Yossi Feintuch

Animal sacrifices in the Patriarchal era

Ten generations after Noah it is Abram’s “Between-The-Pieces-Covenant” with God, that promised him numerous posterity and a vast land, as we read in Lech Lecha, this weekly portion.

Entering into this covenant featured the slaying of animals; yet, thus far it was unique even in comparison with Noah’s sacrifice of animals following his exit from the ark. God did not ask Noah to offer animals to Him, especially when God’s Rainbow covenant with both humanity and animals that followed Noah’s sacrifices of gratitude, required no such a thing. By contrast, God asks Abram to enact their own covenant by slaughtering animals “to Me”.

Similarly, like with Noah, God never asked either Abraham’s son, Isaac, and grandson, Jacob, for animal sacrifices, especially when reiterating also to them the covenantal promises that He had made to Abram.

Many years afterwards God asked Abraham, (note the extra syllable “h” that God would add to his name), to offer his own son, Isaac, to Him as a burnt-offering on Mt. Moriah, only to nix that request at the nick of time. Instead, Abraham offered to God, on the same altar that he had built for sacrificing Isaac, a stray ram that was entangled in a bush. Clearly, he believed that a random ram that had just happened to be there, would be a proper substitute for Isaac, though God never asked Abraham to do so, or ever alluded to it afterwards.

That one divine request of Abraham for butchering animals is the sole exception to the total absence of any other such requests of all three Hebrew patriarchs throughout the book of Genesis. Isaac, in fact, would never offer animals to God, not even voluntarily, though he does erect an altar, as his father did thrice, with no animal offerings.  I wonder whether his traumatic experience as a would-be sacrifice himself is the very reason why Isaac would never make such animal offerings; he knew the dreadful feeling…

To sum up, animal offering to God in the Hebrew Patriarchal era was altogether a negligible ritual in their service to God.

About the Author
Ordained a Rabbi by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1994; in 2019 this institution accorded me the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa. Following ordination I served congregations on the island of Curacao, in Columbia, MO. Currently serving a congregation in Bend, Or. I received academic degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (B.A. in International Relations and History), New York University (M.A. in History), and Emory University (Ph.D. in U.S. History). I am the author of U.S. Policy on Jerusalem (Greenwood Press), and numerous articles on biblical themes in various print and digital publications. I have taught in several academic institutions, including Ben-Gurion University (Beersheba, Israel), and the University of Missouri (Columbia, MO). A native of Afula, Israel. A veteran of the IDF.
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