Can We Offer the Korban Pesach without the Beis HaMikdash?

In the year 5017 (1257), several hundred Baalei Tosafos, led by Rav Yechiel of Paris, headed for Eretz Yisroel. A younger contemporary, Rav Ashtori HaParchi, the author of Kaftor VaFerech, records a fascinating story (Vol. 1, page 101 in the 5757 edition). The Kaftor VaFerech had gone to Yerushalayim to have his sefer reviewed by a talmid chacham named Rav Baruch. Rav Baruch told the Kaftor VaFerech that Rav Yechiel had planned to offer korbanos upon arriving in Yerushalayim. Kaftor VaFerech records that at the time he was preoccupied readying his sefer for publication and did not think about the halachic issues involved, but after the pressures of his publishing deadline passed, he realized that there were practical halachic problems with Rav Yechiel’s plan, as we will discuss shortly.

It seems that Rav Yechiel’s plan to offer korbanos failed, presumably because Yerushalayim was under Crusader rule at the time. His community of Baalei Tosafos settled in Acco, as we know from a report of the Ramban about ten years later. (The Ramban reports that he spent Rosh HaShanah that year with the community of the Baalei Tosafos in Acco and delivered to them a drasha that was recorded for posterity. This is quoted in Kisvei HaRamban, Vol. 1 pg. 211.)

Let us fast forward to the early nineteenth century. Rav Tzvi Hersh Kalisher, the rav of Thorn, Germany, who had studied as a youth in the yeshivos headed by Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the Nesivos HaMishpat (Rav Yaakov of Lisa), published a sefer advocating bringing korbanos in the location where the Beis HaMikdash once stood in Yerushalayim. Rav Kalisher considered it not only permissible to offer korbanos before the Beis HaMikdash is rebuilt, but even obligatory.

As one can well imagine, his sefer created a huge furor. Rav Kalisher corresponded extensively with his own rabbonim, Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the Nesivos, and other well-known luminaries of his era including the Chasam Sofer and the Aruch LaNer. All of them opposed Rav Kalisher’s opinion, although not necessarily for the same reasons.

We can categorize the opposition to Rav Kalisher’s proposal under three headings:

  1. There was almost universal disagreement with his opinion that there is a requirement to offer korbanos before the reconstruction of the Beis HaMikdash.
  2. Some rabbonim, notably Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the author of the Aruch LaNer, prohibited offering korbanos before the reconstruction of the Beis HaMikdash even if we could resolve all the other halachic issues involved (Shu”t Binyan Tzion #1). However, it should be noted that this question did not bother either Rav Yechiel of Paris or Rav Ashtori HaParchi. Furthermore, Rabbi Akiva Eiger asked his son-in-law, the Chasam Sofer, to request permission from the ruler of Yerushalayim to allow the offering of korbanos. Presumably, Rabbi Akiva Eiger felt that his son-in-law, who had a close connection to the Austro-Hungarian royal family, might be able to use their influence to gain access to the Ottoman Empire who ruled over Yerushalayim at the time. The Chasam Sofer responded with great respect to his father-in-law, but pointed out that the Beis HaMikdash area is unfortunately covered by a mosque that is sacred to its Moslem rulers who will not permit any non-Moslem to enter (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #236). Thus, we see that both Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the Chasam Sofer agreed with Rav Kalisher that we are permitted to bring korbanos before the reconstruction of the Beis HaMikdash.
  3. Numerous halachic hurdles need to be overcome in order to offer korbanos. The discussion of these issues constitutes the lion’s share of the debate.

Rav Kalisher responded to the correspondence, eventually producing a sefer “Derishas Tzion” (published many years after the demise of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the Chasam Sofer, and the Nesivos) and subsequent essays where he presented and clarified his position. At least three full-length books and numerous essays and responsa were published opposing Rav Kalisher’s thesis.

Before quoting this discussion, we need to clarify several points. First, can we indeed offer korbanos without the existence of the Beis HaMikdash?

MAY ONE BRING KORBANOS WITHOUT THE BEIS HAMIKDASH?

The Mishnah (Eduyos 8:6) quotes Rabbi Yehoshua as saying, “I heard that we can offer korbanos even though there is no Beis HaMikdash.” The Gemara (Zevachim 62a) tells us a story that provides us with some background about this statement. “Three prophets returned with the Jews from Bavel (prior to the building of the second Beis HaMikdash), Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi, each bringing with him a halachic tradition that would be necessary for the implementation of korbanos. One of them testified about the maximum size of the mizbeiach, one testified about the location of the mizbeiach, and the third testified that we may offer korbanos even when there is no Beis HaMikdash.” Based on these testimonies, the Jews returning to Eretz Yisroel began offering korbanos before the Beis HaMikdash was rebuilt.

Obviously, Rav Kalisher and Rav Ettlinger interpret this Gemara differently. According to Rav Kalisher and those who agreed with him, the prophet testified that we may offer korbanos at any time, even if there is no Beis HaMikdash. Rav Ettlinger, however, understands the Gemara to mean that one may offer korbanos once the construction of the Beis HaMikdash has begun, even though it is still incomplete. But in the view of Rav Ettlinger, after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash we may not offer korbanos until Eliyahu announces the building of the third Beis HaMikdash.

An earlier posek, Rav Yaakov Emden, clearly agreed with Rav Kalisher in this dispute. Rav Emden, often referred to as “The Yaavetz,” contends that Jews offered korbanos, at least occasionally, even after the second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, which would be forbidden according to Rav Ettlinger’s position (She’aylas Yaavetz #89). This is based on an anecdote cited by a mishnah (Pesachim 74a) that Rabban Gamliel instructed his slave, Tevi, to roast the Korban Pesach for him. There were two Tanna’im named Rabban Gamliel, a grandfather and a grandson. The earlier Rabban Gamliel, referred to as “Rabban Gamliel the Elder,” lived at the time of the second Beis HaMikdash, whereas his grandson, “Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh,” was the head of the Yeshivah in Yavneh and was renowned after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Thus, if we can determine which Rabban Gamliel is the protagonist of the mishnah’s story, we may be able to determine whether Jews offered korbanos after the Churban. This would verify Rav Kalisher’s opinion.

Rav Emden assumes that the Rabban Gamliel who owned a slave named Tevi was the later one. He thus concludes that Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh offered korbanos after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Although the Yaavetz brings no proof that the Rabban Gamliel in the above-quoted mishnah is Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh, he may have based his assumption on a different Gemara (Bava Kamma 74b), which records a conversation between Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabban Gamliel concerning Tevi. Since Rabbi Yehoshua was a contemporary of Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh, this would imply that the later Rabban Gamliel indeed offered the Korban Pesach after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.

However, this does not solve the numerous halachic issues that need to be resolved in order to allow the offering of korbanos. Although Rav Kalisher responded to these issues, the other gedolim considered his replies insufficient.

KORBANOS ON THE MOUNTAIN

The Brisker Rav, Rav Velvel Soloveichek, raised a different objection to Rav Kalisher’s proposal. Basing himself on several pesukim and halachic sources, he contended that the Beis HaMikdash site only has kedusha when it is a high mountain. Since the Romans razed the present site and it is no longer the prominent height it once was, it is not kosher for offering korbanos until the mountain is raised again to its former glory (quoted in Moadim U’Zemanim Volume 5, pg. 222). Thus, according to this approach, one of Moshiach’s jobs will be to raise the mountain to its former height. Presumably, Rav Kalisher felt that although the mountain should and will be raised, korbanos may be offered before that time.

I will now present some of the other questions involved in ascertaining whether we may bring korbanos before the coming of Eliyahu and Moshiach.

MAY A TAMEI PERSON ENTER THE BEIS HAMIKDASH?

Virtually all opinions agree that it is a Torah prohibition to offer korbanos anywhere in the world except for the designated place in the Beis HaMikdash called the mizbeiach. This creates a halachic problem, because it is a severe Torah prohibition to enter the Beis HaMikdash grounds while tamei, and virtually everyone today has become tamei meis through contact with a corpse. (Someone who was ever in the same room or under the same roof as a corpse also becomes tamei meis.) Although other forms of tumah can be removed by immersion in a mikveh at the appropriate time, tumas meis can be removed only by sprinkling ashes of the parah adumah (the red heifer). Since the ashes of the previously prepared paros adumos are lost, we cannot purify ourselves from tumas meis. Thus, we would be prohibited from bringing most korbanos because every kohen is presumed to be tamei meis.

Gedolim have discussed whether a new parah adumah can be prepared before the arrival of the Moshiach, but I am refraining from citing this discussion because of space considerations.

However, although we have no available tahor cohanim, this would not preclude our offering Korban Pesach or certain other public korbanos (korbanos tzibur).

WHY IS KORBAN PESACH DIFFERENT FROM MOST OTHER KORBANOS?

Most korbanos cannot be brought when either the owner of the korban or the kohen offering the korban is tamei. However, the Torah decrees that korbanos that are offered on a specific day must be brought even when every kohen is tamei. Thus, the Korban Pesach, the daily korban tamid, and the special mussaf korbanos that are brought on Shabbos, Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh may be offered by a kohen who is tamei meis if necessary.

Other korbanos, however, may not be offered by a tamei kohen even if this results in them not being brought at all. Thus, since there is no tahor kohen available today, we would assume that Rav Yechiel only planned to offer one of the above korbanos (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #236).

LOCATION OF THE MIZBEIACH

As mentioned above, the debate over Rav Kalisher’s proposal concerned other halachic issues that must be resolved before we may offer korbanos. The Kaftor VaFerech raised two of these issues over five hundred years before Rav Kalisher. How could Rav Yechiel offer korbanos when we do not know the exact location of the mizbeiach? As the Rambam writes, “The location of the mizbeiach is extremely exact and it may never be moved from its location…. We have an established tradition that the place where David and Shlomoh built the mizbeiach is the same place where Avraham built the mizbeiach and bound Yitzchak. This is the same place where Noach built a mizbeiach when he left the Ark and where Kayin and Hevel built their mizbeiach. It is the same place where Adam offered the first korban, and it is the place where he (Adam) was created.

“The dimensions and shape of the mizbeiach are very exact. The mizbeiach constructed when the Jews returned from the first exile was built according to the dimensions of the mizbeiach that will be built in the future. One may not add or detract from its size,” (Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 2:1-3).

As noted above, prior to building the second Beis HaMikdash, the prophets Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi testified regarding three halachos about the mizbeiach that were necessary to reinstitute the korbanos, one of which was the exact location the mizbeiach and. If so, how can we offer korbanos without knowing the location of the mizbeiach?

Rav Kalisher offered an answer to this question, contending that the prophets’ testimonies were necessary only after the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash, because the Babylonians razed it to its very foundations. However, Rav Kalisher contended that sufficient remnants exist of the second Beis HaMikdash to determine the mizbeiach’s precise location, thus eliminating the need for prophecy or testimony to establish its location.

Rav Kalisher’s correspondents were dissatisfied with this response, maintaining that the calculations based on the Beis HaMikdash remnants could not be sufficiently precise to determine the mizbeiach’s exact location. Thus, they felt that we must await the arrival of Eliyahu HaNavi to ascertain the mizbeiach’s correct place.

YICHUS OF COHANIM

Do we have “real” cohanim today? Only a kohen who can prove the purity of his lineage may serve in the Beis HaMikdash (see Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Biah 20:2). The Gemara calls such cohanimcohanim meyuchasim.” Cohanim who cannot prove their lineage, but who have such a family tradition, are called “cohanei chazakah,” cohanim because of traditional practice. Although they may observe other mitzvos of cohanim, they may not serve in the Beis HaMikdash.

An early source for the distinction between cohanim who can prove their lineage and those who cannot is the story found in Tanach about the sons of Barzilai the Kohen. When these cohanim came to bring korbanos in the second Beis HaMikdash, Nechemiah rebuffed them because of concerns about their ancestry (Ezra 2:61-63; Nechemiah 7:63-65). The Gemara states that although Nechemiah permitted them to eat terumah and to duchen, he prohibited them from eating korbanos or serving in the Beis HaMikdash (Kesubos 24b). Similarly, today’s cohanim who cannot prove their kehunah status should be unable to serve in the Beis HaMikdash. This would eliminate the possibility of offering korbanos today.

However, Rav Kalisher permits cohanei chazakah to offer korbanos. He contends that only in the generation of Ezra and Nechemiah, when there was a serious problem of intermarriage (see Ezra, Chapter 9), did they restrict service in the Beis HaMikdash to cohanim meyuchasim. However, in subsequent generations, any kohen with a mesorah may serve in the Beis HaMikdash.

Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Yoreh Deah #236) also permits cohanei chazakah to offer korbanos, but for a different reason, contending that although using a kohen meyuchas is preferred, a non-meyuchas kohen may serve in the Beis HaMikdash when no kohen meyuchas is available.

Other poskim dispute this, maintaining that a kohen who is not meyuchas may not serve in the Beis HaMikdash (Kaftor VaFerech).

The question then becomes – If only a kohen who can prove his kehunah may offer korbanos, and there are no surviving cohanim who can prove their kehunah, how will we ever again be able to bring korbanos?

The answer is that Moshiach will use his Ruach HaKodesh to determine who is indeed a kosher kohen that may serve in the Beis HaMikdash (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 12:3). This approach preempts Rav Kalisher’s proposal completely.

VESTMENTS OF THE KOHEN

Before korbanos are reintroduced, gedolei poskim will have to decide several other matters, including the definitive determination of several materials necessary for the kohen’s vestments.

The Torah describes the garments worn to serve in the Beis HaMikdash as follows: “Aharon and his sons shall put on their belt and their hat, and they (the garments) shall be for them as kehunah as a statute forever,” (Shmos 29:9). The Gemara deduces, “When their clothes are on them, their kehunah is on them. When their clothes are not on them, their kehunah is not on them,” (Zevachim 17b). This means that korbanos are valid only if the kohen offering them wears the appropriate garments.

One of the vestments worn by the cohanim is the avneit, the belt. Although the Torah never describes the avneit worn by the regular kohen, the halachic conclusion is that his avneit includes threads made of techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani (Gemara Yoma 6a). There is uncertainty about the identification of each of these items. For example, the Rambam and the Ravad dispute the color of argaman (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:13). The identity of techeiles is also unknown. Most poskim conclude that Hashem hid the source of techeiles, a fish known as chilazon, and that it will only be revealed at the time of Moshiach. Thus, even if we rule that our cohanim are kosher for performing the service, they cannot serve without valid garments! (It should be noted that several great poskim, including the Radziner Rebbe, the Maharsham, Rav Herzog and Rav Yechiel Michel Tukochinski, contended that we could research the correct identity of the techeiles. I have written a different article on the subject of identifying the techeiles.)

Rav Kalisher himself contended that the garments of the kohen do not require chilazon as the dye source, only the color of techeiles. In his opinion, chilazon dye is only necessary for tzitzis. (He based this approach on the wording of the Rambam in Hilchos Tzitzis 2:1-2.) Therefore, in Rabbi Kalisher’s opinion, one may dye the threads of the avneit the correct color and perform the service. However, other poskim did not accept this interpretation but require the specific dye source of chilazon blood to dye the vestments (Likutei Halachos, Zevachim Chapter 13 pg. 67a).

Rav Kalisher did not discuss the dispute between the Rambam and the Ravad about the color of the argaman. Apparently, he felt that we could determine the answer and dye the avneit threads appropriately.

ADDITIONAL ISSUES

The poskim raised several other issues concerning Rav Kalisher’s proposal. One problem raised is that Klal Yisroel must purchase all public korbanos from the funds of the machatzis hashekel, which would require arranging the collection of these funds before the publically owned korbanos could be offered. However, this question would not preclude offering Korban Pesach, which is a privately owned korban.

Rav Kalisher’s disputants raised several other questions, more than can be presented here. As we know, the gedolei haposkim rejected Rav Kalisher’s plan to reintroduce korbanos before the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash.

However, we have much to learn from Rav Kalisher’s intense desire to offer korbanos. Do we live with a burning desire to see the Beis HaMikdash rebuilt speedily in our days? Even if, chas veshalom, we are still not able to offer Korban Pesach this year, we should still devote Erev Pesach to studying the halachos of that korban. And may we soon merit seeing the cohanim offering all the korbanos in the Beis HaMikdash in purity and sanctity, Amen.

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