A MORE COMPLETE EXPLANATION...
The Gd-man relationship was never limited to animal sacrifices, nor was it ever the only means by which a human being obtained forgiveness from Gd for wrongdoing.
The centrality of the animal sacrifices ceased, not with the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, but rather with the first destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians. Please remember that the vast majority of Jews never went back to the Promised Land. Instead, they remained in Babylonia, despite the permission and encouragement of Cyrus of Persia to return. By the time Jesus was born, 80% of the world's Jewish community lived outside of the Promised Land, and were unconcerned about the cessation of the animal sacrifices. After the Temple was reestablished, the Jews of Babylonia would make an annual financial gift for the maintenance of the Temple, but never worried that Gd was not going to forgive their sins without a blood sacrifice. Neither do Diaspora Jews worry about this today. The reason is that the Bible makes it explicitly clear that Gd had given us other means for obtaining forgiveness.
Those who believe in the efficacy of blood sacrifice look to Leviticus 17:11 for justification:
For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life. [Leviticus 17:11]
But if you read this verse in context, you will find that it refers to abstaining from eating or drinking the blood of a sacrifice, and nothing more. Gd commanded this prohibition in order to maintain the distinction between the Jewish people and the pagans. Most pagans ate the blood of their sacrifices as a means of incorporating their gods into their bodies and into their lives. (See 'The Golden Bough' by Sir James Frazer, the chapter entitled 'Eating The Gd.') Perhaps this is the source of the Christian rite of communion. But the holiness of the People of Israel requires them to abhor the pagan ways and not to hold the same beliefs as their pagan neighbors.
The entire quotation from Leviticus 17 reads:
Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood -- I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life. Therefore I say to the Israelites, `None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood. Any Israelite or any alien living among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, because the life of every creature is its blood.' That is why I have said to the Israelites, `You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.'
Some might still insist that blood is needed to atone for sins. But there are many examples in the TaNaKh where other things besides blood atone for sins. If you are poor and unable to afford a blood sacrifice, Gd allows you to use flour, which is not from an animal and therefore has no blood. If the poor were not able to offer a sacrifice of flour, forgiveness would only be for the wealthy -- but Gd would never exclude humans from obtaining forgiveness on the basis of wealth:
If, however, he cannot afford two doves or two young pigeons, he is to bring as an offering for his sin a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering. He must not put oil or incense on it, because it is a sin offering. He is to bring it to the priest, who shall take a handful of it as a memorial portion and burn it on the altar on top of the offerings made to the Eternal by fire. It is a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for him for any of these sins he has committed, and he will be forgiven. The rest of the offering will belong to the priest, as in the case of the grain offering. [Leviticus 5:11-13]
So here, in the middle of the commandments concerning the sacrifices for sin, the Bible tells us we do not need any blood sacrifice. This is clear, unambiguous proof; any claim to the contrary is unbiblical - some would say antibiblical.
Remember, too, the story of the book of Jonah. Jonah tried to escape from doing Gd's will regarding the people of the city of Niniveh. After the incident of the great fish, he goes to Niniveh, says five words to the people, and what do they do? They fast:
Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water [Jonah 3:7]
...just as Jews do on Yom Kippur. In addition to fasting, the inhabitants of the city also prayed:
Let them cry mightily to Gd...[Jonah 3:8]
...just as Jews do on Yom Kippur. And, finally, the people of the city stopped doing Evil and began doing Good:
Let everyone turn from his evil ways and from the violence which is in his hands. [Jonah 3:8]
...just as we are -- we hope -- inspired to do on Yom Kippur. What was Gd's response? Gd forgave them their sins because of their works:
When Gd saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, Gd repented of the Evil which He had said He would do unto them, and He did not do it. [Jonah 3:10]
Please note that the text does NOT read that Gd saw their sacrifices; the people of Niniveh were never commanded to sacrifice. Nor does the text read that Gd saw that they had the 'right faith.' Rather it says that Gd saw what they did: their works. Nor did Gd require that the people convert to Judaism. Their repentance was accepted, though they were Gentiles.
We can see examples of other non-blood sacrifices for the purpose of atonement:
So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. [Numbers 16:47]
And in the verse below we see jewelry offered for atonement, but no blood is shed.
So we have brought as an offering to the Eternal the gold articles each of us acquired-- armlets, bracelets, signet rings, earrings and necklaces-- to make atonement for ourselves before the Eternal. [Numbers 31:50]
Another example is that Isaiah had his sin removed with a live coal:
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. [Isaiah 6:6-7]
It can be pointed out that, without the Temple in Jerusalem, we can no longer offer any kind of ritual sacrifice, bloody or otherwise. This is true. It is not, however, the reason that Jews do not believe in blood sacrifice. Instead, it is the reason that Gd gave the people many different methods of atonement. There was a time in Israel's history when the people became all too consumed with the sacrificial ceremonies. For this, Gd rebuked them, and reminded them that the Laws of Gd were more important than the sacrifices.
For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your Gd and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you. [Jeremiah 7:22-23]
Of all the methods Gd gave to us for atonement, the sacrifices were the weakest. (Please see below at 'There were other methods...'). This is the case because sacrifices only made atonement for one kind of sin. Several verses seem to indicate that there needs to be a sacrifice in order to gain atonement for sins. But it must be pointed out just which sins are forgiven by these sacrifices: unintentional sins AND ONLY unintentional sins. This is stated repeatedly:
The Eternal said to Moses, Say to the Israelites: 'When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Eternal's commands...' [Leviticus 4:1-2]
If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Eternal's commands, even though the community is unaware of the matter, they are guilty. [Leviticus 4:13]
When a leader sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the commands of the Eternal his Gd, he is guilty. [Leviticus 4:22]
If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Eternal's commands, he is guilty. [Leviticus 4:27]
When a person commits a violation and sins unintentionally in regard to any of the Eternal's holy things, he is to bring to the Eternal as a penalty a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value in silver, according to the sanctuary shekel. It is a guilt offering. [Leviticus 5:15]
He is to bring to the priest as a guilt offering a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him for the wrong he has committed unintentionally, and he will be forgiven. [Leviticus 5:18]
Now if you unintentionally fail to keep any of these commands the Eternal gave Moses... [Numbers 15:22]
The priest is to make atonement for the whole Israelite community, and they will be forgiven, for it was not intentional and they have brought to the Eternal for their wrong an offering made by fire and a sin offering. The whole Israelite community and the aliens living among them will be forgiven, because all the people were involved in the unintentional wrong. But if just one person sins unintentionally, he must bring a year-old female goat for a sin offering. The priest is to make atonement before the Eternal for the one who erred by sinning unintentionally, and when atonement has been made for him, he will be forgiven. One and the same law applies to everyone who sins unintentionally, whether he is a native-born Israelite or an alien. [Numbers 15:24-29]
That covers the atonement for unintentional sin. However, if someone were to commit a sin intentionally, he would be punished:
But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the Eternal, and that person must be cut off from his people. [ Numbers 15:30]
Gd is a righteous judge. For intentional sins to be atoned for, there had to be repentance and restitution -- and often punishment -- because the sins were committed on purpose.
A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft... If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another man's field, he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard... If a fire breaks out and spreads into thornbushes so that it burns shocks of grain or standing grain or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution... But if the animal was stolen from the neighbor, he must make restitution to the owner... If a man borrows an animal from his neighbor and it is injured or dies while the owner is not present, he must make restitution. [Exodus 22:3, 5, 6, 12, and 14]
Say to the Israelites: `When a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Eternal, that person is guilty and must confess the sin he has committed. He must make full restitution for his wrong, add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has wronged.' [Numbers 5:6-7]
Wouldn't it be nice to live in a society where, if a criminal stole and stripped your car, he would have to replace it, and then give you 20% in addition to what it was worth?
There were other methods used to gain atonement that were superior to the sacrificial system. This is what Gd truly desires from us: Teshuvah, which means repentance and return to Gd.
...if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. [2 Chronicles 7:14]
But if from there you seek the Eternal your Gd, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. [Deuteronomy 4:29]
He prays to Gd and finds favor with him,
he sees Gd's face and shouts for joy;
he is restored by Gd to his righteous state. [Job 33:26]
Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. [Psalm 34:14]
The Eternal is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. [Psalm 34:18]
Note that it is the humble, contrite and penitent soul that is saved.
It is true repentance and prayer that Gd wants from us, NOT sacrifice.
Remember, the Psalms were written to sing praises to Gd in the Temple, right where the sacrifices themselves were to be offered. Their authors understood quite well Gd's attitude towards the sacrifices:
Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire;
mine ears hast thou opened:
burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. [Psalm 40:6]
And Samuel said, Hath the Eternal as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Eternal? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams [1 Samuel 15:22]
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of Gd are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O Gd, thou wilt not despise. [Psalm 51:16-17]
Gd wants us to pray for forgiveness. It is prayer that replaces the sacrifices, just as Gd commanded:
Take words with you and return to the Eternal.
Say to Him: 'Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the bulls of our lips.' [Hosea 14:2]
Many Christian redactors intentionally mistranslate this passage. The Hebrew is quite clear, 'Pa-reem S'fa-tey-nu, the bulls of our lips.' Instead they mistranslate the Hebrew as if it said, 'Pey-rote S'fa-tey-nu, the fruit of our lips.' This means that they change the word of Gd! for the express purpose of misrepresenting what the Bible plainly says: that Gd accepts prayer in place of sacrifices -- 'the bulls of our lips' is a metaphor for prayer-sacrifice, as opposed to blood-sacrifice. In other words, this expression means sacrifices that are spoken with our mouths, not killed and offered up on the altar like cattle.
Following the recounting of the incident of the spies in Numbers 13:1 through 13:20, Gd threatens to annihilate the people and build up Moses' line in their place. But Moses prays, reasoning with Gd and reminding Gd of His forgiving nature:
Therefore, I pray, let my Eternal's forbearance be great, as You have declared, saying, 'The Eternal! slow to anger and abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression...' Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to Your great kindness, as You have forgiven this people ever since Egypt. [Numbers 14:17-19]
This description of Gd's nature was declared by Gd directly to Moses earlier in the Book of Exodus:
And the Eternal passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Eternal, The Eternal Gd, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin... [Exodus 34:6-7]
Following the plea in Numbers 14:17-19, Gd answers favorably:
And the Eternal said: 'I have pardoned as you have asked.' [Numbers 14:20]
Note that it is prayer -- Moses' heartfelt and reasonable request -- and not sacrifice that secures Gd's pardon. When Moses is gone, it is the people themselves that will pray to obtain divine forgiveness through their confession and repentance.
King David also knows the forgiving nature of Gd:
For thou, Eternal, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.
Give ear, O Eternal, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications.
In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me. [Ps. 86:5-7]
But thou, O Eternal, art a Gd full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth. [Ps. 86:15]
The Eternal is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. [Psalm 103:8]
He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the Eternal is gracious and full of compassion. [Ps. 111:4]
Gracious is the Eternal, and righteous; yea, our Gd is merciful. [Ps. 116:5]
Gd's essential nature does not change.
Forgiveness is always available, and the way to obtain it is described again and again in Scripture:
He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. [Proverbs 28:13]
Here again, we are taught that Gd forgives when the penitent one confesses and declares the intention to cease from sinning. No sacrifice is mentioned. King David, also, confesses his transgressions, and is forgiven. Again, there is no sacrificial offering:
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. [Psalm 32:1]
When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. [Psalm 32:3]
I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Eternal; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. [Psalm 32:5]
In beautiful parallel phrases, the prophet Isaiah expands upon the concept of Teshuvah as a means of obtaining divine forgiveness:
Seek the Eternal while He may be found;
Call upon the Eternal while He is near.
Let the wicked abandon his ways,
and the evil his designs.
Let him return to the Eternal and He will have mercy upon him;
let him return to our Gd, for He is ever ready to forgive. [Isaiah 55:6-7]
The process described by the prophet could not be simpler or clearer:
Abandon wrongful behavior, return to Gd in repentance, and Gd will forgive and wipe the slate clean. Not only will Gd forgive, but Gd's nature is such that Gd is eager to forgive, and ready to meet us and lead us the rest of the way, if we will only take the first step. This can be compared to having offended a good friend, and then seeking him out to apologize. If he is truly a good friend, he was only waiting for you to make the effort.
Another superior method of obtaining forgiveness is Tzedakah, often translated inadequately as 'charity' but actually meaning 'righteousness / justice.' We share what we have with the less fortunate mainly because Gd wants us to do the right and just thing, not just because it makes us feel good.
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of Gd rather than burnt offerings. [Hosea 6:6]
Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Eternal a man avoids evil. [Proverbs 16:6]
To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Eternal than sacrifice. [Proverbs 21:3]
The three methods above are neatly summarized in the Jewish liturgy for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, where it is stated, 'Teshuva (return), Tefillah (prayer), and Tzedakah (righteousness) avert the harsh decree.'
The following quotations all come from I Kings 8, in which King Solomon dedicates the only Temple in the world to the One True Gd. It was in this very Temple that the sacrifices were to take place. Yet at the dedication of the Temple, Solomon calls upon Gd to forgive the penitent, not with any sacrificial offerings, but only with prayer and petitions. Solomon understood well the nature of Gd, and knew that nothing more than this was required.
...and when a prayer or plea is made by any of your people Israel -- each one aware of the afflictions of his own heart, and spreading out his hands toward this temple -- then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of all men)... [I Kings 8:38-39]
The Gentiles too, were to pray directly to Gd for the forgiveness of their sins, without need of a sacrifice. Solomon continues:
As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name -- for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm -- when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel and may know that this house I have built bears your Name. [I Kings 8:41-43]
Notice, here, that Gd allowed the Gentiles to pray directly to Him, without the need of an external mediator or savior. Gd Gdself, in Gd's unique, singular oneness, is the savior -- and the ONLY savior -- of humankind. Gd never excluded anyone from forgiveness. All Gd asks for is a contrite heart, and the willingness to follow Gd.
Keep in mind, still, that the whole of the sacrificial system was centered around the Temple; nonetheless, Gd will forgive based on prayers and repentance. Solomon goes on:
When they sin against you -- for there is no one who does not sin -- and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to his own land, far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their conquerors and say, `We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly;' and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you, and cause their conquerors to show them mercy. [I Kings 8:46-50]
So if you repent, Gd will save you. No mention is made of a requirement to believe in a certain way -- rather, only the act of confessing and pleading for forgiveness is needed, and Gd will restore your righteousness, even though you sinned.
Again we find this idea in the Book of Job, this time in a poetic declaration of Gd's forgiving nature:
He prays to Gd and finds favor with him, he sees Gd's face and shouts for joy;
he is restored by Gd to his righteous state. [Job 33:26]
The Bible has repeatedly shown us that sacrifice is not necessary for atonement. Gd has made it abundantly clear to Israel what we are to do for atonement:
With what shall I come before the Eternal and bow down before the exalted Gd? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Eternal be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Eternal require of you? Only to do Justice, and to love Mercy and to walk humbly with your Gd. [Micah 6:6-8]
* Tanakh is Hebrew for Bible, referring to the 24 books of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is an acronym composed of Torah (the Five Books of Moses); Nevi'im, (the Prophets); and K'tuvim, (the other biblical writings). Go Back.