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Tova Ganzel





The Discrepancies Between the Sacrifices in Ezekiel and the Torah





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Tova Ganzel





The Discrepancies Between the Sacrifices in Ezekiel and the Torah








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The Discrepancies Between the Sacrifices in Ezekiel and the Torah

The laws of holiday sacrifices in Ezekiel 45–46 contradict the laws in Numbers 28–29. The problems are so significant that some Talmudic sages thought it would be best to withdraw (לגנוז) the book of Ezekiel. This piece lays out the discrepancies in detail, surveys some traditional and modern answers, and ends with my own thoughts about why Ezekiel’s system is so different.


The Discrepancies Between the Sacrifices in Ezekiel and the Torah

Sheep in Peza’el Valley, Israel. Photo by Dr. Avishai Teicher. Wikimedia

Contradictions Between Ezekiel and the Torah

Prophetic books are mostly comprised of words of rebuke and consolation; Ezekiel is the only prophet whose prophecies contain laws for the people.[1] Numerous differences exist between these laws, found in Ezekiel 40–48, and those in the Torah. These contradictions created a predicament expressed by the Amoraim (b. Menahot 45a):[2]

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: זכור אותו האיש לטוב וחנינא בן חזקיה שמו שאלמלא הוא נגנז ספר יחזקאל שהיו דבריו סותרין דברי תורה. מה עשה? העלה שלש מאות גרבי שמן וישב בעלייה ודרשו.
R. Judah said in the name of Rav: “Remember a certain man for good—Hanina son of Hizkiah is his name—for were it not for him, the book of Ezekiel would have been withdrawn, since its words contradict the words of the Torah. What did he do? He took three hundred barrels of oil and stayed in the upper chamber and expounded it.

These differences are in various sections of the final unit of Ezekiel, but I will focus on the contradictions between the laws of the required holiday offerings in the Torah (Num 28–29) and their counterpart in Ezekiel chs. 45–46, part of which serves as the haftarah of Shabbat Hachodesh.

Comparing the Offerings in Ezekiel to Those in Numbers

The Nasi in Ezekiel’s Thinking

Before discussing the offerings themselves, we need to say a bit about the nasi (prince) of Israel and his function in Ezekiel’s future Temple. The nasi is the governmental head of Israel, likely a reference to the Davidic king. He is envisioned as taking an active role in the sacrificial system, and is referred to as the one who will bring many of the offerings, including the holiday offerings we will discuss below.

יחזקאל מה:יז וְעַֽל הַנָּשִׂ֣יא יִהְיֶ֗ה הָעוֹל֣וֹת וְהַמִּנְחָה֘ וְהַנֵּסֶךְ֒ בַּחַגִּ֤ים וּבֶחֳדָשִׁים֙ וּבַשַּׁבָּת֔וֹת בְּכָֽל מוֹעֲדֵ֖י בֵּ֣ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל הֽוּא יַעֲשֶׂ֞ה אֶת הַחַטָּ֣את וְאֶת הַמִּנְחָ֗ה וְאֶת הָֽעוֹלָה֙ וְאֶת הַשְּׁלָמִ֔ים לְכַפֵּ֖ר בְּעַ֥ד בֵּֽית יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
Ezek 45:17 But the burnt offerings, the meal offerings, and the libations on festivals, new moons, sabbaths—all fixed occasions—of the House of Israel shall be the obligation of the prince; he shall provide the sin offerings, the meal offerings, the burnt offerings, and the offerings of well-being, to make expiation for the House of Israel.

Different Offerings: Pesach and Sukkot

Here is an overview of the differences between Ezekiel and Numbers regarding the holiday sacrifices:




Pesach – 14th of Nisan
(Ezek 45:21–22 / Num 28:16)
Includes a bull of purification (חטאת) offering. Includes no such offering.
Matzot - 15th-21st of Nisan
(Ezek 45:23–24 / Num 28:17–22)
7 bulls 2 bulls
7 rams 1 ram
A meal offering of an ephah and a hin of oil for each animal A meal offering of three-tenths (עשרונים) of choice flour for a bull and two-tenths for a ram
A goat חטאת offering A goat חטאת offering
– – – 7 lambs
Sukkot – 15th-21st of Tishri
(Ezek 45:25 / Num 29:12-34)
7 bulls Decreasing number of bulls (13-7)
7 rams 2 rams
A meal offering of an ephah and a hin of oil for each animal

A meal offering of three-tenths (עשרונים) of choice flour mixed with oil for each bull, lamb, and ram
A goat חטאת offering A goat חטאת offering
– – –

14 lambs

Missing Holidays: Shavuot, Yom Teruah, Yom HaKippurim, Shemini of Sukkot

The book of Numbers also prescribes offerings for the Festival of Firstfruits (Shavuot), the Day of Blasts (later called Rosh Hashanah), the tenth day of the seventh month (Yom Kippur), and the Eighth Day festival (Shemini Atzeret). Ezekiel never mentions these one-day festivals and certainly does not list any offerings related to them.[3] It is possible that Ezekiel does not discuss these festivals because he is not making any changes to their rites. Alternatively, the omission may indicate that these festivals will not be observed in the future temple.[4]

Offerings for Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh

The remainder of the Haftarah deals with offerings for Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh (which is why it is read on Shabbat Hachodesh). Here as well, there are differences between Ezekiel and Numbers.[5]

  Ezekiel Numbers
(Ezek 46:4–5 /Num 28:9–10)
6 lambs 2 lambs
A meal offering of any amount of flour and a hin of oil for each ephah A meal offering of two-tenths (עשרונים) of choice flour mixed with oil
1 ram – – –
A meal offering of one ephah – – –
Rosh Chodesh
(Ezek 46:6–7 / Num 28:11–15)
1 bull 2 bulls
1 ram 1 ram
A meal offering of an ephah for each

A meal offering of three-tenths (עשרונים) of choice flour mixed with oil for each bull; a meal offering of two-tenths for the ram
6 lambs 7 lambs
A meal offering of any amount of flour and a hin of oil for each ephah A meal offering of one-tenth (עשרון) for each
– – – Wine libations

Explaining the Differences: Traditional Approaches

Both traditional commentators and modern scholars have discussed the differences between the sacrifices in the Torah and those in the book of Ezekiel.

Rules Will Change: Radak

Radak writes in his comment on Ezekiel 46:4:

ואין זה קורבן הכתוב בתורה, לא לשבת ולא ליום טוב, אלא חידוש יהיה בקרבנות
This is not the offering written in the Torah, either for Shabbat or for a festival, but rather, there will be an innovation in the sacrifices.

Harmonizing: Rashi

Others attempt to harmonize Ezekiel with the Torah. For example, Rashi comments on the same verse:[6]

ביום השבת ששה כבשים . לא ידעתי למה שהרי אמרה תורה שני כבשים וביום השבת משמע שבת בראשית ומשמע יום טוב ואומר אני שבת זו אינה שבת בראשית אלא י”ט שטעון שבעה כבשים ושני אילים ובא ולימדך שאין מעכבין זה את זה ואם לא מצא שבעה יביא ששה ואם לא מצא שני אילים יביא אחד כמו שדרשו חכמים לענין ראש חדש:
On the Sabbath day, six lambs. I do not know why, for the Torah says two lambs (Numbers 28). But “the Sabbath day” can mean the Sabbath of creation [i.e., the seventh day of the week] or a holiday, and I say that this “Sabbath” is not the Sabbath of creation but rather a holiday, which requires seven lambs and two rams. This teaches that the total number of sacrifices does not preclude offering less if necessary (lit. they don’t hold each other back), and thus, if one does not find seven, one should bring six, and if one does not find two rams, one should bring one, just as the sages expounded with respect to Rosh Chodesh.

Saying that “Shabbat” does not mean “Shabbat” but “a holiday” and that the entire law was written to teach us what happens if there are not enough lambs is such a counterintuitive answer that it suggests how stuck Rashi must have felt about the contradiction.

A Different Set of Sacrifices: R. Eliezer of Beaugency

Rabbi Eliezer of Beaugency (a student of Rashbam) suggests that this entire section is not discussing the standard sacrificial requirements but the personal sacrifices of the future נשיא, the Davidic king, as stated explicitly in the text. Thus, he writes concerning the Sukkot offerings (Ezekiel 45:25):

כאלה – גם זה שינוי, ולא בא אלא להוסיף קדושות וטהרות ומעלות לעתיד. וכל זה על הנשיא, להטעינו עבודת שמים, להיות רגיל בעבודתו וקרות לביתו, ולא יפנה אל רהבים (תהלים מ:ה) כאשר עשו מלכי ישראל ויהודה. אבל קרבנות – ככתוב בתורת משה יהיו, אבל ענינים אילו כלם בנשיא מדברים, כמו שפירשתי.
“The same” – this is also a change, and it was only included in order to add levels of holiness and purity in the future. All this is for the prince, to load him up with the service of heaven, to be consistent in his service and close to his home, so that “he not turn his eyes to the proud” (Pss 40:5) as did the kings of Israel and Judah. But the [general] sacrifices – these will be as was written in the Torah of Moses. The matters here (in Ezekiel) are relevant only to the prince, as I have explained.

Explaining the Differences: Modern Approaches

Menachem Haran: Two Camps in the Priestly School

In the Olam HaTanakh commentary (pp. 233–235), a Hebrew-language popular commentary written by academics, the late Menahem Haran of Hebrew University notes the many differences between the presentations in Ezekiel and Numbers. In his introduction to the legal section of Ezekiel (p. 202), he argues that the two texts both stem from the Priestly school, but from different camps within this school.

Haran is not the first to suggest this. In fact, he is reacting to an idea, popular in academic circles, that Ezekiel actually predates the Priestly code, and that this legal section is an early version of the holiday sacrifice laws from before the Priestly laws of Numbers 28-29 coalesced. Haran, however, believes the Priestly text to predate Ezekiel. Nevertheless, he does not believe Ezekiel knew this text, but that both developed separately in different subgroups of the Priestly school:

…אין לדמות כלל קשר ישיר ובלתי-אמצעי בין השנים, שהרי אם כן, אין להבין למה בא האחד וסתר כמעט בכל פרט ופרט את מה שמצא אצל קודמו. הקשר בין השניים הוא כנראה עקיף בלבד – זהו קשר של שייכות לאסכולה אחת ובעלת סגולות רוחניות אידיאולוגיות וגם לשוניות צורניות, שאין אתה מוצא כמותן במקום אחר (והן מעידות בבירור שזוהי אסכולה כוהנית).
…no direct, unmediated connection between the two [texts] should be imagined, for if there were one, there is no way to understand why one came and contradicted the previous one in virtually every single detail. The connection between the two is apparently indirect and based on each one’s association with the same school, which comes with certain spiritual and ideological markers, as well as literary forms, which cannot be found in other sources (and which clearly testify that each text is part of the Priestly school).[7]

Rimon Kasher: Making Sacrifice Too Onerous for the Masses (and Other Explanations)

Rimon Kasher of Bar Ilan University attempts to offer some explanations for why Ezekiel’s laws differ from those in Numbers (which he, like Haran, also dates to earlier than Ezekiel). He admits, however, that he cannot offer one clear reason to explain the differences, and instead limits himself to proffering a number of suggestions. For example, when reflecting on the disparities between Ezekiel’s Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh offerings, which are much more numerous than those found in Numbers, he writes (Mikra LeYisrael vol 2., p. 892):

איננו יודעים מה משמעותם של הבדלים אלה, האם הם משקפים מסורת פולחנית שונה, או שמא יש בכוונת יחזקאל להחמיר על היחיד לבל יבוא יתר על המידה למקדש. או שיחזקאל משנה רק כדי לא לחזור על מה שהיה.
We don’t know the significance of these differences—whether they reflect a different sacrificial tradition or whether Ezekiel is perhaps intentionally making the rules stricter to make them too onerous on the average person, so that they don’t come often to the Temple. Or maybe Ezekiel is simply changing the laws in order not to repeat whatever was done before.[8]

Daniel Block: Changing Pesach into a Purgative Holiday

Daniel Block of Wheaton College notes the addition of the חטאת goat in both the Pesach and Sukkot offering lists. He suggests that this underlines a shift in emphasis for both holidays. He notes, for instance, that the holiday sacrifice section itself begins with this emphasis:

יחזקאל מה:יזוְעַֽל־הַנָּשִׂ֣יא יִהְיֶ֗ה הָעוֹל֣וֹת וְהַמִּנְחָה֘ וְהַנֵּסֶךְ֒ בַּחַגִּ֤ים וּבֶחֳדָשִׁים֙ וּבַשַּׁבָּת֔וֹת בְּכָֽל־מוֹעֲדֵ֖י בֵּ֣ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל הֽוּא־יַעֲשֶׂ֞ה אֶת־הַחַטָּ֣את וְאֶת־הַמִּנְחָ֗ה וְאֶת־הָֽעוֹלָה֙ וְאֶת־הַשְּׁלָמִ֔ים לְכַפֵּ֖ר בְּעַ֥ד בֵּֽית־ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
Ezek 45:17 But the burnt offerings, the meal offerings, and the libations on festivals, new moons, sabbaths—all fixed occasions—of the House of Israel shall be the obligation of the prince; he shall provide the sin offerings, the meal offerings, the burnt offerings, and the offerings of well-being, to make expiation for the House of Israel.

Based on the addition of the חטאת and the emphasis on expiation, Block explains the changes in the Passover law (ad loc.):

Whereas the function of the original Passover sacrifice was apotropaic, to ward off Yahweh’s lethal actions… in the Ezekielian ordinance, the memorial purposes are overshadowed by the purgative concern. Thus, while the Passover, the most fundamental of all Israelite celebrations, is retained in Ezekiel’s new religious order, its nature and significance had been changed…. Like the rest of this prophet’s Torah, the cult of the new order is preoccupied with holiness: maintaining the sanctity of the temple (v. 20) and of the worshiper (v. 22).[9]

Walther Zimmerli: Leveling Sukkot with Pesach

Walther Zimmerli (1907-1983) of the University of Göttingen, one of the great Ezekiel scholars of the twentieth century, points out that Ezekiel appears to be intentionally making Sukkot and Pesach parallel holidays, separated by exactly half a year, each with the same basic sacrificial service, each of which, as pointed out by Block (above), includes the purgative ritual of the חטאת:

The schematic leveling out of the feast days in Ezekiel 45 again becomes very clear when one also compares the regulation for the feast of the seventh month. Ezek 45:25 prescribes for this feast, in quite general terms, the same sacrificial gifts for this prince as for the feast in the first month… Numbers 29, on the other hand, reveals the much greater significance of the autumn festival in that the number of sacrificial lambs and rams for the seven days of the feast is simply doubled. In the case of the bull-עולה (“burnt offering”), it begins on the first day with thirteen animals and decreases by one animal each day to the seventh day, which only has seven bulls…

The summary comparison with the later sacrificial ordinance in Numbers 28f leads to the following conclusions: that Ezekiel 45 1) changes the calendar of the major feasts by a reduction to the two great annual festivals, 2) levels out these two festivals from the point of view of the offerings demanded in the requirements, and 3) by prefacing the sin offering of a bull, gives both feasts a strong character of atonement. Precisely in this last element, it has been felt particularly that one can discern a proximity to the period of judgment experienced in the exile.[10]

A Proposal: Protecting the Holiness of the Temple

It is difficult to generalize about the discrepancies between the Torah and Ezekiel’s prophecy, but like some of the earlier scholars surveyed, I wish to suggest a possible explanation for one of the overarching differences between the two sets of laws, based on ideas laid out originally by the late Professor Moshe Greenberg of the Hebrew University.[11] I will specifically focus on why Ezekiel suggests larger quantities of animals, specifically for the Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh offerings.[12] This difference must be viewed in the context of Ezekiel’s re-envisioning of the Temple as a much larger structure and with much more solid boundaries.

The Reimagining of the Temple in Ezekiel

In Ezekiel’s prophecy, the courtyards surrounding the temple are enlarged and the gates are strictly guarded, to the point that God’s gate, i.e., the gate through which God will again enter the Temple, is kept entirely closed (44:2). These strictures prevent impure people and gentiles from entering the temple. In addition, only Zadokite priests (as opposed to all priests) are allowed to work in the temple,[13] and the access of priests is limited to specific areas in the temple compound, and restrictions are placed upon the people’s involvement in offering sacrifices. All this is done in order to prevent impure people from approaching the temple.

Even the geographic location of the temple changes: it is removed from the city where people live. Whether it will remain in Jerusalem or be moved to an entirely new location is not stated. The temple city is divided among all the tribes and named “The Lord is There” (Ezekiel 48:35); again, whether this is a new city or Jerusalem with a new name is unclear. Either way, the distancing of the temple from the populated area protects it, since people are liable to mar its holiness.

Finally, the temple described in Ezekiel lacks an ark, cherubs, a table, and a menorah, and has only a wooden altar. Without these holy vessels, the involvement of the temple officials is reduced, further safeguarding the sanctuary’s holiness.

The Increase in Sacrifices

In keeping with his attempt to safeguard the holiness of the temple by limiting access, the addition of sacrifices for these holidays (Rosh Chodesh, Shabbat, Pesach) may reflect an effort on Ezekiel’s part to intensify the temple service, also for the purpose of increasing holiness[14] (להרבות קדושה).

Legislation in Reaction to the Destruction

Ezekiel’s desire to safeguard the holiness of the future temple and to ensure God’s continued presence in the sanctuary should be understood in its historical context. Ezekiel prophesied during the period of the destruction of the temple and immediately afterwards. He was one of the elite Judahites who were exiled in 597, after Jehoiachin’s surrender, and had to watch from afar as Zedekiah led another rebellion, which led to the conquest of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem, including the temple. Ezekiel describes at length his vision of God in his chariot flying away from the temple and abandoning it to destruction.

Thus, Ezekiel’s changes to the sacrificial order— as well as the distancing of the people from the temple and the changes relating to the temple officials, such as the priests and the prince (נשיא) — may be viewed as part of a broader complex of changes aimed at preventing a repetition of the catastrophe he witnessed: the departure of the divine presence and the destruction of the temple. The future temple in Ezekiel’s vision would be protected from another destruction by making it larger, farther from the population, more difficult to access, and filled with even more sacrifices, thus making certain that it endured forever.


April 6, 2016


Last Updated

September 20, 2023


View Footnotes

Dr. Tova Ganzel is a Senior Lecturer at the Multidisciplinary Department of Jewish Studies at the Bar-Ilan University and Head of the Cramim Jewish Studies Honors Program. She was the director of the Midrasha – Institute for Advanced Torah Studies at Bar-Ilan University and is a certified women’s halakhic advisor (yo’etzet halakha). She holds a Ph.D. in Bible from Bar-Ilan and is a renowned figure in the world of Jewish education for women. Her most recent publications include The Believer and the Modern Study of the Bible (2019), Contextualizing Jewish Temples (2020), Ezekiel: From Destruction to Restoration (2020), and Ezekiel’s Visionary Temple in Babylonian Context (2021). Her research focuses on: prophetic literature; ancient Near Eastern temples and second temple texts; the Jewish reception of biblical criticism from the eighteenth century to the present; and women as Halakhic Professionals.