Human Sacrifice, the Talmud, and the Moloch Problem

Human Sacrifice, the Talmud, and the Moloch Problem

Human Sacrifice, the Talmud, and the Moloch Problem

No one today seriously suggests
present-day Jews sacrifice children to Moloch. Moloch (sometimes
spelled "Molech") was an Old Testament god whom the
Hebrews worshipped from time to time, and to whom they sacrificed
their children. The Babylonian Talmud, however, still permits
Jews to sacrifice children to Moloch — under certain

Lord God Accepts Human Sacrifice

First, let's get perspective. Some mistakenly believe
human sacrifice is forbidden in the Old Testament. Certainly,
some of the prophets railed against it. But in at least one book,
Lord God accepts human sacrifice. And in another book, Lord God
is appeased by human sacrifice.

In the following account from the Book of Judges, the
Israelite warrior Jephthah is about to set off to make war on the
Ammonites. In payment for victory, Jephthah promises Lord God he
will sacrifice the first "whatsoever" that comes from
his house to greet him upon his return. Unless Jephthah keeps
oxen, sheep, goats, or chickens in his living room, he must
expect the promised victim will be a human being. Notice that
Jephthah does not promise to sacrifice "an ox" or
"a goat," etc.

"And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If
thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine
hands, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the
doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the
children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will
offer it up for a burnt offering."

Judges 11:30-31

The first to pass through the doors of Jephthahs’ house
upon his return is his only child, his beloved daughter,

"And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and,
behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with
dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son
nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent
his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me
very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have
opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go

Judges 11:34-35

Let us reflect for a moment. We know Jephthah vowed to Lord
God to sacrifice "whatsoever" first came out of the
door of his house. We suspect Jephthah plans to sacrifice one of
his servants. But when the "whatsoever" turned out to
be Jephthah's daughter, Jephthah is surprised. Notice his
daughter's reaction:

"And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast
opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which
hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken
vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of

Judges 11:36

She expresses no surprise that Lord God would accept a human
sacrifice, nor does she protest; she does not say, "Father,
let's use some common sense. You know Lord God is dead set
against human sacrifice. He must have thought an ox would meet
you on your return, or perhaps a goat, or one of the chickens.
There must be a misunderstanding." Instead, she urges her
father to keep his promise. She says:

"And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done
for me: let me alone two months that I may go up and down upon
the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my

Judges 11:37

Jephthah agrees:

"And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two
months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her
virginity upon the mountains.

And it came to pass at the end of two months that she returned
unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he
had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter
of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

Judges 11:38-40

None but perfect animals are permitted to be ritually
sacrificed in Judaism. Notice that Jephthah's daughter, too,
is a perfect sacrifice — she is a virgin. Notice that Lord
God does not stop this human sacrifice, as he stopped the
sacrifice of Abraham's son.

The Old Testament does not specify how Jephthah sacrifices his
daughter, but following the correct methods for animal sacrifice,
he would slit her throat first and drain her blood into a Temple
service vessel; cut off her arms, legs, and head; cut the torso
in sections, remove her entrails and wash them; pour, sprinkle,
and smear her blood at prescribed points around the altar; and
burn the flesh. Or of course, a priest might do this for him.
Read Animal Sacrifice and the Third
Temple’ for details.

Lord God is appeased by Human

In 2 Samuel 21, David is king over Judah. A famine oppresses
the land; King David learns that Lord God is punishing Israel for
King Saul's sin (Saul attacked the Gibeonites in violation of
Joshua's treaty Joshua 9:15. Therefore, in order to relieve the famine,
David must appease the Gibeonites. On negotiation, the Gibeonites
demand to be given seven descendants of Saul to be hanged
"unto the Lord." David picks two of Saul's sons and
five of Saul's grandsons. Coincidentally, the five grandsons
are the children of Michal, the woman David had wanted to marry
(see 1 Samuel 18:25). David gives
these Israelites to the Gibeonites so the Gibeonites can hang

"Then there was a famine in the days of David three
years, year after year; and David enquired of the Lord. And the
Lord answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because
he slew the Gibeonites.

And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them; (now
the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the
remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn
unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the
children of Israel and Judah.)

Wherefore David said unto the Gibeonites, What shall I do for
you? and wherewith shall I make the atonement that ye may bless
the inheritance of the Lord?

And the Gibeonites said unto him, we will have no silver nor
gold of Saul, nor of his house; neither for us shalt thou kill
any man in Israel. And he said, What ye shall say, that will I do
for you.

And they answered the king, The man that consumed us, and that
devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in
any of the coasts of Israel,

Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will
hang them up unto the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, whom the Lord did
choose. And the king said, I will give them.

But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son
of Saul, because of the Lord's oath that was between them,
between David and Jonathan the son of Saul.

But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah,
whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five
sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for
Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite:

And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and
they hanged them in the hill before the Lord: and they fell all
seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in
the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest."

2 Samuel 21:1-11

Lord God did not explicitly request the hangings. But Lord God
imposed an insufferable famine on the Israelites, Lord God named
the Gibeonites as the people to be appeased, and the Gibeonites
named the penalty. When it was done, LORD God apparently found
the human sacrifice to be satisfactory: the chapter continues
with accounts of battles, and the famine is not mentioned
further. This sequence — an angry god causes a natural
disaster, innocent life is slain to appease the god's anger,
and the hardship ceases — this is the same sequence of
events found in the human sacrifice rites of other primitive

The Moloch Prohibition

With these precedents in mind, let us now look at two passages
from the Old Testament concerning child sacrifice to the idol
Moloch (or "Molech"). In the following passages, the
words "seed" and "children" are synonymous.
First, from Leviticus 18: (KJV)

"And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through
the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy
God: I am the Lord."

Leviticus 18:21

The English Standard Version says

"You shall not give any of your children to offer
them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the

Leviticus 18:21

An ESV footnote gives a literal translation of the original
Hebrew phrase: "1. Hebrew to make them pass through [the
fire]." Now let's look at Second Kings 23: (KJV)

"And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of
the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his
daughter to pass through the fire to Molech."

2 Kings 23:10

And again, the English Standard Version

"And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of
the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter
as an offering to Molech."

2 Kings 23:10

An ESV footnote gives a literal translation of the original
Hebrew phrase: "Hebrew might cause his son or daughter to
pass through the fire for Molech."

Now let's look at the relevant cite from the Babylonian

(When excerpting the Talmud, we sometimes omit footnotes and
non-germane text. The omission of text is indicated by an
ellipsis […]. The full text and footnotes may be found on
the internet. It is our pleasure to make available the text of
the complete tractates cited in this article, so you may read the
Talmud in full context.)

MISHNAH. He who gives of his seed to Molech incurs no
punishment unless he delivers it to Molech and causes it to pass
through the fire. If he gave it to Molech but did not cause it to
pass through the fire, or the reverse, he incurs no penalty,
unless he does both.

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 64a

Soncino 1961 Edition, page 437

Following the Mishnah is a discussion among the sages. One of
the Talmud Sages, Rabbi Ashi, comments as follows:

GEMARA. R. Ashi propounded: What if one caused his blind or
sleeping son to pass through, (3) or if he caused his grandson by
his son or daughter to pass through? — One at least of
these you may solve. For it has been taught: [Any
men … that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall he
put to death … And I will set my face against that man,
and will cut him off from among his people;] because he hath
given of his seed unto Molech.
Why is this stated? —
Because it is said, there shall not be found among you any
one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the
. From this I know it only of his son or daughter.
Whence do I know that it applies to his son's son or
daughter's son too? From the verse, [And if the people of
the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man] when he giveth
of his seed unto Molech [and kill him not: Then I will …
cut him off.

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 64b

Soncino 1961 Edition, page 439

Rabbi Dr. Freedman, one of the translators of the Soncino
Tractate Sanhedrin, clarifies the passage. In a footnote, Rabbi
Dr. Freedman confirms that the Talmud Sages use "seed"
to denote living children, in the same sense as the Biblical
translators understand the term in the above Biblical quotes. In
this footnote, Rabbi Dr. Freedman paraphrases the question from
Rabbi Ashi:

Is 'thou shalt not cause to pass' applicable
only to a son who can naturally pass through himself, but not to
a blind or sleeping son, who must be led or carried, or does it
apply to all?

Rabbi Dr. Freedman

Other footnotes within the same context clarify the fine point
of distinction being drawn in the Mishnah and subsequent debates
among the sages:

Lev. XVIII, 21. This proves that the offence consists of two
parts; (i) formal delivery to the priests, and (ii) causing the
seed to pass through the fire.

Rabbi Dr. Freedman

As two separate offences, proving that giving one's seed
to Molech is not idolatry. The differences [sic] is, that if one
sacrificed to Molech, or caused his son to pass through the fire
to some other deity, he is not punished.

Rabbi Dr. Freedman

Following the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 64a and 64b contain a rousing
debate between the Sages concerning:

· the circumstances under which worshipping an idol is

· which idols may be worshipped without indulging in

· which parts of child sacrifice in what combination
are punishable, and

· how children may be sacrificed without violating

Interested students should look up Sanhedrin 64a and 64b and
read the entire text, including footnotes.

The 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia contains an entry on
Moloch that is of interest. The Catholic Encyclopedia
states that the children were burned "after the victims had
been put to death" — without citing any authority.
This statement is directly contradicted by Rabbi Ashi and by
Rabbi Dr. Freedman in the passages quoted above, wherein they
consider the case of "a blind or sleeping son, who must be
led or carried" to the fire. (Paragraphing has been added to
this Catholic Encyclopedia excerpt to aid in

The chief feature of Moloch's worship among the Jews
seems to have been the sacrifice of children, and the usual
expression for describing that sacrifice was "to pass
through the fire", a rite carried out after the victims had
been put to death.

The special centre of such atrocities was just outside of
Jerusalem, at a place called Tophet (probably "place of
abomination"), in the valley of Geennom. According to III
(I) Kings, xi, 7, Solomon erected "a temple" for Moloch
"on the hill over against Jerusalem", and on this
account he is at times considered as the monarch who introduced
the impious cult into Israel. After the disruption, traces of
Moloch worship appear in both Juda and Israel.

The custom of causing one's children to pass through the fire
seems to have been general in the Northern Kingdom [IV (II)
Kings, xvii, 17; Ezech. xxiii, 37], and it gradually grew in the
Southern, encouraged by the royal example of Achaz (IV Kings,
xvi, 3) and Manasses [IV (II) Kings, xvi, 6] till it became
prevalent in the time of the prophet Jeremias (Jerem. xxxii, 35),
when King Josias suppressed the worship of Moloch and defiled
Tophet [IV (II) Kings, xxiii, 13 (10)]. It is not improbable that
this worship was revived under Joakim and continued until the
Babylonian Captivity …

… Of late, numerous attempts have been made to prove that
in sacrificing their children to Moloch the Israelites simply
thought that they were offering them in holocaust to Yahweh. In
other words, the Melech to whom child-sacrifices were offered was
Yahweh under another name. To uphold this view appeal is made in
particular to Jer., vii, 31; xix, 5, and to Ezech., xx, 25-31.
But this position is to say the least improbable. The texts
appealed to may well be understood otherwise, and the prophets
expressly treat the cult of Moloch as foreign and as an apostasy
from the worship of the true God. The offerings by fire, the
probable identity of Moloch with Baal, and the fact that in
Assyria and Babylonia Malik, and at Palmyra Malach-bel, were
sun-gods, have suggested to many that Moloch was a fire- or

Catholic Encyclopedia

Lessons Learned

It is indeed unfortunate that the Jewish religion has not
repudiated the doctrine that children may be sacrificed to
Moloch. That doctrine, along with prayers in the Jewish liturgy
calling for the return of ritual blood sacrifice, surely adds
credence to charges that Jews engage in the ritual blood
sacrifice of children. (See, for example, William Thomas
Walsh's Isabella of Spain concerning the ritualistic murder
of a four-year-old Spanish boy; and a historical overview of the
subject, Jewish Ritual Murder, a Historical Investigation,
written in 1941 by Hellmut Schramm, Ph.D.

Many societies and religions have practices in their histories
of which they are not proud. Certainly the United States had
slavery, as did many other countries. Catholicism had the
persecution of Protestants, and Protestants had the persecution
of Catholics; Europe had feudalism, Mexico had human sacrifice,
and India had widow burnings (sati, the practice of burning a
widow at her late husband's funeral). Scandinavia had the
Vikings and reavers, Italy had the excesses of the Roman Empire,
and China had foot-binding. Among all those people there came the
admission, eventually, that those practices were not appropriate,
and as hard on the pride as it was, they accepted responsibility
and repudiated their former behaviors.

Repudiating the Talmud doctrines that approve of ritually
sacrificing children (under certain conditions) would go a long
way to creating good will between Judaism and people of other
religious faiths. Christians and Muslims, too, should reexamine
the Old Testament Scriptures. Is this really the church/mosque
they want their children attending?