Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Shekalim 12 a, b

Moving on within the theme of money and consecrated items, today's daf explores money that is consecrated for the Alter - can it be used toward the upkeep of the Temple?  Different sacrifices, different occasions, different amounts of money - all of this is contrasted and debated.

Artisans who decorate and enhance the Temple must be paid with communal funds; however, if those funds are intended for another purpose, they must be deconsecrated and then bought and consecrated again.  According to other rabbis, that deconsecration can happen directly over labour. Knowing that we are to pay labourers for their work immediately at the end of the day, I am curious about how much planning would have gone into ensuring that artisans were remunerated according to halacha.

When it comes to animals, the rabbis seem to agree that male animals should be put to use for burnt offerings while female animals can be used for peace offerings.  Different offerings dictate different sacrifices both in type of animal and in gender of animal.  The division of male and female animals in this case ensures that all animals are used and that the offerings are treated with equal respect.  Also, a flock of animals ready for slaughter at the Alter should be used at the alter.  Interesting that this appreciation of flocks of animals exists at all.

The daf ends with a more details argument regarding the gendered animals required at different offerings and where we can find proof texts for these guidelines.

There will always be people who pray for the Temple to be rebuilt so that we can return to our old practices.  I'm not sure whether these practices were ever practiced; they may be somewhat theoretical based on the writings that have survived.  Certainly we know that the rabbis wanted the Temple-based lives of our ancestors to be complex and rich with halacha, order, hierarchy and clarity of purpose.

If the Temple were rebuilt, those same people might choose for us to return to animal sacrifices.  I cannot stomach the image of hundreds or thousands of animals being led to their slaughter.  The sprinkling of blood, the azazel... it is difficult for me to imagine circumstances where I would stand up and demand the right for my people to worship G-d in this way.

These rites of sacrifice come from the same religion that has given us chevruta study methods and the obligation of giving tzedakah.  How can such cruelty and dismissal of life come from the same place as such beauty and compassion?  How can we believe that causing an animal to suffer is somehow redemptive for us?  Is it possible that G-d knew that people would want to appreciate G-d through animal sacrifices, and that G-d is patiently waiting for us to refute and reframe those antiquated rituals?

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