Lecture 208B: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XVIII) – The History of Slaughtering Non-consecrated Animals and Eating Meat (VI) - Updated to new site

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
In the last few shiurim we dealt at length with the significance of the allowance to eat animals. This allowance gives expression to a dramatic change in man's relationship to animals, a transition from harmony between man and animals to the fear of man cast upon animals.
We mentioned that in this context the Torah refers to two other issues: the prohibition to eat the blood of animals or the limb of a living animal, and the prohibition to shedding blood. In this shiur we wish to examine why the Torah forbids the eating of animal blood, and how this prohibition is connected to the allowance to eat meat.
It may simply be suggested that as soon as an allowance was granted to kill, slaughter and eat animals, the Torah immediately qualified the allowance and said that despite the allowance to eat the flesh of the animal, one is forbidden to eat its blood, and Chazal expounded that eating the limb of a living animal is similarly prohibited.
Chazal disagree as to the meaning of the verse: "But flesh with its life, which is its blood, you shall not eat" (Bereishit 9:4). On the one hand, Torat Kohanim teaches: "You might say that the entire animal is permitted. Therefore the verse teaches: 'But flesh with its life, which is its blood, you shall not eat.'"
On the other hand, the Gemara in Sanhedrin (59a) records the following Tannaitic dispute:
Our Rabbis taught: "But flesh with its life, which is its blood, you shall not eat" – this prohibits a limb from a living animal. Rabbi Chanina ben Gamliel says: It also prohibits blood drawn from a living animal. What is the reason of Rabbi Chanina ben Gamliel? He reads the verse as follows: Flesh with its life you shall not eat, its life which is its blood you shall not eat. But the Rabbis maintain that this comes to permit [the flesh of live] reptiles.
According to the Sages, one is forbidden to eat a limb that was torn from a living animal. According to Rabbi Chanina ben Gamliel, the verse should be read as referring to two separate prohibitions: "Flesh with its life you shall not eat" – refers to the prohibition of eating the limb of a living animal; "its life which is it blood you shall not eat" – refers to the prohibition of eating blood that was drawn from a living animal.
According to the anonymous first Tanna, the word "its blood" comes to teach that the descendants of Noach may eat a limb that was detached from a living reptile. The words, "its life which is its blood" teach that the Torah only forbids the limb of a living creature whose blood is called "its life" and whose flesh is called "flesh." This comes to exclude reptiles, whose blood is not distinguished from its flesh, but rather is considered part of its flesh and is not called blood.
We wish to focus on the prohibition of eating blood. The prohibition of eating blood is mentioned many times in the Torah; this fact in itself attests to the importance that the Torah attaches to the issue.

Review of the Torah's prohibition against eating blood

The Torah refers to the prohibition against eating blood in the following places:
Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with its life, which is its blood, you shall not eat. (Bereishit 9:3-4))
The prohibition against eating blood appears for the first time in connection with Noach. After granting an allowance to eat meat, the Torah emphasizes that this does not include the limb of a living animal or blood from a living animal. This is necessary because one might have thought that the allowance to kill animals permits the eating of limbs or blood taken from live animals.
It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that you eat neither fat nor blood. (Vayikra 3:17)
Moreover you shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of bird or of beast, in any of your dwellings. Whoever it be that eats any manner of blood, that soul shall be cut off from his people. (Vayikra 7:26)
These two references appear in the framework of the laws governing a peace-offering. A peace-offering by its very essence is an animal, part of which is sacrificed to God, part goes to the priests, and part goes to its owners.
The Torah once again emphasizes that even though a person is permitted to eat certain part of an offering, this allowance is qualified, and does not include the blood of the bird or beast, and that the transgression of this prohibition is punishable by excision.
And whatever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eats any manner of blood: then I will set my face against that person that eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, No one of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourns among you eat blood. (Vayikra 17:10-12)
The fourth mention of the prohibition against eating blood is recorded close to the account of the building of the Mishkan. We have already noted that the Torah defines the slaughter of non-consecrated animals following the building of the Mishkan as the shedding of blood. Therefore, in the wilderness where all eating of animal meat was accompanied by the animal's sacrifice as a peace-offering, "eating from God's table," the Torah reiterates the prohibition relating to blood.
Here too mention is made of the punishment of excision, and the Torah treats the prohibition in a very severe manner. The explanation offered in this passage for the prohibition against eating blood is twofold:
1. "For the life of the flesh is in the blood" - there is a deep connection between blood and life. A distinction is made between the flesh which is the material part of the animal, and the blood that represents its life.
2. "And I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul." The purpose of blood is that it should be sprinkled on the altar in order to atone for the souls of Israel. Because of the blood's elevated status – it being the animal's life - its purpose is that it should be sprinkled on the altar, and in that way it is lifted up to God. The prohibition cast upon man against eating blood is connected to the fact that the blood belongs to God, the source of all life.
But only in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt-offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you. Nonetheless, you may slaughter animals and eat their flesh to your heart's desire, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has bestowed on you, throughout all your gates, the unclean and the clean may eat of it as they do of the gazelle and the deer. Only you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it upon the earth like water. (Devarim 12:14-16)
The fifth reference to the prohibition against eating blood is found in the context of the obligation to bring the various sacrifices only in "the place which the Lord shall choose." If a consecrated animal is found to have a blemish, it can be redeemed and then eaten in any location. Here, too, one might have thought that since it is permissible to slaughter the animal and eat its meat, there are no further restrictions. Therefore, the Torah comes to remind us that the allowance to eat the meat of the animal does not apply to the blood.
Only be sure that you eat not the blood: for the blood is the life: and you may not eat the life with the meat. You shall not eat it; you shall pour it upon the earth like water. You shall not eat it; that it may go well with you, and with your children after you, when you shall do that which is right in the sight of the Lord. (Devarim 12:23-25)
The last mention of the prohibition to eat blood is found in the continuation of the section in the book of Devarim which relates to the eating of the meat of non-consecrated animals after Israel enters their land and settles far from the place to be chosen by God.
The explicit allowance to slaughter non-consecrated animals in all places without any connection to the Temple could have been misinterpreted as an allowance to eat the entire animal, including its blood. Therefore, the Torah warns once again and with greater force: "Only be sure that you eat not the blood." The Torah's rationale is once again: "For the blood is the life," and therefore one must not eat the life with the flesh, but rather the blood must be poured on the earth like water.

The Reason that the Eating of Blood is Forbidden

1. The blood is meant for God
The Ibn Ezra writes in relation to the prohibition of eating forbidden fats and blood:
"All the fat is the Lord's" – this is the rule. And since the fat and the blood are meant for God, they are forbidden to you. (Vayikra 3:16, s.v., kol kheilev)
In the words of Rabbi Tzvi David Hoffman in his commentary on this verse:
That which a person consecrates as an offering made by fire to the Lord, he must not eat himself out of reverence. And blood was meant to achieve atonement for the person's soul, and it symbolically represents the spirit, that is, the divine element in man, and therefore the blood must not enter the person's body.
The prohibition against eating blood and fat follows from the fact that they are meant for God, and therefore it is inappropriate to eat them. Beyond the fact that the blood belongs to God, no explanation is given as to the reason that the blood and fat are meant for God.
The Ramban in his commentary also relates to this issue and proposes a similar explanation: "One who has a life should not eat life, as all life belongs to God" (Vayikra 17:1).
2. Idolatry
In his Guide of the Perplexed, the Rambam explains that it was once customary among idolaters to slaughter an animal and eat the meat of the slaughtered animal close by its blood, as they thought that the demons were eating the blood which is their food, and they were eating the meat. Therefore the Torah forbade the eating of blood. Beyond the prohibition of eating blood, the Torah forbade gathering around the blood and eating. The commandment, "You shall not eat round the blood," stems from the desire to confront and fight against this type of idolatry.
The Rambam writes as follows:
Know that the Sabians[1] held that blood was most unclean, but in spite of this used to eat of it, deeming that it was the food of the demons and that, consequently, whoever ate it fraternized with the demons so that they came to him and let him know future events – according to what the multitude imagine concerning the demons.
There were, however, people there who considered it a hard thing to eat of blood, this being a thing abhorrent to the nature of man. Accordingly they used to slaughter an animal, collect its blood in a vessel or in a ditch, and eat the flesh of this slaughtered animal close by its blood. In doing this they imagined that the demon partook of this blood, this being their food, whereas they themselves ate the flesh. In this way fraternization was achieved, because all ate at the same table and in one and the same gathering. Consequently, as they deemed, these demons would come to them in dreams, inform them of secret things, and be useful to them. All these were opinions that were in those times followed, favored, and generally accepted; the multitude did not doubt of their truth.
Thereupon the Torah, which is perfect in the opinion of those who know it, began to put an end to these inveterate diseases. Consequently it prohibited the eating of blood, putting the same emphasis on this prohibition as on the prohibition against idolatry. For He says: "I will set My face against that soul that eats blood" (Vayikra 17:10), just as He has said with regard to him who gives of his seed to Moloch: "I will even set My face against that soul" (Vayikra 20:6). No such text occurs regarding a third commandment other than the prohibition of idolatry and of eating of blood. This is so because the eating of blood led to a certain kind of idolatry, namely, the worship of the demons.
Scripture pronounced blood to be pure and turned it into a means of purification for those who come near it: "And sprinkle it upon Aharon, and upon his garments… and he and his garments shall be hallowed" (Shemot 29:21). It also commands the sprinkling of blood upon the altar and causes the whole act of worship to consist in pouring it out there, not in gathering it together: "And I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement" (Vayikra 17:11). There it was poured out according to what it says: "And all the remaining blood shall he pour out" (Vayikra 4:18). And it says: "And the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out upon the altar of the Lord your God" (Shemot 29:21). And it commands pouring the blood of every beast that is slaughtered, even if it was not offered in sacrifice; it says: "You shall pour it out upon the earth as water" (Devarim 12:16 and 24). Thereupon it forbids gathering around the blood and eating there, saying: "You shall not eat round the blood" (Vayikra 19:26).
When they continued in their disobedience and in following the generally accepted usage in which they had been brought up of fraternizing with the demons through eating around the blood, He commanded that no meat of desire be eaten at all in the desert, but that all be offered up as peace-offerings. It is clear to us that the reason for this is that the blood should be poured out upon the altar and that people should not gather around it. Accordingly it says: "To the end that the children of Israel may bring… And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto the demons" (Vayikra 17:5 and 7). But the matter of wild beasts and of birds still remained to be settled, for wild beasts may not be sacrificed at all and birds may not be offered as peace-offerings. Consequently, He commanded that when any of the wild beasts or birds whose flesh is permitted to eat has been slaughtered, its blood shall be covered up with dust so that people should not gather around it. Thus the aim was achieved and the purpose realized: namely, to break the brotherhood between those truly possessed and their demons. (III, chap. 46)
3. Eating the blood of animals leads to denseness and coarseness of the soul.
            The Abravanel claims that eating animal blood bestializes man. He writes as follows:
The second reason is that eating blood is forbidden because of itself, because the eater will acquire the nature of the food, and they will be as one. When a person eats the blood of an animal, the blood that is eaten will undoubtedly join with the blood of the human, and they will become as one, and this will give rise to denseness and coarseness in the blood and soul of the eater, and his humaneness will assume the nature of the bestial blood that was eaten.
Whatever a person eats of other foods will not do this. For they will change with the many changes and digestions in the stomach and the liver and the arteries, and much will be removed from them, until the food assumes the nature of the eater. But since the blood is already cooked and digested when a person eats it, his human nature will take it as it is, and will not change and digest it as it would with meat and other foods. When he eats it, his nature will take it as it is without further digestion, and his human blood will become blended and he will derive his nourishment from animal blood, and his vital soul will have desires like the soul of a beast. The splendor of the intellect that is poured upon it will darken, and the bloods will intermingle … to the point that the person who eats the blood will acquire a bestial nature, and his soul that is drawn after his disposition will have bestial desires…
He explains the reason for this: "Therefore I said to the children of Israel, None of you shall eat blood" (Vayikra 17:12). That is, since they are the children of Israel, who contended with God and with men, and he is righteous, and his soul is far from the beasts, all of you, who are perfect in your beliefs and character traits, shall not eat blood. And it is not only the children of Israel who are perfect to whom I have forbidden this, but rather even the stranger that sojourns among you shall not eat blood. This is to the point that one who hunts venison and comes from the field and cannot bring it to the door of the Tent of Meeting, because venison is brought after it is dead, I have commanded him to pour out its blood and cover it with dust, so that he not come to eat it. (Vayikra 17)
Unlike other foods that undergo a process of digestion in the human body so that their deleterious effects are canceled, animal blood reaches a person after it is already fully cooked and digested, and it straightaway blends with the eater's blood. This physical reality affects man's vital soul so that it has desires like those of the animal itself. In this way the human soul becomes more beastly. When a person eats the blood of an animal, his very essence with its rational potential, is impaired.
4. Eating animal blood is an act of cruelty
The Sefer ha-Chinukh explains that eating animal blood is forbidden because of the cruelty that this entails:
And more can be said about [the prohibition to eat] blood… that eating it involves the acquisition of cruelty, that a person should eat of an animal that is like him in body, the very thing upon which its vitality depends and to which its soul is connected. For it is known that an animal has a soul, which the Sages called the vital soul, that is, that is not rational. (Commandment 148).
5. The purpose of the blood is to achieve atonement
The Ramban writes in his commentary to Vayikra 1:11-12:
A fitting explanation of the reason for the prohibition is that God created all the worldly creatures for the sake of man, for he alone among them recognizes his Creator. But nevertheless at first he only permitted them to eat plants, not animals, as it is stated in Parashat Bereishit (1:29): "Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed." And when it happened in the flood that [the animals] were saved by the virtue of Noach, and he offered of them a sacrifice, which was received with favor, He permitted them to slaughter [animals], as He says (ibid. 9:3): "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things," for they live for the sake of man.
Now He permitted their bodies for the sake of man, that they be for his pleasure and serve his needs, and that the life in them should achieve atonement for man, not that he should eat it, for one who has a life should not eat life, as all life belongs to God; like the life of man is the life of the beast: "One thing befalls them both; as the one dies, so the other dies; they all have one breath" (Kohelet 3:19)…
It is further known that that which is eaten is transformed in the body of the eater, and they became one flesh. If a person eats the life of an animal, and connects with its blood, and they become one in the heart, there will be denseness and coarseness in that man's soul. For blood does not require digestion like other things that are eaten which are changed when they are digested… Therefore it says (v. 14): "For the life of all flesh is its blood," for all flesh of man and beast has life in its blood, and it is not fitting to mix life that will be cut off with life that will endure, but it will achieve atonement on the altar before God.
This is the meaning of: "Therefore I said to the children of Israel" (v. 12). Since blood is the life, and it is inappropriate for life to eat life, I took pity on man's life, and gave it them on the altar that the life of the animal should achieve atonement for his life…
Therefore He commanded further to cover all the blood of wild beasts and birds, because their blood is not offered on the altar. For even among birds, only two species are offered as sacrifices, and even they are not slaughtered. Among animals, however, most of them are slaughtered for the sake of God, and their blood achieves atonement, and it is inappropriate to cover it. He was not concerned about covering the blood of non-consecrated animals, because there was no slaughter of non-consecrated animals in the wilderness, and even afterwards He commanded in keeping with the majority.
(Translated by David Strauss)

[1] The Sabians constituted a pagan cult in Haran who purported to continue the ancient pagan ritual.