The sacrifice of animals and the fall of Noah

Glaringly missing from the Noah narrative is God’s approval of his iconoclastic action – being the first person to build a slaughter-site and sacrifice animals on it.  God response to this outrageous action is actually inconsolable and devoid of any scintilla of sanctioning.  It thus looks odd, if not unsettling, that in the midst of an unending graveyard of all that had lived, Noah slaughters fellow flood survivors to thank God for his own personal survival.

Noah hadn’t done a nary yet after he built his altar to offer his sacrifices on it, before God ‘’smelled’’ them, only to announce promptly that ‘’…what the human heart forms is evil from its youth’’ (Genesis 8:21). God’s subsequent charging Noah with seven laws — as the Rabbis delineate them, rather than the literal story itself — laws that prohibit murder, sexual turpitude, stealing and cruelty to animals, attest to the essential idea that the human is not inherently good. For even these demanding laws do not assure humans’ compliance, only the possibility for it.

Evidently, God is not presently lamenting humans’ wrongdoing that drove Him to unleash the killer-deluge, which in turn wrecked innumerous lives of humans and animals alike; God had already done that. Nor does God decry the continuation of wicked human conduct after the deluge for that is yet to unfold in the future. Rather, smelling the very first singed flesh of animals and birds sacrificed by a human to do homage to Him, even on Noah’s altar, brings God to lament this evil action.

When reading survivors’ memories from the Holocaust (or other accounts of atrocities), one never comes across a ceremony, or even a prayer, that thanks God for one’s personal survival from the genocidal inferno. Rather, there is an unfathomable lamentation about the destruction of a whole world, with its unanswerable questions like: ‘’Where were You, O God?’’ Or ‘’How did God allow this to happen?’’

God’s early hope that Noah would affect a dramatic change in peoples’ conduct, or that the flood would at least purify the earth from ‘’humankind’s evildoing’’, went south and sour following Noah’s watershed animal sacrifice. Noah who chose to be the first human to shed blood after the flood, even of his fellow survivors among the fauna, ended the cordiality between humans and animals that was kept even on the Ark, during a challenging and highly dense, if not tense journey with limited resources that lasted about a year.

Yet, it had no recorded hostility among the species. Noah’s slaying of animals, who like him were themselves survivors of the same catastrophe that befell the planet, was unprecedented. God neither solicited nor appreciated his homage. Once Noah slaughtered animals to thank God for staying alive, God will soon permit it, though not commanding it, for food as well; a mysterious shift, indeed, in God’s stance on animals as food.

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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