Seder Kodashim (Holy Things)

The rabbis restored the religious meaning of the sacrificial cult even though the Temple itself had been destroyed.

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"Regular," Non-sacrificial Eating of Meat

The most widely studied material in Seder Kodashim, however, is only loosely related to the larger themes of the order. Tractate Hullin, "Unconsecrated [Meat]," addresses the laws of how animals are to be slaughtered for food, who may do it and when it may be done. Hullin includes discussions about which animals may and may not be eaten, and the prohibited combination of meat and milk. It also discusses the first fruits of sheep-shearing, and the laws concerning sending away the mother bird before taking the chicks and not slaughtering the mother animal with offspring on the same day. 

The Role of Intention

In addition to these clusters of topics, Seder Kodashim also seems to be working out a larger set of questions concerning the nature of intention as a legal category. Long sections of Zevachim and Menachot address whether one's intention to eat of the sacrifice in the wrong place or at the wrong time can invalidate the sacrifice.

An interesting example concerns the consecration of the first-born animal.  The firstling may not be shorn or put to work; it is a gift for the priest for sacrifice if it is without blemish, or just slaughtered if it has a defect which would render it an inappropriate sacrifice. It is, however, prohibited to inflict a blemish on a first-born animal. The Mishnah, however, reports an interesting case:

"Once children were playing in the field, tying the tails of sheep to one another. The tale of a firstling tore off and the sages permitted it. When the children saw that, they went and tied the tails of other firstlings together, and the sages forbade it" (Bekhorot 5:3).

This theme of the legal force of intention is worked out in many of the other tractates. Arakhin deals with how one's intention in making a vow affects its valuation, and Me'ilah determines the role of intention in whether one has made illegal use of Temple property.

Tractate Menachot summarizes the importance of intention by drawing a comparison between the burnt offering of an animal, of a bird, and of a meal offering; each of these are described by Scriptures as "an offering by fire, a smell of sweet savor" (Leviticus 1:9, 1:17, 2:7). The tractate concludes from this comparison that this parallel usage is

"to teach that one who offers much and one who offers a little are the same, as long as one directs one's intention to heaven" (Menachot 13:11).

Seder Kodashim and the Bible

The topics that provide the biblical background for Seder Kodashim are largely, but not exclusively, found in Leviticus. The laws of animal sacrifices (Zevachim) are in Leviticus 1; meal offerings (Menachot) are in Leviticus 2; birds (Kinnim) in Leviticus 5 and 12; and firstlings, evaluations, and exchanges (Bekhorot, Arakhin, and Temurah, respectively) are in Leviticus 27. The basic information for much of the tractate derives directly from the Torah.

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Jeffrey Spitzer is Chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics at Gann Academy, The New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass., and a member of the Institute's Tichon Fellows Program.