The Torah declares that before Matan Torah, the firstborns were responsible for bringing sacrifices and Cohanim replaced them after the Golden Calf incident (Num 3,40):

:וְלָקַחְתָּ אֶת־הַלְוִיִּם לִי אֲנִי ה' תַּחַת כָּל־בְּכֹר בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

and take the Levites for Me, the LORD, in place of every first-born among the Israelite people...

As Rashi explains on Ber 25:31:

בכרתך. לְפִי שֶׁהָעֲבוֹדָה בַּבְּכוֹרוֹת, אָמַר יַעֲקֹב אֵין רָשָׁע זֶה כְדַאי שֶׁיַּקְרִיב לְהַקָּבָּ"ה:

THY BIRTHRIGHT — Because the sacrificial service was then carried out by the first-born sons, ...

Why Abel brought his sacrifice on his own and didn't ask to do that from his firstborn brother?

  • Because Kayin was evil obviously. If you get any other than this I will be surprised.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 16:23
  • The head of the household (father [Job 1:5] or firstborn) brings the sacrifice on behalf of his entire (subordinate) family [1 Samuel 20:6]. But Cain and Abel seem to have been mature (and independent) by that point (perhaps even fathering families of their own).
    – user18041
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 0:29
  • 1
    @Aaron Even if you’re correct that at that point he was wicked (and I’m not sure where you get that from), how did Hevel know that?
    – DonielF
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 2:31

1 Answer 1


In Emunot V'Deiot 3:9 R. Saadia Gaon explains that prior to the priesthood of Aaron and his sons, there were always specific people appointed to perform sacrificial services:

The third [problem is presented by] the fact that God commanded all men to offer up sacrifices and then forbade such activities to everyone except Aaron and his children. But this, too, did not constitute an abrogation, for there is not contained in Scripture a single text indicating that all men had been appointed to perform the sacrificial rite. Before the appointment of Aaron it was only who had been appointed to a position similar to his that performed this rite. One who had not been appointed, however, had no right to engage in the performance of the sacrificial rite, neither before nor after the election of Aaron.

(Rosenblatt translation p. 168-19)

Apparently, then, according to R. Saadia Gaon, sacrifices were not strictly limited to firstborns.

In a note there, R. Yosef Kapach also points to the Mishnah in Zevachim 14:10 as a source that a "priest" wouldn't have been necessary:

  • Thank you, this seems to contradict Rashi I quoted, as there was no reason for Yaakov to worry for Eisov. You know, this is a big problem I experience with Rabbinical interpretations, they write claims never try to cover even the widely known interpretations sefaria.org.il/Bereishit_Rabbah.63.13?lang=bi
    – Al Berko
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 16:45
  • You are exceptionally good at finding sources. However, IMHO the transition from "RASAG mentions this" and "apparently it is so" is too far from being obvious, esp. when it seems to contradict other opinions.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 16:54
  • @AlBerko Generally speaking, if I quote one source and then make a claim based on it, the claim should be understood to be according to that source. In this case I will edit to make that explicit.
    – Alex
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 1:32
  • WHile you're OK, that may mislead some readers that in the lack of other opinions might think this is the leading and the only one. I'd propose to phrase your conclusions in a milder tone, like to limit the conclusion to that Rabbi alone. Or mentioning that there may be other opinions.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 15:31
  • @AlBerko See my edit.
    – Alex
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 18:10

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