The main section of the Bible that could be said to prescribe religious observance begins in the book of Exodus chapter 19, at Mt. Sinai, and runs through Leviticus.  Here the Law is explicitly stated and some sacrifices are prescribed.  There is nothing like a prayer book that specifies liturgical forms detailed instruction on performing the sacrifices.  Key to the Law is not forgetting that G-d is G-d. Much of the law that follows has more to do with civil interaction (loving your neighbor as yourself) and cleanliness (being prepared to enter into relationship with G-d) rather than ritual and observance.  Part of what is given in this section are the instructions for bringing offerings to the L-rd.

The law is given at Sinai but before that the Patriarchs have religious observances but they are mentioned only in passing.  They clearly offered sacrifices but there are no details on how they offered their sacrifices.  There is no pattern of religious observances, although the L-rd modeled the notion of the Sabbath at the time He created the world.  Sabbath regulations are also in this section.  Cain and Able offered sacrifices but there is nothing said about how they did it.  The same for Noah and the rest until we get to Sinai.

At Sinai the congregation of Israel already knew about religious observance, recall the Golden Calf.  They had a festival to the L-rd (Ex 32.4) with no explanation as to what that should entail.  Even so they were given the material that underlies what we will consider here.  Incidentally, the Rabbis teach that their sin was was not as much an act of going after other gods as it was making an image of G-d.  That much is not real clear in most English translations but faithfulness has always been important to God--not ritual. 

After the giving of the law we see that all the people were not always all that observant.  As we move through the story, it is emphasized that it is not the offering; or the proper offering offered in the proper way at the proper time that is the key to our relationship with G-d, it is rather the condition of our hearts.  For example in Psalm 51.15-17 we read:

15 Open my lips, L-rd,
   and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
   you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O G-d, is a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart
   you, God, will not despise.

Clearly these offerings are prescribed and, in that sense at least, they are required.  The Jews today do not offer these sacrifices. (They actually cannot because there is no temple.)  Prayer has taken the place of sacrifices in Jewish practice. Many Jewish sites point to Hosea 14:3 which reads:

"Take with you words, and turn to the Lord. Say to Him, forgive all iniquity and receive us graciously, so we will offer the words of our lips instead of calves."

There is value in religious observance providing that the observance does not become an end in itself.  Man is somehow drawn to religious observance and that can come from a holy place. (see Sacrifices and the 'Value' of Idol Worship).  So much for attitude here are what the offerings mean with material borrowed heavily from the Jewish site referenced at the bottom of the page. 

In Leviticus 1 through 7 the main offerings that are to be brought to the L-rd are described and regulated. The first roughly 5 chapters serve mostly as description; Chapters 6 and 7 clarify the regulations surrounding the sacrifices but the sacrifices are mentioned through out the Torah and different details are given in many of those places.  The Rabbis teach that there is actually not enough information in the written Torah to properly perform the sacrifices and that these references indicate that the traditional witness (Oral Torah) existed even during Bible times and indeed was as necessary then as it is today.  Such details are beyond the scope of this page and indeed beyond my reading. 

The five main offerings (Qorbanot in Hebrew) are:

  1. The Burnt Offering -- Olah (Chapter 1)

  2. The Grain Offering -- minchah (Chapter 2)

  3. The Fellowship (Peace) Offering -- Zebach Sh'lamim (Chapter 3)

  4. The Sin Offering -- Chatat (Chapter 4)

  5. The Guilt (Trespass) Offering -- Asham (Leviticus 5.14-6.7)

The first two more methods or types while the last three show the purpose of the offering.  The fellowship offering really amounts to a meal shared with God.  Part of a fellowship offering will be offered as a burnt offering with its drink and grain offering.  Part of it is consumed in the presence of the L-rd. 

There are other offerings that do not fit neatly into these categories but this will serve as the introduction.  Even the details below are not complete at this point.

Olah: The Burnt Offering

This is perhaps the best-known class of offering.  It is what was practiced by the patriarchs and represented submission to G-d's will. The Hebrew word for burnt offering is olah, from the root Ayin-Lamed-Hei, meaning ascension. It is the same root as the word aliyah, which is used to describe moving to Israel or ascending to the podium to say a blessing over the Torah. An olah is completely burnt on the outer altar; no part of it is eaten by anyone. Because the offering represents complete submission to G-d's will, the entire offering is given to G-d. It expresses a desire to commune with G-d, and expiates sins incidentally in the process (because how can you commune with G-d if you are tainted with sins?). An olah could be made from cattle, sheep, goats, or even birds, depending on the offerer's means.

Zebach Sh'lamim: Peace Offering

A peace offering is an offering expressing thanks or gratitude to G-d for His bounties and mercies. That is why it is also called a fellowship offering.  The Hebrew term for this type of offering is zebach sh'lamim (or sometimes just sh'lamim), which is related to the word shalom, meaning "peace" or "whole." A representative portion of the offering is burnt on the altar, a portion is given to the kohanim (priest), and the rest is eaten by the offerer and his family; thus, everyone gets a part of this offering. This category of offerings includes thanksgiving-offerings (in Hebrew, Todah, which was obligatory for survivors of life-threatening crises), free will-offerings, and offerings made after fulfillment of a vow. Note that this class of offerings has nothing to do with sin; in fact, the Talmud states that in the age of the messiah (when there is no more sin), this will be the only class of offering that is brought to the Temple.

Chatat: Sin Offering

A sin offering is an offering to atone for and purge a sin. It is an expression of sorrow for the error and a desire to be reconciled with G-d. The Hebrew term for this type of offering is chatat, from the word chayt, meaning "missing the mark." A chatat could only be offered for unintentional sins committed through carelessness, not for intentional, malicious sins. The size of the offering varied according to the nature of the sin and the financial means of the sinner. Some chatatot are individual and some are communal. Communal offerings represent the interdependence of the community, and the fact that we are all responsible for each others' sins. A few special chatatot could not be eaten, but for the most part, for the average person's personal sin, the chatat was eaten by the priests.

Asham: Guilt Offering

A guilt offering is an offering to atone for sins of stealing things from the altar, for when you are not sure whether you have committed a sin or what sin you have committed, or for breach of trust. The Hebrew word for a guilt offering is asham. When there was doubt as to whether a person committed a sin, the person would make an asham, rather than a chatat, because bringing a chatat would constitute admission of the sin, and the person would have to be punished for it. If a person brought an asham and later discovered that he had in fact committed the sin, he would have to bring a chatat at that time. An asham was eaten by the priests.

Food and Drink Offerings

A meal offering (minchah) represented the devotion of the fruits of man's work to G-d, because it was not a natural product, but something created through man's effort. A representative piece of the offering was burnt on the fire of the altar, but the rest was eaten by the priests.

There are also offerings of undiluted wine, referred to as nesekh. 10/4/11 1/15/12