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(Last update 6/23/00)

Sacrifices were offered before the first Tabernacle was built. Sacrifices were offered by: Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses.

  • According to Midrash, Adam repented of his sin and God showed him how to reconcile himself through the sacrifice of an ox.
  • Abel sacrificed one of his best sheep as a freewill offering to God.
  • Noah took 7 pair of each clean animal onto the ark, enabling him to have enough to sacrifice with.
  • Abraham built 4 altars and sacrificed on them.
  • Isaac built one altar.
  • Jacob built two altars.
  • Moses sacrificed before the Tabernacle was built. Once after a battle against Amalek, and also at the foot of Mount Sinai before the giving of the Torah.

In Judaism, it is taught then when a Jew sins against God, Satan in heaven demands of
God to "take away the soul" of the sinner. God replies that he accepts the sacrifice in place of the sinner’s death. When the sinner truly repents, God accepts the sacrifice of the animal.

Only peaceful animals are allowed for sacrifice – ox, sheep, goats, pigeons and turtledoves, and only healthy strong ones are taken.

All sacrifices – animal or flour – were salted.

There are five kinds of sacrifices:

  1. Olah / The offering that is completely burnt
  2. Mincha / The flour offering
  3. Shelamim / The peace offering
  4. Chatat / The sin offering
  5. Asham / The trespass offering

The first three of these are free will offerings a Jew could bring to God any time they wished. The last two were required whenever a Jew sinned.


An unblemished male; either a bull, ram or goat was used if a person was able to afford one. The owner would bring the animal to the Temple courtyard. He would then lean over the animal, place his hands on the animal’s head and confess the sins for which he was bringing in the offering. Two cohanim were present; one to hand the knife to him and the other to catch the blood. After making a confession over the animal’s head, the person making the offering would then take the knife and cut the throat of the animal. The blood was collected and was sprinkled on the four corners of the alter. The organs of the animal were then removed and washed along with the rest of the body. The body and its organs were then burnt whole upon the altar. If a person could not afford to bring these animals then he could bring instead a turtledove or pigeon. The bird was brought to the cohen who killed the bird by pinching off the back of its neck. None of this offering was eaten. It also functioned to forgive sins:

  • For wrong thoughts
  • For failing to fulfill some mitzva of the Torah
  • For sins that can be corrected by performing a mitzva


If a person was so poor that he could not even afford a bird then he could bring Mincha offering (Mincha means gift). The Mincha offering was an offering of flour, about 5 lbs. The flour was placed in a special pan into which some oil had been poured. More oil was poured over the flour and mixed with a sweet spice. The pan was then handed to the cohen who brought the pan to the alter where it was measured out, three hands full, which was burnt on the alter. The flour was not allowed to rise, could not be sweetened and must be salted. The person offering this sacrifice eats none of his offering. The priests do eat the leftovers. It was taught that when the priests eat of this sacrifice, God forgave the sins of Israel.

There was also another Mincha done by the priest once in his lifetime prior to his beginning service in the Temple in order to prepare him. This one was completely burnt and not eaten. The High Priest also offered a Mincha for himself every day. This would direct his thoughts to G-d and make him worthy to ask for forgiveness of Israel’s sins.

SHELAMIM (Peace offering)

The Shelamim, or peace offering was not brought to atone for sin, but instead to express happiness and gratitude to God. An ox or cow, ram or female sheep were used as an offering. They were slaughtered in the same fashion as the Olah, except the person would give thanks to God and sing praises when he laid his hands on the animal’s head. The blood that was collected was sprinkled on the four corners of the altar. Part of the animal was burned on the altar while the owner and the cohanim ate the rest. This sacrifice was also offered whenever God rescued you from a dangerous situation (Shalmay Toda) specifically:

  • Recovering from a serious illness
  • Crossing the desert safely
  • Returning safely from an ocean voyage
  • Freed from prison

CHATAT (Sin offering)

The chatat was slaughtered on the north side of the altar – same place as the Olah, possibly to not embarrass the sinner.) This was required for sin done "by mistake," i.e.,

  • A person did not know the Torah’s commandment (i.e., they did not know they should not work on the Sabbath.) Ignorance of Torah is not an excuse to God.
  • A person is mistaken about some facts related to the above (i.e., they did not know that it was Shabbat that day.) Neither is negligence is not an excuse with God.

ASHAM (Trespass offering)

There are six reasons for offering an Asham:

  • When a person steals
  • When a person misuses Temple items
  • When a person has uncertainty about possibly committing a sin
  • For the High Priest who sinned
  • For when the Sanhedrin sins
  • For when the King sins


The sacrifice of Yom Kippur is separate and distinct from all the other sacrifices offered during the year. While the others reconciled the sinner on a day to day basis with God, Yom Kippur is the day that God would forgive all the sins of all the people in every generationin essence this was their salvation sacrifice.

Yom Kippur is the only time that the High Priest would enter into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, doing this four times in all that day. He would remove four of his eight garments – all those with gold – and enter only with four white linen garments. He would change his clothes five times, dipping himself in a Mikveh each time.

Special offerings were made in addition to the regular ones:

  • An offering for all the people paid for with public funds (Korban Mussaf)
  • The High Priest’s personal sacrifice paid for with his own money
  • The two goats – one sacrificed to Hashem and the other sent to Alazel after all the sins of the people were "placed" upon it

The High priest would turn to the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, and sprinkled the blood of the bull sacrifice one time upward, then seven times downward. He would repeat this process with the blood of the goat sacrifice one time upward, then seven times downward.

He then entered the Holy of Holies, took blood from the bull and the goat and put some on the four corners of the threshing floor. He also sprinkled this on the altar, repeating the process of sprinkling once upwards, then seven times downward.

The miracles/signs that took place, showing God’s approval and forgiveness:

  • Drawing of lots always produced "LaHashem" in the right hand
  • The red ribbon tied to the scapegoat always turned white
  • The Center light of the Menora always burned until morning
  • Fire on the copper altar never went out even when it wasn’t properly stoked
  • Priests felt full even after eating only a small part of the offerings
  • The smoke of the incense offering would fill the Holy of Holies

The Talmud however, records that many of these miracles ceased to occur about 40 years before the destruction of the second Temple, and never returned. This of course coincides with the time of the death of Yeshua:

Yoma 39b - During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot [‘For the Lord’] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine; and the doors of the Hekal would open by themselves, until R. Johanan b. Zakkai rebuked them, saying: Hekal, Hekal, why wilt thou be the alarmer thyself? I know about thee that thou wilt be destroyed, for Zechariah ben Ido has already prophesied concerning thee: Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars.