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Animal Sacrifices and Atonement for Sin?

by Dr. D ~

Q: Jews do not do animal sacrifices now, so how do they atone for their sins and when did they give up doing the blood sacrifices?

A: Following the destruction of the Temple in 69/70 AD, the Jewish leaders were left with a problem over what to do about atoning for their sins. Some Levites carried on local sacrifices on high places as a stop gap. Similar to what Abraham and the patriarchs had done before there was a temple.

The Jews rebelled once more against Roman authority in 132/135 AD hoping to rebuild their nation and Temple. Emperor Hadrian drove them out of Jerusalem and built a temple to Jupiter on the temple mount and changed the name of the city to Aelia Capitolina. After that, Jews were banned from the city and most of Judea.

Many Jewish families continued to kill lambs for Passover and had informal sacrifices during Yom Kipper. Around 200 AD, nevertheless, the sin problem remained because most of the Rabbi’s did not recognize the sacrifices as being beneficial.

It was around 200 AD with the completion of the Mishnah (an interpretation of Jewish law, scriptures, and tradition) by Rabbi Judah Hanasi. Councils of Rabbis began meeting together to address the problems they faced and to reinterpret their religion in the new context that they found themselves living in. The issue of sin and atonement was one of the primary issues that they began to address.

They were pressured by the fact that thousands of Jews had joined the Christian sect and the blood of Jesus as the atonement for sin resolved the temple issue for these Jewish-Christians. I believe that the Jewish Rabbis were deeply affected by the Christian message. So much so that they took the same OT references that Christians point to as a foreshadow of the sacrifice of Jesus. Only they interpreted the passages as applying to the Jewish people as a whole. When Christians read Isaiah 53 we see Jesus, but when Jews read that passage they believe that it represents the sacrifice that God has asked their whole people to make for all mankind.

Now when Jews today go to their Yom Kipper (Day of Atonement) services once a year; they come into the Synagogue bearing all their sins that they have committed that year. They individually consider their sins and pray directly to God for forgiveness. They traditionally hope that their good deeds far outweigh their bad for the year. Then they commit themselves to do better next year, to do more good and less evil. When the Shofar (rams horn) blows at the end of the service they believe that God himself has taken away their sins and they leave free and clear.

This is the current practice that Rabbis initiated sometime after 200 AD in response to the destruction of the Temple, the scattering of their nation, and to counteract the Christian teaching.

For Christians, Jesus is the final and ultimate sacrifice; an offering of atonement for all believers.

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