Sunday, March 13, 2022

The views of Rav S. R. Hirsch (part 1): : Understanding Korbanos

Guest Post  by Hirschy

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch famously criticized the Rambam [1] for (among other things) ignoring the details of the mitzvos while explaining their ta'amim. Perhaps the clearest example of their different approaches can be found in their approach to korbanos. The Rambam says explicitly that there is no rhyme or reason (at least that we can detect) for why the torah requires that one type of animal as opposed to another be brought for a particular korbon. [2] Rabbi Hirsch completely rejects this approach. The reasons for this wide ranging machlokes are not the focus of this post. Rather, I would like to simply take one example of the intricate explanations offered by Rabbi Hirsch that highlight how fruitful his approach can be. Since my goal is more to get others to learn the material inside themselves than to present any kind of comprehensive analysis, I will not quote how Rabbi Hirsch arrives at his conclusions. However it should be noted that while some of this may seem arbitrary, it is anything but. Rabbi Hirsch develops his ideas in rigorous- some might even say tedious, detail.

The first thing to note about korbanos is what they are NOT. Rabbi Hirsch notes that we have no word in western languages that accurately translates what the word "korbon" means. He stresses that the common translations of 'offering' and 'sacrifice', completely distort what the Jewish concept of a korbon is all about. Those words tend to imply a sense of destruction for Some Being's sake. This is exactly wrong, according to Rabbi Hirsch. The purpose of a Korbon is to raise up the person bringing it. The death of the animal is necessary, but is definitely not the ultimate purpose. Rabbi Hirsch stresses the fact that shechitah does not need to be done by a kohen. This is highly significant given what the kohen represents.

Rabbi Hirsch even take issue with how most meforshim translate korbon o'lah. He rejects the common pshat which explains that it means totally burnt. Instead, he explains that it means to uplift.[4]

To be continued...

[1]See his 19 Letters, letter #18

[2] "Bringing korbanos is greatly beneficial, as I will explain. But this that this one has to be a sheep and that one has to be a ram, or that there must be a specific number [of animals]- for that it is impossible to provide any reason at all. Those that trouble themselves to find the the cause for any of these detailed rules [of a mitzvah] are in my eyes void of any sense....the repeated assertions of our sages that there are reasons for allcommandments...refer to their general purpose, and not to the objective of every detail" Moreh Nevuchim 3,26   (Part of this translation is from Rabbi Joseph Elias's edition of the 19 letters Page 157-158)

[3]The rambam's view of korbanos has been famously controversial. The Ramban criticized it in very sharp terms since it seems to indicate that korbanos were simply meant as a means of distancing people from serving avoda zara. There is a lot of discussion about what exactly the Rambam meant. See Emes Le'Yackov vayikra 1:9, as well as the sources in the maf'tayach section of the Frankel Rambam hilchos me'ilah 8:8. See also the explanation/defense of the Rambam's view in Rabbi Elias's edition of the 19 letters, pages 289-90. (A quick google search of "Rambam view of Korbanos" can also be used) While that discussion is interesting, it largely irrelevant to our's, since we are simply summarizing the opposing view which is held by Rabbi Hirsch.

[4] See the note on Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's 'The Living Torah' Bereishis 8:20. Rabbi Hirsch actually argues against the common translation on the grounds that the names of all the other korbanos express something about the nature fof the korban itself- e.g. a chattas is brought for a cheit. It therefore would be strange to simply identify the o'lah by the fact that it is completely burnt. In Rabbi Hirsch's conception the term 'o'lah' also expresses it's nature and purpose.


  1. Many complicated systems can be brought into a sense of order by intense juggling of data. In my opinion Rav Hirsch's grammar system is also based on this mode of operation as are most of the modern Torah codes.

  2. The human brain has a vast propensity for bringing arbitary order to chaos.

  3. how about writing a guest post illustrating your point?

  4. "most of the modern Torah codes"

    weren't other texts tested? didn't they fail to show codes of any kind?

  5. I never related to Korbanos till I started raising goats. Then it all made sense.

  6. Rav Hirsch's explanation of the korbonas is brilliant and so rational it threatens to make the esoteric explanations superfluous.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.