Attention Jewish animal devotees: would you like to have your dog, cat, hamster or parakeet blessed, synagogue-style? You can! In fact, you don’t even have to be physically present at the synagogue to receive said blessing.
Congregation Sim Shalom is one of a small group of synagogues that has a ritual blessing of furry friends. The congregation also has a robust “virtual interface” offering a variety of online services and events for those who are both spiritually and geographically disconnected. Such an event— the animal blessing—was scheduled for October 16.
I love the idea of blessing animals within the context of spiritual community. I don’t love how this opportunity is characterized: “Blessing of the animals highlights the dramatic evolution since the ancient sacrifices of lamb and goat and biblical stories such as Cain and Abel. Animal offerings have not been a Judaic practice since the Holy Temple in Israel was destroyed in 70 CE. Sim Shalom's annual animal blessing elevates the importance of animal compassion and welfare as strong Jewish moral values.”
This seems to indicate that in Bible days, the Jewish religion was not compassionate and caring towards animals. It also implies that the discontinuing of sacrifices was a mark of Jewish evolution to a higher moral standard.
At the risk of offending, I’m going to say it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
From Genesis on, the Tanakh shows that God created animals to be blessed by, and be a blessing to, the human race. We see it in the prophets as well. One of my favorite Scriptures is the last verse in the book of Jonah: “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” Clearly God’s love and compassion extend not only to wayward human beings, but also to the animals who are stuck with those wayward people.
Animals don’t sin but humans do, each time we violate the relationship of trust and obedience we were meant to have with our creator. Putting our own will and choices above God’s rips our souls away from the Almighty, causing us to bleed out spiritually—that was dramatically portrayed in those awful, but God-ordained sacrifices. God wanted us to see what sin does so that we could turn from it and receive His forgiveness. The sacrifices were never about callousness toward animals. They illustrated substitutionary atonement, and that was God’s idea, not something the Jewish people came up with. It’s all graphically portrayed in the Jewish Bible, especially in the original observances of Yom Kippur.
Through no fault of their own, and with no choice in the matter, the animals died because of the sins of the people. We didn’t evolve past that system. It came to an abrupt halt with the destruction of the Temple because God had made Temple-related rules concerning the sacrifices. And because God had given a more permanent solution.
I’m in a minority of Jewish people. We believe that God never meant for the animal sacrifices to be an ongoing solution for atonement, but intended to do away with it in one epic event that would accomplish what those sacrifices only hinted at. That event was when the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) chose to bleed and die as he fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 53:
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all... For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of my people he was stricken.”
IMO, saying that Judaism has evolved to a more compassionate treatment of animals ignores the many biblical precepts for compassionate care of animals. Worse, it ignores God’s purpose for those sacrifices: for us to understand that sin kills us by separating us from him, but that if we turn from sin and trust God’s provision, we can have forgiveness and life.
So friends at Sim Shalom, yes, please, bless the animals! But my hope and prayer is that you will consider the (albeit controversial) idea that the end to animal sacrifices was not a matter of Judaism evolving, but of God resolving to atone for our sins by coming to this earth to die for us. Would you be open to considering that the need behind those sacrifices didn’t go away—and that the once and for all sacrifice Jesus made is very much in keeping with the Hebrew Scriptures?