(photo credit: FRIENDS OF THE JACOB SHEEP)
In his legal digest, Maimonides counts 16 different sub-commandments associated with the Passover offering, the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb. And it is a fact, as rabbis and scholars have long noted, that a number of these sub-commandments identified by Maimonides seem calculated to establish a tight connection between the requirement to offer the Paschal Lamb and the obligation to circumcise our sons when they reach eight days of age. Apparently, at least according to Maimonides, but I believe not only according to Maimonides, the Paschal Lamb and the circumcision ritual are two sides of the same coin. Circumcision marks us physically as Jews; the Paschal Lamb expresses our Jewish identity historically and metaphysically.
For this reason, I believe that we can no longer neglect the following gnawing question: is it time to reinstitute the ritual of the Paschal Lamb? And let me add that from a technical halachic perspective, it is absolutely permissible to erect an altar on the Temple Mount, even in the absence of the actual Temple, and offer sacrifices to the God of Israel. Moreover, the inconvenience of our status as being ritually impure is also not an impediment to restarting this one tradition. In fact, if we were to do so we would be treading in the footsteps of R. Yechiel of Paris, who immigrated to Israel in 1260 after the Galican Church burned 17 wagon-loads of hand-written manuscripts of the Talmud.
Upon arrival in Jerusalem, R. Yechiel was determined to construct an altar in order to offer the Paschal Lamb. But he failed in his quest mostly because he was unable to determine where upon the mountain the altar ought to be placed.
But his effort did not go unnoticed. In 1837 Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer explored the idea of appealing to Mahmud II, the reformist Ottoman sultan who spearheaded the Tanzimat, for permission to reinstitute the sacrifice. Toward this end, R.
Kalischer brought the matter to the attention of the Chatam Sofer, the leading halachic authority of that time, who ruled that restarting this tradition was both permissible and preferable. Unfortunately, Mahmud II died just two years later and the reforms of the Tanzimat, which may well have included recognizing the right of the Jews to worship their God on the Temple Mount, came to a screeching halt. The Ottoman Empire re-entered its regressive shell and the sacrifice remained dormant.
But 130 years later, the historical narrative was turned on its head. On June 7, 1967, the State of Israel liberated Jerusalem and for the first time in 2,000 years the Temple Mount was directly controlled by the Jewish people. In the inimitable words of Brigade Commander Colonel Motta Gur, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”
But both the political and religious leadership of the state failed to seize the moment.
Instead of preparing the nation for the renewal of the Paschal Lamb tradition, our political and religious leadership succumbed to their fears – the rabbis conceded due to fears of ritual impurity – and the politicians surrendered to their illusions about peace and reconciliation with the conquered Arab population of Jerusalem.
But much has changed since June of 1967. In the half-century since the liberation of the Temple Mount, the rabbis, especially those aligned with Religious Zionism, have shed their fears. Since they will never accede to surrendering the Temple Mount, they have come to realize that the people have a right to use it for sacerdotal purposes which would include the sacrificial tradition. And the politicians have also steadily changed their orientation.
Not only has peace not been reached, its achievement seems to be steadily slipping into a future that never arrives.
On the technical side, archeological knowledge has made it possible for us to determine with absolute precision the exact location of the altar upon the mountain.
Soon enough we will discover the exact size of a cubit. And at that point erecting the altar will be a simple feat of measurement.
These developments, which are already pressing on our current reality, suggest that we may no longer be able to avoid the obligation to offer the Paschal Lamb. After all, at least for the Orthodox, religious commandments are not suggestions but requirements. And it would be unseemly for the religious community to wiggle out from under this particular obligation by asserting that the secular political authorities of the State of Israel, those who lead the nation-state of the Jewish people, many of whom are themselves observant Jews, are preventing us from fulfilling our religious duty.
The fact of the matter is that with the Temple Mount in our hands, the Paschal Lamb is within our reach. And it behooves us to begin considering if now is the time to restore this ritual as part of the national Jewish renaissance.