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Vayikra/Leviticus 17:3 Any man from the house of Israel who shall slaughter an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or who shall slaughter outside the camp
This verse and those that follow it spark a significant difference of opinion between Rabbi Ishmael andRabbi Akiva, close colleagues and well-known teachers with their own schools of disciples in the years following the destruction of the Second Temple. The debate concerns the interaction between these verses and D'varim chapter 12. Here we have:
If anyone of the house of Israel slaughters an ox or sheep or goat in the camp, or does so outside the camp, and does not bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to present it as an offering to the L-RD, before the L-RD's Tabernacle, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man: he has shed blood; that man shall be cut off from among his people. (Vayikra 17:3-4, JPS)
while there, the text says:
When the L-RD enlarges your territory, as He has promised you, and you say, "I shall eat some meat," for you have the urge to eat meat, you may eat meat whenever you wish. If the place where the L-RD has chosen to establish His name is too far from you, you may slaughter any of the cattle or sheep that the L-RD gives you, as I have instructed you; and you may eat to your heart's content in your settlements. (D'varim 12:20-21, JPS)
In the one text, slaughter anywhere away from the Tent of Meeting is forbidden, while in the other, it is allowed.Hirsch tells us "according to Rabbi Ishmael, during the whole period of the sojourn in the wilderness, killing solely for the purpose of eating meat was forbidden. Only that which had been consecrated as peace offerings and, as such, brought as an offering in the Tabernacle could afterwards be eaten by the offerers. It was only after the entry into the Land that killing to eat was allowed and the permitting order refers to this. According to Rabbi Akiva, the killing and eating of domestic animals was not prohibited in the wilderness and the command in D'varim was to add the process of ritual slaughter which in the wilderness had only been required for holy things."
Gunther Plaut's commentary titles the block of text "Prohibition of slaughter (even without sacrificial rites) except at the Tent of Meeting", while Richard Elliott Friedman comments that "in Vayikra YHVH forbids the slaughter of animals outside a formal ritual setting. If one wants to eat meat, one must bring the animal to the priest, who sacrifices it in the prescribed manner at the altar. Following the flood, animals are permitted as food. Now the sacrificial laws of Vayikra recognise that this involves the taking of life, and they decree that life cannot be taken as a secular act of slaughter." This firstly supports Rabbi Ishmael's view that the plain reading of the text - namely that 'slaughter' means 'slaughter' - prohibits slaughter of animals just for eating, but secondly seems to harden the disagreement between this text and the later one giving license in Land of Israel when too far from the Temple.
The Hebrew text offers some help. The verb , used in both halves of the verse, comes from the root , which has a wider range of meanings than the root , from which we get the noun , altar or place of sacrifice, which is used much more tightly for killing or slaughtering animals especially for sacrifice (Davidson). In B'resheet 6:11-12, narrates how the earth and mankind have become corrupt by the time of the flood; in Jeremiah 13:7, it describes the rotting of the loincloth thatHaShem had told Jeremiah to hide in a cleft of a rock in the river Euphrates. It is used here and in similar ritual contexts as "to slaughter". Baruch Levine explains: "the verb has two meanings: to slaughter in the general sense and also to slaughter a sacrifice. In the ritual texts of the Torah, the verb never has the general sense of slaughtering that it has in other less detailed biblical texts. It is proper," Levine maintains, "to view the verb in this verse as a term for sacrificing and to conclude that there is basic agreement between Vayikra and D'varim." We can also note that the three animals mentioned - the ox, the lamb and the goat - are all domestic animals and the only animals approved for offering on the altar of the L-rd. This seems to support Rabbi Akiva's point of view: that the Vayikra text is talking about sacrificial slaughter, which can only be done - now or in the Land - at the L-rd's Sanctuary, and not about meat for eating.
TheRamban supports Rabbi Ishmael, saying, "[G-d] forbade Israel whilst in the desert to eat an ordinary meal of meat, and they were to eat only the meat of peace-offerings that had been offered on the altar to G-d. Therefore He said that whoever wants to slaughter any of the three kinds of animals from which all offerings are brought must bring them to the door of the Tent of Meeting", while the Baal HaTurim supports Rabbi Akiva by pointing out that since these verses are juxtaposed with the passage describing the goat that is sent out into the wilderness on Yom Kippur, HaShem could be thought to say, "Although I have permitted the goat to be sent outside ... you shall nevertheless be careful regarding other sanctified animals, not to slaughter them outside". The Rabbis conclude by using these verses as their example for saying "There are many things which the Holy One, blessed be He, prohibited, and in another place permitted them again" (D'varim Rabbah 4:6).
So how are we to read this text? It could be about eating meat as opposed to, say, grains and vegetables; by prohibiting slaughter of animals away from a ritual context, it made meat more expensive and less convenient, thus leaning the Israelites towards a lower or even zero meat content in their diets. It could be about centralised worship; a first sign of the idea of a single central site for worship and sacrifice that didn't see its fullness until forty years later on the plains of Moab when Moshe spoke to the generation about to enter the Land. It could also be about the prevention of idolatry; by bringing all sacrifice to the Tent of Meeting and forbidding all other, it removed any possible ambiguity over on-the-spot sacrifices in the field, in groves, on mountains or the high places.
The relevance for us as believers in Yeshua? Consider the behaviour of the first church in Jerusalem: "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42, ESV). Although the group was now over three thousand in number, there is close fellowship. With only the twelve key witnesses, everyone had to remain close to the centre to stay in touch. Here, "breaking of bread" almost certainly did not refer to sharing "the L-rd's Table", but to widespread sharing of meals and homes; people ate together talked around the table. The phrase "the prayers" is a typical referent to the prayer services held in the Temple; the early believers attended the Temple on a regular and consistent basis, staying in touch with their tradition and their people. Taken together, this prevented the core of the faith being diluted or damaged in the early days, keeping the central focus on the eye-witness group; it enabled needs and challenges to be met locally; it kept people in a flowing and free fellowship environment. The text tells us the result: "The L-rd added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (v. 47, ESV). As the story goes on, we read that "awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles" (v. 43, ESV) as people saw for themselves what G-d was doing: first-hand, not second or third - life with G-d and in the presence of G-d's people was catching. Then "day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts" (v. 46, ESV); they continued to worship and eat together on a daily basis. This enabled real friendship and relationship to develop as people grew in their faith together; this was not just personal growth, but community growth.
Much of this is lacking in local faith communities today. People are not drawn to our life and witness as believers because we are fragmented and individualistic: believing in Yeshua, but still living the same isolated and broken lifestyles as the people around us. How can we recapture the simplicity and sharing of the early church and life in the desert camp? We need to consider bringing our places of worship together rather than maintaining multiple buildings; we need to meet every day for worship and fellowship; we need to share eating together or in groups at least once a day to share and build our lives together. This will be our witness to the reality and power of the resurrection of Yeshua!
Further Study: Acts 5:42; Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19
Application: What could you do to re-focus your testimony as a believer, in the power and context of a living community, to show a vibrant and warm life that would draw and attract people to know Yeshua?
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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