We pray daily for the rebuilding of the Temple. But when it is rebuilt, will Korbanot be reinstituted as well? It seems like a custom that is not really in tune with our modern ideas and sensitivities.
The issue that you raise in your question is one with which many Jews continue to wrestle. As a Conservative Jew I am committed to making prayer part of my daily life. But there are portions of the liturgy that continue to trouble me. Rather than leaving them out of the liturgy, I continue to search for new ways to understand the prayer book. In some cases changes are made to reflect our changing understanding of our responsibilities and obligations to God.
In the early part of the twentieth century, small but significant changes were introduced into the traditional liturgy to reflect our changing attitudes toward sacrifice and the temple service. In the traditional prayer book it is customary to say: “Accept the prayer of your people …Restore the service and the fire offerings of Israel to Your sanctuary and accept their prayers lovingly… ” By leaving out the words “the fire offerings of Israel”, the meaning of this prayer changed. It became, “Restore the service to Your sanctuary and accept their prayer lovingly.” In other words, the emphasis was placed on worship instead of sacrifice. Similarly, references to the sacrifices in the Musaf service were restated in the past tense as a historical memory rather than as a hope for the future. The Musaf service is based on the special sacrifices that were offered on Shabbat and holidays so it is hard to avoid the subject of Korbanot, sacrifices, altogether. Instead of praying that we be given the opportunity to offer sacrifices, we ask for the temple to be restored so that we can worship God just as our ancestors worshipped God long ago. The temple, I would suggest was a metaphor, a place through which we can come closer to God through the service of the heart. We do not hope for a return to the sacrifices as much as we pray for the opportunity to worship with as much fervor and passion as our ancestors did.
Conservative Jews are not alone in their ambivalence about sacrifices. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the chief Rabbi of the land of Israel in the first half of the twentieth century, was a vegetarian. I have no doubt that he continued to pray for the rebuilding of the temple and the reinstitution of the Temple service but he believed that in the Messianic era, only meal offerings would be made in the Temple and there would no longer be animal sacrifices. His vision of a Messianic era of vegetarianism was based on the prophecy of Isaiah said that in the end of time, “And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, And the leopard shall lie down with the kid; And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them And the cow and the bear shall feed; Their young ones shall lie down together, And the lion shall eat straw like the ox....They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain. (Isaiah. 11:6-9)
It should be pointed out that Moses Maimonides also seemed to be somewhat circumspect about animal sacrifice. He suggests in his great work, The Guide for the Perplexed, that the sacrifices were part of an effort by the Torah to wean the Jewish people away from pagan forms of sacrifice such as animal sacrifice. We were allowed to continue offering sacrifices but only in limited ways, in particular places and at special times. While Maimonides never reveals the full implications of this statement, his statement can be taken to mean that we have grown beyond the ancient practice of animal sacrifice!
In the end, I don’t think it is necessary to change the language of the prayer book when it comes to sacrifice. Korbanot are a symbol, not a reality. Prayer is poetry and it is not necessary to read the language of prayer literally in order to find meaning in it. For me, the references to sacrifice are a powerful way to think about how we come closer to God. The Hebrew word, Korban, comes from the Hebrew root kareiv, to come close. For our ancestors, sacrifice was that which helped them to come closer to God. We speak of sacrifice not because we wish to offer them again but because we want to discover ways through worship li-kareiv, to come close to God.
Rabbi Mark Greenspan