Online Torah

Beit Hamidrash

PARASHAT ACHAREI MOT - KEDOSHIM -Blood Prohibitions in the Book of Vayikra

By: Rav Tamir Granot


Part 1: Presentation of the Problem


            The prohibition against eating blood is mentioned several times in Sefer Vayikra:


1.         At the end of the introduction to peace offerings (chapter 3), the Torah summarizes as follows: "It shall be an eternal statute for your generations throughout your dwelling places, that you shall not eat any fat nor any blood."

2.         At the end of the section on peace offerings, we read (chapter 7): "If any of the flesh of his peace offering is eaten on the third day, it shall not be accepted, and it shall not be counted for the person who offered it. It shall be an abomination, and anyone who eats of it will bear his iniquity. And flesh that touches anything that is impure shall not be eaten; it shall be burnt with fire, and as for the flesh – all who are pure shall eat meat. And a person who eats flesh from the peace offering that belongs to God, in a state of impurity – that soul shall be cut off from its people. And a person who touches anything that is impure – the impurity of man or of an impure animal, or any impure abominable thing – and eats of the flesh of the peace offering that belongs to God – that soul shall be cut off from its people. And God spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to Bnei Yisrael, saying, you shall eat no fat of an ox, or a sheep, or a goat. The fat of an animal that died of itself, or the fat of one that was torn apart [by other animals] may be used for any other purpose, but you shall not eat of it. For anyone who eats the fat of an animal that may be offered as a sacrifice to God – that soul that eats it shall be cut off from its people. Nor shall you eat any blood throughout your dwelling places, of either bird or beast. Anyone who eats any blood – that soul shall be cut off from its people."

3.         Following on the law of animals that are slaughtered outside the Mishkan (and which must be brought to the Mishkan for the kohen to sprinkle their blood and offer their fat), the Torah continues (chapter 17): "Any person from the house of Israel, or of the strangers that reside in their midst, who eats any blood – I shall set My countenance against the person who eats the blood, and I shall cut the person off from amongst 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 atonement for the soul. Therefore I have said to Bnei Yisrael: no one of you shall eat blood, nor shall the stranger who dwells in your midst eat blood. And any person from Bnei Yisrael or of the strangers who dwell in their midst who hunts venison of an animal or bird that may be eaten – he shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust. For the life of all flesh is in its blood, and I said to Bnei Yisrael: you shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; anyone who eats it shall be cut off. And any person who eats an animal that died of itself or that was torn apart – whether he is born among you or a stranger – he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and he shall be impure until the evening, and then he shall be pure. But if he does not wash them, or does not bathe his flesh, he shall bear his iniquity."


These multiple repetitions give rise to some difficulties:


1.         The immediate question, or course, is why the same prohibition needs to be repeated three times, in three different places. Furthermore, close examination reveals that in chapter 17 itself the prohibition of blood is actually mentioned twice: first in the context of the definition of karet as the punishment for eating blood, and then again as part of the reason for the commandment of covering the blood.

2.         In two places (chapter 3 and chapter 7) the prohibition of eating blood is mentioned along with the prohibition of eating forbidden fat – signifying that there is some connection between them. But there is no mention of this connection in chapter 17, where the prohibition of blood is mentioned alone. This demands some explanation.

3.         In each of the sources the prohibition of blood is mentioned in connection with the offering of sacrifices. In fact, there is a verse that makes explicit mention of the connection between the status of the blood as making atonement, and the prohibition against eating it: "I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls" (17:11). But we must ask why this is mentioned specifically in connection with the peace offering – as is clear in chapter 3 and chapter 7, yet chapter 17 also deals primarily with the peace offering. It begins with the prohibition against slaughtering animals purely for the sake of satiating one's appetite; the animal must be brought as a sacrifice. This necessarily implies a peace offering – since the peace offering is the only type of sacrifice that is eaten by the person who brings it.


To all of the above we must add the fourth and fifth appearance of this command, in SeferDevarim, where this prohibition appears twice in the same chapter (12):


4.         "Guard yourself lest you offer up your burnt offerings in every place that you see, but only in the place that the Lord will choose in one of your tribes; there you shall offer your burnt offerings and there you shall do all that I command you. You may slaughter and eat meat to your heart's desire, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He grants you, throughout your gates; the pure and the impure may eat of it, as they do of the deer and the gazelle. Only the blood you shall not eat; you shall pour it upon the earth like water."


This is soon followed by the fifth appearance of the command:


5.         "When the Lord your God expands your borders, as He has spoken to you, and you say: I shall eat meat, for your soul will desire to eat meat – you shall eat meat to your heart's desire. If the place which the Lord your God chooses to put His Name there is too far from you, then you may slaughter of your cattle and of your sheep which the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and you shall eat it within your gates, to your heart's desire. As the deer and the gazelle are eaten, so shall you eat it – the pure the impure alike may eat of it. Only be sure not to eat of the blood, for the blood is the life, and you may not eat the life together with the flesh. You shall not eat it; you shall pour it upon the earth like water. You shall not eat it, in order that it may be well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord your God. Only the sanctified things which you have and your vows shall you take and go to the place that the Lord will choose. And you shall offer your burnt offerings – the flesh and the blood – upon the altar of the Lord your God, and the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured upon the altar of the Lord your God, and the flesh you shall eat."


The repetition in itself is not unusual; after all, many commandments are reiterated inSefer Devarim. But the presentation here appears exaggerated in two respects:


1. The prohibition is repeated twice within the same parasha, in two different contexts.

2. The same command is repeated and emphasized over and over, with words of persuasion and encouragement: "Only be strong…" followed by a reason, followed by a promise; "In order that it be well with you…."


The importance of the prohibition in the eyes of Torah is clear. We need to understand why it is of such crucial importance.


Attention should be paid to the context of the prohibition in Sefer Devarim (meat eaten solely out of desire, slaughter outside of the Sanctuary precincts) and its similarity to that ofVayikra 17. In both places, the context includes both the place of slaughter and the commandment to cover the blood – although the literal text in Devarim permits the blood to be spilled: "You shall pour it upon the earth like water," with no demand that it be covered (as in, "He shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust" – Vayikra 17). This matter of covering the blood will be discussed below.


Part 2 – Comparison Between the Various Different Commands Concerning the Blood; Establishment of the Primary Command


Let us now undertake a systematic review of the contexts in which each instance of the prohibition appears and their special style:


Location of the Prohibition:


1.         Vayikra 3 – peace offering. The entire parasha deals with instructions to Bnei Yisrael with regard to laws of the sacrifices: "Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them…."

2. Vayikra 7 – peace offering. The entire parasha addresses the sacrificial service, meant for kohanim.

3. Vayikra 17 – animals that are slaughtered outside the Mishkan. The parasha discusses the various forms of license to eat meat. Those that are fit for offering as sacrifices are to be slaughtered at the Ohel Mo'ed. The types of animals and birds that are not fit for offering as sacrifices may be slaughtered outside. Along with the prohibition against blood, the Torah mentions the prohibition of eating animals that died naturally (i.e., not by ritual slaughter).

4. Devarim 12,a – Obligation of sacrificing burnt offerings only in the place that God will choose, but license to slaughter for the purposes of consumption in any place.

5. Devarim 12,b – If the place is far away, meat may be eaten anywhere, but sanctified meat must be brought to the altar.


Nature of the Prohibition:


1.  Vayikra 3 – plain, brief command concerning forbidden fats and blood in general.

2.  Vayikra 7 –

a. Detailed command concerning forbidden fats and blood (list of forbidden animals – birds and beasts, location of prohibition, and means of permission.)

b. Punishment – "that soul shall be cut off."

3.  Vayikra 17 –

a. Only the punishment of karet is mentioned, with no command, and the formulation is, "Any person… and also the stranger…."

b. Formulation of the punishment: "I shall set My face…."

c. Dual reason for the prohibition: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood," and "I have given it to you upon the altar."

d. Prohibition is given in the past tense: "Therefore I have said to Bnei Yisrael: You shall not eat the blood of any animal."

4.  Devarim 12,a – prohibition is laconic in style and formulated as a limitation. The meat is permissible; only the blood is forbidden. The command to pour it on the earth appears identical to the prohibition against eating it.

5.  Devarim 12,b –

a. Lengthy presentation of the prohibition which here, too, appears as a limitation on the license to eat: meat – yes; blood – no.

b. Explanation given: "for the blood is the life."

c. Two repetitions and reinforcement of the prohibition, along with a promise of good reward.


Let us focus now on Sefer Vayikra alone – even though some of our conclusions will be relevant to Sefer Devarim, too.


When a command or story appears more than once, it may be that one instance is primary while the others are secondary. In some cases the various sources parallel one another and are of equal status, but this does not seem to be the case in this instance.


Seemingly, the place where the prohibition is set out in detail and in an orderly fashion is the principal source; this would lead us to conclude that chapter 7 represents the primary source of this prohibition. It includes all the elements of a full command: a. the commandment; b. its conditions; c. the punishment for transgressing it.


The fact that this is not the first mention of the prohibition should not mislead us.  It must be remembered that, chronologically speaking, chapter 7 preceded chapter 3 for it was given at Sinai as part of the command concerning the inauguration of the Mishkan. As we read at its conclusion: "…which God commanded Moshe at Mount Sinai on the day He commanded Bnei Yisrael to offer their sacrifices to God in the wilderness of Sinai" (Vayikra 7:38).


In other words, the command in chapter 7 was apparently given first, at Sinai, including the details of the prohibition against eating forbidden fats and blood and the punishment for anyone transgressing this prohibition. Afterwards, when Parashat Vayikra was given over again in the Ohel Mo'ed (later on, since the Ohel Mo'ed was only built later on) the prohibition was briefly mentioned again, for whatever reason.


Support for this view would seem to be found in the formulation of the verses in chapter 17. This chapter is addressed – according to its introduction – to both the kohanim and Bnei Yisrael; "Speak to Aharon and to his sons, and to all of Bnei Yisrael." Here the prohibition of blood is treated as a subject that is already known: "Therefore I have said to Bnei Yisrael: no one of you shall eat blood"; and also – "I said to Bnei Yisrael: you shall not eat the blood of any flesh." In other words, it would seem that the appearance of the prohibition in chapter 17 is a repeat of chapter 7 and of chapter 3 – once again, for a reason that is not yet clear to us, but in any event this is not the original command.


Despite the impression detailed above, I will posit that the primary exposition of the command is in chapter 17, rather than chapter 7, for the following reason: Chapter 17, too, includes all of the elements of a command that we mentioned above – the command itself, its conditions, and the punishment, but here we are also given a reason (actually, a dual reason, as noted above), which occupies a central place in this parasha. The lack of any reason for the prohibition, in chapters 3 and 7, demands some explanation, for it would seem logical that the reason for a command should appear in the first (chronological) instance of its appearance. According to what we have said above, this would point to chapter 7. Its absence there would appear to indicate that it could not have yet been uttered because the prohibition within the context of the sections about the sacrifices is not in its initial, original place. Therefore it cannot be fully explained; only in chapter 17 can it be treated thoroughly. Further on we shall address this hypothesis in greater detail.


Meantime we may summarize as follows:

- Chronologically speaking, chapter 7 does indeed precede chapter 17, and therefore the appearance of the prohibition against blood in chapter 7 came first and chapter 17 treats it as a law that is already familiar.

- More fundamentally, in terms of the prohibition itself, chapter 17 is first and chapter 7 comes afterwards, but because the general subject of chapter 17 (animals slaughtered outside the Mishkan) must come after chapters 3 and 7 (the Mishkan and the sacrifices), the prohibition of blood that it includes is also mentioned later chronologically, and it refers to a preceding command. But it is actually chapter 17 that forms the basis of the prohibition.


This would seem to offer assistance in understanding the various parshiyot, their repetitions, and the differences between them.


Part 3 – Reason for the Prohibition, and as an Explanation for Chapter 17


Let us now examine chapter 17 in its entirety, subdividing it into four sections:

1.         (3-7) Any person (of Israel)… who slaughters an animal for the purposes of eating its meat, not at the entrance to the Ohel Mo'ed (the altar) as a sacrifice – his slaughter is considered as bloodshed, and his punishment is karet. The reason for the prohibition and the punishment: in order that animals meant for eating will be brought to the Ohel Mo'ed for the blood to be sprinkled upon the altar, rather than simply being spilled. Such that Bnei Yisrael will no longer offer sacrifices to the wild spirits after whom they go astray.

2.         (8-9) Anyone (Israelite or stranger) who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice NOT at theOhel Mo'ed, is punishable by karet. Here the Torah is speaking of slaughter for the purposes of sacrifice, not just for eating. There is no mention that this person is considered as having spilled blood. It should also be noted that the first part is addressed to "the house of Israel," while the second – dealing specifically with sacrifice – applies also to the stranger who dwells in their midst.

3.         (10-12) Anyone (Israelite or stranger) who eats blood – God will set His face against him and cut him off from amongst his people.

4.         (13-16) Anyone (Israelite or stranger) who hunts a beast or bird must pour out its blood and cover it with dust, so that his soul will not be cut off. As an addendum, the final verses here also mention the impurity of an animal that died naturally, which attaches itself to anyone who eats of its meat. This impurity has already been mentioned previously, in chapter 11, and its repetition here also demands some explanation.


Let us offer the following preliminary explanation:


The first unit appears to prohibit any slaughter of an animal that may be offered as a sacrifice, without bringing it as a sacrifice. Such slaughter, which is not for the sake of heaven, is a deed comparable to bloodshed, and the expression "spilling of blood" is meant here in both senses. The blood is spilled, rather than sprinkled (on the altar, as it should be), physically. At the same time, the deed is similar to the shedding of human blood ("One who spills the blood of man shall have his blood spilled by man").


The second unit forbids the offering of any sacrifice outside of the Sanctuary precincts. In other words, not only is it forbidden to kill a beheima (an animal that would be fit to offer as a sacrifice), but even ritual slaughter of an animal "for the sake of heaven" – i.e., with the purpose of offering as a sacrifice – is forbidden elsewhere than the Mishkan. Here the aim is to centralize Divine worship in one place, not only to prevent profane slaughter. In this unit we are not told that the person who performs the slaughter is comparable to one who sheds blood – since ultimately he is acting for the sake of heaven. Likewise there is no mention of any suspicion that the slaughter is meant for the evil spirits – for, once again, the intention is to serve God. But the punishment for this person, too, is karet. The reason for the Torah wanting to centralize worship in the Mishkan is not given explicit expression, but there may also be internal, religious aspects to it (the Divine Presence is revealed only in the Mikdash), and a distancing from idolatrous practices – even without the fear that Bnei Yisrael would actually worship evil spirits. (This would seem to be the meaning of the similar obligation, in Devarim 12, to offer a sacrifice only in "the place that God would choose," and not in the manner of the other nations, who offer upon every high place and under every tree.)


The third unit forbids the eating of blood. In other words, not only the eating of the flesh itself is forbidden, but also eating the blood of the flesh. Two reasons are given here for the prohibition:


a.         "For the life of the flesh is in the blood" – i.e., one is not to eat the "life" of the animal.

b.         "I have given it to you upon the altar" – i.e., the blood plays a critically important role in Divine worship: it makes atonement, by means of being sprinkled upon the altar, always, with every sacrifice that is brought. What this means is that the blood always belongs to God – like the forbidden fats, which are always required to be offered upon the altar. Therefore they may not simply be consumed.


Admittedly, these two reasons are interconnected. Why is the blood chosen to be offered upon the altar? Because it is the life, and the life must be offered upon the altar. In other words, the fundamental reason is that the blood equals the life. The second reason is itself a result of the first: the fact that the blood makes atonement.


Nevertheless, each reason is sufficient in its own right to prohibit the eating of blood.


The fat may not be eaten even though it is not the life of the animal, because it is always offered upon the altar. In other words, it is God's portion. Even if the blood were not the life, it would be forbidden to eat it because, like the fats, it is always offered upon the altar.


On the other hand, even if the blood were not offered upon the altar at all, it would be forbidden to eat because it is the life of the animal, and the life cannot be eaten along with the flesh. In other words, even where there is license to eat flesh, it must be eaten without its vitality – that which makes it fully alive. Plants have no blood. Therefore their life is not cut off when a portion is removed from them, or even when they are cut down to their roots. If an animal is wounded, even if only in one spot, its life force – its blood – leaves it. Taking blood, according to the laws of Shabbat, is equivalent to taking a life (see Tosafot on Shabbat 75a). Eating the meat without the blood makes the eating permissible, for it is not the life that is being consumed but rather something that is dead – just the meat.


The difference between the two reasons has several practical ramifications. The most important of these is, "Any person… who hunts venison of an animal or bird that may be eaten" –i.e., there are animals that are not offered upon the altar, and these from the outset are not prohibited as profane food (unlike the animals that may be offered, which were discussed in chapter 3). May the blood of these kinds of animals be eaten? If the blood is forbidden only because it should be offered upon the altar, there is no basis for the prohibition here, for the blood of an animal or bird that is hunted for venison is not brought for sprinkling on the altar. Indeed, the Torah teaches:


"Any person from Bnei Yisrael or of the strangers who dwell in their midst who hunts venison of an animal or bird that may be eaten – he shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust. For the life of all flesh is in its blood, and I said to Bnei Yisrael: you shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; anyone who eats it shall be cut off."


Here the reason of offering upon the altar is indeed omitted, and only the fact that the "blood is the life" is mentioned; since the blood is the life, it must not be eaten – just like the blood of animals that may be offered. In the case of animals that may be offered there is a further reason: the blood is sprinkled upon the altar and it brings atonement. The Torah teaches, "He shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust." As usual, we understand that that emphasis in the verse is on the covering, and this is the source for the commandment to cover the blood: "He shall cover it with dust." But the beginning of the verse is no less important; it is not merely the description of an action, but rather a command: the blood must be poured out; it must not be eaten.


This understanding may serve to clarify a further halakhic point. According to halakha, the law of covering the blood applies only to a chaya (an animal not fit to be brought as a sacrifice), not to a beheima (an animal that may be brought as a sacrifice). As we have seen, this represents the literal meaning of the text, but the reason for this seems difficult to understand: why is the blood of a chaya – which must be covered – thicker than that of a beheima? The answer is simple, and becomes clear from what we have said above. Each of the two categories has its own law with regard to blood:


- behiema: "The kohen shall sprinkle the blood upon God's altar at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting" (Ibid. 6).

- chaya: "He shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust."


The blood of the beheima is not covered for the simple reason that it is offered on the altar; this is its exalted destiny. The blood of the chaya, which does not make atonement, must be poured out (as opposed to being eaten or being offered upon the altar), and then covered in order that the blood will not be exposed, representing, as it were, the cry of the animal. (A fine explanation for the obligation of covering the blood is proposed by my friend and colleague, Rav Yonatan Grossman.)


This also appears to be the reason for the dual mention of the prohibition of eating blood in this chapter. In the third unit it is mentioned in connection with beheimot, and there its principle reason is the fact that the blood is offered upon the altar. In the fourth unit it is mentioned in relation to chayot, and there the reason given for the prohibition is that the blood is the life. The assumption that the crux of the innovation in the law of the chaya is the obligation to pour out the blood (even though no Divine service is performed with it) rather than the commandment of covering it, explains the reason for this. If the new teaching that the Torah was giving here was that the blood must be covered, we would not understand how the prohibition against eating blood explains the obligation of covering it. But if the emphasis is, "He shall pour out its blood," the matter is clear. Even in the case of a chaya, with no ritual context, the blood must be poured out. Why? Because God says: When I forbade the eating of blood, it concerned the blood of all flesh – not only the blood of an animal fit for sacrifice. Why? "Because the life of all flesh is its blood." Note: "of ALL flesh" – any type of animal; not only the flesh of a beheima. Although abeheima is offered as a sacrifice while a chaya is not, in both cases the blood is the life of the flesh.


This understanding also arises from the discrepancy of the wording in the two cases. The first unit tells us, "Every person who slaughters…" – in other words, we are speaking of beheimot, domesticated animals raised as livestock (oxen, sheep and goats). Therefore a person who wants to kill them must slaughter them – and their blood obviously pours out. But chayot, which usually go about freely and are not under human control, are hunted in all kinds of ways; they are not necessarily killed by means of ritual slaughter. Hence, their blood is not necessarily poured out. What the Torah is telling us here is that they must not be eaten unless their blood is indeed first poured out. I believe that this command should be regarded as a substantial basis for the obligation to slaughter all kinds of animals, not only those that may be brought as sacrifices. By means of slaughter (severing the aorta) the blood is poured out on the ground and the animal does not suffer any further pain, as it does in many other forms of death.


In light of our conclusions thus far, let us have another look at the structure of the chapter as a whole. We now discover that it is chiastic in form.

         A (unit 1)– prohibition of eating beheimot of profane slaughter; the blood is to be offered. Spilling of blood – the blood is accounted to the person who does this.

B (unit 2)– prohibition of sacrifice to God (anywhere other than the place that God will choose) – beheimot.

B1 (unit 3)– prohibition of eating the blood of an animal that is sacrificed – beheimot.

A1 (unit 4)– prohibition of eating blood – profane slaughter.


A and A1: The chapter begins and ends with profane slaughter. The slaughter of abeheima within a profane framework is forbidden outright; the way of making it permissible is to bring it as a sacrifice and sprinkle the blood upon the altar - in unit 1. The slaughter of a chaya is permissible, and hence the way to go about it is to pour out the blood and cover it - in unit 4. The expression "spilling of blood" serves to connect these two units. Where there is no license to slaughter, the spilling of blood represents a serious transgression – both in the case of a person and in the case of an animal. Where there is license to kill, the spilling of blood and its covering are the condition for license to eat.


B and B1: We noted above that unit 3 discusses the prohibition of blood in the case ofbeheimot, which are animals that may be brought as sacrifices. This was our conclusion from the previous section. Since the reason for the prohibition is that the blood is placed upon the altar, the Torah cannot be talking here about a prohibition against the blood of a chaya, since it cannot be offered. The connection here to unit 2 is direct and obvious. In B (unit 2) the Torah is speaking of slaughter that is meant for the purposes of Divine service, but it is not performed at the Tent of Meeting. Slaughter that is performed anywhere other than the designated place is punishable bykaret. In unit 3 the Torah is speaking of slaughter for the sake of heaven, in the proper place, but the blood is eaten. Here, too, the punishment is karet. We have already noted that the crux of the reason for the prohibition here is the fact that the blood serves a function related to Divine service; the blood is offered. The statement, "The blood is the life," explains the fact that the blood is offered, not the actual prohibition against eating blood. What the Torah means, then is the following: the moment that the slaughter of the beheima is permitted, by means of offering it as a sacrifice, the eating of its blood is not problematic in and of itself. Even though the blood is the life, the slaughter of the animal for a higher purpose justifies the taking of its life. The eating of blood is prohibited here only because the blood should be sprinkled – thereby completing the act of sacrifice; eating the blood is sacrilegious.


In other words, both prohibitions in units 2 and 3 are related to Divine worship. Both prohibitions in units 1 and 4 are related specifically to profane slaughter, and the prohibition in these cases arises from the inherent status of the animal as a living thing, with the blood representing its life's fluid – its life.


The proximity between the prohibition of offering a sacrifice in the camp (i.e., outside of the Tent of Meeting) and the prohibition of eating the blood of animals that may be sacrificed (units 2 and 3) also testifies to common spiritual motivation; this relates to negating the worship customs of the other nations. A multiplicity of altars, as mentioned above, characterizes paganism. The eating of blood, it seems, was also characteristic of pagan worship, and the Torah comes out against this practice, too, in the "worship" aspect of the prohibition. This idea is subsumed here; it is presented more clearly, I believe, in the verses in Devarim, but this shiurdoes not allow for further discussion in this regard.


It should also be noted that the command concerning the impurity associated with eating an animal that dies of natural causes should be viewed in a similar context. The Torah permits the eating of a beheima by means of slaughtering. A person who eats a beheima or chaya that was slaughtered, does not become impure. Why is impurity brought about specifically by an animal that died of natural causes?


It would seem that the reason is not only that slaughter is a permissible way of killing, but rather that slaughter causes the blood to leave the animal's body. An animal that is slaughtered, whose blood leaves its body, does not convey impurity because it contains no trace of the life, the vitality, that it used to possess. It is like an inanimate object. An animal that died of natural causes, although already dead, still contains the essence of its vitality – the blood. Therefore, consumption of its meat involves impurity – because blood always causes impurity when its departure involves loss of life (as in the case of childbirth, menstruation, zava, etc.). The same applies here. Therefore the matter of impurity is added on here, even though in terms of essential subject matter it seems far removed from the actual prohibition against eating blood.


Part 4 – Forbidden Fats and Blood as a Common Prohibition in Chapters 3 and 7


Now the way is clear for us to understand the additional prohibitions in the first parshiyotof the Sefer. The most striking fact is the appearance of the prohibition there, in conjunction with the prohibition concerning the fat. In chapter 17 there is no mention at all of the prohibition of fat. This fact hints to the significance of the appearance of the prohibition in the chapters devoted to the sacrifices: there it appears only in the context of Divine worship. Just as the fat is forbidden because it is offered upon the altar, and only for that reason, so the blood is forbidden for the same reason. This is undoubtedly also the reason for the prohibition being mentioned specifically in the context of the peace offering – since the other parts of this sacrifice are eaten by the owner or by the kohanim, with only the fat and the blood being offered upon the altar. In other words, if the prohibition were to be mentioned in the context of the burnt offering or the sin offering, we could not have understood its logic, for there the flesh is consumed by the altar, or by thekohanim as part of their priestly privilege. Only in the case of the peace offering does the unique status of the fats and the blood come to light; they are offered not because of the special nature of the sacrifice, but because of their own status, and therefore the law is identical in the case of every sacrifice.


This is also the reason or the focus of the prohibition in chapter 7 being turned to birds and beheimot: "You shall not eat any blood throughout your dwelling places, neither of bird nor ofbeheima." The chaya is not included here, because from the perspective of Divine worship there is no reason for the blood of a chaya to be prohibited. Chapter 17 introduces the moral reason: "For the blood is the life". Therefore it is only in chapter 17 that that blood of a chaya, too, is prohibited.


Indeed, the fat is also prohibited only in the case of an ox, sheep or goat, all of which may be offered as sacrifices, but not in the case of a chaya – like the blood.


We must still explain why the prohibition is given once in chapter 3, as part of the first discussion of sacrifices, and then again in chapter 7.


It seems that the repetition of the commands arises from the general repetition of the sacrifices. Let us briefly recap this matter. (For a lengthier discussion, see Avraham Shama's article, "Shetei Megamot be-Chanukat ha-Mishkan" in Megadim 2, and in Rav Elchanan Samet's book, "Iyunim be-Parashat ha-Shavu'a" on Parashat Vayikra, and in Rav David Tzvi Hoffman's commentary on the Torah, quoted there.)


Parashat Vayikra includes the entire system of sacrifices, and it is addressed to all of Israel. Therefore the laws that it contains are related primarily to the perspective of the person who brings the sacrifice: for instance, which animal should be brought, the reason for bringing it, and the major sacrifice ceremonies.


Parashat Tzav is addressed to the kohanim. It, too, includes a command concerning all of the sacrifices, which here are called "torot" ("teachings") and which emphasize mainly the perspective of the kohen – i.e., his tasks, the parts of the sacrifice that may be eaten, the elements of service that are performed after the actual sacrifice (the ashes, etc.). It seems that the Torah wants to command the prohibition of blood both from the perspective of the Israelite, who brings his sacrifice, and from the perspective of the kohen, who performs the sacrificial service. The prohibition in both cases concerns Divine worship, but – as noted above – it is possible that the "worship prohibition" itself arises from two different points.


The use of blood in the sacrificial service has a negative aspect and a positive aspect.  On one hand, it negates the pagan sacrificial feast, which appears to have included also the consumption of the blood. The offering of the blood upon the altar represents a rejection of this manner of worship.


On the other hand, the positive aspect is that since the blood is the life of the animal, it has the power of atonement.


From the perspective of the Israelite who brings his sacrifice, it is clear that he cannot eat the blood, for the blood atones for his sin by being sprinkled on the altar. But the same would not necessarily hold true concerning the kohen. Consumption of the blood by the kohanim could have been considered – like the consumption of the meat itself – a gift from God: partaking of food from God's own table, as it were. Therefore it is necessary that the prohibition against blood appear again in the section dealing with instructions to the kohanim, in order to negate the notion that eating the blood could be considered a legitimate form of worship.




We posited above that the section prohibiting blood, in chapter 17, is the major exposition of this law, even though chronologically it comes after both chapter 3 and chapter 7. We shall now follow the logic of this argument in light of what we have said thus far.


In chapter 17 the Torah introduces the fundamental reason for the prohibition of eating blood: "For the blood is the life." This reason prohibits the eating of blood on the basis of a moral norm. According to what the Torah teaches there, the function of the blood as making atonement upon the altar arises from its definition as the "life": "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 the blood is the life. The nefesh (as embodied in the blood) makes atonement for the sinful soul (nefesh) of man.


The other sections – chapter 3 and chapter 7, where the prohibition is associated with and arises from the sacrificial service – are related to the matter of Divine worship, i.e., the fact that the blood has a role to play upon the altar. Since this reason is secondary, the command that arises from it likewise does not occupy a central place.


But, we may ask, why does the Torah not state the main reason earlier – in chapter 7, say; why does it wait until chapter 17 to teach us that the blood is the life?


It seems that the answer is simple, and it may be explained in light of the major innovation of chapter 17.


Chapter 17 is the first chapter in Sefer Vayikra that does not discuss instructions for service in the Mishkan, but rather talks about life outside of it. In this chapter the Torah regulates the relationship between Divine worship in the Sanctuary and everyday life outside of it. It is in this context that the prohibition arises against profane slaughter taking place away from the Tent of Meeting. It turns out that only Divine worship gives license to slaughter a beheima and then to eat it. The slaughter of a beheima purely to satisfy one's desire for meat is considered a form of bloodshed. This norm returns Am Yisrael, in a certain respect, to the situation that existed prior to the Flood. At that time it was forbidden for people to eat meat; animal life was considered almost equivalent to human life. However, the sacrifice of burnt offerings was practiced and acceptable to God even then: both Hevel and Noach (prior to the license to eat meat) brought burnt offerings, and they were accepted by God.


The prohibition against eating meat other than in the sacrificial context represents a sort of return to this ideal situation. Animal life is also valuable and purposeful – as it was prior to the Flood, and therefore killing an animal is considered as bloodshed: "It shall be considered blood for that person; he has spilled blood." When an animal is brought as a sacrifice to God, its slaughter is justified, and hence there is license to eat it. But the crux of the significance of the offering is in the place of the animal's life force – its blood – upon the altar. Thus, on the theoretical level, the act of offering a sacrifice - according to it is significance in the Torah, which places the act of sprinkling the blood upon the altar in the center – arises from the view of the animal as possessing a life force - nefesh, and therefore it is possible to atone for one nefesh (the person) by offering a different nefesh (the animal). The importance of the blood, as an expression of the essence of organic vitality, finds expression in the prohibition against eating it – even in the case of those animals that cannot be brought as sacrifices. Even where it is permissible to eat meat solely to satiate a desire for it, the "life" may not be eaten. This, then, is the reason why the principle that "the blood is the life" is located specifically in chapter 17. Only a departure from the discussion of the Mikdash and its internal laws reveals to us that offering the blood on the altar is not only an act of worship, but also the "license" to slaughter beheimot, for otherwise they would be forbidden as food because of their inherent status, the importance of their lives. This understanding places our relationship towards animals, and towards their blood, on a moral and ideal plane, giving rise to the principle that "the blood is the life." The use of blood as appeasement, for atonement, is the result of this principle. It is for this reason that the Torah does not provide this as the reason for the prohibition of eating blood within the "worship" contexts where it previously appeared (chapters 3 and 7), until the basis of its importance could be established, in chapter 17.


The scope of this shiur does not allow for a discussion of the sections in Sefer Devarim. We shall merely hint that the basis for understanding them is to be found in the various significances that we have addressed in our discussion of the prohibition of blood, and the various purposes of centralizing Divine worship in the place that God will choose.


Hopefully we will have an opportunity to discuss this at some later date.


Translated by Kaeren Fish