An Analysis by Rabbi Yair Hoffman
This week, three girls in Israel were detained by the Israel Police. The girls are activists of the Return to the Mount (Chozrim LaHar) movement. Why were they detained? They had posted Arabic signs in the Muslim Quarter calling upon Muslims to leave the Temple Mount area until Friday night, in order to allow Jews to bring the Korban Pesach.
This is the fourth year activists will come to the Old City on erev Pesach with goats they plan to bring as the Korban Pesach. There is also an organization called the Temple Institute that is actively trying to bring back the Korban Pesach.
What lies behind these movements and how did it all begin? It is controversial, and the issues lie at the heart of one of the most fascinating halachic debates of the past two centuries.
How It Started
Perhaps it all started with a terse and esoteric Zohar. It is found in Volume I of the Zohar (Parashas VaYerah page 117a.) There it states: “In the sixth hundredth year to the sixth millennia the gates of wisdom shall open above, and the wells of wisdom will open below.”
The prima facie interpretation of this Zohar was that something grand and fantastic was going to happen to the Jewish people in the Hebrew year 5600. Or so many of the great Kabbalists and rabbis did think. The equivalent secular calendar year was 1840.
Something grand and fantastic did happen, but to the entire world. The year 1840 was the apogee of what historians call the Industrial Revolution. Huge transitions occurred in society reflecting great advances in both wisdom and technology. There was new chemical manufacturing, a transformation to machine production in almost every industry, machine tools, steam power, and new factories.
Did the Zohar refer to the Industrial Revolution? Was this the “gates and wells of wisdom” that the Zohar predicted? Or was there some mystical, spiritual potentiality that opened up that year? Many people felt that something else was up, that something dramatic was about to unfold. Perhaps it was the impending and gradual ingathering of the exiles that was about to transpire.
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer
It is 1836. Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer (1795–1874), someone who is impacted by the statement in the Zohar, approaches Asher Anschel Rothschild with an idea. Why not fund Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael? Rav Kalischer is a student both of the famed Rabbi Akiva Eiger as well as Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum, author of the Nesivos HaMishpat. Rothschild likes the idea and funds the settlements.
In the meantime, Rav Kalischer enters into halachic correspondence concerning the Korban Pesach with the gedolim of the generation: Rav Akiva Eiger, Rav Yaakov Lorberbaum (author of the Nesivos), Rav Yaakov Ettlinger (AruchLaNer), and Rav Moshe Sofer (the Chasam Sofer). Rav Kalischer has a unique idea that he will publish in book form. All disagree with Rav Kalischer — but for different reasons.
It is now 1862. Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer publishes the book that takes the world by storm. The book is a based upon articles he had published in a journal called HaLevanon. The book is titled Drishas Tzion and it has three central theses.
- Immigration to Eretz Yisrael is paramount.
- Geulah — the redemption of the Jewish people — can only come about in one way, through self help.
- The korbanos, particularly the Korban Pesach, can be reestablished.
The book made a major impact. It was translated into German in 1865. A second edition is released in 1866. But our interest, for this article, deals with the Korban Pesach. Out of the 613 mitzvos in the Torah, the Korban Pesach involves 16 of them, 2.6 percent of the mitzvos. The Korban Pesach is one of the only two mitzvos in the Torah that if one is capable of doing it and does not perform it, the punishment is kareis. The other mitzvah is b’ris milah.
The Korban Pesach
Rav Kalischer, in his sefer, tries to bring three proofs to his position that korbanos are permitted even before the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash. He also proposes something truly novel. He writes that not only is it permitted to bring the Korban Pesach, it is obligatory.
Other great rabbis of the time disagreed with Rav Kalischer. Rav Yaakov Ettlinger (1798–1871) prohibits bringing the Korbanos before the arrival of Mashiach. He responds to each of Rabbi Kalischer’s proofs one by one and claims that there is a proof the opposite way.
Rav Kalischer’s first proof is from a Mishnah in Eduyos (8:6). It cites Rabbi Yehoshua as saying, “I have heard that we may offer korbanos even though there is no Beis HaMikdash.” The Gemara in Zevachim (62a) states that, in the era immediately prior to the building of the second Beis HaMikdash, three prophets — Chaggai, Zecharyah, and Malachi — returned with the Jews from Bavel. Each presented a tradition necessary for the eventual reimplementation of the korbanos. One dealt with the maximum size of the mizbeiach, another about its location. The third was that we may offer korbanos even when there is no Beis HaMikdash. Rav Ettlinger stated that it was only then, during that time — when the process of the rebuilding had already begun — that it was permitted, but never during other times.
The second proof was from a Sifrei cited by the Ramban in Parashas Re’eh. On the verse “l’shichno tidreshu u’vasa shama” (Devarim 12:5), Rav Kalischer states that the Sifrei indicates that you do what you can about the korbanos—even before the Navi arrives to instruct. Rav Ettlinger derives the exact opposite lesson. He says that it is only when the Navi is definitely arriving that we bring the korbanos. But not now in our times.
Another dispute between the two regarding the third proof was how to interpret the verse “v’haviosem el har kodshi v’simachtem b’veis tefilasi — oloseihem v’zivcheihem l’ratzon al mizbechi.” The verse indicates that the korbanos may be offered before the Beis HaMikdash is built. This is how Rav Kalischer understands it. Rav Ettlinger understands it in quite the opposite manner — that only when it will definitely be built imminently was it permitted.
Rabbi Akiva Eiger
Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the rebbe of Rabbi Kalischer, also emphatically disagreed with him. He writes (Michtevei Rabbi Akiva Eiger #45) that it may only happen upon instruction from the “goel haAmiti l’horos b’tzedek.” The Munkatcher Rebbe, author of the Darchei Teshuvah, also writes in a letter (Igros Shpirin p. 156) that the gedolim of Rabbi Kalischer’s generation let out bitter screams because they were aware that it would generate false hopes. The Sho’el U’Meishiv also wrote a strong letter to Rav Kalischer stating that we have to fulfill the mitzvos for Hashem’s sake and not out of a national desire to establish a state.
The Halachic Hurdles and The Debates
There is a famous debate between the Rambam (Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 6:14–16) and the Raavad as to whether the kedushah of Har HaBayis still stands. According to the Raavad, the idea of korbanos in our times is completely moot, as he holds there is no longer kedushah there. Although we rule like the Rambam, do we forbid korbanos out of concern for the possibility of the Raavad’s position? Or do we say that his position is completely rejected?
Rabbi Akiva Eiger indicates that we are still concerned for the opinion of the Raavad in his letters to Rav Kalischer. Even Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook held this position (See Mishpat Kohain Siman 96).
What about a mizbeiach? Can the Korban Pesach be offered if there is no Mizbeiach? The Shaar Ephraim (YorehDeah 79) writes that the mizbeiach is an absolute requirement. The Maharam Galanti (HilchosKetanos 2:14) rules the same way.
Also, how do we determine with certainty the Makom HaMizbeiach and its exact size? The Rambam in Hilchos Beis HaBechirah (2:1) writes that the place of the Mizbeiach can never be changed. Rabbi Akiva Eiger brought up this issue to Rav Kalischer (printed in the Maamar Avodah section of the Drishas Tzion).
There is also the issue of the possible changing nature of measurements which needs an exact determination. The mizbeiach is known to be 32 amos within a width of 500 amah. There is also the possibility that the Har HaBayis itself may have changed geographically to the point where we will no longer know exactly how to fulfill the Rambam in Beis HaBechirah 2:1.
This last point was brought up by Rav Dovid Karlin in his sefer Sheilas Dovid (Y. D . section), printed shortly after Rav Kalischer’s sefer was printed. The Gemara in Chullin 18a states that the mizbeiach must be built from smooth stones that did not have so much as a fingernail scratch on them. From where can we acquire such stones?
Clothes of The Kohanim
Rabbi Akiva Eiger further said that the bigdei kehunah are absolutely necessary. We don’t have an Avnet and we don’t know what color argaman is. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in his chumash lists a number of opinions about argaman. According to some it is dark red (Ibn Ezra; Ibn Janach; Pesikta Rabathai 20:3, 86a). Others state that it is similar to lake, a purplish-red dye extracted from the lac beetle (Radak, Sherashim; Rambam on Kelayim 9:1; cf. Yad, KleiHaMikdash 8:13).
The Septuagint translates argaman as porphura or porphoreus, which means purple; in ancient times, purple denoted a deep crimson, most notably the dye obtained from the purpura snail. Ancient sources indicate that it was close to the color of fresh blood (Iliad 4:141). The Yerushalmi (Klayim 9:1) states that argaman was obtained from a living creature. Some hold that it was an aquatic creature (indication from I Maccabees 4:23; Abarbanel on Exodus 25:10).
The Midrash says that the etymological origin of the word comes from arag — weaving (BeMidbarRabbah4:17, 12:4). The Raavad holds that it thus consisted of two types of thread or three colors woven together (KleiHaMikdash8:13). Some say that it is an iridescent dye, having greenish overtones (Zohar2:139a; TikkuneiZohar 70, 127b, 124a, Maaseh Choshev 3:2). Another problem mentioned by Rabbi Akiva Eiger is that we don’t have techeiles (a problem that many think has been resolved).
What Type Of Kohanim?
Another type of halachic hurdle lies in the yichus of the kohanim. There are two types of kohanim — a kohen meyuchas — one with provable documentation, and kohanei chazakah — where we have a tradition that they are kohanim. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Issurei Biah 20:2) that a kohen meyuchas is required for avodah in the Beis HaMikdash. He writes (Hilchos Malachim 12:3) that, in the future, Mashiach will determine who is a Kohen meyuchas.
The Chasam Sofer (Responsum Y. D .#236) disagrees and rules that the requirement for a kohen meyuchas was only during the time of Ezra and Nechemya because they had a particular problem in that generation — but otherwise it is only an ideal, not an absolute requirement. Rav Kalischer held like the latter view.
Attempted Historical Proof
The issue was also discussed prior to Rav Kalischer. Rav Yaakov Emden (1697–1776) author of the She’eilas Yaavetz (Volume I #89) tries to prove that the Mishnah in Pesachim 74a indicates that it was permitted to bring the Korban Pesach even after the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed. How so?
Rabban Gamliel instructed his servant Tevi to roast the Korban Pesach! That would possibly be a proof if this was the latter Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh. However, it could very well be that the Rabban Gamliel with the servant Tevi was Rabban Gamliel HaZakein, the grandfather of the other Rabban Gamliel, and actually lived during the Beis HaMikdash. There is also the possibility that it was the latter Rabban Gamliel but the incident occurred before the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. This is the suggestion of the author of the Seder HaDoros.
The Earlier Precedent
In 1306, the not so aptly named Phillip the Fair, the King of France, expelled the Jews of France primarily because he owed them money. As a result, Rab Ashtori HaParchi, the author of the Sefer Kaftor VaFerach, had to settle in Eretz Yisrael. He recounts in chapter six of his work a discussion he had with a Rav Boruch, a gadol in Eretz Yisrael, who told him a fascinating story. He said that in the year 1257, one of the Baalei HaTosfos, Rabbi Yechiel (or some texts have Rabbi Chananel) of Paris, had planned to come to Yerushalayim to offer korbanos.
Procedure Of The Korban Pesach
It should be noted that the Korban Pesach must only be brought in groups. Anyone within a three-day walk of Yerushalayim must join up with the group. The group is called a chavurah. One may not eat of the Korban Pesach if one was not previously a member of a group. The chavurah is generally made up of a family and perhaps more people, too. Any child who can eat a kezayis or more may be included in the group. Every chavurah must have at least one adult male who is an ezrach b’Yisrael.
The chavurah must consume the entire animal and each person must consume at least one kezayis. Thus, the maximum number in the Chavurah is equal to the total number of kezeisim in the animal. Theoretically, a chavurah could be comprised of one person, but it cannot be consumed in the form of achilah gassa—excess eating.
Everyone in the chavurah must be tahor, ritually pure, in order to eat from it. If they are tamei, then they must partake of it on Pesach Sheini one month later. However, this is only when the majority of Klal Yisrael is tahor. If the majority of Klal Yisrael is tamei, then they partake of it on the first Pesach.
The lamb or kid goat must be male. It must be less than one year old. It may not have any blemishes. On the afternoon of erev Pesach, a representative of each chavurah brings the lamb or kid goat to the Beis HaMikdash. This is all done after the Korban Tamid of the afternoon was brought, after the Ketores was burned, and after the Menorah lamps were fixed and trimmed. The chavurah representatives are then brought into the Azarah of the Beis HaMikdash, along with the lambs and kid goats.
The Azarah was a large courtyard in the Beis HaMikdash that contained the Mizbeiach and the Heichal, the three part building where only kohanim may enter. The kohanim would get the knives for shechitah in the Ulam, although any Jew was permitted to shecht the Korban Pesach. The Korban must be slaughtered with the correct kavanah. It must be l’sheim Korban Pesach and for the consumption of that particular chavurah. If either intent is absent, the korban is invalid.
When the Azarah is filled with people, the gates of the Beis HaMikdash are then locked. There were a total of three shifts only, and each shift had to have at least 30 people. If there were only 50 people who came to slaughter the Korban Pesach, 30 enter the Azarah and slaughter their sacrificial animals. Ten leave and another ten enter. Then ten more leave and another ten enter.
During the shechitah and the offering, the Leviim sing Hallel (Tehillim 113–118). Musical instruments are played as well by the kohanim or the Leviim. The kohanim blow the shofar three times — a tekiyah, a teruah, and a tekiyah — each time that the Hallel is said. The Hallel is repeated until the shechitahs stop, but if the shechitah stops then the Hallel is stopped as well.
The kohanim capture the blood of the lamb or kid goat in a special gold or silver container called a bozich. It has a round bottom so that the blood does not coagulate before it gets to the mizbeiach. The kohanim pass the container hand by hand, and the last kohen pours it upon the base of the mizbeiach. The kohen should pour it in a single action towards the mizbeiach’s base. The container is then passed back to be used for another Korban Pesach.
The animal’s abdomen is cut open and the fatty portions within called the amorim are removed, placed in a vessel, salted, and then taken by a kohen to the mizbeiach to be burned. The animal is taken by the chavurah representative to the home where the chavurah will eat it. The hide of the lamb or goat is taken home by the owner as well.
The Korban Pesach must be roasted over an open fire back at home. It must be roasted in its entirety—not piece by piece. In order to do this, a nonmetal spit is placed through the mouth and out the back end below the tail and the legs must be able to dangle so that the whole animal will be roasted. It can also be placed on a grate in a manner that the fire is roasting it, not the grate’s heat. Only one animal per spit is allowed.
How It Is Eaten
The Korban Pesach is eaten at the very end of the Pesach seder. It is eaten with matzah and maror. It must be eaten al ha’sovah — on a full stomach. The Korban Pesach must be consumed in its entirety and only by the members of that particular chavurah. Everyone in the chavurah must eat a minimum of a kezayis. It may only be eaten within the boundaries of Yerushalayim. It may also only be eaten in a house or an area that is surrounded by mechitzos where the chavurah has gathered to eat it. It may also only be eaten when everyone in the chavurah is gathered together.
If any meat of the Korban Pesach is taken out of the house after they have begun to eat of it, it is rendered pasul, even if it is brought back in. No bone with meat on it may be broken during the eating (or roasting of it as well).
If a number of groups or chavuros are eating in the same house, a mechitzah must be placed when the korban is being consumed. They should turn away from facing other chavuros when partaking of the Korban Pesach. They may not share of each other’s Korban Pesach—even if one group has a lot left and the other group has very little.
If through some error a person was a member of two chavuros, he may only eat of the first lamb that was slaughtered. If someone falls asleep while eating the Korban Pesach and then wakes up, he or she may no longer continue eating of it. Nothing is eaten after the Korban Pesach that evening, and Hallel is sung upon completion of the eating. There is also a prohibition of nossar, such that nothing may be left over of the Korban Pesach.
It is the conclusion of the overwhelming majority of poskim that the Korban Pesach cannot be brought in contemporary times because of the numerous factors raised above. Indeed, even Rav Kook’s position about being concerned for the Raavad weighs in greatly here.
However, all is not lost. Let us note that Chazal tell us that whenever we study the halachos of the korbanos, it is as if we have actually brought the korbanos themselves.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com