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?

  • 1
    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
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 7:40

7 Answers 7


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."

  • The Link is dead
    – fartgeek
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 3:02

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.


I read once an answer to that in a book of Ben Ish Hay. I think it was at some responsas at the end of the אמרי בינה.

His way was to say make a difference between Korbanot that was offered by the Kohanim, who learnt the good Kavanot and the "real meaning" of Korbanot. This is what is the greatest avoda.

In another hand, when Amei Haartsim give korban, it's probably to "give a gift to God", and this is not the good Hashkafa. It was so authorized to simple people to give Korbanot because of the old habits, as write the Rambam.

  • Welcome to this site. This was a good answer for a first. Upvote.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 15:18

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
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 22:32
  • That can work according to my last paragraph, and was true as a matter of then-present Halocho
    – Dov F
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 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
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 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
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 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
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 23:32

Are the laws of the sacrifices a concession to human nature, not to be repeated in the messianic age according to Maimonides?

Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg Certainly thinks so, writing:

In the twelfth century Maimonides, the greatest of all rabbinic scholars, explained that animal sacrifices had been instituted in ancient Judaism as a concession to the prevalent ancient practice of making such offerings to the pagan gods (Moreh Nebuhim 111:32).[1]

In his essay Purpose of Sacrifices, Rabbi Dov Linzer states the following:

Rambam states that worshipping G-d through animal sacrifices is not ideal, but the people at the time of the Giving of the Torah could not conceive of any other form of worship. If they would have been forced to choose between worshipping G-d with prayer or worshipping pagan gods with sacrifices, they would have chosen the latter. Thus, G-d conceded to them their need to use sacrifices, but demanded that they be brought to G-d and brought in a way which did not lead to idolatry.[1]

The question we should really be asking ourselves is this: do we wish to remain at a lower level of worship? Maimonides sought for a higher philosophical, a more sophisticated form of worship; not indebted to physicality in a mode where adherence requires the physical, primitive, delight in the enjoyment of sacrifice in which G-d loathes.

”To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? says the L-rd” (Isaiah 1:11). Jeremiah 7:22–23 agrees: “For I (G-d) spoke not unto your fathers nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt concerning burnt offerings or sacrifice. But this thing I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice.’

“I am full of the burnt offerings of bullocks, or of lambs or of he-goats… bring no more vain oblations… Your new moon and your appointed feats my soul hates;… and when you spread fourth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; yes, when you make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood. “ (Isaiah 1:11-16).

I hate, I despise your feats, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Though you offer me burnt offerings and your meal offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beast. Take you away from me the noise of your song; and let Me not hear the melody of your psalteries. But let justice well up as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. (Amos 5:21-4).

“To do charity and justice is more acceptable to the L-rd than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3).

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice." (Hosea 6:6).[3]

The point is not to be missed: G-d does not desire sacrifices and Maimonides quotes the prophets for support.4

[1] From the “The Jewish Declaration on Nature,” from “The Assisi Declarations,” in Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi (29 September 1986)

[1] See his essay here

[3] All biblical quotes from Richard H. Schwartz book Judaism and Vegetarianism

4 This is an excellent essay by Rabbi Shlomo Nachman where he quotes additionally biblical verses showing that G-d does not need nor want sacrifices.

  • These are not only views of Reform Jews. Micah Goodman in his Maimonides books felt the same, as well as Rabbi Israel Drazin. Of course, this view is a minority view, but it exists. Additionally, Rabbi Kook also felt that sacrifices would not be reinstituted.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Dec 8, 2019 at 17:30
  • Even if entirely correct, this post merely supports the premise of the first paragraph of the question. But how does it answer the actual question posed in the second paragraph?
    – Alex
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 12:19
  • Second paragraph asks: how do we reconcile primitive worship with the reinstitution of sacrifices? We don’t. Rabbi Kook wrote how we will use derash to nullify the sacrifices, and you can it about it here.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 15:16
  • The Q asked for an explanation of Maimonides' words. This is one interpretation. Please show or demonstrate how this does not answer the question. Thank you.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 17:31
  • Even R' Kook agrees that you need a Sanhedrin to limit the scope of korbanot through a drash. So if we had the ability to bring the tamid today without being attacked, we'd be required to do it. As far as I know this is a completely uncontroversial statement.
    – Heshy
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 11:41

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.

  • 2
    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. Commented Jul 30, 2019 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
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 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
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 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
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 11:32
  • @ba See Guide 3:32 where he takes a strong stance on the issues.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 16:21

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