Slaughtering Outside

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    • Tzvi Chulsky 2 months ago

      This week’s parashah begins with a description of the Yom Kippur service in the Temple, and ends with forbidden relationships. In between is a section that is less frequently discussed[1]; it starts out by forbidding ritually slaughtering an animal unless it is done in the Mishkan. This is interesting because it is seemingly reversed upon entering the Land of Israel[2], where the language of the Torah fairly plainly says that if the Temple is too far, one may ritually slaughter animals for food outside the Temple[3].

      “[A] person’s offering represents his personality,” writes Rav S.R. Hirsch,

      and through this offering he seeks to attain closeness to God. Toward this end, he brings his offering to the כהן, to the Sanctuary of the Torah, which is the condition for, and the means of, attaining closeness to God.

      But if he brings his offering [in the field]… he uproots himself from the elemental existence of his people, which is God’s own.

      We used an innocent-looking ellipsis to gloss over what exactly it is that Rav Hirsch says one worships when he slaughters outside of the Mishkan because it would distract (but not detract) from the view of this section as regarding whether one does his avodah “in the Temple”—the way he is “supposed to”—or “on his own,” as he wishes. We see many of the latter today, but they are not new.

      In Avot 1:3, Antignos, possibly the first known Jew with a Greek name, says basically “do not serve God to earn a prize; serve Him without trying to earn a prize.” Avot d’Rabbi Natan 5:2 describes two of Antignos’s disciples who said that their teacher would never have said this if there had been an afterlife—and they concluded that there is none. These disciples founded two separate movements based on this idea; one of them was named Tzadok, and the movement named after him was that of the Sadducees[4][5].

      The Sadducees initially disavowed any sort of afterlife, and any sort of resurrection of the dead. They then developed a large number of ideas different from “mainstream Judaism.” We see an interesting parallel in the siddurim of some modern movements, where we can find passages like מכלכל חיים בחסד, מחיה הכל ברחמים רבים…ונאמן אתה להחיות הכל. ברוך אתה ה’, מחיה הכל. Given the name of this week’s parashah, this conflict is very apropos.

      But neither the Sadducees nor the similar modern movements stopped there. Both, in the end, were/are movements of “slaughtering outside the Mishkan,” where one decides for himself which mitzvot to follow and when to simply do things as he wishes. To see how far, in the case of the Sadducees, this departed from the afterlife and resurrection of the dead, one needs only to flip a bit back in our parashah, to a point in the Yom Kippur service[6], where the kohen is instructed, fairly straightforwardly, to take a panful of coals and two handfuls of incense, take them inside the Holy of Holies, then put the incense on the fire. Rabbinic Judaism holds that we follow the Torah directly here and the kohen does everything in the order stated—i.e. first go in, then put the incense on the coals.

      The Sadducees insisted that the order should be switched[7]. On the one hand, they pointed out that earlier in the parashah[8], God had said that He will be seen “in a cloud.” On the other hand, they argued that when one brings food before a king, he arrives with the food ready; he does not prepare it in front of the king. How much more so, they said, before God. On the third hand, they argued that the Rabbis should not be trusted, and the plain meaning of the Torah should be followed—an interesting claim in a situation where the Rabbis follow the plain meaning of the Torah and the Sadducees try to point out reasons why the plain meaning should not be followed.

      Ignoring the Rabbis and the Torah, they fashioned the Yom Kippur service based on their own tastes and understanding. And they missed many beautiful things as a result. For one thing, had they not dismissed the plain text of the Torah, as well as what the Rabbis say, they would have been forced to the conclusion that our relationship with God is not just a relationship with a king; it often more resembles marriage, where it can be perfectly fine—indeed, desirable—for a wife to do away with formalities and prepare food in front of her husband. But the Sadducees missed this, “bow[ing],” Rav Hirsch writes, “to the idol of external etiquette—the same idol to which the modern Sadducees bow, and in whose name they break every law at the holiest moments of Divine worship.”

      Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky of Crown Heights[9] points out that Torah and the Rabbinic tradition hold that the clouds of incense must originate inside the Holy of Holies, and that this is symbolic of the idea that our avodah must originate in the Torah. The Sadducees’ incense cloud originated outside, because that is where their avodah originated. It is to this that our thoughts should go whenever we hear talk of “updating” or “modernizing” Judaism.

      While the modern movements that do this are far more aggressive than the Sadducees—the Sadducees never claimed, for example, that the Torah does not come from God, which figures in these movements sometimes do—it is also unfair to see them as if their intent is to move Jews away from proper avodah. It is important to remember that when the modern movements formed, their target demographic was not religious Jews, but those who were already completely alienated, and these movements gave those alienated Jews an opportunity to maintain some connection—if occasionally illusory—to Judaism.

      The fact that later on in the Torah, “slaughtering outside” becomes permitted if one is too far away emphasizes this nuance: the issue arises not when these movements come into existence, attracting Jews on the periphery who had no connection to Torah, and, through these movements, may develop some tenuous one; it arises when the Sadducees gain control of the performance of rituals inside the Temple, and it arises when their modern counterparts attempt to supersede Torah tradition. If the Temple is nearby, slaughtering outside of it remains inappropriate.

      When we say אשר נתן לשכוי בינה להבחין בין יום ובין לילה, we can have the kavanah that the same Source Who gives roosters the ability and drive to detect and identify subtle boundaries will give those who profess “slaughtering outside” the ability and drive to carefully skirt a subtle boundary and recruit only those who are too far to come “slaughter inside.”

      [1] Vayikra 17
      [2] Devarim 12:20-21
      [3] In Chullin, at the end of daf 16 and the beginning of daf 17, Rabbi Yishmael holds that this means that meat, other than sacrificial meat, is forbidden to the Jews in the desert; Rabbi Akiva, however (ibid.), holds that it is only ritual slaughter that is forbidden outside of the Mishkan, and so it is only upon entry into Israel that ritual slaughter becomes a requirement for eating meat.
      [4] For historic reasons, the spellings came together in such a way that it is very difficult to tell that the word “Sadducee” comes from “Tzadok.”
      [5] Many later Sadducees claimed that they were actually named after a different Tzadok, the first High Priest in the first Temple; this does not appear as plausible to us.
      [6] Vayikra 16:12-13
      [7] See Yoma 19b
      [8] v. 2
      [9] Author of the Vedibarta Bam volumes

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