanot in the third Bait Hamikdash).
Rav Bleich presents the following example of an unresolved question: There is a disagreement between Rambam and Raavad (Hilchot Korban Pesach 10:11) whether the Gid Hanashe is roasted as part of the Korban Pesach. This is a particularly compelling example, as it is not possible just to rule strictly on this issue because if one does not cook the Korban Pesach with the Gid Hanashe, one has failed to properly prepare the entire animal according to the Rambam, and if one does cook the Gid Hanashe the animal is not Kosher according to the Raavad.
It seems that the Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 11:1) may provide a clear answer to this question. He writes that Mashiach will build the Bait Hamikdash and Korbanot will be offered. It is possible that the Rambam is telling us a fact: that only when Mashiach comes will Korbanot be offered. Rabbi Jachter asked Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt"l, what he felt about this subject, the Rav responded immediately by quoting this Rambam that Mashiach will build the Bait Hamikdash, and told him (in 1984) that this Rambam shows that those who want to build the third Bait Hamikdash today are incorrect.
Rabbi Jachter also asked Rav Yehuda Amital, who responded by citing Rav Kook's assertion that Hashgachat Haborei, Divine Providence, works through the Halacha. Since Halacha obstructs us from rebuilding the Bait Hamikdash, we must accept that Divine Will does not wish the Bait Hamikdash to be built today. Rav Amital, though, recently stated at Yeshivat Har Etzion that it is profoundly wrong for the Israeli government to relinquish sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Although we are unable to offer Korbanot today, we should take steps to reaffirm out connection to the Bait Hamikdash. We may do so by studying the Halachot pertaining to the functioning of the Bait Hamikdash either in Mishnayot (Seder Kadshim) or in the Rambam's Mishna Torah. In addition, it is highly worthwhile to study the underlying Torah attitude toward the Bait Hamikdash and Korbanot. Rav Joshua Berman's The Temple (Jason Aaronson) imparts a powerful presentation of the Torah's Hashkafa regarding the Bait Hamikdash.