The book of Leviticus (Va-ik’ra) is regarded by many Jews and congregations as a book to be kept in the closet, away from the public eye.  The reason is that this book covers in much detail the rituals of sacrifice, including animal sacrifice.  Many people shudder to think about the future Third Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, whenever that future might be, because of the dreaded revival of the practice of animal sacrifice.  For some people animal sacrifice is plainly cruel; for others the vision of the holy Temple as a slaughter house is unbearable; and for yet many others the public image of the enlightened Jew is at risk.  After all, how will our neighbors react to this show of archaic barbarism ?
 "When a man brings from among you an offering to God, from animals - from the cattle or the flock you shall bring your offering" (Leviticus 1:2).  At a time when human sacrifice was common and acceptable, the Torah says that only animal sacrifice is permissible.  Indeed, the prophet Jeremiah (7:21-31), in a prophecy that was selected as one of the haftarah portions for Leviticus, scolds the people for the sinful practice of sacrificing children and therefore rejects also their offering of animals.  So, when the Third Temple is built, if you do not plan to sacrifice your child, you do not have to sacrifice an animal as a replacement, either.  This sacrifice is voluntary...
The impressive part about the details of the rituals is the emphasis on rules of cleanliness.  The instructions are meant to teach about safe preparation of food.  The truth is that most of the sacrifices were intended to be eaten.  Understandably, the meat eaters among us do not want to visit a slaughter house to see the process.  It may spoil our appetite.  But it may be reassuring to know that only healthy animals are allowed, that all the blood and the fatty tissues must be removed, that all the meat has to be thoroughly washed and salted, and so on.  These are exactly the rules of hygiene that have protected us for many generations from all kinds of diseases.  The Torah instructs us, through these religious rituals, how to maintain our health.  You are advised to supply your favorite restaurant with these guidelines, and you may want to send a copy to the FDA too.  Indeed, it is not a coincidence that the list of clean ("pure") animals, birds and fishes is included with the sacrifice instructions (Leviticus 11:1-47).
 And for the vegetarians among us, Leviticus chapter 2 is dedicated to you.  This chapter provides details for vegetarian sacrifices, which are perfectly acceptable.

-- Judah Ari-Gur


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