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The Mishna, in Zevachim 9:3, lists blemished animals among those that are inherently invalid for the Altar, such that if they are brought up onto it, they are brought down again. Then, R' Chanina, Segan Hakohanim reports that

דּוֹחֶה הָיָה אַבָּא אֶת בַּעֲלֵי מוּמִין מֵעַל גַּבֵּי הַמִּזְבֵּחַ

My father used to push blemished animals off the altar.

R' Obadiah MiBartenura explains:

שאם עלו דוחה היה אותן כלאחר יד ולא היה מורידן דרך בזיון בפרהסיא

[Meaning] that if they ascended, he would push them away back-handedly and would not take them down in a degrading way, in public.

(My translation)

How would one get an animal off of the Altar without it being publicly noticed? The Altar was in the center of the Temple courtyard and the center of the action there. There was one access point - the open ramp on the south side. Generally, offerings would go up the ramp and be burned at the top, not come down, so I have trouble picturing how an animal could come down that way without being noticed.

If R' Chanina's father would literally push these animals off one of the other sides of the Altar, I would expect that such a dramatic decent would be even more noticeable, not to mention degrading. Perhaps he shoved them off the west side, where the only lines of sight available were from inside the courtyard, where only Kohanim were?

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My understanding is like the suggestion in your last paragraph, that R. Chanina's father would indeed push the animals off the side of the Altar.

I think that when R. Obadiah miBartenura explains that this was surreptitious, he is talking about the action of pushing, rather than the resultant falling animal, i.e. it was done in such a way as to appear that the animal fell off the Altar by itself.

As to your question about why this is not degrading, it seems that parts of animals falling off the Altar on their own due to the heat of the fires thereon was not an uncommon occurrence.

For example, Zevachim 9:6 contains the following ruling:

אֵבָרִים שֶׁפָּקְעוּ מֵעַל גַּבֵּי הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, קֹדֶם לַחֲצוֹת, יַחֲזִיר, וּמוֹעֲלִין בָּהֶן. לְאַחַר חֲצוֹת, לֹא יַחֲזִיר, וְאֵין מוֹעֲלִין בָּהֶן:‏

Limbs that sprang off from the altar: if before midnight, must be replaced, and they involve trespass; after midnight, they are not replaced and do not involve trespass.

  • Sounds good! Is it your understanding that the blemished animals he pushed off were alive and intact, or that they were already in pieces? The former would seem to me to look very different falling down than charred limbs. – Isaac Moses Jul 29 at 14:23
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    I assume that they had been slaughtered and probably butchered as well before being brought to the top of the Altar, but maybe not yet burned at all. – Joel K Jul 29 at 14:27
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    And R' Chanina's father would find out about the blemishes at that point? – Isaac Moses Jul 29 at 14:32
  • I think that everyone agrees that if it was found/known to be blemished earlier, it should not be taken up to the top of the Altar. If, for whatever reason, it was taken up, then R. Akiva holds that it remains there, whereas R. Chanina’s father believes it should be removed surreptitiously. – Joel K Jul 29 at 14:55

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