Lecture #212: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XXII) – The History of Slaughtering Non-consecrated Animals and Eating Meat (X)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy


This week’s shiurim are dedicated in memory of
Lillian Grossman z”l – Devorah Leah bas Shlomo Halevi
by Larry and Maureen Eisenberg



Dedicated le-zekher nishmot Amelia Ray and Morris Ray
on the occasion of their eighth yahrtzeits
by their children Patti Ray and Allen Ray



In continuation of our examination of the obligation to cover the blood of a slaughtered animal, we will now consider why this obligation applies specifically to birds and undomesticated animals (chayot), and not to domesticated animals (behemot).


1. The Blood of a Domesticated Animal is Used to Achieve Atonement


We saw in the previous shiur that according to the Sefer ha-Chinukh (mitzva 185), the mitzva of covering the blood does not apply to a domesticated animal because the blood of a domesticated animal is used to achieve atonement, and it therefore cannot be covered, and the Torah did not want to distinguish between animals offered as sacrifices on the altar and non-consecrated animals.


2. Domesticated Animals Have Life Apart From Their Blood


The Ohr Ha-Chayyim writes:


"Its blood is with its life" (Vayikra 17:14). This means: in place of its life. With this [the Torah] gives a reason why one must cover its blood. For since its blood is its life, the moral thing to do is to show it respect, just like God commanded that one must bury a dead person out of respect.

The reason that it does not say as it says with respect to a domesticated animal: "Its life is with its blood" – perhaps it is because a domesticated animal has a life, which is in its blood, but a bird or an undomesticated animal does not have a life like a domesticated animal, but rather the blood is in place of the life. For this reason, they are not offered on the altar to achieve atonement as is a domesticated animal, except for pigeons and doves, and even with them their blood is not sprinkled on the altar, but rather it is drained against the altar after the bird's neck is broken. (Vayikra 17:14)


The Ohr ha-Chayyim explains why regarding a domesticated animal the Torah says, "Its life is with its blood," whereas regarding an undomesticated animal this phrase is not used. He suggests that a bird or an undomesticated animal does not have a life (i.e., a soul) as does a domesticated animal; rather, its blood is in place of a life. Except for pigeons and doves, birds are not offered on the altar to achieve atonement, and therefore their blood is not sprinkled on the altar, but rather the bird's neck is broken and then its blood is drained against the wall of the altar.


The Ohr ha-Chayyim continues:


And I set my heart to understand why God commanded to cover the blood of an undomesticated animal and a bird, but not the blood of a domesticated animal. Granted that the blood that is sprinkled on the altar is more glorious than the blood of an undomesticated animal or a bird; but in the case of the blood of a non-consecrated animal, which falls to the ground and is visible to the eye, why is a domesticated animal worse than an undomesticated animal? This is especially difficult in light of the fact that we find that God chose that sacrifices be offered from domesticated animals, and not from undomesticated animals or birds, with the exception of pigeons and doves.

Now according to what we explained that in the case of an undomesticated animal, its blood is its life, which is not the case regarding a domesticated animal, which has life apart from its blood, which is borne by the blood, but the blood itself is not the life – for this reason God only commanded to cover blood that is itself life, which is not the case with a domesticated animal, regarding which the blood itself is not its life, as with an undomesticated animal or bird… I would like to understand why an undomesticated animal is different from a domesticated animal regarding this issue.


The Ohr ha-Chayyim asks why the law governing the blood of a non-consecrated domesticated animal is different than the law governing the blood of an undomesticated animal. He explains that in the case of an undomesticated animal, the blood itself is its life, whereas a domesticated animal has life apart from its blood, although that life is borne by the blood. The Torah's command to cover blood applies only to blood which is the animal's life, and it therefore applies only to an undomesticated animal and not to a domesticated animal.


3. Covering Blood Expresses Shame


Moshe David Cassuto writes as follows:


Blood symbolizes the life force, and the descendants of Noach, following the flood, are permitted to take an animal's life and eat its flesh. You, however, must honor the life force, and therefore you may not eat the blood. Covering by definition expresses shame. We cover certain parts of the body because of shame. The covering of the blood of an undomesticated animal or bird that was slaughtered in a permitted manner comes to express our shame and our guilt for having taken life.


When a man goes out into the woods, sees a deer, catches it, slaughters it, and eats it, he must think to himself: By what right to I take the life of another living creature? You contributed nothing to its vitality, but just the opposite, and you should be ashamed.

As opposed to an undomesticated animal, a domesticated animal lives because of you. You fed it; you gave it shelter from the cold, from the winter. You gave it life, and therefore you need not be ashamed about taking its life.

According to this understanding, why cover the blood of birds? It is possible that during the biblical period birds had not yet been domesticated. It turns out that the underlying principle is that if man does not invest and exert himself in the care and maintenance of an animal, there is shame in his killing it, and therefore he must cover its blood. But in the case of a domesticated animal, which lives by virtue of man (food, shelter, life), its life is given over to man, and therefore he may take its life for his own needs, and there is no reason for him to be ashamed of this. Man's investment in the animal entitles him in a certain sense to its life. This is not the case with an undomesticated animal, and therefore one must cover the blood of an undomesticated animal or bird.


Cassuto agrees with what R. Avraham Yitzchak Kook writes in his Chazon Ha-Tzimchonut Ve-Ha-Shalom:


Regarding a domesticated animal, which is maintained by its owner, man is not yet worthy even of beginning to feel a shadow of shame when he slaughters it, since he maintained it and worried about its needs. Were the obligation to cover the blood of a slaughtered animal to apply even to a domesticated animal, the stirring of the moral stimulus would have been more than befits the Divine rod, according to the number of knocks that each action should make on the door of the closed human heart until it opens. "I sleep, but my heart wakes: hark, my beloved is knocking, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled" (Shir Ha-shirim 5:2).

… The severe prohibition concerning blood suffices for us, as it in any case awakens the idea that shedding blood is not a moral virtue fit for man. If there were shame in the slaughter of domesticated animals, it would stir up a counter action that would accustom us to transgress the feeling of our inner morality, more than it would influence higher abstention in the end of days.


R. Kook understands that since man nurtures and maintains domesticated animals, he has not yet developed shame over his behavior. If the obligation to cover blood would already apply to domesticated animals, the moral stimulus would exceed the appropriate measure according to the Divine plan in consideration of the current reality.


God, who knows the soul and state of the individual and of humanity at all times, adjusts the observance of the laws that are meant to fashion the spirit of man and of the world for each period.


According to R. Kook, the severe prohibition concerning blood highlights for man that shedding blood is not a moral virtue fit for man. Covering the blood of domesticated animals today would accustom us to violate our inner moral sentiment, and also damage the future repair in the end of days.


16. A change in the attitude toward undomesticated animals birds and domesticated animals.


If a person would reach this virtue from the beginning, to understand… that an animal that he does not maintain, that he does not provide with food, but rather he falls upon it and hunts and eats it, that it is an injustice to take its life for his own needs, and that it is appropriate to be ashamed of this moral abasement… no less that he is ashamed of any other moral abasement in him. He will still not reach with this the much higher moral feeling, to feed the animals that are dependent upon him, the domesticated animals, even when they are old and they can no longer provide work, because of the moral recognition, which stems from recognizing the ways of God, which are filled with righteousness and truth.

Therefore, it is impossible that the slaughter of undomesticated animals and birds, which for the most part are hunted, should be on par with the slaughter of domesticated animals, which for the most part are set on their feeding troughs, sustained through the efforts of their owners, and which fall upon them as a burden when the get old and are no longer fit for work. Therefore, it would be impossible for the obligation to cover the blood to apply to domesticated animals. "You shall pour it on the earth like water" (Devarim 12:16).


R. Kook explains why the obligation to cover blood applies specifically to undomesticated animals and birds. Since they do not depend for their food on man, and he does not worry about their maintenance, it would be a moral injustice to kill such animals for man's needs and one should feel shame about such moral debasement. Man's moral level has not reached the height at which it would be appropriate for him to act in similar fashion toward domesticated animals, which depend on him for their food. Therefore, there is a fundamental distinction between the blood of a domesticated and an undomesticated animal. The blood of a domesticated animal should not be covered, but rather it should be poured on the earth like water.


17. Prohibition of fat


Therefore, in the case of animals that are hunted, i.e., undomesticated animals and birds, whose blood is covered, in recognition of man's shame and the humiliation of the lowliness of his morality, there is no longer any need for their fat to be prohibited. It would also be a disadvantage, become it would obscure the impression left by the covering of the blood, which proclaims a sense of deep shame about the shedding of blood in general, whether it is for pleasure or to satisfy hunger. Therefore, their fat is permitted.

According to the natural state of a people living in their land, when a hunter hunts beasts and birds to eat, far from his house, shedding their blood in the place where those free creatures live, the sight of the blood will stir his heart slightly, because his actions are unfit. But the person will distance himself from the place where he shed the blood, so what impression will he be left with, so that it should establish a moral law, which deepens generation after generation, like water that drips on stone? Only a practical action involving a Divine commandment, which is found in nature and in the Torah for every matter of moral and natural disgrace and shame.

But the domesticated animal is just the opposite. For the most part, a person slaughters it close to his living quarters, where he is generally found. In such a case, it is best to do the opposite, not to cover the blood, so that the person will see it wherever he turns, that he shed blood, because the blood cries out to him from the ground. And that voice, that rises like a still small voice, the person will hear only when its time has come to be heard, when the eyes of the blind will see, and the ears of the deaf will hear, when the sweet promise is fulfilled: "And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh." (Yechezkel 36:26).


R. Kook points out another ramification of covering the blood of undomesticated animals and birds. There is no need to prohibit the fat of hunted animals. In contrast to domesticated animals, were there a prohibition of fat regarding undomesticated animals and birds, the prohibition would obscure the impression made by the covering of the blood and the feeling of deep shame about shedding blood whether for pleasure or to secure food. The need for a practical action of covering the blood is meant to deal with the following concern: When the people of Israel live in their land and a person hunts an animal or bird far from his house, the very sight of the shed blood should raise shame in the person. A person should naturally distance himself from the place where he shed the blood. The practical way to make an impression on a person, despite the fact that he is distancing himself from the shed blood, is through the obligation to cover the blood.


R. Kook explains that that same principle works in the opposite direction with respect to a domesticated animal. The shedding of blood in the case of a domesticated animal takes place in close proximity to where the person lives. In such a situation, it is best not to cover the blood so that the person will at all times see the blood before his eyes, and the shed blood will cry out to him from the ground. This reality is meant to sink in over the course of the generations and to bring man at the appointed time to stop shedding the blood of living creatures.


It turns out that R. Kook sees a most essential difference between undomesticated animals and birds that are hunted far from a person's living quarters and domesticated animals that are slaughtered close to a person's home. Beyond the concern that covering the blood of a domesticated animal will over the short term obscure this difference and over the long term prevent man from weaning himself from shedding blood, R. Kook suggests that the sight of the uncovered blood will slowly sink in and eventually bring a total cessation of shedding the blood of animals.


R. Kook concludes:


Just as the obligation to cover the blood draws the prohibition of murder to the realm of animals, and the prohibitions of mixing meat and milk and forbidden mixtures draw the prohibition of stealing to that realm, so too the prohibition to eat the meat of a tereifa (an animal suffering from a wound or illness that will cause it to die within twelve months) draws the obligation to nurse and visit the sick to the realm of animals. Have compassion, at least, on the unfortunate, even if your heart is too hardened to show compassion to the strong and healthy.



(Translated by David Strauss)