I've been bothered by this contradiction in Rambam: He says in Moreh Nevuchim 3:32 that sacrifices are a concession and that it would not have been good to introduce the truthest most pure form of worship (i.e. prayer, worship in thought not action) to the Israelites because of the prevalent form of worship.

Therefore, how can he say that sacrifices should be reinstituted since a) he says it is not the truest form of worship and b) it would be forcing on us a completely new and bizarre form of worship?

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    Maimonides does not mean that God must make a concession as a response to the condition of Man. God created Man with this instinct for a lower form of worship. It is a necessary imperfection. See my answer and Rabbi Lopes-Cardozo's article. – Yahu Apr 14 '11 at 7:40

Rabbi Nathan Lopes-Cardozo deals with this question by suggesting that we have not progressed past this form of imperfect worship; rather we have regressed and will need to rise to the level of appreciating it. Therefore, to eventually progress to the purest form of worship it will be required that we first experience the "concession."


I heard a recording in which R' Yosef Veiner attributed this to the general approach of the Moreh Nevochim not being meant as anything other than palatable answers for those who were "straying." However, that entire approach to the Moreh is very tenuous, ואין כאן מקום להאריך.

R' Yaakov Kaminetzky in Emes L'Yaakov on Chumash, Vayikra 1:9, resolves a different contradiction in the Rambam, but I think it resolves your issue as well:

In contrast to the citation in the question of the Moreh, the Rambam writes in the end of Hilchos Me'ila (8:38):

ראוי לאדם להתבונן במשפטי התורה הקדושה, ולידע סוף עניינם כפי כוחו. ודבר שלא ימצא לו טעם, ולא ידע לו עילה--אל יהי קל בעיניו; ואל יהרוס לעלות אל ה', פן יפרוץ בו. ולא תהא מחשבתו בו, כמחשבתו בשאר דברי החול...

והחוקים, הן המצוות שאין טעמן ידוע. אמרו חכמים, חוקים שחקקתי לך, ואין לך רשות להרהר בהן. ויצרו של אדם נוקפו בהן, ואומות העולם משיבין עליהן--כגון איסור בשר חזיר, ובשר בחלב, ועגלה ערופה, ופרה אדומה, ושעיר המשתלח...

וכל הקרבנות כולן, מכלל החוקים הן. לפיכך אמרו חכמים שאף על עבודת הקרבנות, העולם עומד--שבעשיית החוקים והמשפטים, זוכין הישרים לחיי העולם הבא; והקדימה תורה ציווייה על החוקים, שנאמר "ושמרתם את חוקותיי ואת משפטיי, אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם"

Very concise translation: A person should think deeply about the laws of the Torah according to his ability, and not think lightly of them if he doesn't find a reason. Chukim are laws that we don't know the reason(s) for, and a person is inclined to question and reject them. Sacrifices are Chukim, and the world stands on them.

Here the Rambam waxes poetic about the supreme holiness and importance of sacrifices, which are beyond our understanding.

R' Yaakov suggests that the Rambam understood that sacrifices have a sublime purpose which we cannot question in the event we don't understand it. However, the Rambam wanted to give an explanation of sacrifices. He explains that in relating to Hashem, there is a base-line value of if not actively coming closer to Hashem, at least distancing yourself from the opposite, and in that way coming closer.


If you continue two more chapters in Moreh Nevuchim you will see that it is not a contradiction.

Rambam there writes:

From this consideration it also follows that the laws cannot, like medicine, vary according to the different conditions of persons and times; whilst the cure of a person depends on his particular constitution at the particular time, the divine guidance contained in the Law must be certain and general, although it may be effective in some cases and ineffective in others. If the Law depended on the varying conditions of man, it would be imperfect in its totality, each precept being left indefinite. For this reason it would not be right to make the fundamental principles of the Law dependent on a certain time or a certain place; on the contrary, the statutes and the judgments must be definite, unconditional and general, in accordance with the divine words: "As for the congregation, one ordinance shall be for you and for the stranger" (Num. xv. 15); they are intended, as has been stated before, for all persons and for all times.

(Friedlander translation)

In other words, once a law is given it would be an imperfection for it to stop applying under changing circumstances. Thus, even if the reason Rambam gives for the law seems no longer applicable the law still stands.

  • @mbloch Some of your edits are within the citation. Is the accepted policy to even alter an exact quote to make it read better? – Alex Dec 25 '17 at 16:10
  • I went to check the original text (which is why I linked to it) and there is a ; in the original where I separated the sentences. I will re-edit to turn my . into a ; - in any case you can further edit at all times to either roll back to what you had or further edit. My only aim was to clarify a sentence which I couldn't understand without the break - and the break is in the original as well – mbloch Dec 25 '17 at 16:14
  • I changed it back to a comma. I don't think it makes sense with a semicolon or period, and the source you linked does in fact have a comma (as did the text I copied from, as does my physical copy of the book). – Alex Dec 25 '17 at 16:26
  • By all means !! – mbloch Dec 25 '17 at 16:27
  • Why the link change? – Double AA Dec 31 '18 at 4:59

One solution is as follows.

The Rambam believed that sacrifices would end, as he arguably implies in More Nivuchim.

The Rambam also believed that Halocho has a process, as he goes through in Hilchos Mamrim and the introduction to Seifer Hamitzvos.

For the Rambam to say in the context of Halocho that the sacrifices will end, he has to assume that Halocho will be in another stage of the process than the one it is in now, i.e. when he is writing, because as he is writing the Halocho is otherwise. The Rambam's Halocho book is a book for the then-present. In this book he restates the true then-present Halocho in his opinion. In the Rambam's mind the truest restatement of then-current Halocho was that if the Beis Hamikdosh was rebuilt right then sacrifices would have to resume.

השתא דאתית להכי, both can take place. First there can be sacrifices, and then as people progress in relevant ways they can abolish them.

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    Note that in Hilchos Melachim 11:1 he explicitly states that the King Messiah will restore all laws to as they were in earlier days, including the offering of sacrifices. המלך המשיח עתיד לעמוד ולהחזיר מלכות דוד ליושנה לממשלה הראשונה ובונה המקדש ומקבץ נדחי ישראל וחוזרין כל המשפטים בימיו כשהיו מקודם מקריבין קרבנות ועושין שמטין ויובלות ככל מצותה האמורה בתורה – Alex Dec 24 '17 at 22:32
  • That can work according to my last paragraph, and was true as a matter of then-present Halocho – Dov F Dec 24 '17 at 22:41
  • Perhaps I am misunderstanding your answer. It sounded like you were saying that there is no INHERENT reason why sacrifices would need to be instituted, but it is simply that at the time the Rambam was writing the justification for sacrifices still applied. I am attempting to argue (as I did in my own answer) that there is an INHERENT reason why sacrifices would need to still exist, and that is, I think, supported by the citation from Hilchos Melachim. For if one could ever imagine a time when the reasoning for sacrifices would be inapplicable, would it not be the Messianic Era? – Alex Dec 24 '17 at 22:47
  • The fact that reasoning is inapplicable does not automatically render seemingly explicit verses in the Torah inapplicable. There is a process to Halocho according to the Rambam in Hilchos Mamrim. There has to be a certain kind of court, and there are rules. The Rambam assumes the coming of moshiach is not an automatic annulment of these rules. Thus it is correct for the Rambam to say that as Halocho currently stands korbonos must be brought when moshiach comes, and also there is no reason to think everything said about the times of moshiach will happen at once; some things could take time. – Dov F Dec 24 '17 at 23:25
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    Thanks for clarifying. But perhaps you can add a source (if you have one) that a Sanhedrin has the power to "cancel" a mitzvah (when the reasoning no longer applies) as opposed to a much more limited power to reinterpret mitzvos. Doesn't your answer rely on this premise? – Alex Dec 24 '17 at 23:32

Maimonides felt that G-d neither needs nor wants sacrifices, and only allowed it because people in ancient times felt differently. It is a concession to human needs. The Rambam also states that this is not only his view but is the view of the prophets. See Guide 3:32.

We can add that the ancient rabbis around 70 CE when the temple was destroyed also felt that sacrifices were unnecessary. Therefore when the temple was destroyed, they did not seek a way to continue sacrifices. It would have been easy for them to do so if they felt it was necessary. 

Of course, as is to be expected, many rabbis disagreed. We still have many references in the siddur praying for the restoration of sacrifices. But the siddur is a compendium of many often conflicting ideas, which prompt us to think and to remember the past. Abravanel agrees with Maimonides and cites a Midrash.

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    You are free to add your opinions as comments. As unsourced assertations, however, they are of little value. At least one ("We can add that the ancient rabbis around 70 CE when the temple was destroyed also felt that sacrifices were unnecessary") is demonstrably false. Your enthusasim for Judaisim and learning about it are admirable, @Turk, but this site is radically different from most. These posts would be top shelf on /r/ Judaisim, though. – Josh K Jul 30 at 4:17
  • @JoshK I agree that I should cite the sources more often. Sometimes I am writing in other comments and cite them there. Nevertheless, I think there is conspicuous evidence to suggest that some rabbis thought that the sacrifices would become inapplicable when performing a mitzvah. Some has gone as far as to claim that the mitzvots will be abolished or nullified, almost eradicating them in the Messianic era! – Turk Hill Jul 30 at 4:39
  • Of course, this can only occur if a new prophet were to speak with authority under a canopy of six-hundred thousand people. While Rabbi Albo thinks this unlikely, he does not dismiss its possibility. – Turk Hill Jul 30 at 4:39
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    In this answer you quote Maimonides, the ancient rabbis around 70 CE, Abravanel, and the Midrash, but you don't provide references for any of them. It's hard to evaluate the correctness or quality of the answer without knowing your sources – b a Jul 30 at 11:32
  • @ba See Guide 3:32 where he takes a strong stance on the issues. – Turk Hill Jul 30 at 16:21

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