Can only animal sacrifices forgive sins? In Exodus 12:27 it is written

you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the LORD, because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses.’” The people then bowed low in homage.

so they offer a sacrifice and they can be saved later, in Numbers 14:19,20 we can read

Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to Your great kindness, as You have forgiven this people ever since Egypt.” And the LORD said, “I pardon, as you have asked.

Can we conclude that there is a different way to receive forgiveness of sins? Just by having an intercessor? So, Could we say that we do not need to offer sacrifice of animals to receive forgiveness of sins?

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    Coupla things -- one, the Passover sacrifice was not about sin, two, for people who could not afford an animal, meal offerings could be used to atone for sins and three, offerings only covered one subset of sin and prayer/repentance was always there as well.
    – rosends
    Oct 24, 2021 at 14:30
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    That argument is used to pretend that Jews cannot be forgiven since the temple has been destroyed and we can no longer bring sacrifices. Yom Kippur and full repentance has taken its place. Oct 24, 2021 at 14:33
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    @sabba in my experience the argument is usually presented as a preface to argue that the only way we have forgiveness nowadays is because some human two thousand years ago was "sacrificed" by the Romans for all of our sins...
    – Double AA
    Oct 24, 2021 at 14:49
  • @DoubleAA Yes that is why I used the word pretend. I did not want to make the explicit reference. That is also why I said that it is not true but Yom Kippur and repentance brings forgiveness. Oct 24, 2021 at 14:58

3 Answers 3


It is not a matter of sacrifice but a matter of repentance. In the book of Yonah the people of Nineveh were forgiven because they sincerely repented. It does not say that Hashem saw their fasting and sackcloth and ashes, but that he saw their deeds and repentance.

In the book of Esther, which occurred after the temple was destroyed and sacrifices could no longer be brought, Hashem saved the Jews because of their repentance and prayers.

While the temple was in existence, Hashem had the prophets tell the people that their sacrifices would not be accepted if they did not repent and act properly.

Amos 5-22

For if you offer up to Me burnt- offerings and your meal-offerings, I will not accept [them], and the peace offerings of your fattened cattle I will not regard.

When sacrifice is possible it is necessary, though useless without repentance (the “broken spirit” and “wounded heart”). When sacrifice is not possible, God forgives those who sincerely repent.

As it says in Atonement in the Absence of Sacrifices?

In the book of Jonah, the people of Nineveh had sinned and G‑d was going to punish them. When Jonah showed them the error of their ways, they fasted and prayed, and were forgiven. The same thing happened in the book of Esther. Living in Persia between the first and second Temples, they fasted, regretted their sins and were forgiven. These historical examples clearly show that when there is no Temple, sincere teshuvah (repentance) is all that G‑d demands.

In fact, this was always part of the system. King Solomon himself, in his speech dedicating the first Holy Temple, already anticipates the possibility of Israel being denied access to the holy place:


When the Beis Hamkdush was standing if a Korbon/sacrifice was required then it was the only way to atone for that particular sin.

Technically speaking , even when the Beis Hamkdush was standing you did not always need to bring an animal sacrifice per se for atonement. Is someone was too poor to afford an animal or bird sacrifice in some cases they were able to bring a Korbon Mincha (meal offering sacrifice made mostly out of flour) instead. Rambam Maashe Hakorbon 12:4

Today when the Beis Hamkidash is no longer standing the Rambam writes (Hilchos Teshuva 1:3)

בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה שֶׁאֵין בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ קַיָּם וְאֵין לָנוּ מִזְבַּח כַּפָּרָה אֵין שָׁם אֶלָּא תְּשׁוּבָה. הַתְּשׁוּבָה מְכַפֶּרֶת עַל כָּל הָעֲבֵרוֹת. אֲפִלּוּ רָשָׁע כָּל יָמָיו וְעָשָׂה תְּשׁוּבָה בָּאַחֲרוֹנָה אֵין מַזְכִּירִין לוֹ שׁוּם דָּבָר מֵרִשְׁעוֹ

In current times when the Beis Hamkdush is no longer extant and there is no altar of atonement, there remains nothing else aside from Teshuvah. Teshuvah atones for all sins. Even a person who was wicked his whole life and repented in his final moments will not be reminded of any aspect of his wickedness

The Rambam is based on many Gemoras which mention doing teshuva after the Beis Hamikdash without Korbonos.

There are also many Midrashim about charity and kindness being in the place of korbonos when it comes to doing Teshuva

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    The second paragraph is not right. Oleh veyored is limited to very specific cases. (So are animal sacrifices in general.)
    – Heshy
    Oct 25, 2021 at 12:28
  • You are correct. I amended the answer to reflect that.
    – Schmerel
    Oct 25, 2021 at 13:33

This was a timely and urgent concern after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. That generation of sages formulated an answer that has guided Rabbinic Judaism ever since:

Avot d'Rabbi Natan 4:5 Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai was walking with his disciple, Rabbi Y'hoshua, near Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Y'hoshua looked at the Temple ruins and said: "Alas for us! The place that atoned for the sins of the people Israel [through the ritual of animal sacrifice] lies in ruins!" Then Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: "Be not grieved, my son. There is another equally meritorious way of gaining atonement even though the Temple is destroyed. We can still gain atonement through deeds of lovingkindness." For it is written: "Lovingkindness I desire, not sacrifice." [Hosea 6:6]

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