Who replaced the sacrifices?
Brown attempts to present the authors of the Talmud as individuals who have no regard for the message of scripture. After quoting 2Chronicles 7:14, Brown states:
“Yet this is the very verse quoted in the Talmud to prove that when the Temple was NOT standing, prayer repentance and charity replaced sacrifice. Isn’t this amazing? A verse based on the centrality of the Temple sacrifices is used to prove that those very sacrifices were replaced.” (AJO Vol. 2 Page 98)
Let us examine the relevant quote from the Talmud in context (Jerusalem Talmud Taanit 2:1). The Rabbis are not discussing a replacement for the offerings. The Rabbis are also not talking about the specific situation of a destroyed Temple. The Rabbis are making a general statement about the power of prayer, repentance and charity without limiting them to a specific time-frame. In fact this same passage is repeated in the Talmud in order to help us understand how Hezekiah averted the penalty of death that was decreed against him. This event took place while the first Temple still stood. It is obvious that the Rabbis recognized the effectiveness of prayer, repentance and charity to expiate sin while the Temple stood. Brown’s portrayal of the Talmud as if it had quoted the verse in Chronicles to support a doctrine that seeks the replacement of the sacrifices after the Temple was destroyed – is a blatant misrepresentation.
The Talmud recognizes the scriptural truth that it is only repentance which can render a person righteous before God. This truth is not affected with the presence of the Temple or with its absence. While the Temple is standing and the possibility to offer sacrifices is available, God declares; “The sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination before the Lord” (Proverbs 15:8, 21:27). One must change his standing before God from “wicked” to “righteous” before approaching God with an offering. This is done through repentance – a commitment to turn back to God and to obey His word (Deuteronomy 30:2). The offering was an outward expression of the penitent heart, and is only meaningful in the context of repentance and obedience. Through the act of bringing an offering in compliance with God’s explicit command, the sinner gives expression to his sincere submission to the authority of God. If the opportunity to bring the offering is available, and the sinner fails to bring the offering, this failure stands as an expression of rebellion against God’s sovereignty. Now that the Temple lies in ruins, and the opportunity to bring the offerings is not available, the failure to bring the appropriate offerings does not stand in the way of our repentance. As long as the sincere desire to comply with God’s command is present in our hearts, our inaction is not held against us.
Since the destruction of the Temple, the loyal Jew constantly declared his yearning to bring the sacrifices in obedience to God’s express directive. This yearning is expressed in the national prayers, and in the study of Talmud. The authors of the Talmud devoted several hundred pages of discussion in relation to the laws of the sacrifices. It is through this discussion that the spirit of these laws is preserved in the heart of Eternal Israel (Isaiah 51:7). When the Temple returns, in fulfillment of God’s promise, the loyal Jew will not miss a beat in bringing the sacrificial system back to life. The Jew’s longing and desire to obey every last word of God’s holy law, is the tool through which God kept the law alive for the last generation. The accusation that charges the authors of the Talmud with the discarding and doing away with the sacrificial system is the height of absurdity. When this accusation issues forth from a belief system that actually does preach a discarding and doing away with the scriptural sacrifices, it is the height of hypocrisy.
Although we no longer have the physical Temple, God promised us that for the duration of our exile, He will be our Temple (Ezekiel 11:16). In light of this prophecy, the leaders of the Jewish people sought parallels to the Temple service in the activities which are available to us in our exiled state. They found these parallels in prayer (Proverbs 15:8), in charity and acts of kindness (Micha 6:8, Proverbs 16:6), and in the broken heart of the sinner (Psalm 51:19). The Rabbis recognized that God considers these activities as parallels to the Temple offerings, and that this is the service that God desires in our Temple in exile. As it was with the sacrifices, the Rabbis recognized that these activities were only meaningful as expressions of a repentant heart.
The Rabbis did not teach that these activities only became effective with the destruction of the Temple. The Talmud describes how the nation would react when they were stricken with a drought. In recognition that the calamity had come upon them as a result of their sins, they would proclaim a public fast. The leaders would remind the people that it was not the fasting of the Ninevites that brought God to rescind the decree of destruction. The prophet states that God saw their deeds that they had repented from their evil ways, and it was this repentance that turned the tide in their favor (Jonah 3:10). The fasting only served as a means to encourage and to give expression to sincere repentance, and outside of the context of repentance, the fast is meaningless. The procedure of the public fast and the call to repentance was followed while the Temple stood, as well as after the destruction. The Talmud makes no mention of a sacrifice in this situation. Since there was no commandment to bring a sacrifice in this situation, no sacrifice was necessary. It is clear that the authors of the Talmud believed that prayer and repentance effectively atoned for sin even while the Temple was standing.
The Rabbis did not proclaim that prayer, repentance and charity had replaced the Temple offerings and rendered them redundant. On the contrary, our leaders saw in these activities, the path that God had ordained so that we can repair our relationship with God, and merit the return of the Temple together with the sacrificial offerings. May it happen speedily in our days.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal