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Korban (קרבן) (plural: Korbanot קרבנות) in Judaism, is commonly called a religious sacrifice or an "offering" in English, but is known as a Korban in Hebrew because its Hebrew root K [a] R [o] V (קרב) (or K [o] R [a] V) means to "[come] Close (or Draw Near) [to God]", which the English words "sacrifice" or "offering" do not fully convey. There were many different types of korbanot. A Korban was usually an animal such as a sheep or a bull that was ritually slaughtered and then burned on an altar, which the Hebrew Bible commanded the ancient Children of Israel to be offered up on the various altars in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem during the History of ancient Israel and Judah.
In the Hebrew Bible
The korbanot were practiced from earliest times, and particularly for over one thousand years in the Tabernacle and during the eras of the Temple of Solomon and the Second Temple in Jerusalem when the Israelites lived in the Land of Israel until the destruction of Judea, Jerusalem, and the Temple by the Roman Empire approximately two thousand years ago in the year 70 CE.
Roles of the kohen (priests)
The Kohanim ("priests"), from the Tribe of Levi, performed the korbanot rituals first in the ancient Tabernacle and then in the Temple of Solomon (the first Temple in Jerusalem) and later in the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
In the Book of Leviticus
The Book of Leviticus  contains the details of each korban. In classical rabbinic literature it is sometimes known as Torat kohanim, the "Law [book of the] Priests". It delineates the roles both of the kohen ("priest") and the Kohen Gadol ("High Priest").
The Kohen Gadol in particular played a crucial role in this regard on Yom Kippur, a day when multiple korbanot were offered.
Every regular weekday, Shabbat, and each Jewish holiday had its own unique korbanot.
Abuses of the korbanot
Many books of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible, such as the Book of Isaiah and Book of Jeremiah, spoke out against those Israelites who brought forth sacrifices, but did not act in accord with the precepts of the Torah.
The Prophets disparaged sacrifices that were offered without a regeneration of the heart, i.e., a determined turning from sin and returning to God by striving after righteousness. "O Israel, return unto the Lord your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity. Take with you words, and return unto the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and accept us graciously: so will we render as bullocks the offerings of our lips" (Hosea 14:1-2). "Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy, and repenteth him of the evil" (Joel 2:13). The Book of Micah states:
- With what shall I approach the Lord,
- Do homage to God on high?
- Shall I approach Him with burnt offerings,
- With calves a year old?
- Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
- With myriads of streams of oil?
- Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
- The fruit of my body for my sins?
- Man has told you what is good.
- But what does the Lord require of you?
- Only to do justice
- And to love goodness,
- And to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:6-8).
Christians believe that Jesus was not only a messiah, but that he became a human sacrifice to atone for all of mankind's sins. Christians often cite the rebukes of the prophets against the Children of Israel. Judaism rejects this claim, believing instead that the prophets criticism's were meant to correct the negative behavior of those Israelites who were sinning, and not as a rejection of the sacrificial system or the Jewish religion.
In Mishnah and Talmud
The Mishnah and Talmud devote a very large section, known as a seder, to the study and analysis of this subject known as Kodshim, whereby all the detailed varieties of korbanot are enumerated and analyzed in great logical depth, such as kodshim kalim ("simple sacrifices") and kodash kodashim ("holy of holies").
The end of sacrifices
With the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans, the Jewish practice of offering korbanot stopped for all intents and purposes. Despite subsequent intermittent periods of small Jewish groups offering the traditional sacrifices on the Temple Mount, the practice effectively ended.
Rabbinic Judaism was forced to undergo a significant evolution in response to this change; no longer could Judaism revolve round the Temple services. Instead, the destruction of the Temple spurned the development of Judaism in the direction of text study, prayer and further development of halakha (loosely translated as "Jewish law".) A range of responses is recorded in classical rabbinic literature, descrbing this shift in emphasis.
- Once, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai was walking with his disciple, Rabbi Y'hoshua, near Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Y'hoshua looked at the Temple ruins and said "Alas for us!! The place that atoned for the sins of the people Israel lies in ruins!" Then Rabbi Yohannan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: 'Be not grieved, my son. There is another equally meritorious way of gaining ritual atonement, even though the Temple is destroyed. We can still gain ritual atonement through deeds of loving-kindness. For it is written "Lovingkindness I desire, not sacrifice." (Hosea 6:6)
- Midrash Avot D'Rabbi Nathan 4:5
In a number of places the Babylonian Talmud emphasises that following Jewish law, doing charitable deeds, and studying Jewish texts is greater than performing animal sacrifices.
- Rabbi Elazar said: Doing righteous deeds of charity is greater than offering all of the sacrifices, as it is written: "Doing charity and justice is more desirable to the Lord than sacrifice" (Proverbs 21:3).
- Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 49
Will sacrifices be reinstituted in the future?
Since the destruction of the Temple, Judaism has instituted a system of study, public Torah readings, and prayers that connect the Jewish people to the Temple and the Temple service.
The prevailing belief among rabbinic Jews is that in the messianic era, the Jewish Messiah would come and a Third Temple would be re-built. It is believed that the korbanot would be reinstituted, but to what extent and for how long is unknown. Some biblical and classical rabbinic sources hold that most or all sacrifices will not need to be offered.
- In the future all sacrifices, with the exception of the Thanksgiving-sacrifice, will be discontinued. (Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 9:7)
- All sacrifices will be annulled in the future. (Tanchuma Emor 19, Vayikra Rabbah 9:7)
- Then the grain-offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to God as in the days of old, and as in ancient years. (Malachi 3:4)
The majority view of classical rabbis that the Torah's commandments will still be applicable and in force during the messianic era. However, a significant minority of rabbis held that most of the commandments will be nullified in the messianic era, thus holding that sacrifices will not be reinstated. Examples of such rabbinic views include:
- Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Niddah 61b and Tractate Shabbat 151b.
- Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Avodah Zarah 3a, 4b, states that today we should observe the commandments, while Rashi comments that this is so because we will not observe them in the world to come.
- Midrash Shochar Tov (Mizmor 146:5) states that God will permit what is now forbidden.
There is no authoritative answer accepted within Judaism as to which mitzvot, if any, would be annulled in the messianic era.
These views are still considered to be valid options within classical and Orthodox Judaism. As such, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel, held that in the messianic era, only grain offerings ('menachot') will be reinstated in the Temple service. Most of Orthodox Judaism holds that in the messianic era, most or all of the korbanot will be reinstituted, at least for a time. Other Jewish denominations, such as Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism, hold that no animal sacrifices should be offered in a rebuilt Temple at all. See the article on the Temple in Jerusalem for examples of how prayerbooks by many Jewish groups deal with this issue.
Why were sacrifices commanded? A rabbinic debate
Medieval Jewish rationalists like Maimonides drew on the early critiques of the need for sacrifice, taking the view that God always held sacrifice inferior to prayer and philosophical meditation. However, God understood that the Israelites were used to the animal sacrifices that the surrounding pagan tribes used as the primary way to commune with their gods. As such, in Maimonides' view, it was only natural that Israelites would believe that sacrifice were be a necessary part of the relationship between God and man. Maimonides concludes that God's decision to allow sacrifices was a concession to human psychological limitations. It would have been too much to have expected the Israelites to leap from pagan worship to prayer and meditation in one step. In his Guide to the Perplexed he writes:
- "But the custom which was in those days general among men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up consisted in sacrificing animals... It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God...that God did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service. For to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present [the 12th Century ] if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to God nor fast, nor seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action." (Book III, Chapter 32. Translated by M. Friedlander, 1904, The Guide for the Perplexed, Dover Publications, 1956 edition.)
In contrast, many others such as Nachmanides (in his Torah commentary on Leviticus 1:9) disagreed. Nachmanides cites the fact that the Torah records the practices of animal and other sacrifices from the times of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and earlier. Indeed, the purpose of recounting the near sacrifice of Isaac, known in Judaism as "The Binding of Isaac" (Akeidat Yitzhak or the Akeidah) was to illustrate the sublime significance and need of animal sacrifices as supplanting the abomination of human sacrifices.
Nineteenth and Twentieth century
In the 1800s a number of Orthodox rabbis studied the idea of reinstating korbanot on the Temple Mount, even though the messianic era had not yet arrived and the Temple was not rebuilt. A number of responsa concluded that within certain parameters, it is permissible according to Jewish law to offer such sacrifices.
During the early twentieth century, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan known as the Chofetz Chaim and himself a kohen, advised some followers to set up special yeshivas for married students known as Kodshim Kollels that would specialize in the study of the korbanot and study with greater intensity the kodshim sections of the Talmud in order to prepare for the arrival of the Jewish Messiah who would oversee the rebuilding of the original Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem that would be known as the Third Temple. His advice was taken seriously and today there are a number of well-established Haredi institutions in Israel that focus solely on the subject of the korbanot, kodshim, and the needs of the future Jewish Temple, such as the Brisk yeshivas.
Today Orthodox Judaism includes mention of each korban on either a daily basis in the siddur (daily prayer book), or in the machzor (holiday prayerbook) as part of the prayers for the relevant days concerned. They are also referred to in the prayerbooks of Conservative Judaism, in an abbreviated fashion.
Korbanot in the prayer book
The prayers mention the korbanot at various junctures. In the very early morning daily Shacharit prayers for example, they include the following in order of mention, actually called the korbanot
- Kiyor Describing the basin containing pure water to wash up before touching the korbanot (offerings), based on Exodus 30: 17-21 .
- Trumat Hadeshen Removing the ashes of the korban olah (elevation offering), based on Leviticus 6:1-6 .
- Korban Tamid Perpetual daily offerings: "...Fire-offering...male yearling lambs unblemished two a day..." based on Numbers 28:1-8 .
- Ketoret Incense [from] spices: "...stacte, onycha,and galbanum, ...and frankincense..." Based on Exodus 30:34-36;7-8 ..."myrrh, cassia, spikenard, saffron, costus, aromatic bark, cinnamon, ley, salt, amber..." based on the Babylonian Talmud Kritut 6a; Jerusalem Talmud Yoma 4:5; 33a.
- Korban Musaf The additional offerings for Shabbat: "On the Sabbath...two male lambs...fine flour for a meal offering mixed with oil and its wine libation..." based on Numbers 28:9-10 .
- Korban Rosh Chodesh Offering for the new month: ...Two young bulls, one ram, seven lambs...fine flour ...mixed with olive oil...one he goat... and its wine libation." Based on Numbers 28: 11-15 .
- Zevachim Chapter 5 of Mishnah Zevachim is then cited. (It was included in the siddur at this stage because it discusses all the sacrifices and the sages do not dispute within it):
- A. Eizehu mekoman shel z'vachim Places for the zevachim korbanot to be offered: "...The slaughter of the bull and the he-goat of Yom Kippur is in the north [of the altar]..."
- B. Parim hanisrafim Bulls that are completely burned: "...These are burned in the place where the [altar] ashes are deposited."
- C. Chatot hatzibur v'hayachid Sin offerings of the community and the individual: "...The he-goats...are eaten within the [Temple courtyard] curtains by male priests...until midnight."
- D. Ha'olah kodesh kodashim The elevation offering is among the most holy offerings: "...it is entirely consumed by fire."
- E. Zivchei shalmei tzibur v'ashamot Communal peace offerings and guilt offerings: "...are eaten within the [Temple courtyard] by males of the priesthood...until midnight."
- F. Hatodah v'eil nazir kodashim kalim The thanksgiving offering and the ram of a Nazirite are offerings of a lesser (lighter) holiness: "They are eaten throughout the city [of Jerusalem ] by anyone, prepared in any manner...until midnight..."
- G. Sh'lamim kodashim kalim The peace offerings are of lesser (lighter) holiness: "...Is eaten by the kohanim...throughout the city [of Jerusalem] by anyone..."
- H. Hab'chor vehama'aser vehapesach kodashim kalim The firstborn and tithe of animals and the Passover offering are offerings of lesser (lighter) holiness: "...The Passover offering is eaten only at night...only if roasted."
- Rabbi Yishmael omer (Ending.) Rabbi Yishmael says: Through thirteen rules is the Torah elucidated. (Introduction to the Sifra, part of the Oral Law).
Belonging to the 613 commandments
About one hundred of the permanent 613 mitzvot based on the Torah (Pentateuch) itself, concern the korbanot, according to Maimonides, (excluding those mitzvot that concern the actual Temple and the kohanim themselves of which there are about another fifty):
- Not to burn anything on the Golden Altar besides incense (Exodus 30:9)
- To offer only unblemished animals (Leviticus 22:21)
- Not to dedicate a blemished animal for the altar (Leviticus 22:20)
- Not to slaughter it (Leviticus 22:22)
- Not to sprinkle its blood (Leviticus 22:24)
- Not to burn its fat (Leviticus 22:22)
- Not to offer a temporarily blemished animal (Deuteronomy 17:1)
- Not to sacrifice blemished animals even if offered by non-Jews (Leviticus 22:25)
- Not to inflict wounds upon dedicated animals (Leviticus 22:21)
- To redeem dedicated animals which have become disqualified (Deuteronomy 12:15)
- To offer only animals which are at least eight days old (Leviticus 22:27)
- Not to offer animals bought with the wages of a harlot or the animal exchanged for a dog (Deuteronomy 23:19)
- Not to burn honey or yeast on the altar (Leviticus 2:11)
- To salt all sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13)
- Not to omit the salt from sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13)
- Carry out the procedure of the burnt offering as prescribed in the Torah (Leviticus 1:3)
- Not to eat its meat (Deuteronomy 12:17)
- Carry out the procedure of the sin offering (Leviticus 6:18)
- Not to eat the meat of the inner sin offering (Leviticus 6:23)
- Not to decapitate a fowl brought as a sin offering (Leviticus 5:8)
- Carry out the procedure of the guilt offering (Leviticus 7:1)
- The kohanim must eat the sacrificial meat in the Temple (Exodus 29:33)
- The kohanim must not eat the meat outside the Temple courtyard (Deuteronomy 12:17)
- A non-kohen must not eat sacrificial meat (Exodus 29:33)
- To follow the procedure of the peace offering (Leviticus 7:11)
- Not to eat the meat of minor sacrifices before sprinkling the blood (Deuteronomy 12:17)
- To bring meal offerings as prescribed in the Torah (Leviticus 2:1)
- Not to put oil on the meal offerings of wrongdoers (Leviticus 5:11)
- Not to put frankincense on the meal offerings of wrongdoers (Leviticus 3:11)
- Not to eat the meal offering of the High Priest (Leviticus 6:16)
- Not to bake a meal offering as leavened bread (Leviticus 6:10)
- The kohanim must eat the remains of the meal offerings (Leviticus 6:9)
- To bring all avowed and freewill offerings to the Temple on the first subsequent festival (Deuteronomy 12:5-6)
- To offer all sacrifices in the Temple (Deuteronomy 12:11)
- To bring all sacrifices from outside Israel to the Temple (Deuteronomy 12:26)
- Not to slaughter sacrifices outside the courtyard (of the Temple)(Leviticus 17:4)
- Not to offer any sacrifices outside the courtyard (of the Temple)(Deuteronomy 12:13)
- To offer two lambs every day (Numbers 28:3)
- To light a fire on the altar every day (Leviticus 6:6)
- Not to extinguish this fire (Leviticus 6:6)
- To remove the ashes from the altar every day (Leviticus 6:3)
- To burn incense every day (Exodus 30:7)
- The Kohen Gadol must bring a meal offering every day (Leviticus 6:13)
- To bring two additional lambs as burnt offerings on Shabbat (Numbers 28:9)
- To bring additional offerings on the New Month (Rosh Chodesh) (Numbers 28:11)
- To bring additional offerings on Passover (Numbers 28:19)
- To offer the wave offering from the meal of the new wheat (Leviticus 23:10)
- To bring additional offerings on Shavuot (Numbers 28:26)
- To bring two leaves to accompany the above sacrifice (Leviticus 23:17)
- To bring additional offerings on Rosh Hashana (Numbers 29:2)
- To bring additional offerings on Yom Kippur (Numbers 29:8)
- To bring additional offerings on Sukkot (Numbers 29:13)
- To bring additional offerings on Shmini Atzeret (Numbers 29:35)
- Not to eat sacrifices which have become unfit or blemished (Deuteronomy 14:3)
- Not to eat from sacrifices offered with improper intentions (Leviticus 7:18)
- Not to leave sacrifices past the time allowed for eating them (Leviticus 22:30)
- Not to eat from that which was left over (Leviticus 19:8)
- Not to eat from sacrifices which became impure (Leviticus 7:19)
- An impure person must not eat from sacrifices (Leviticus 7:20)
- To burn the leftover sacrifices (Leviticus 7:17)
- To burn all impure sacrifices (Leviticus 7:19)
- To follow the [sacrificial] procedure of Yom Kippur in the sequence prescribed in Parshat Acharei Mot (After the death of Aaron's sons...) (Leviticus 16:3)
- One who profaned property must repay what he profaned plus a fifth and bring a sacrifice (Leviticus 5:16)
- Not to work consecrated animals (Deuteronomy 15:19)
- Not to shear the fleece of consecrated animals (Deuteronomy 15:19)
- To slaughter the paschal sacrifice at the specified time (Exodus 12:6)
- Not to slaughter it while in possession of leaven (Exodus 23:18)
- Not to leave the fat overnight (Exodus 23:18)
- To slaughter the second Paschal lamb (Numbers 9:11)
- To eat the Paschal lamb with matzah and marror on the night of the 15th of Nissan (Exodus 12:8)
- To eat the second Paschal Lamb on the night of the 15th of Iyar (Numbers 9:11)
- Not to eat the Paschal meat raw or boiled (Exodus 12:9)
- Not to take the Paschal meat from the confines of the group (Exodus 12:46)
- An apostate must not eat from it (Exodus 12:43)
- A permanent or temporary hired worker must not eat from it (Exodus 12:45)
- An uncircumcised male must not eat from it (Exodus 12:48)
- Not to break any bones from the paschal offering (Exodus 12:46)
- Not to break any bones from the second paschal offering (Numbers 9:12)
- Not to leave any meat from the Paschal offering over until morning (Exodus 12:10)
- Not to leave the second Paschal meat over until morning (Numbers 9:12)
- Not to leave the meat of the holiday offering of the 14th until the 16th (Deuteronomy 16:4)
- To celebrate on Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot at the Temple (bring a peace offering) (Exodus 23:14)
- To rejoice on these three Festivals (bring a peace offering) (Deuteronomy 16:14)
- Not to appear at the Temple without offerings (Deuteronomy 16:16)
- Not to refrain from rejoicing with, and giving gifts to, the Levites (Deuteronomy 12:19)
- The kohanim must not eat unblemished firstborn animals outside Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 12:17)
- Every person must bring a sin offering for his transgression (Leviticus 4:27)
- Bring an asham talui when uncertain of guilt (Leviticus 5:17-18)
- Bring an asham vadai when guilt is ascertained (Leviticus 5:25)
- Bring an oleh v'yored offering (if the person is wealthy, an animal; if poor, a bird or meal offering) (Leviticus 5:7-11)
- The Sanhedrin must bring an offering when it rules in error (Leviticus 4:13)
- A woman who had a running issue (unnatural menstrual flow) must bring an offering after she goes to the Mikveh (Leviticus 15:28-29)
- A woman who gave birth must bring an offering after she goes to the Mikveh (Leviticus 12:6)
- A man who had a running issue (unnatural semen flow) must bring an offering after he goes to the Mikveh (Leviticus 15:13-14)
- A metzora (a person with tzaraas) must bring an offering after going to the Mikveh (Leviticus 14:10)
- Not to substitute another beast for one set apart for sacrifice (Leviticus 27:10)
- The new animal, in addition to the substituted one, retains consecration (Leviticus 27:10)
- Not to change consecrated animals from one type of offering to another (Leviticus 27:26)
- Carry out the procedure of the Red Heifer (Parah Aduma) (Numbers 19:2)
- Carry out the laws of the sprinkling water (Numbers 19:21)
- Break the neck of a calf by the river valley following an unsolved murder (Deuteronomy 21:4)
Martyrs as korbanot
Strange as it may seem, classical Judaism refers to a martyr as both a kadosh and as a korban. A kadosh means a "holy" or "sanctified" person who has given up his life for God, which is known as kiddush Hashem or "sanctification of God's name". The word for korbanot is kodshim, meaning "holy things" and the name for martyrs is kedoshim meaning "holy ones". So it is no wonder that Jews murdered during the Holocaust are referred to as both "korbanot" and "the kedoshim".
The relationship between martyrs and sacrifices has its sources in the Torah as well. One strong proto-type for the subject is the near sacrifice of Isaac, where God calls Isaac an olah ("burnt offering"): "...God tested Abraham...'Take your son, the only one you love, Isaac...Bring him as an olah (an all-burned offering)...'...Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood. He then bound his son Isaac, and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham reached out and took the slaughter knife to slit his son's throat. God's angel called to him from heaven...Abraham then looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. He went and got the ram, sacrificing it as an all-burned offering in his son's place..." (Genesis 22:1-19) . Thus, this ram is interchangeable with Isaac, as any animal korban is symbolic of its human owner. In times when there is no Temple, the individual martyr is his or her own korban according to most classical views in Jewish thought on this subject.
This lesson seems to have been greatly embedded into the Jewish national consciousness because it became their "mental framework" and means of rationalizing the persecutions against them over the centuries. There is a rabbinical teaching (Rashi Torat Kohanim, Leviticus) that when Jews are suffering, God looks to the "ashes" of Isaac on the altar, as if he had been burned like a korban olah, a complete "burned offering", (since Isaac accepted his fate, it's considered to be the equivalent of him having actually "gone through with it" on a metaphysical level), and it then serves the same purposes of gaining atonement as the sacrifices would have done in the ancient Temples.
There is also a well known verse in the Book of Psalms that says "...But for your [God's] sake are we killed all the day; we are considered like sheep for the slaughter. " (Psalms 44:23) . The image of Jews going like "sheep to the slaughter" has been used as the metaphor for both Jewish powerlessness as well as absolute fealty by them to their God. Modern secular Jews, in particular those devoted to modern Zionism have consciously rejected that image of the "Jews as victims" going like a "sheep to the slaughter, and have instead striven to promote the idea of a "new" type of aggressive liberated persona. In past times, according to the "sheep to the slaughter" symbolism, the death of people martyred for their faith was deemed to be the equivalent of sacrifices in the ancient Temples and hence the nomenclature utilized is the same as well. The word "Holocaust" derives from the Latin term for a "completely burnt" (olah) offering.
- Bleich, J. David. "A Review of Halakhic Literature Pertaining to the Reinstitution of the Sacrificial Order." Tradition 9 (1967): 103-24.
- Myers, Jody Elizabeth. "Attitudes Towards a Resumption of Sacrificial Worship in the Nineteenth Century." Modern Judaism 7, no. 1 (1987): 29-49.
- Ticker, Jay. The Centrality of Sacrifices as an Answer to Reform in the Thought of Zvi Hirsch Kalischer. Vol. 15, Working Papers in Yiddish and East European Studies, 1975
- Jewish Encyclopedia.com comprehensive article on the sacrifices
- Competing Visions of the Purpose of Korbanot
- Can We Offer Korbanot Today?
- Are You Really Planning to Bring Back those Animal Sacrifices?
- Rabbi Kook on "Korbanot" of Bread, Fire and Fragrance
- Rambam and Ramban on Korbanot, Torah.Org, Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom
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