Question: Why are there so many details about animal sacrifice in the Torah? How should a modern Jew view animal sacrifices?
Answer: Animal sacrifices are indeed difficult to comprehend in the context of today’s society. In fact, it has come to the point that many espouse that the killing of animals is wrong even if it is for food or clothing. Clearly, that is not the view of the Torah, and we should not be quick to bend the eternal wisdom of Torah per the fleeting trends in society.
Animal sacrifice was meant as a way of intense confrontation with sin. The repentant would bring an animal for a sacrifice, lean himself upon the animal’s head, perhaps look into those large, shining eyes, and be forced to come to terms with the destruction that sin causes. When the animal was finally slaughtered and offered on the altar, one was supposed to feel that it really should have been him or her up on that altar. Today, with the absence of the Temple in Jerusalem, animal sacrifices are no longer practiced. A close reading of the Prophets reveals that this is due to the fact that insincere offerings became the norm during the end of the first Temple period. G-d does not want the destruction of His creations, and when the sacrifices ceased to elicit the internal response for which they were meant, the offerings themselves ceased. In their place, we offer tears and the sincere longing of heartfelt prayer.
All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber