God called Moses from the tent of meeting and instructed him to tell the people how
offerings should be made.
A burnt offering had to be an unblemished male from the herd. The person making the
offering had to place his hand upon the head of the sacrificial beast and it would then become acceptable as
an offering of atonement. He had to kill the bull before God, and then Aaron’s sons would spill its blood on
the altar placed at the door of the tent of meeting. Then the one making the offering had to cut the animal
up and the priests would burn the pieces on the altar. The smell of the offering would be pleasing to
The same rules were to apply to the sacrifice of a sheep.
If birds were to be offered, turtledoves or young pigeons had to be chosen. The neck
had to be wrung and the cut-up pieces burnt after the blood had been drained.
A cereal offering was to be made of fine flour. Oil and frankincense had to be poured
upon it, and then it would then be burnt on the altar. Cereal offerings that had been baked in the oven were
to be unleavened cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, or unleavened wafers in oil.
Those who wanted to make a peace offering had to sacrifice an unblemished male or
female member of the herd. All the fat from such animals belonged to God and had to be burnt as an offering.
It was decreed that from that day onwards, for all eternity, the people should eat neither fat nor
If a person sinned accidentally, then he had to make a sin offering. If it was a
priest who sinned, he had to offer an unblemished young bull. If the whole congregation accidentally
committed a sin, then the whole assembly had to offer a young bull as a sin offering.
When a ruler sinned accidentally, he had to sacrifice an unblemished male goat. The
blood had to be drained and the fat burnt. When an ordinary person sinned accidentally, a female goat without
blemish had to be offered up. After the sacrifice, the person would be forgiven.
A person who refused to testify in a legal matter was to be considered guilty of a
sin. Those who touched unclean things such as the carcass of an unclean animal were also considered to be
guilty. And those who made rash promises to commit an evil deed or a good one were also regarded as guilty.
The perpetrator had to confess his or her sin and bring a guilt offering to God – a female lamb or goat from
If the person could not afford a lamb or goat, they had to bring two turtledoves or
young pigeons – one for a sin offering and one for a burnt offering. If even this was beyond the person’s
means, then an offering of a measurement of fine flour would suffice. No oil or frankincense could be put
upon this because it was a sin offering. Such atonement would secure forgiveness of the sin
God also said to Moses: “If anyone commits a breach of trust and thoughtlessly sins in
any way against me, he must offer to me an unblemished ram from the flock. This ram shall equal in worth the
money offering made in the Sanctuary. The priest will then secure atonement for him.
God then instructed Moses that a person who deceived his neighbour through a breach of
trust, or theft, or failure to disclose information or deceit, had to restore what he had gained through his
or her dishonesty or deception – and add a fifth of value to it. Such a person had to bring a guilt offering
to God – a ram without blemish – and the priest would make the atonement before God. Then the person would be
forgiven for whatever guilty thing had been done.
Commentary on the 24th parsha (portion of the Torah). The Torah consists of the
five books of Moses, the first part of the Old Testament.
To get to grips with this parsha, our Supermaven, Sigmund Albert Spinoza, interviews
Methuselah Solomon (an Ancient Elder). Supermaven is a modern philosopher who is trying to understand Judaism
and how we got where we are.
He will do this every week by investigating the Old Testament.
SAS: Look, Methuselah, these
are a set of rules and regulations that seem to waste a lot of resources. Were the people so wealthy that
they could afford to kill off some of their livestock so it could be burnt? What’s the point of it all? Is it
to punish wrongdoers?
MS: Yet again, you betray
your lack of understanding of the fundamental principles of Judaism. This is the basis of a legal system, as
well as a system ensuring ethical behaviour.
SAS: Well, I would understand
if property or livestock were confiscated and put in a central resource pool, so that the community as a
whole might benefit. But why burn valuable livestock? And why, particularly, would the animal have to be
unblemished? I don’t get it. What does God get out of it? What does the community as a whole get? Surely
these laws are put in place for someone’s benefit? It seems to me that as long as humans conduct their
affairs, there will always be work for the priests. Nice job for a pyromaniac.
MS: Sigmund, you don’t
understand the principle of sacrifice. There’s no point sacrificing something that isn’t valuable. That’s not
a sacrifice. The fact that it’s burnt means that the entire community bears the burden of an individual’s
guilt. No one gets the animal – we are all impoverished by someone’s sin. And we make the sacrifice to show
that we all take responsibility. Sacrifice is about renunciation and getting closer to
SAS: So what about God? Do
you think he gets anything from the burnt offering, whether or not he enjoys the smell of roasting meat? God
doesn’t need dead animals. I really don’t get this.
MS: One of the things you
need to recall is that the people already engaged in sacrifice before God commanded them to conduct
sacrifices this way. In fact, these rules about sacrifice were designed to limit the sacrificial behaviour of
the people. You must have noticed that these are mostly rules about the sacrifice that follows unintentional,
unwitting or careless sin. Actually, the rules pertaining to sacrifice show a very humane aspect of Judaism.
Once the sacrifice is made, forgiveness follows.
SAS: This sounds like a faith
from my time – Catholicism. You show you’re sorry, give something up, acknowledge your guilt, and you’re
absolved. I didn’t realise these religious practices were so similar. But you say the practice of burnt
offerings is humane? Not to animals, surely?
MS: My friend, it is humane
because offenders do not have to carry their guilt forever. They also undergo a public acknowledgment of
their guilt, and they make reparation. Making the sacrifice is also an internal process. When we acknowledge
our guilt, we also agree to give up something. We give it away. This kind of sacrifice involves giving,
renunciation and substitution too. We substitute the animal for ourselves.
SAS: Look, to me it is cruel
to the animal, and wasteful of resources. Did anyone ever get to eat the offerings? Perhaps the priests were
eating very well. How about the people themselves?
MS: As it happens, there were
certain sacrifices that could not be eaten, but others that required the priests to eat parts of the
offering. Yet others were to be eaten by the priests and the offerer himself. So it is not as wasteful as you
imagine. There is something profound about eating your burnt offering.
SAS: Look, it sounds like my
cooking. It’s not profound, it’s just living with the consequences of my incompetence. What I want to know is
why Jews don’t make burnt offerings today? Did the rules change?
MS: Now that’s a very good
question. If you read the scriptures carefully, you will see that these sacrifices had to take place in the
tabernacle, the tent of meeting, in the most holy place. The point was for the person making the sacrifice to
draw near to God. This sort of practice was conducted by priests in the era of the temples. Now, there is no
longer a place where the sacrifice can take place. There is no special meeting tent where God and the people
can meet, and a person has no way to get close to God through sacrifice.
SAS: So, now do the priests
go hungry? And do people no longer repent for these sorts of sins?
MS: Don’t be so flippant. As
a matter of fact, sacrifice has never been the only way to atone in Judaism. Other ways to forgiveness are
through prayer and good deeds. And we continue to ask for God’s forgiveness in these ways too. And luckily,
animal sacrifice is no longer widely practised by other groups of people either. Perhaps the time for animal
sacrifice has passed. We have other ways of coming close to God.
SAS: Hmmm. So, you aren’t
that keen on animal sacrifice either. I’m glad. But how primitive these people were! We are no longer that
primitive. Why don’t we get rid of the rest of the primitive practices that were meaningful in their time but
don’t make any sense today?
MS: You are always trying to
move away from those traditions that link us to our past, and to God. I have explained to you that animal
sacrifice was never the only way of getting close to God, and that Moses’s instructions were to limit animal
sacrifice rather than to encourage it. You, however, want to throw everything out. What would we be left with
if you simply picked and chose the rules you liked?
SAS: If I chose them? I think
we’d have a very good set of rules.
The Parsha we have just read comes from the five books of Moses, the Torah. The
dialogues between Sigmund Albert Spinoza and Methuselah Solomon are about the meaning of the
What we know about Jewish
History, however, is based in fact, and on historical records.
If you’d like to know more about the real history of our
extended Jewish family, read on.
Jews in Australia and New Zealand
Jewish convicts were aboard the First Fleet that arrived in Sydney in 1788. There are
120,000 Jews in Australia today and most of them are Ashkenazi Jews. The Jewish community includes many refugees and Holocaust survivors. In
recent years a number of Jews have arrived from South Africa, New Zealand and Russia.
Most Australian Jews live in Melbourne (60,000) with 45,000 living in Sydney. The
Jewish Museum of Australia is in St. Kilda, Melbourne. Melbourne is reputedly a more religiously observant
city than Sydney.
There are 81 synagogues and 18
Jewish day schools in the country. The rate of intermarriage is low compared to other countries in the Diaspora.
The Great Synagogue, built in 1878, is a notable Jewish treasure in Sydney. Also notable is Darlinghurst’s
Museum of Australian History and the Holocaust.
Jews have always enjoyed equality before the law in Australia. It was in 1832 that
Jews first established a fully fledged congregation in Sydney and appointed Joseph Barrow Montefiore, a
cousin of Sir Moses Montefiore, as its first president. In 1844 the first synagogue was built in York Street.
In 1847 the first synagogue in Melbourne opened. The Jewish settlement in Melbourne became Australia’s
largest during the Victorian Gold Rush of the 1850s. Congregations were also established in Adelaide,
Brisbane and Perth before the end of the 19th century.
In the 1890s a large number of Jews escaping pogroms in Russia and Poland came to
Australia. Another large influx followed when Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933. In 1938 the Australian
government allocated 15,000 visas for “victim of oppression” and 7,000 Jews were among those who responded
before September 1939 when war broke out. Australia was a place
of refuge for Jews during World War II. After the war many Jews arrived from displaced persons’
Many Jews have risen to prominence in Australia, including Sir John Monash, who was
appointed corps commander of the Australian forces in 1918 during World War I and proved himself to be a
meticulous planner and brilliantly successful tactician. In 1931 Sir Isaac Isaacs became the first
Australian-born Governor-General. Sir Zelman Cowen served in the same esteemed position from 1977 to
There were an increased number of attacks on Jewish people and synagogues in Australia
after the calamities of September 11, 2001 in the USA, but anti-Semitism has never been a feature of life
The first Jews in New Zealand were traders who arrived in the 1830s. There were fewer
than 30 Jews there before 1840, when the country became a British Colony. In the 1890s there was an influx of
Jews escaping persecution in Russia and Poland. Before World War II about a thousand Jews arrived from
Central Europe. In the 1950s a number of Jews arrived from Britain. More recent arrivals have largely been
from Israel, Russia and South Africa. Today there are estimated to be 10,000 Jews in the country, most of
them in Auckland and Wellington. Assimilation of Jews into the wider community has been
Here follows a discussion on this historical segment by Dad, Chaya and
CHAYA: It looks like Jews
have done well in Australia and New Zealand. I wonder why that is.
BEN: Well, perhaps because
they are a small enough minority not to be threatening to the wider community.
DAD: I’m not sure that’s the
only reason. I think it may have something to do with the attitude towards migrants in these
BEN: But Australia in the
early days of settlement was made up of people from the British Isles. They were not famously tolerant of
Jews in the British Isles.
DAD: Yes, but bear in mind
that the early settlers were not representatives of the social structure of Great
CHAYA: You mean they were
BEN: They weren’t all
convicts. We know that there were some Jewish convicts, however. When British people started to migrate to
Australia, Jews were among those British people who came. And they thrived in
DAD: And as settlement
increased, obviously there was a need for people who were hard workers, and ambitious, as Eastern European
Jews invariably were. In the 20th century, Australia’s population was swelled by migrants form
Southern Europe and the Mediterranean. Jews were not the only foreign, swarthy people who spoke with
CHAYA: But I have heard that
lots of Jews tried to blend in and be like any other Australians, rather than advertise the fact that they
DAD: Remember the time period
you are talking about. Jews had lived through immense persecution. They did not advertise their Jewishness.
They kept their heads down. Nevertheless, they used the freedom to worship and live in their own
BEN: It seems that in the
early days of the settlement in Australia, the major conflict occurred between Catholics and Protestants, and
the Jews probably escaped notice. Later, when many other nationalities came to Australia, the Jews were
lumped together with them, and not picked out for any special discrimination.
CHAYA: I know that many
Australian Jews are Holocaust survivors and refugees from Eastern and Central Europe. For people who have
been through what they have, they have succeeded very well in their new country.
DAD: Well, that’s a tribute
to certain kinds of opportunity in Australia, and to the way that many of these Jewish people have embraced
Every Shabbat we read five short sayings that express, with typically Jewish wit and
humour, insightful reflections on this life of ours.
Here are tonight’s sayings:
· When love is strong, a man and woman can make their bed on a sword’s blade; when love
is weak, a bed of sixty cubits is not wide enough. (Talmud)
· May he live to be 120 – with a wooden head and glass eyes!
· A miserly man is like a fattened ox: he will give of his fat only when he has been
deprived of life.
· The only thing speed is good for is catching flies.
· If you’re going to eat pork, eat the best kind!
Celebration of Great Lives
Every Friday night we celebrate the achievements of our Jewish family in contributing
to changing the world for the better and having an extraordinary impact on those around
Betty Friedan (1921-2006)
Betty Naomi Friedan was anAmerican social reformer and feminist. She was
born in Peoria, Illinois, as Bettye Goldstein, and educated at Smith College (B.A., 1942) and the University of
California at Berkeley. A suburban housewife and sometime writer, in 1963 she published The Feminine
Mystique, attacking the then-popular notion that women could find fulfilment only through childbearing and
homemaking. Widely read and extremely influential, the book played an important role in the creation of the modern
feminist movement. In 1966 Friedan helped found the National Organisation for
Women (NOW) and served as its president until 1970. She also helped organize the National Association
for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (Naral) in 1969 and the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. In The Second
Stage (1981), she argued that feminists must reclaim the family and bring more men into the movement by
addressing child care, parental leave, and flexible work schedules. In The Fountain of Age (1993) Friedan
criticised “the age mystique” and society’s frequently patronising treatment of the elderly; she advocated new,
positive roles for older citizens.
Irving Berlin (1888-1989)
Irving Berlin was born in Russia. He is best known for his American patriotic songs.
Altogether he wrote more than nine hundred songs, nineteen musicals and the scores of eighteen musicals. Some
of his best known songs were Alexander's Ragtime Band (1911) and
Swanee River. Berlin’s most successful Broadway musical
was Annie Get Your Gun (1946), and
included the showstopper song, “There's No Business like Show Business.” “White Christmas” was one of the most-recorded songs in history selling over 30 million copies and was
recognized as the best-selling single in any music category for more than 50 years until 1997. His influence on the American stage and screen was immense at a time when
American culture was being spread all over the world. Amazingly, Berlin did not read music and could play the
piano in only one key and only on the black notes.