The Sacrificial Lamb in the Jewish Religion

by Jason Cristiano Ramon
A male lamb has traditionally been an important sacrifice in Judaism.

A male lamb has traditionally been an important sacrifice in Judaism.

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The significance of the sacrificial lamb in Judaism is recorded throughout the Hebrew Bible, and its symbol of purification is an ancient one. Though open to interpretation, references to the sacrificial lamb in the Hebrew Bible have also been aligned, by some scholars, to represent the Jewish people. In ancient times, during the days of the First and Second Temples, lambs were offered as daily sacrifices and personal sacrifices, and they were slaughtered to commemorate holy holidays.

Daily Rituals

Many verses in the Hebrew Bible reference the sacrifice of the lamb at the worship altar as an important daily offering made to honor God during the mornings and evenings. For example, Exodus 29:38-39 states: "Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two one year old lambs each day, continuously. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight ... " Later on, Numbers 28:3 also describes the central role that the lamb played in the daily sacrifices made to God: " ... This is the offering by fire which you shall offer to the Lord: two male lambs one year old without defect as a continual burnt offering each day."

Other Occassions

According to the Hebrew Bible, lambs were also sacrificed for a wide range of occasions. In addition to being sacrificed daily and presented at the altar, lambs were sacrificed on special holidays, such as Passover: "Then on the fourteenth day of the first month shall be the Lord's Passover ... You shall present an offering by fire, a burnt offering to the Lord: two bulls and one ram and seven male lambs one year old ... " (Numbers 28:16, 19). Lambs were also sacrificed for personal sins, as described in Leviticus: "When the days of her purification are completed ... she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting a one year old lamb for a burnt offering ... for a sin offering. Then he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her, and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood" (Leviticus 12:6-7).

The Jewish People

In a chapter of the Hebrew Bible's prophetic book of Isaiah, a long description is given to what has commonly been understood by Jews as a description that tells the tale of the suffering servant, which has been understood by some as a metaphor of the Jewish people -- although this has also been disputed. This person "had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him" (Isaiah 53:2), and was "despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain" (Isaiah 53:3). This suffering servant is closely aligned to the sacrificial lamb: "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter .... " (Isaiah 53:7). Many Christians believe that this lamb represents the Messiah, or Jesus Christ.

Symbolism

Within Judaism, the sacrificial lamb acts as a symbol of purification and atonement. The sacrificial lamb, as described in the Torah, itself may represent purity: As a healthy 1-year-old male lamb, it had not yet been tainted by diseases and health problems more common in adulthood. Although lambs are not sacrificed daily by Jews today, its symbolic significance is still integrated throughout several traditions. For example, the Passover meal -- an important Jewish religious holiday that celebrates the freedom of their Jewish ancestors out of Egypt -- must include the bone of a lamb, as it symbolizes the original paschal, meaning related to Passover, sacrifice.

About the Author

Jason Cristiano Ramon holds a doctorate in political science and a master's degree in philosophy. He has taught political science in China.

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