In Judaism, the korban (קָרְבָּן qorbān), also spelled qorban or corban, is any of a variety of sacrificial offerings described and commanded in the Torah. The plural form is korbanot, korbanoth or korbans.
The term Korban primarily refers to a sacrificial offerings given from humans to God for the purpose of doing homage, winning favor, or securing pardon. The object sacrificed was usually an animal that was ritually slaughtered and then transferred from the human to the divine realm by being burned on an altar.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, sacrifices were prohibited because there was no longer a Temple, the only place allowed by halakha for sacrifices. Offering of sacrifices was briefly reinstated during the Jewish–Roman wars of the second century CE and was continued in certain communities thereafter.
When sacrifices were offered in ancient times, they were offered as a fulfillment of Biblical commandments. Since there is no longer a Temple, modern religious Jews instead pray or give tzedakah instead to atone for their sins as the korbon would have accomplished. According to Orthodox Judaism, the coming of the messiah will not remove the requirement to keep the 613 commandments, and when the Temple is rebuilt, sacrifices will be offered again.
The Semitic root √qrb (קרב) means "be near" and is found in a number of related languages in addition to Hebrew, e.g. in the Akkadian language noun aqribtu "act of offering". In Hebrew it is found in a number of words, such as qarov "close", qerovim "relatives" and the hifʕil verb form hiqriv "he brought near; offered a sacrifice". The feminine noun korban (plural ‘’korbanot’’ קָרְבֳּנוֹת) first occurs in the Bible in Leviticus and occurs 80 times in the Masoretic Text; 40 times in Leviticus, 38 in Numbers and 2 in Ezekiel. The related form qurban appears only in the Book of Nehemiah and "wood offering". The etymology of the "offer" sense is traditionally understood as deriving from the verbal sense of "bringing near", viz. bringing the offering near to the deity, but some theological explanations see it rather as bringing "man back to God".
The Septuagint generally translates the term in Koine Greek as δῶρον "gift", θυσία "sacrifice", or προσφορά "offering up". By the Second Temple period, Hellenistic Jewish texts use korban specifically to mean a vow. The New Testament preserves korban once as a transliterated loan-word for a vow, once also a related noun, κορβανάς "temple treasury", otherwise using δῶρον, θυσία or προσφορά and other terms drawn from the Septuagint. Josephus also generally uses other words for "offering" but uses korban for the vow of the Nazirites (Antiquities of the Jews 4:73 / 4,4,4) and cites Theophrastus as having cited a korban vow among the Tyrians (Against Apion 1.167 / 1,22,4).
Contrary to the view that korbanot in the Torah were for sins, their use was far more complex—only some korbanot were used to atone for unintentional sins, and these sacrifices only accompanied the important required core means of atonement to be ever considered legitimate. Besides this one exception, there were the overwhelming majority of other purposes for bringing korbanot, and the expiatory effect is often incidental, and is subject to significant limitations. Korbanot are brought purely for the purpose of communing with God and becoming closer to him. Also, they were brought for the purpose of expressing thanks, gratitude, and love to God.
Further, the use of korbanot was circumscribed for certain types of sins. Sins in Judaism consist of different grades of severity:
With few exceptions, korbanot could only be used as a means of atoning for the first type of sin, that is sins committed in ignorance that the thing was a sin. In addition, korbanot have no expiating effect unless the person making the offering sincerely repents his or her actions before making the offering, and makes restitution to any person who was harmed by the violation.
The Hebrew Bible says that God commanded the Israelites to offer offerings and sacrifices on various altars. The sacrifices were only to be offered by the hands of the Kohanim. Before building the Temple in Jerusalem, when the Israelites were in the desert, sacrifices were only to be offered in the Tabernacle. After the invasion of Canaan, the main sacrificial centre was at Shiloh, though sacrifice also took place at Beit Shemesh, Mizpah, Ramah, and Gilgal, while family and clan sacrifices were commonplace Under Saul the main center of sacrifice was Nob, though private offerings continued to be made at Shiloh. David created a new sacrificial center in Jerusalem at the threshing floor of Araunaḥ, to which he moved the Ark. According to the Hebrew Bible, after the building of Solomon's Temple, sacrifices were only to be carried out there. After Solomon's Temple was destroyed, sacrifices were resumed when the Second Temple was built until it was also destroyed in 70 CE.
The priests performed the offerings first in the ancient tabernacle and then in the Temple. The Hebrew Bible describes the kohanim (hereditary priesthood) as descendants of Aaron who meet certain marital and ritual purity requirements. The High Priest of Israel played a crucial role in this regard on Yom Kippur, a day when multiple offerings were offered.
Women were required to perform a number of offerings, including:
Women could also voluntarily participate in a number of other offerings and rituals for which they were not obligated, including:
Many books of the Nevi'im section of the Hebrew Bible such as the Book of Isaiah and Book of Jeremiah spoke out against those Israelites who brought forth sacrifices but did not act in accord with the precepts of the Law. The Prophets disparaged sacrifices that were offered without a regeneration of the heart, i.e., a determined turning from sin and returning to God by striving after righteousness (Book of Hosea 14:1-2, Joel 2:13, Micah 6:6-8). At the same time, prophets stressed the importance of offerings combined with justice and good even as they taught that offerings were unacceptable unless combined with heartfelt repentance and good deeds. Malachi, the last prophet in the Hebrew Bible, emphasized that the goal of repentance is not to end sacrifices, but to make the offerings fit for acceptance once again (Book of Malachi, 3:3-4). Similarly, the Book of Isaiah despite disparagement of sacrifices without justice, portrays sacrifice as having a role complementary with prayer in a universalistic eschatology (Isaiah 56:1; 6-7).
According to Maimonides, about one hundred of the permanent 613 commandments based on the Torah, by rabbinical enumeration, directly concern sacrifices, excluding those commandments that concern the actual Temple and the priests themselves of which there are about another fifty.
The Mishnah and Talmud devote a very large section, known as a seder, to the study and analysis of this subject known as Qodashim, whereby all the detailed varieties of korbanot are enumerated and analyzed in great logical depth, such as qodshim kalim ("of minor degree of sanctity") and qodashei qodashim ("of major degree of sanctity"). In addition, large parts of every other book of the Talmud discuss various kinds of sacrifices. Pesachim is largely devoted to a discussion of how to offer the Passover sacrifice. Yoma contains a detailed discussion of the offerings and Temple ritual on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and there are sections in seder Moed (Festivals) for the special offerings and Temple ritual for other major Jewish holidays. Sheqalim discusses the annual half-shekel offering for Temple maintenance and Temple governance and management, Nashim discusses the offerings made by Nazirites and the suspected adultress, etc.
The Talmud provides extensive details not only on how to perform sacrifices but how to adjudicate difficult cases, such what to do if a mistake was made and whether improperly performing one of the required ritual elements invalidates it or not. The Talmud explains how to roast the Passover offering, how to dash blood from different kinds of sacrifices upon the altar, how to prepare the incense, the regulatory code for the system of taxation that financed the priesthood and public sacrifices, and numerous other details.
Maimonides, a medieval Jewish scholar, drew on the early critiques of the need for sacrifice, taking the view that God always held sacrifice inferior to prayer and philosophical meditation. However, God understood that the Israelites were used to the animal sacrifices that the surrounding pagan tribes used as the primary way to commune with their gods. As such, in Maimonides' view, it was only natural that Israelites would believe that sacrifice would be a necessary part of the relationship between God and man. This view is controversial since the Torah also forbids worship of foreign idols and practices of pagan religions as "detestable" before God including their sacrifices. Maimonides concludes that God's decision to allow sacrifices was a concession to human psychological limitations. It would have been too much to have expected the Israelites to leap from pagan worship to prayer and meditation in one step. In The Guide for the Perplexed, he writes:
But the custom which was in those days general among men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up consisted in sacrificing animals... It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God...that God did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service. For to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present [the 12th Century] if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to God nor fast, nor seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action.
In contrast, many others such as Nahmanides (in his commentary on Leviticus 1:9) disagreed. Nahmanides cites the fact that the Torah records the practices of animal and other sacrifices from the times of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and earlier. Indeed, the purpose of recounting the near sacrifice of Isaac was to illustrate the sublime significance and need of animal sacrifices as supplanting the abomination of human sacrifices.
The korban also has a spiritual meaning and refers to some part of an individual's ego, which is given up as a sacrifice to God in honouring the mortality of the worshipper. In keeping with the root of the word, meaning to draw close, and to the common usage as the sacrifice of an animal, so can the worshipper sacrifice something of this world to become closer to God.
With the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans, the Jewish practice of offering korbanot stopped for all intents and purposes. Despite subsequent intermittent periods of small Jewish groups offering the traditional sacrifices on the Temple Mount, the practice effectively ended.
Rabbinic Judaism was forced to undergo a significant development in response to this change; no longer could Judaism revolve around the Temple services. The destruction of the Temple led to a development of Judaism in the direction of text study, prayer, and personal observance. Orthodox Judaism regards this as being largely an alternative way of fulfilling the obligations of the Temple. Other branches of Judaism (Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist) regard the korbanot as an ancient ritual that will not return. A range of responses is recorded in classical rabbinic literature, describing this subject.
In the Babylonian Talmud, a number of sages opined that following Jewish law, doing charitable deeds, and studying Jewish texts is greater than performing animal sacrifices.
Nonetheless, numerous texts of the Talmud stress the importance of and hope for eventual re-introduction of sacrifices and regard their loss as a tragedy. Partaking of sacrificial offerings was compared to eating directly at one's Father's table, whose loss synagogue worship does not entirely replace. One example is in Berachot:
Numerous details of the daily religious practice of an ordinary Jew are connected to keeping memory of the rhythm of the life of the Temple and its sacrifices. For example, the Mishna begins with a statement that the Shema Yisrael prayer is to be recited in the evening at the time when Kohanim who were tamei (ritually impure) are permitted to enter to eat their heave offering (a food-tithe given to priests) following purification. A detailed discussion of the obligations of tithing, ritual purity, and other elements central to the Temple and priesthood is required in order to determine the meaning of this contemporary daily Jewish obligation.
Jewish services for Shabbat, Jewish holidays and other occasions include special prayers for the restoration of sacrifices. For example, the traditional Yom Kippur liturgy contains repeated prayers for the restoration of sacrifices and every High Holiday Amidah contains Isaiah 56:7:
The prevailing belief among rabbinic Jews is that in the messianic era, the Messiah will come, and a Third Temple will be built. It is believed that the korbanot will be reinstituted, but to what extent and for how long is unknown. Some biblical and classical rabbinic sources hold that most or all sacrifices will not need to be offered.
The majority view of classical rabbis is that the Torah's commandments will still be applicable and in force during the messianic era. However, a significant minority of rabbis held that most of the commandments would be nullified in the messianic age, thus keeping that sacrifices will not be reinstated. Examples of such rabbinic views include:
Orthodox Judaism holds that in the messianic era, most or all of the korbanot will be reinstituted, at least for a time. Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism, hold that no animal sacrifices will be offered in a rebuilt Temple at all, following the position of Tanchuma Emor 14 and Vayikra Rabbah 9:7.
In the 1800s a number of Orthodox rabbis studied the idea of reinstating korbanot on the Temple Mount, even though the messianic era had not yet arrived and the Temple was not rebuilt. A number of responsa concluded that within certain parameters, it is permissible according to Jewish law to offer such sacrifices.
During the early 20th century, Israel Meir Kagan advised some followers to set up special yeshivas for married students known as Qodshim Kolelim that would specialize in the study of the korbanot and study with greater intensity the qodshim sections of the Talmud in order to prepare for the arrival of the Jewish Messiah who would oversee the rebuilding of the original Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem that would be known as the Third Temple. His advice was taken seriously and today there are a number of well-established Haredi institutions in Israel that focus solely on the subject of the korbanot, qodshim, and the needs of the future Jewish Temple, such as the Brisk tradition and Soloveitchik dynasty.
A few groups, notably the Temple Institute and the Temple Mount Faithful, have petitioned the Israeli government to rebuild a Third Temple on the Temple Mount and restore sacrificial worship. The Israeli government has not responded favorably. Most Orthodox Jews regard rebuilding a Temple as an activity for a Jewish Messiah as part of a future Jewish eschatology, and most non-Orthodox Jews do not believe in the restoration of sacrificial worship at all. The Temple Institute has been constructing ritual objects in preparation for a resumption of sacrifices.
Today Orthodox Judaism includes mention of each korban on either a daily basis in the siddur (daily prayer book) or in the machzor (holiday prayerbook) as part of the prayers for the relevant days concerned. They are also referred to in the prayerbooks of Conservative Judaism, in an abbreviated fashion.
Conservative Judaism disavows the resumption of qorbanot. Consistent with this view, it has deleted prayers for the resumption of sacrifices from the Conservative siddur, including the morning study section from the sacrifices and prayers for the restoration of qorbanot in the Amidah, and various mentions elsewhere. Consistent with its view that priesthood and sacrificial system will not be restored, Conservative Judaism has also lifted certain restrictions on kohanim, including limitations on marriage prohibiting marrying a divorced woman or a convert. Conservative Judaism does, however, believe in the restoration of a Temple in some form, and in the continuation of kohanim and Levites under relaxed requirements, and has retained references to both in its prayer books. Consistent with its stress on the continuity of tradition, many Conservative synagogues have also retained references to Shabbat and Festival qorbanot, changing all references to sacrifices into the past tense (e.g. the Orthodox "and there we will sacrifice" is changed to "and there they sacrificed"). Some more liberal Conservative synagogues, however, have removed all references to sacrifices, past or present, from the prayer service. The most recent official Conservative prayer book, Sim Shalom, provides both service alternatives.
Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism disavow all belief in a restoration of a Temple, the resumption of qorbanot, or the continuation of identified Cohens or Levites. These branches of Judaism believe that all such practices represent ancient practices inconsistent with the requirements of modernity, and have removed all or virtually all references to qorbanot from their prayer books.
A section of the morning daily Shacharit prayer is called Korbanot, and is mostly devoted to recitation of legal passages relating to the sacrifices.