Believer says: Animal sacrifice in the Old Testament was commanded for the sake of God’s people, who couldn’t imagine worshipping God without it, and God knew it so he commanded it.
But skeptic says: A web article agrees with you:
“After the destruction of the Second Temple (AD 70), ritual sacrifice ceased except among the Samaritans. Maimonides, a medieval Jewish rationalist, argued 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 was 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've been too much to have expected the Israelites to leap from pagan worship to prayer and meditation in one step.
Well, I say it’s an irony that God kept his people in the Sinai wilderness for forty years (so the story goes) but didn't wean them away from animal sacrifice. Instead God issued specific commandments to imitate the pagans.
Maimonides: “For to obey such a commandment [to give up animal sacrifice] would have been contrary to the nature of man …”
Another rabbi: "In contrast, many others disagree with the idea that 'God always held sacrifice inferior to prayer and philosophical meditation.' In his Torah commentary on Leviticus 1:9, Rabbi Nachmanides (13th century) contends that sacrifices are an ideal in Judaism, completely central."
It sounds as if Nachmanides claimed that sacrifice didn't have anything to do with imitating the pagans.
Recap: I say these Jewish teachers had relative point of view. Animal sacrifice is "ideal in Judaism" and "completely central" although it has fallen out of general practice. Sounds totally contraditory to me.
Related post on my other blog:
85 Could animal sacrifice remove your sin
Source for web article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacrifice