Jewish Atonement and Sacrifices


Hi. My Bible study group at Friendswood Methodist Church in Friendswood Texas is finishing up the NT book of Hebrews. The study book author has brought up some issues, and we were wondering if you could clarify. So…within this book, the issue of atonement came up. And sacrifices. He said that the sacrifices made by the Jews (Hebrews?) BEFORE Jesus (who to us is the ultimate sacrifice) were not made for atonement, and were just a symbolic act foreshadowing the blood sacrifice of Jesus. So, after all those birds, goats, bulls were sacrificed on the temple altar, God said, oh, just kidding, that didn’t count? Your sins are not atoned for? Is that what the sacrifices were for? I always thought they were atoning for their sins. And when did the animal sacrifices end? When the temple was destroyed? Or sometime after? The author of Hebrews is trying to make a point w/ his audience to quit the sacrifices already! Along w/ some other points, too.

Thanks for taking the time w/ this. Look forward to your answer.




  1. You are absolutely correct. Sacrifices were always a means of atonement. Ever since mankind was created, the ability to atone has existed. The Midrash relates (Bereshet Rabbah 22-28) that Adam heard from Cain that God had accepted his repentance for the killing of Abel. The Talmud in Tractate Eruvin 18 states that as a result of this, Adam also repented for the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and fasted for 130 years and separated from his wife.

    This potential exists today as throughout the ages. The Temple, with its services and sacrifices, served as a means to focus the penitent’s attention on his/her sins. Sacrifices came to an end with the destruction of the Second Temple, almost two thousand years ago. Since that time, prayer has been the accepted replacement. The Midrash Tanchuma Tzav 17 states that prayers are a replacement for the sacrifices. The Talmud in Tractate Menachot 110 states that one who studies the Laws of the Sacrifices is considered as if he actually offered them up. The Rokeach, Rabbi Elazar M’Germeiza, states that the learning of Torah outweighs all of the sacrifices.

    Best wishes from the Team