Re-writing Korbanot, part II: my approach

This is a two-parter. Part I is here.

Many moons ago, when I was working on a siddur or my own (I won’t link back to any of those old posts because I sound like a moron in a lot of it, but if you do some looking around, they’re still here somewhere), I had an idea about how to redo the Korbanot section of the service, a lengthy section of readings that detail the textual basis for the sacrificial ritual system in place in The Temple back in the day.

Rambam himself saw prayer as the superior form of ritual, saying that God knew that primitive Israelites needed sacrifice to access God, but that we evolved away from that. So I had the idea that we could replace Korbanot with a selection of biblical and Talmudic passages about how to pray with kavanah or intention. I never actually did this, but the idea was there nonetheless.

Like I said in Part I, the Conservative approach is quite clever, but it’s not what I would have done. However, seeing that Harlow created a version of Korbanot for modernity, I’m inspired to think about what I would include in my version.

The problem I have with Harlow’s approach is that it almost ignores the ritual at hand. Ben Zakai’s statement that we can atone through acts of lonvingkindness is lovely, but from what I know, it seems like Judaism does not actually treat acts of great chesed as the replacement for sacrifice. Rather, we take prayer to be the one-to-one replacement. Each Amidah (except for the evening, which is a whole other story) stands in for a sacrifice in The Temple. Shacharit is the morning sacrifice. Minchah is the afternoon sacrifice. And Musaf is the additional sacrifice offered on special days.

So I would begin with biblical passages. There are definitely some talmudic and midrashic and otherwise rabbinic passages out there that should go into this idea, but I don’t know those texts as well as I’d like to yet, so I’ll stay away from those and leave that to the commenters below.

Biblical passages that come to mind immediately:

Psalm 51:17-19, verse 17 already being the opening line of the Amidah:

O Lord, open my lips, and let my mouth declare Your praise.

You do not want me to bring sacrifices; You do not desire burnt offerings;

True sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God, You will not despise a contrite and crushed heart.

Bamidbar 12:11-13

And Aaron said to Moses, “O my lord, account not to use the sin which we committed in our folly. Let her not be as one dead, who emerges from his mother’s womb with half his flesh eaten away.”

So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “O God, pray heal her!”

Shmuel A 1:4-13. This passage details Hannah’s prayer to God asking for a child. It’s especially good because it takes place in The Temple among sacrifices. Her husband even offers sacrifices in this passage, but on Hannah’s prayer brings her a child. I might also include part of chapter 2, which is Hannah’s extended prayer of thanksgiving after her child is born.

There’s also a passage somewhere in the Talmud where Shacharit, Minchah and Maariv are described as having been established by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, respectively. That passage and its proof texts would obviously be a must-have in this section.

I’d also want to maintain Rabbi Ishmael’s 13 principles as the final passage of the section.

That’s as far as my thinking has taken me so far in this. Anyone else have ideas?


5 responses to “Re-writing Korbanot, part II: my approach

  1. Pingback: Re-writing Korbanot, part I: intro and the Harlow approach | The Reform Shuckle

  2. I don’t think Hannah was at The Temple. I think she was at one of the other “holy” sacrificial places like Shiloh.

  3. Interesting….I like your idea and the idea about chesed. But I think there’s something very dramatic in the korbanot service that I’d miss for some reason if it were replaced. And though I’m of the opinion that sacrifice is superceded (and rightly so) by prayer, there’s something fascinating about the intensity of the ritual, the idea that by performing these specific actions in a particular way, we can come close to the big man upstairs and be cleared of our sins.

    As I see it, the korbanot service is meant for us to feel sorry that sacrifice is over, not because we want to see animals killed or because we like the specifics of the ritual, but because we now live in a world where it is very unclear how exactly we are meant to reach g-d, very unclear if we are even reaching g-d at all, and very unclear what we should say or do or feel if we COULD reach g-d. There was a time in our mystic history where we had a direct line to g-d, but we live in a world where we must struggle to do what was once simple. Reenacting the service is a way to not forget that mythical experience.

    At least, that’s what I try to tell myself, although I do still feel the reaction against mentioning sacrifice or thinking about it because it also seems brutal and simplistic, and part of me wants to replace it with something else, too.

    • There in indeed something dramatic and visceral and almost wonderful about the descriptions of sacrifice. However, I can’t believe for a moment that it works any better than prayer. I can look to it as a period in Jewish ritual history worth of acknowledgement, but I can’t justify the level of gross detail in Korbanot to myself.

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