Here’s a rabbi who should have held his tongue. It’s David Wolpe, whom we’ve encountered several times before. Over at HuffPo he writes “In defense of animal sacrifice.” (HuffPo notes at the bottom: “The title of this piece has been updated from ‘Why Animal Sacrifice is Good’ to ‘In Defense of Animal Sacrifice’ to more accurately reflect the views of the author.”)
Why would a liberal and sophisticated rabbi defend the wanton killing of beasts to propitiate a God in whom that rabbi barely believes? (Note: Wolpe is also a vegetarian.)
Wolpe first notes that many sacrifices are also used for food, adding, “what then is the difference between a sacrifice at the Temple and what happens in a modern slaughterhouse?” Perhaps, except that many sacrifices aren’t eaten, and those that are are often practiced with horrible barbarity. I myself have witnessed painful and dreadful sacrifices of goats and sheep in Nepal, and the animal is not only terrified, but takes a long time to die.
Nepal is in fact notorious for this kind of stuff; Wikipedia notes that “possibly the largest animal sacrifice in the world occurs during Gadhimai festival in Nepal. In the 3 day long sacrifice in 2009 it was speculated that more than 250,000 animals were killed while 5 million devotees attended the festival.” (If you’re not squeamish, there’s a video here.) It adds that the Hindu methods of sacrificing animals include piercing their hearts with a spike, or strangling them.
Granted, most modern abattoirs aren’t paragons of kindness (and I do struggle to justify my own carnivory), but at least the animals are eaten, and attempts have been made, by people like Temple Grandin, to minimize the pain and trauma of the slaughter. But Wolpe’s own vegetarianism makes his endorsement of animal sacrifice doubly distasteful.
Wolpe’s other reasons?
1. To raise our consciousness by sacrificing something:
A sacrifice of negligible worth is no certain sign of devotion. Love is demanding; the lover must offer something valuable. In ancient Israel, offering the products of labor — crops, animals — showed deep connection. Love for God was demonstrated by the readiness to give one’s most valuable possessions.
2. To give us a sense of awe when we kill something.
By the time we get the cellophane wrapped package, flesh, sinew, blood and bones are sanitized and ready to go. It is as routinized as an oil change.. . . Not so in the ancient Temple. The full import of taking life was borne in upon the supplicant. The life was claimed with holiness, accompanied by prayers before God. The spectacle was not about product but about piety. When Jews sacrificed in the Temple, they reminded themselves of the Source of all life.
We do not honor life by taking it wantonly, particularly to please a being who does not exist.