The Bible Says What? ‘We can eat an animal’s meat but not its blood’

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The Bible Says What? ‘We can eat an animal’s meat but not its blood’

 Rabbi Danny Rich takes a controversial topic from Jewish texts and looks at a Liberal Jewish response

Kosher slaughter
Kosher slaughter

“And you must not consume any blood, either of bird or of animal, in any of your settlements. Anyone who eats blood shall be cut off from their people.” (Leviticus 3:17)

This prohibition appears twice in the Book of Leviticus and is repeated in Deuteronomy 12:23.

It is not immediately clear why it was not permissible to drink the blood of an animal, when it may be killed for food.

It could well have been that the Israelites lived among other peoples who drank the blood of animals – and perhaps even humans too – and, as the Israelites sought to distinguish themselves from their neighbours, the prohibition on blood was a totemic means of so doing.

The later and longer Levitical text – which states “you shall not partake of the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood” – indicates that there may have been the idea that blood contained, or at least represented, the essence or soul of the creature concerned. Thus, the treating of the blood with respect might suggest a reverence for the life itself.

This reverence for life itself underpins the system of shechita whereby meat suitable for Jews to eat must have been slaughtered and prepared in a manner that removes as much blood as it is reasonable to do so.

Abraham Isaac Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Palestine from 1921 to 1935, went further. He taught that the eating of meat was “a temporary dispensation given to humanity, which has not yet reached the stage of overcoming its murderous instincts” – a rather harsh judgement, but one imitated by my three pescatarian children.

 Rabbi Danny Rich is a vice president of Liberal Judaism

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