Animal Sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible by Ina Lipkowitz


Any animal belongs to God, so when you kill it, you are returning the blood to God. In Exodus, when God gives the covenant to his people in the ratification ceremony, Moses sacrifices an animal he takes the blood and half of it he throws on the altar, which is a stand-in for God, and the other half he throws on the people. So it’s uniting the people and their God through the blood of this first sacrificial animal.

Ever after, when you get into the Holy Land, the Temple was a place of sacrifice, it wasn’t a synagogue where you read Torah, it was there in order to perform sacrifice. So the animal was sacrificed as a bringing together of people and God. And the priests would eat certain amounts of the meat and the rest would be given to the people, but it was always this sense that this animal, this life, belongs to God.

Show Full Transcript

People forget, I think Paula Frederiksen wrote this in one of her books, today, people forget that most of the Hebrew Bible, most of the five books, it’s about sacrifice. So when they talk about the 613 laws in the Hebrew Bible – I’m not going to get the right number – but my guess is that a good 500 of them are about sacrifice! We don’t have that anymore.

So when people say they want to live every law of the Hebrew Bible, they can’t possibly, they don’t have the Temple anymore; the Temple was built to be an altar, an enormous sacrificial altar. And there were troughs for the blood that was coming out of it; it was an enormous industry, certainly at particular times of the year, like Passover, where you would sacrifice the animal.


Ina Lipkowitz

Ina Lipkowitz
Lecturer, Massuchusetts Institute of Technology

Ina Lipkowitz is a lecturer in the Department of Literature at MIT where she teaches literature and biblical studies. She is the author of Words to Eat By: Five Foods and the Culinary History of the English Language (St. Martin’s Press, 2011). She is also involved in interfaith education and works with temples, churches, and mosques, introducing Jews, Christians, and Muslims to each other's faiths.
Jan Goeree and A. De Blois, God

The ritual killing and offering of animals to deities, often on an altar and intended as good for the gods.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

migration of the ancient Israelites from Egypt into Canaan

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

Associated with a deity; exhibiting religious importance; set apart from ordinary (i.e. "profane") things.

Relating to the system of ritual slaughter and offering to a deity, often performed on an altar in a temple.

 NEH Logo
Bible Odyssey has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.