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 fifth order (seder) of the Mishnah, Kodashim, or "Holy Things," deals with rules of the Temple worship, and, in particular, the rules for the various kinds of offerings sacrificed in the Temple. Although the Mishnah's description probably reflects some aspects of the way the actual Temple functioned, most of Seder Kodashim was developed after the destruction of the Temple. With one notable exception, most of Seder Kodashim was seen by later generations to have little practical application; there is no Palestinian Talmud on any of Kodashim, and the Babylonian Talmud on this seder is briefer than on others. 

The Themes of Seder Kodashim

Seder Kodashim primarily deals with various kinds of sacrifices of animals, birds, and grain. The first two (and longest tractates) deal with the preparation and actual offering of the sacrifices. The first tractate, Zevachim, "Animal Sacrifices"--which the Talmud also calls Shechitat Kodashim, "The Slaughter of Consecrated Animals" (Bava Metzia 109b)--discusses various rules concerning the slaughtering of the animals, the receiving of the blood, and the sprinkling of the blood on the altar. It also describes, at great length, the various ways in which the sacrifice may become invalid and whether the priests receive a portion of the sacrifice.  The second tractate, Menachot, "Grain-offerings," addresses the ingredients of the grain-offering, the different amounts to be placed upon the altar, as well as the showbread and drink offerings.

lambs for sacrificeSeder Kodashim also covers the rules for providing for the maintenance of the sacrificial system. This includes providing animals for sacrifices, whether they are first-born animals (Tractate Bekhorot, "Firstborns"), or from guilt or sin offerings (Tractate Keritot, "Excisions"); it also includes offering pigeons (Tractate Kinnim, "Birds Nests") by women after giving birth or by the poor. This also includes paying vows for the upkeep of the sanctuary (Tractate Arakhin, "Evaluations"), substitutions for different kinds of offerings (Tractate Temurah, "Exchange"), and the inappropriate use of consecrated items (Tractate Me'ilah, "Embezzlement").

Details about the Temple

Related to these topics are two tractates dealing with the function and nature of the Temple. Tractate Tamid, the "Daily Offering," describes the organization of the priests in the temple and their official duties, including cleaning the altar and the incense offering. It also describes the liturgy recited by the priests, including the priestly blessing. Tractate Middot, "Measures," describes the dimensions of the Temple and its furnishings, including the Temple mount, the gates, the courts and the chamber of hewn stone.

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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.