“When one of you brings
     a korban for God…” [1]


It has been a fundamental belief among many of my contemporaries (including me) that spiritual truth is universal.

I found this to be true, although it was through Yoga — and especially Transcendental Meditation — that I came to have some experience and understanding of what spiritual experience actually means. It was from there that I sought greater knowledge of Judaism — as an expression of a universal spiritual experience.

In Torah, the central act of “meeting God” is called (bringing a) “korban.” This Hebrew word, with its root-meaning of “bringing close”:

“The Hebrew word (korban) denotes ‘that which is brought near’ to God by presentation upon the Altar…it likewise implies that the offering, if brought in the right spirit, is the medium whereby man attains to closer nearness to the Divine.” [2]

The same word, with the same general connotation, exists in pre-Hebrew Semitic languages. For example:

“…in the Akkadian language [the] noun aqribtu [means the] ‘act of offering’.” [3]

This “coming near to God” is what all spiritual experience is about. I might disagree with Christian and Muslim friends over details of creed, but I have never had a problem talking with them about their cognitive experiences worshiping God. Creeds aside, we have truly been able to talk as brothers and sisters in the same experience. 

Nevertheless, it was surprising to me to discover how the word “korban” itself appears in Christian and Muslim practice.

Before giving examples, I should mention that “korban” sometimes appears as “qorban” or “qurban.” Why the choice of “q” over “k” in the transliteration of the word? 

The word begins with the letter “kuf” [ק] which, in the Hebrew alphabet, holds a place more like “q” (later in the alphabet) than “k” (which appears earlier). In fact, in ancient times this same letter was spoken with a “hard g” sound — as in “good” or “great.” The “gimel” represented the “soft g” sound — as in “George” or “Gerald.” In current Hebrew, “kuf” represents the same sound as “kaf” [כ] — i.e. “k.” So to transliterate “korban” as beginning with “k” is not inaccurate. In ancient times, however, it would have been pronounced “gorban” with a hard-g. 

We don’t find the word itself in Western Christianity, but in the Orthodox churches (those that are more Eastern and identified with a particular nationality, like the Russian Orthodox Church), it appears almost unchanged from its Hebrew usage:

“The Holy Qurbana or Holy Qurbono (qûrbānâ qadîšâ in East Syriac, pronounced qurbono qadisho in West Syriac), the “Holy Offering” or “Holy Sacrifice”, refers to the Eucharist as celebrated in Syriac Christianity. According to the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches which includes the Assyrian, Coptic, Syro-Malabar, and Ethiopian Orthodox Church churches.” [4]

Lest there be any question about whether this term was borrowed from its original usage in Torah:

“The East Syriac word Qurbana and the West Syriac word Qurbono are derived from the Aramaic term Qurbana. When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, and sacrifices were offered, “Qorban” was a technical Hebrew term for some of the offerings that were brought there. It comes from a Hebrew root, “Qarab”, meaning “to draw close or ‘near'”. A required Korban was offered morning and evening daily and on holidays (at certain times, additional ‘korbanot’ were offered), in addition to which individuals could bring an optional personal Korban.
The Holy Qurbana is referred to as “complete” worship, since it is performed for the benefit of all members of the Church. The other sacraments are celebrated for individual members. Thus the Holy Qurbana is believed to be the sacrament that completes all the others. Hence it is called the “sacrament of perfection” or the “queen of sacraments”. [5]

The first quote mentions the term “Eucharist.” This term is based on its use by Paul:

“…[Jesus] took bread, and when he had given thanks (εὐχαριστήσας/eucharistos), he broke it, and said…” [6]

In this case, “Eucharist” would be more connected with saying a “blessing/brachah” before breaking the bread and eating it. In context, though, the “blessing” acts as a kind of verbal “Todah” or “Thanks-offering” and in that way is also connected with the idea of a “korban.”

In other of the Orthodox churches, the term “prosphoron” or “phosphora” is used. This is the Greek translation of “korban.”

“A prosphoron (Greek: πρόσφορον, offering) is a small loaf of leavened bread used in Orthodox Christian and Greek Catholic (Byzantine) liturgies. The plural form is prosphora (πρόσφορα). The term originally meant any offering made to a temple [specifically the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem], but in Orthodox Christianity it has come to mean specifically the bread offered at the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist).” [7]

In Islam, it refers to a sacrifice that can only be done one time each year:

“Qurbānī (Arabic: قربانى‎), Qurban, or uḍḥiyyah (Arabic: أضحية‎) as referred to in Islamic law, is the sacrifice of a livestock animal during Eid al-Adha. The word is related to theQurbani edited Hebrew קרבן‬ qorbān “offering” and Syriac qurbānā “sacrifice”, etymologised through the cognate Arabic triliteral as “a way or means of approaching someone” or “nearness.” In Islamic law, udhiyyah would refer to the sacrifice of a specific animal, offered by a specific person, on specific days to seek God’s pleasure and reward. The word qurban appears thrice in the Quran: once in reference to animal sacrifice and twice referring to sacrifice in the general sense of any act which may bring one closer to God. In contrast, dhabīḥah refers to normal Islamic slaughter outside the day of udhiyyah.” [8] 

When I’ve been in a Muslim neighborhood preceding Eid al-Adha, I’ve seen signs reminding people to order a qurbani in advance, so that one will be available when needed (as shown in the picture of a sign on a Muslim store in Suffern, NY; 2017).

Years ago, I had an adult Muslim ESL student from Afghanistan whose last name was “Hajigurban” — indicating that her husband had made the “haj” (pilgrimage to Mecca) and offered a “gurban” — i.e. on Eid al-Adha, as stated above.  In this case, the Afghani students spoke Farsi, with some words borrowed from Arabic but pronounced according to Afghani-custom. 

As we begin the reading of “VaYikra” — the book of Leviticus — let us appreciate not only the importance of the word “korban” for Jews, but as evidenced by its spread all over the world, its importance for every human being, too.


[1] Vayikra/Lev. 1:2
[2] Abarbanel, in “Pentateuch and Haftarahs;” Rabbi J.H. Hertz, ed.; p. 410
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korban
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Qurbana
[5] ibid.
[6] I Corinthians 11:23-24
[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosphora
[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qurbani