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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The larger theme of intention, however, seems to derive from a different part of the Bible. Many passages in the prophetic literature criticize the Temple cult as unacceptable unless it demonstrates a commitment to doing God's will. God wants "goodness, not sacrifice, obedience to god, rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6), and God claims, "If you offer Me burnt-offerings-I will not accept them…rather, let justice well up like water, righteousness like an unfailing stream" (Amos 5:22, 24).

The rabbis whose traditions are recorded in Seder Kodashim have heard and responded to these critiques. By infusing every act of the sacrificial process with the need for proper intention, the act of sacrifice, at least as imagined by these rabbis, becomes an act of spirituality.

Suggestions for Study

Kodashim is not easy material. Nevertheless, some interesting and fairly accessible chapters include:

Hullin, chapter eight, on prohibited combinations of meat and milk, based on Exodus 23:19 and Deuteronomy 12:21.

Hullin, chapter twelve, on the law of letting the mother bird go from the nest when taking the offspring, based on Deuteronomy 22:6-7.

Arakhin, chapter three, which is introduced by the idea that the law of valuations is sometimes applied leniently and sometimes applied stringently. The remainder of the laws in the chapter are grouped together by that same formal principle; the examples illuminate some basic rabbinic conceptions of equity.

Unless one is avidly looking forward to the rebuilding of the Temple, it can be difficult to really get absorbed by the details of this order of the Mishnah. Nevertheless, it is hard to say that one has a good understanding of the Mishnah as a whole without taking a good look at Seder Kodashim.

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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.