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Outreach Judaism deals with Jews for Jesus

Last updated: 2003-10-09

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To the horror of Jewish families worldwide, the church's effort to evangelise the Jewish people has escalated to a feverish pitch.  As a result, the work of Outreach Judaism has become more vital than ever.  Our renowned Let’s Get Biblical tape series and accompanying in-depth study guide has become one of the most effective educational tools in the counter missionary movement.  Introduced in 1993, this program has helped countless people understand why Judaism does not accept the Christian messiah.  This remarkable program has inspired Jewish people worldwide to understand the beauty and truth of their faith, and foster tolerance and respect for Judaism among non-Jews.


Jews for Jesus responds on its web page

Jews for Jesus, a well known Hebrew-Christian missionary organization, posted on its web page its response to a number of points made on one of the tapes entitled Sin and Atonement from Outreach Judaism's Let's Get Biblical series.

Ironically, Jews for Jesus called this section of its web page Let's Get Really Biblical.  Their choice of this title is puzzling given that whereas our Let's Get Biblical tape series quotes exclusively from the Bible, Jews for Jesus does not quote the Bible even once throughout their entire  response.   Paradoxically, they call this response, Let's Get Really Biblical.  Instead of quoting from the Bible, Jews for Jesus draws all of their arguments from rabbinic and secular sources.

Throughout the Let's Get Biblical tape series I only quote from the Bible for a simple reason: Christians are not believers in the Oral Law and the messorah (tradition) transmitted to us by our teacher, Moses.  It would therefore be pointless to use any other source other than Tanach to disprove the arguments made by missionaries.   It is only by using the words of the written Jewish scriptures alone can a Christian begin to understand in a meaningful way why Judaism does not accept the Christian messiah.


Issue addressed on "Sin and Atonement"

Prior to responding to the arguments of Jews for Jesus, we will explain the crucial issue addressed by the tape "Sin and Atonement."

This tape responds to one of Christendom's most central disputes with the Jewish faith: How can man expiate his sin without the shedding of blood?  Missionaries claim that the blood sacrificial system is man's only conduit to atonement.  They contend that there can be no forgiveness of sin without a blood sacrifice.  Without a blood sacrifice man is lost in a state of hopelessness.  To prove this point, the church insists that the Bible sets forth only blood atonement to expiate sin.  

Moreover, evangelical Christians assert that for the past nineteen centuries since the destruction of the second temple in 70 C.E., Jews have lacked the essential and indispensable animal-sacrificial system for atonement.  Consequently, they insist, God must have provided a blood atonement in place of the animal sacrifices of the past.  This sacrifice, they maintain, is the death of Jesus on the cross.


Missionaries quote Leviticus 17:11

To support this claim that atonement can only be achieved through the shedding of blood, Missionaries cite Leviticus 17:11 which reads:

"This is because the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul."

With this verse in hand, Christians conclude that only by being covered in the blood of the Cross can man have any hope of being forgiven by God for his sins.  

The tape Sin and Atonement and its corresponding chapter in the study guide responds to the above missionary argument in a variety of ways.  The following is a brief overview of six crucial points elucidated in Sin and Atonement.

First, an overview of the tape 
"Sin and Atonement"

Refutation I:
There are not one, but three methods of atonement in the Bible
Contrary to the missionary claim that blood-sacrifice is the only method of atonement in the Bible, there are three methods of atonement clearly defined in the Jewish scriptures:

The sin sacrifice, 1repentance 2and charity.3  Moreover, the sin sacrifice (known in the Jewish scriptures as Korban Chatat) did not atone for all types of sin, but rather, only for man's most insignificant iniquity: unintentional sins.4  The sin sacrifice was inadequate to atone for a transgression committed intentionally.  The brazen sinner was barred from the Sanctuary, and had to bear his own iniquity because of his rebellious intent to sin against God.  The Torah teaches this fundamental principle in Numbers 15:27-31:

"If a person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven....  But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from among his people.  Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be on him."


Refutation II:
Leviticus 17:11 deals with the prohibition of eating blood
Contrary to the Christian claim that Leviticus 17:11 proves that man can only atone for his iniquity through the shedding of blood, this verse only explains the prohibition of eating blood.

Missionaries have conveniently severed this verse from its original context, effectively concealing and distorting its message.

In the immediate context of Leviticus 17:11 we find that the Torah is speaking of the prohibition of eating blood, not the subject of sin and atonement.  The Torah discusses blood atonement in this verse only as a byproduct of its central theme.  This crucial message is lost when missionaries quote Leviticus 17:11 alone, without the surrounding texts as its proper background.  Leviticus 17:11 begins with the conjunctive Hebrew word ki (pronounced kee), meaning "This is because...."  Whenever a verse begins with this word, it is explaining what has just been related in the previous verse.  The previous verse, Leviticus 17:10, reads,

"And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people."

Leviticus 17:11 then continues this message and explains,

"This is because the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul."

Thus, Leviticus 17:11 explains Leviticus 17:10 by revealing that consuming blood is forbidden because it may only be used in the act of sprinkling of the animal's blood on the altar for an atonement.  It is a grievous sin to use it for anything else.5

Leviticus 17:10-11 is therefore declaring two principles about blood: 1) you may not eat it 2) amongst all the various rituals associated with the sin sacrifice, such as the laying of the hands on the animal, slaughtering, collecting, carrying, sprinkling, placing of the animal on the altar, it is only the sprinkling the blood on the altar that brings about the atonement. You therefore may not eat the blood.  This verse does not state or imply that one cannot have atonement for sin without a blood sacrifice.  Such a message would contradict all of the Jewish scriptures which clearly outline two other methods of atonement more pleasing to God than a sacrifice - heartfelt repentance and charity.

Although the statement "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" is found nowhere in the Jewish scriptures, it does appear in the Christian scriptures.  In Hebrews 9:22 the author misquotes Leviticus 17:11 when he states "Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."  Although this quote in Hebrews 9:22 is always cross referenced in a Christian study Bible to Leviticus 17:11, it is actually a stunning misquote of the original text.

Finally, if missionaries want to use Leviticus 17:11 to bolster their position that blood sacrifices are indispensable for procuring an atonement, they must use all of the verse, not just a part of it.  Leviticus 17:11 specifically says that the blood of the sacrifice must be placed "upon the altar to make atonement for your souls."  That is to say, Leviticus 17:11 explicitly declares that blood can only effect atonement if it is placed on the altar. Jesus' blood, however, was never placed on the altar. If the church is going to take the "blood" part of the verse literally, they must also take the "altar" part literally as well.  Jesus' blood was never sprinkled on the altar, and therefore his death could not provide atonement for anyone.

Moreover, the Torah strictly prohibited the Jewish people from offering human sacrifices under any circumstances.  There is not one place throughout the entire corpus of the Jewish scriptures where human sacrifices are condoned.  Throughout the Book of Leviticus, only distinct species of animals are permitted for use in blood sacrifices.


Refutation III:
The prophets declared that repentance and charity are more favorable than a blood sacrifice
Throughout the Jewish scriptures, the prophets declared that repentance and charity are more pleasing to God for atonement than a blood sacrifice.

They repeatedly forewarned the Jewish people from becoming obsessed with blood offerings.  Other methods of atonement were more efficacious and would even replace animal sacrifices.  For example, King David declares in Psalm 40:76 that

"Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; but my ears You have opened; burnt offering and sin offering You have not required."

These words of the Bible hardly agree with the Christian doctrine that sin can only be expiated through the shedding of blood.   Because the Psalmist's words were deeply offensive to the early church, Hebrews 10:5-6 altered Psalm 40:7 to read instead

"Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me.  In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure."

Notice how King David's original words, "but my ears You have opened" have disappeared entirely in the Hebrews quote.  Instead, this New Testament author replaced this expunged clause with the words "But a body you have prepared for Me."  This is a startling alteration of the Jewish scriptures.


Refutation IV:
Hosea foretold that the Jewish people would be without a sacrificial system, and instructed us to replace animal offerings with prayer
In Hosea 3:4-5, the prophet foretold with divine exactness that the Nation of Israel would not have a sacrificial system during the last segment of Jewish history until the messianic age.

Hosea 3:4-5 reads,

"For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim.  Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king.  They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days."

In the words of the Bible, this period of time would last for many days.  Yet, despite the repeated proclamations of the church that the crucifixion of Jesus serves as a sin sacrifice today, the words of Hosea were meticulously fulfilled.

Given the spiritual magnitude of this remarkable prophecy, Hosea was compelled to reveal how the ecclesiastical temple functions were to be replaced.  In essence, if the prophet is testifying that the nation of Israel will indeed be without a sacrificial system during their long exile until the messianic age, what are we to use instead?  How are the Jewish people to worship without blood sacrifices during their bitter exile?  What about all the animal sacrifices prescribed in the Book of Leviticus?  Can the Jewish people get along without animal offerings?  Missionaries claim they cannot.  The Bible disagrees.

For this reason, the statement in Hosea 14:2-3 is crucial.  In these two verses, Hosea reveals to his beloved nation how they are to replace the sacrificial system during their protracted exile.  The prophet declares that the Almighty wants us to "render for bulls the offering of our lips."  Prayer is to replace the sacrificial system.

"Take words with you, And return to the LORD. Say to Him, "Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, For we will render for bulls the offering of our lips." (Hosea 14:2-3)

The prophets never instruct the Jews to worship any crucified messiah or demigod.7  Nor does scripture ever tell us that an innocent man can die as an atonement for the sins of the wicked.8  Such a message is utterly antithetical to the teachings of the Jewish scriptures.  Rather, it is the lips of the sinner that is transformed into bulls of the sin offerings.


Refutation V:
Ezekiel condemns the doctrine of vicarious atonement
The prophet Ezekiel warned against Christendom's central doctrine that an innocent human being can die for the sins of the wicked.

Throughout the 18th chapter, Ezekiel warned his people that this erroneous teaching that a righteous man could die for another man's sins was contrary to the will of God.  The way for the sinful man to come right by God is to turn away from his rebellious ways, repent, and thereby the penitent is assured complete forgiveness.  Throughout Ezekiel's uplifting sermon on the forgiveness of sin, blood sacrifices are never mentioned. Ezekiel 18:1-4, 19-23 reads:

"The word of the Lord came to me, saying: "What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel, saying: `The fathers eat sour grapes, and the sons' teeth are set on edge?'  As I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.  For every living soul belongs to Me, the father as well as the son -- they are Mine. Which ever soul sins, it shall die....  Yet you ask: Why did the son not bear the sin of the father?  But the son, justice and righteousness did he do, all My decrees did he safeguard and perform them. He shall surely live. The soul that sins, it shall die!  The son shall not bear for the sin of the father, nor the father bear for the sin of the son.  The righteousness of the righteous person shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked person shall be upon him.  As for the wicked man, if he should turn away from all his sins which he did, and safeguard all My decrees, and do justice and righteousness; he shall surely live.  He will not die. All his transgressions which he committed will not be remembered against him.  For the righteousness which he did, he shall live.  Do I desire at all the death of the wicked man -- the words of my Lord, God -- is it not rather his return from his ways, that he might live."


Refutation VI:
If Jesus was the final sacrifice, why is the sacrificial system returning?
Finally, the New Testament is clear that the animal sacrificial system never could atone for sin in any permanent way,9 and indeed the entire purpose of the animal sacrificial system was, in the language of the Book of Hebrews, foreshadowing Jesus' death on the cross.10

The New Testament therefore repeatedly declares that Jesus was the final sacrifice for all time,11 and there would no longer be any future need for the return of the animal sacrificial system.  This doctrine, however, completely contradicts the words of the prophets who clearly foretold that the animal sacrificial system would return in the messianic age.12


Our response to Jews for Jesus:
Is a blood sacrifice necessary for atonement?

The Jewish scriptures tell us that blood sacrifice, heartfelt repentance, and charity atone for sin -- blood sacrifice being the least efficacious of the three.  Jews for Jesus disagrees, and they make the following argument:


Jews for Jesus:

Is a blood sacrifice necessary for the forgiveness of sin?

Rabbi Tovia Singer tells us that according to the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible), not only blood but also repentance and charity atone for sin -- and atonement by blood is the least important of all of them.

The Tanach does give a few examples in which atonement was procured apart from blood sacrifice. There is atonement by a cereal offering designed for poor people (Lev. 5:11-13); atonement by the burning of incense (Num. 16:46 [Hebrew 17:11]); atonement by gold (Num. 31:50).  In the last two cases, the actions are really to avert God's wrath and not to secure forgiveness for sin; in the first case, an exception is made for a poor person who cannot bring an animal.  The general rule remained: atonement came by a blood sacrifice.

Our response:

Actually, these three verses brought up by Jews for Jesus are never mentioned anywhere in the tape series.  Moreover, these verses do not logically support their conclusion.  Jews for Jesus' inference "The general rule remained: atonement came by blood sacrifice" is a non sequitur.

Let's examine these three verses in greater detail?  Leviticus 5:11-13, Numbers 17:11,13and Numbers 31:50 are examples in the Torah where atonement is procured without the shedding of blood.  In Leviticus 5:11-13 the poor man may give a flour offering instead of an animal sacrifice for an atonement.  Numbers 17:1112 describes how Aaron made an atonement for the people with incense, and in Numbers 31:50 the Torah declares that the golden ornaments donated by high officers of the military who successfully defeated the Midianites were offered as an atonement as well.

It is worth mentioning that missionaries often argue that in the case of the poor man's flour offering, the flour was mixed by the priest with the other blood-offerings.  Thus, having the flour mixed with the blood of someone else's sacrifice, a partnership was somehow created with another man's blood offering so that the poor man ultimately has provided blood in his offering.  The problem with this argument is that it is thoroughly unbiblical. Nowhere does the Torah state that the flour offering was mixed with any other sacrifice.  On the contrary, it was equal to any other sacrifice in that it was placed on the altar like any other offering.

Jews for Jesus' statement that the incense and the gold ornaments "are really to avert God's wrath and not to secure forgiveness for sin" is incorrect.  The Bible clearly states otherwise.  With regard to the incense brought by Aaron, the Torah says:

"So Moses said to Aaron, 'Take a censer and put fire in it from the altar, put incense on it, and take it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them; for wrath has gone out from the LORD.  The plague has begun.'" (Numbers 17:11)

Here the Torah clearly states that the incense both averted God's wrath and provided an atonement for the people.  Jews for Jesus' statement with regard to the case of the golden ornaments is even more puzzling because nowhere does scripture ever state that the golden ornaments were to avert God's wrath.  The Torah only declares that the purpose of this donation was to procure an atonement.

It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word kapar (atonement) used in Leviticus 17:11 -- the verse Jews for Jesus uses to prove that only blood can be used as an atonement -- is the exact same word used in all three verses that Jews for Jesus insists did "not secure forgiveness for sin."  Well, which is it?  Does kapar mean an atonement or not? You can't have it both ways.

The Torah explains in Leviticus 17:11 why it is forbidden to consume blood: it has been set aside for the sole purpose of making atonement on the altar.  Leviticus 17:11 does not imply that the only method of atonement is the shedding of blood.  By taking Talmudic texts out of context, Jews for Jesus will argue that Jewish sources differ with Rabbi Singer.  Let us examine Jews for Jesus' argument.


Jews for Jesus:

In connection with this, Rabbi Singer questions the use of Leviticus 17:11 to demonstrate that a blood sacrifice was necessary.  The verse reads, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life" (Jewish Publication Society translation).  Because the context of Lev. 17:11 is the prohibition against consuming blood, Rabbi Singer argues that the point of the verse is: blood is prohibited because it is used to atone -- but not that the verse teaches that blood is the main or only way of atonement.

Traditional Jewish sources differ with Rabbi Singer:

Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 5a, citing Leviticus 17:11

Does the laying on of the hand make atonement for one? Does not atonement come through the blood, as it is said: For it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life!....  Does the waving make atonement? Is it not the blood which makes atonement, as it is written, 'For it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life'?

-- Soncino Talmud edition.

Babylonian Talmud, Zevahim 6a, citing Leviticus 17:11

Surely atonement can be made only with the blood, as it says, For it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life!

-- Soncino Talmud edition.

Our response:

These traditional sources do not disagree with us at all.  Jews for Jesus is taking these Talmudic texts completely out of context.  If these Talmudic texts were quoted in full, it would be clear that these statements of our sages have nothing at all to do with the point that Jews for Jesus is trying to prove.  Let us examine these Talmudic texts.

Both the Talmud in Tractate Yoma 5a and Zevachim 6a are dealing with the same subject of animal sacrifices, and are quoting from the identical statement in a Baraisa.14  More specifically, both of these sections of the Talmud deal with the same question: What specific error made while offering a sacrifice invalidates it, so that the sacrifice would not effect an atonement for its owner?  As mentioned above, there are many rituals that are performed during a sacrifice such as the leaning of the hands on the animal, the four actions relating to the blood (slaughtering, collecting the blood in a service vessel, carrying the blood to the altar, and the sprinkling of the blood on the altar), the burning of the entrails and fats, etc.  This Baraisa, quoted in both Yoma 5a and Zevachim 6a, questions whether when a sacrifice is offered, the leaning of the sinner's hands on the animal brings about the atonement.  The Baraisa insists that this could not be the case when we consider that Leviticus 17:11 explicitly states that it is the blood on the altar that makes the atonement for one's soul.  Therefore, "there is no atonement other than the blood" (the text quoted by Jews for Jesus), and the leaning would not effect the atonement.

This is a crucial statement because within any sacrifice brought for sin, the essential principle to bear in mind is that the atonement desired by the owner of the animal actually occurs as a result of the sprinkling of the blood on the altar.  The other rituals relating to sacrifice, such as the leaning of the hands, are secondary and do not cause the atonement.  The Talmud's quote in Yoma 5a and Zevachim 6a of the Baraisa is speaking within the narrow context of the sacrificial offering; and within that slender context, it is only the blood of the animal sprinkled on the altar that brings about the atonement.  This section of the Talmud is not addressing atonement in general, but rather sacrificial atonement alone.  Our sages do not contradict the words of the Bible which explicitly state that there are other methods of atonement that are superior to ritual sacrifice.15

The biblical principle that repentance and charity atone for sin is taught and explained countless places throughout the entire corpus of the Talmud. In fact, later on in Tractate Yoma -- the same tractate that Jews for Jesus uses as support for their claim -- the Talmud says that when a person repents of his transgressions out of love, not only are his sins forgiven, but his premeditated transgressions are accounted as merits!16

(See also Baruch Levine's commentary below on Leviticus 17:11)

Jews for Jesus also cites the modern Jewish commentator, Baruch Levine, trying to substantiate the Christian doctrine that atonement is only achieved through the shedding of blood. Let us observe:


Jews for Jesus:

Similarly, modern Jewish commentator Baruch Levine

Expiation by means of sacrificial blood-rites is a prerequisite for securing God's forgiveness. As the rabbis expressed it, 'ein kapparah 'ella' be-dam, "There is no ritual expiation except by means of blood."

-- Baruch Levine, The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus; The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), p. 23, referring to Yoma 5a cited above.

Our response:

What Jews for Jesus neglects to mention is the context in which Baruch Levine's statement appears.  The above quote of Baruch Levine appears in his commentary on Leviticus 4:20, which concludes the Torah's explanation of how the blood is ceremonially sprinkled on the curtain of the Tent of the Meeting by the priest.  Which sacrifice is the Torah speaking of that Jews for Jesus is quoting Baruch Levine's comment on?  When the Jewish people commit a sin unintentionally!

Let's now quote Baruch Levine in context, so we get a sense of his commentary on the overall picture of atonement and blood sacrifice.  Does Baruch Levine agree with Jews for Jesus? Hardly.

"It should be emphasized here, as the workings of the sacrificial system are introduced to the reader, that the laws of the Torah did not permit Israelites to expiate intentional or premeditated offenses by means of sacrifice.  There was no vicarious, ritual remedy -- substitution of one's property or wealth -- for such violations, whether they were perpetrated against other individuals or against God Himself. In those cases, the law dealt directly with the offender, imposing real punishments and acting to prevent recurrences.  The entire expiatory system ordained in the Torah must be understood in this light. Ritual expiation was restricted to situations where a reasonable doubt existed as to the willfulness of the offense.  Even then, restitution was always required where loss or injury to another person had occurred.  The mistaken notion that ritual worship could atone for criminality or intentional religious desecration was persistently attacked by the prophets of Israel, who considered it a major threat to the entire covenantal relationship between Israel and God."

-- Baruch Levine, The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus; The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), p. 3, under the heading, The Principal Types of Sacrifice (1:1-7:38)

Below is another quote from Baruch Levine on Leviticus 17:11. Jews for Jesus insists that this verse proves that atonement can only be procured through the shedding of blood.  Baruch Levine disagrees.

"Substitution was allowed only in cases of inadvertence. Where the offense against God had been intentional, ritual expiation did not apply."

-- Baruch Levine, The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus; The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), p. 115, on Leviticus 17:11.

To summarize, the Jewish scriptures clearly teach that blood sacrifice is not necessary for the forgiveness of sin.  Comments from traditional Jewish sources and the modern commentator Baruch Levine examined critically, in context, lend no support whatsoever to Jews for Jesus' statements.

The Jewish scriptures clearly state that sacrifice was used to atone for man's least grievous transgressions: unintentional sins; the prophets, therefore, did not dignify the blood sacrificial system.  On the contrary, as if with one voice, these men of God declared that repentance and charity were more pleasing to God than a blood sacrifice.2  Jews for Jesus, however, maintains that Jesus' death was sacrificial in nature, and his death atones for all sins.  They will obscure the clear words of the Jewish scriptures by quoting modern Jewish commentators out of context who are discussing peripheral issues.  Let us look at their argument.


Jews for Jesus:

Rabbi Singer maintains that sacrifice was only meant for unintentional sins.  For example, he cites Leviticus 4 which says that the sin offering (the hattat) was for unintentional sins.  Numbers 15 says that the person who sins "with a high hand" will be cut off.  The intentional murderer must be put to death; only the manslaughterer who killed someone accidentally can have atonement.  How then, Rabbi Singer asks, could Jesus be a sacrifice for all sins, including intentional ones?

The sin offering was only one kind of sacrifice.  Though it was specified for inadvertent sins, other sacrifices were not restricted in that way.  The full evidence includes the following:

Exhibit A: Modern Jewish commentators:

Jacob Milgrom

The function of the burnt offering as exemplified by the Hittite sources, cited above, is clearly propitiatory and expiatory (for "wrath," "guilt," "offense," "sin"), a fact that accords with the purpose assigned to the burnt offering in this chapter [Lev. 1].... "to expiate" (v 4)....

Some medieval commentators suggest the entire range of unwitting sins (Bekhor Shor; cf. Shadal) and even brazen sins, if their punishment is not specified (Ramban).

--Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1991), p. 175.

Baruch Levine

Our response:

Once again, Jews for Jesus is quoting out of context. The above commentary by Jacob Milgrom appears within the context of the Olah offering.  This sacrifice which was burnt entirely on the altar had the distinction of being a voluntary offering. It was brought when the individual felt a sense of personal guilt and wished to express his penitence by offering this free-will sacrifice.  The unrepentant brazen sinner, however, was barred from the sacrificial system.

Let us now listen to the words of Jacob Milgrom as he speaks about sacrifices in general, and see if he agrees with Jews for Jesus.

"Inadvertence is a key criterion in all expiatory sacrifice. A deliberate, brazen sinner is barred from the sanctuary (Numbers 15:30-31)."

--Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1991), p. 228.

Once again, let's read Jacob Milgrom's own words on the matter of why in the case of the Asham does the Torah place the repentant transgressor in the class of the inadvertent sinner:

"The witness's defiance of the imprecation is indisputably a deliberate, if not a brazen, misdemeanor. Ibn Ezra would add the element of a memory lapse, which plays a role in the following cases (vv 2-4), but its absence here is hardly accidental.  Then, why is his sin expiable by sacrifice? The answer lies in his subsequent remorse, a factor that is not stated in the case itself but in the general protasis governing all four cases (vv 4b, 5a); it is his subsequent guilt feeling (asem) that is responsible for converting his deliberate sin into an inadvertence, expiable by sacrifice."

--Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1991), p. 295.


Jews for Jesus:

The offenses outlined here [in Lev. 5:20-26] were quite definitely intentional! A person misappropriated property or funds entrusted to his safekeeping, or defrauded another, or failed to restore lost property he had located....If, subsequently, the accused came forth on his own and admitted to having lied under oath -- thus assuming liability for the unrecovered property -- he was given the opportunity to clear himself by making restitution and by paying a fine of 20 percent to the aggrieved party. Having lied under oath, he had also offended God and was obliged to offer an 'asham sacrifice in expiation....  God accepts the expiation even of one who swears falsely in His name because the guilty person is willing to make restitution to the victim of his crime....

-- Baruch Levine, JPS Torah Commentary, pp. 32-33. Note: 'asham means a "guilt offering."

Baruch Levine, again

[In Lev. 5:20-26], an 'asham is offered in expiation of any of a series of deceitful acts involving an oath and the loss of property to others.

-- Levine, JPS Torah Commentary, pp. 25-26.

Our response:

The Asham sacrifice gives us great insight into the biblical principle that in certain cases where a transgression is committed willfully, the Torah places him in the unique category of the unintentional sinner.  This occurs in circumstances outlined in the fifth chapter of Leviticus where the transgressor has diminished his iniquity by voluntarily confessing his sin. This individual may therefore bring an Asham sacrifice.

This Asham sacrifice offers us a perfect example of how the above principle is demonstrated in the Torah.  For example, in Leviticus 5:20-26 (in a Christian Bible these verses appear as Leviticus 6:1-7) the Torah declares that a person who acts deceitfully by causing a loss of property to another, must pay the victim the principal plus a fifth and in addition must bring an Asham offering.  The question that immediately comes to mind is the Torah has already addressed the issue of someone who takes another's property.  In Exodus 22, scripture declares that a thief has to pay the victim double, and in the case of a sheep or an ox, he must repay four and five times, respectfully.  Well, which is it? Is it two, four or five times the theft as prescribed by Exodus 22, or is it one and a fifth plus an Asham sacrifice, as commanded in Leviticus 5:20-26?  Is this a contradiction in the Torah?

Actually, there is no contradiction here at all.  In Exodus 22 the thief was caught, and he therefore must repay an exorbitant fine for his transgression.  For the brazen sinner, no blood offering is sufficient to make himself right with God, and he is barred from the sacrificial system. In Leviticus 5, on the other hand, the thief was not caught.  Rather, after originally swearing falsely that he was innocent, he came forward on his own, admitted his guilt, and amended his crime.  In this unique case, the Torah teaches us that in a number of unique cases, the person who confessed his sin is perceived an unwitting sinner in that he may bring a sacrifice to atone, although his original transgression was deliberate.  In the case of the unrepentant sinner who was caught stealing in Exodus 22, however, no sacrifice can undo his iniquity.  An animal offering simply was not enough to atone for his deliberate sin.


Jews for Jesus:

What then about the intentional sin in Numbers 15:30-31 (the sin "with a high hand") which is apparently unforgivable?  That verse reads "But the soul that doeth aught with a high hand, whether he be home-born or a stranger, the same blasphemeth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken His commandment; that soul shall utterly be cut off, his iniquity shall be upon him."

We present Exhibit B, the talmudic and medieval commentators.  According to the sages, repentance could turn an intentional sin into an unintentional sin and so be eligible for sacrifice.  This is explained by the original sources and by modern commentators on those sources: Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 86b

R. Simeon b. Lakish said: Great is repentance, which converts intentional sins into unintentional ones.

-- As cited by Milgrom, Leviticus, p. 373.  The Soncino Talmud edition translates: "Resh Lakish said: Great is repentance, for because of it premeditated sins are accounted as errors."
Rashi (11th c.), on Numbers 15:31, explaining the phrase "his iniquity is upon him"

Only at the time when (under the circumstances that) his iniquity is upon him shall he be cut off, i.e., in the case that he has not repented (Sanh. 90b).

-- Rosenbaum-Silbermann edition (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company)
Jacob Milgrom

This literary image [of the "high hand"] is most apposite for the brazen sinner who commits his acts in open defiance of the Lord (cf. Job. 38:15). The essence of this sin is that it is committed flauntingly. However, sins performed in secret, even deliberately, can be commuted to the status of inadvertencies by means of repentance....

-- Jacob Milgrom, The JPS Commentary: Numbers; The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990), p. 125. See also J. Milgrom, "The Priestly Doctrine of Repentance," Revue Biblique 82 (1975): 186-205.

...I submit that the repentance of the sinner, through his remorse...and confession..., reduces his intentional sin to an inadvertence, thereby rendering it eligible for sacrificial expiation....

-- Milgrom, Leviticus, p. 373.

...The early rabbis...raise the question of how the high priest's bull is capable of atoning for his deliberate sins, and they reply, "Because he has confessed his brazen and rebellious deeds it is as if they become as unintentional ones before him" (Sipra, Ahare par. 2:4,6; cf. t. Yoma 2:1).  Thus it is clear that the Tannaites attribute to repentance -- strikingly, in a sacrificial ritual -- the power to transform a presumptuous sin against God, punishable by death, into an act of inadvertence, expiable by sacrifice.

-- Milgrom, Leviticus, p. 373.

Is unintentional sin the least significant kind of sin?

Rabbi Singer maintains that unintentional sin is the least significant kind, implying that the sacrifices offered in the Tenach were for insignificant transgressions; real sins would be atoned for in other ways.

In fact, the very opposite was true in biblical times: unintentional sin was if anything considered more grave than intentional sin, simply because one could never know if one had transgressed in such a case.

We summon to the stand:

Jacob Milgrom

Unwitting sin as the cause of disaster is widely attested in the ancient world.  The sin of unwitting sacrilege against the deity is especially feared....In the early rabbinic period, the "suspended 'asham" (5:17-19) played a more central role.  It was brought frequently by the pious, who were certain that they could deter conscious sins but were in dread over the possibility of committing sins unconsciously.

-- Milgrom, Leviticus, pp. 361-362.


Our response:

It is difficult to know how to begin our response here because the above statements quoted by Jews for Jesus so perfectly support our point. Indeed, if I had not restricted myself to using only the Bible in the tape series, I could have quoted any one of them for further support in my lectures.

Let's examine this profound statement of this great Amorah17  Resh Lakish.  "Great is repentance, which converts intentional sins into unintentional ones."16   What does this mean?  Why is repentance great? Because it transforms an intentional sin into an unintentional sin.  Does this mean that intentional sins are greater or weaker than unintentional sins?  Obviously, if unintentional sins were more grievous this statement would make no sense.  Clearly, this statement by Resh Lakish is telling us that a sin committed intentionally is far more grave than a transgression committed unwittingly.

In conclusion, despite the clear provisions of the Jewish scriptures that heartfelt repentance, charity as well as blood sacrifice atone for sin, Jews for Jesus continues to insist that sin can only be forgiven through the sacrificial shedding of blood.

Moreover, we have shown that Ezekiel, speaking in the name of God, condemns the notion of human vicarious atonement.  He therefore encourages his nation to turn to God through repentance alone for a complete atonement.  Through this bloodless atonement, he promises, all sin would be forgotten.  Throughout his entire moving sermon on atonement, Ezekiel never mentions the sacrificial system.  The prophet only assures the Jewish people that the Almighty does not wish to punish the wicked, but rather "that they turn from their ways, so they might live."18

Furthermore, the prophet Hosea predicted that the children of Israel would spend their bitter exile without the sacrificial system,19 and encourages his beloved nation to use their lips filled with words of penitence for their atonement so that the lips of the sinner would become as bulls of the sin offerings.20

Finally, in our responses we have shown that each and every reference -- traditional and modern -- cited by Jews for Jesus is taken completely out of context and does nothing to support the Christian doctrines they are trying to defend.  It is therefore no surprise that not one of the individuals quoted by Jews for Jesus has ever spent a moment of their Jewish lives believing in Jesus.




1 Leviticus 4:1-35

2 Deuteronomy 4:26-31; I Kings 8:46-50; Isaiah 55:6-9; Jeremiah 7:3-23; Ezekiel 18:1-23; Hosea 6:6; 14:2-3; Micah 6:6; Psalm 40:7-9 (6-8); 51:16-19;

3 Proverbs 10:2; 11:4; 16:6; Daniel 4:24; II Chronicles 6:36-39

4 This biblical principle is laid out in Leviticus 4:1-35 and Numbers 15:27-31.  As will be discussed below, there is a unique case when the Torah tells us that, under certain circumstances, an individual who sinned intentionally is accorded the benefit of the unintentional sinner's ritual blood expiation with an Asham (guilt) offering.

5 The Torah therefore commands us in Leviticus 17:13 - only three verses later -- that when slaughtering an animal, the blood must be poured on to the floor and covered with earth, rendering it useless. See also Deuteronomy 12:16, "Only you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it on the earth like water."

6 In a Christian Bible this verse appears as Psalm 40:6

7 Exodus 20:2-3; Deuteronomy 4:35; 6:14; 32:39; Hosea 13:4

8 Exodus 32:33; Ezekiel 18:1-23

9 Hebrews 10:4 insists that the animal sacrificial system had no lasting value.  "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins."  This was a necessary assertion for the author of Hebrews because if the animal sacrifices really worked, why was Jesus' death necessary?  It should have been sufficient to keep bringing animal offerings.

10 Hebrews 10:1

11 Romans 6:10; Hebrews 9:12; 10:10; 10:18

12 Jeremiah 33:17-18; Zachariah 14:21; Ezekiel 43-44.  Missionaries often try to explain this problem away by claiming that the reason animal sacrifices will return is to point back to Jesus. This response, however, is a rationalization that is not even used in the New Testament, and thoroughly contradicts the statements in Romans and Hebrews.  Moreover, this response makes little sense. Why would there be any need to point back to anything?

13 In a Christian Bible this verse appears as 16:46

14 A Baraisa is a statement made by a Tanna which was not included by Rabbi Yehudah Ha'nasi (Approximately 200 C.E.) in the Mishnah.

15 Deuteronomy 4:26-31; I Samuel 15:22; I Kings 8:46-50; Isaiah 55:6-9; Jeremiah 7:3-23; Ezekiel 18:1-23; Hosea 6:6; 14:2-3; Micah 6:6; Psalm 40:7-9 (6-8); 51:16-19; Proverbs 10:2; 11:4; 16:6

16 Yoma 86b discusses the greatness and efficacy of repentance. Resh Lakish states that for those who repent out of fear, "Great is repentance, which converts intentional sins into unintentional ones."  For those who repent out of love, "Great is repentance which converts intentional sins into merits."

17 The term Amora refers to those sages that were contributors to the Talmud.  Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish, or Resh Lakish as he was better known, lived in Israel during the third century C.E.

18 Ezekiel 18:1-23

19 Hosea 3:4-5

20 Hosea 14:2-3