J.J Gross

Aharei Mot/Kedoshim: Drink no blood. Is Haredi education sacrificing children?


Why isn’t the prohibition against the consumption of blood
included in the Noahide laws?

ואיש איש מבית ישראל ומן הגר בתוכם אשר יאכל כל דם ונתתי פני בנפש האכלת את הדם והכרתי אתה מקרב עמה. כי נפש הבשר בדם הוא ואני נתתיו לכם על המזבח לכפר על נפשתיכם כי הדם הוא בנפש יכפר.

על כן אמרתי לבני ישראל כל נפש מכם לא תאכל דם והגר הגר בתוככם לא יאכל דם (ויקרא 17-10-12

“And any man of the House of Israel or of the strangers that sojourn among then, who eats any blood, I will set My attention upon the soul who eats the blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the soul of the flesh is in the blood and I have therefore given it to you to be placed upon the altar, to atone for your souls. For it is the blood that atones for the soul. Therefore I said to the Children of Israel none of you shall eat blood, and the stranger who sojourns among you shall not eat blood.” (Lev 17:12)

Parshat Aharei Mot contains the injunction against the consumption of an animal’s blood, with dire consequences for any Israelite or sojourner in Israel who violates this prohibition “For the soul of the flesh is in the blood” כי נפש הבשר בדם הוא (Leviticus 17:11).

Had the Torah stopped right there it would have made perfect sense – a remarkable dictum that affirms respect for the creatures we consume by not consuming their ‘soul’, merely their flesh.

But the Torah does not stop there. Indeed the very same verse continues with “and I have therefore given it to you to be placed upon the altar, to atone for your souls. For it is the blood that atones for the soul” ואני נתתיו לכם על המזבח לכפר על נפשתיכם כי הדם הוא בנפש יכפר.

This latter part of the verse provides a totally different reason for not consuming blood, namely that it is an atonement for the soul, a sort of proxy for our own blood on the altar of G-d. In other words, G-d indulges in the consumption of blood but denies the same right to His people. Non-Jews have no such prohibition.

Furthermore, it is clear the Torah does not consider blood consumption an abomination, even though its prohibition precedes an entire litany of acts that are classified as such – incest, male-male sexual penetration, bestiality – all of which are described as the customs of Egypt and/or the inhabitants of Canaan, as surely blood consumption was as well.

It is worth noting here that one of the seven Noahide laws is the prohibition against consuming a limb from a living creature. Yet there is no such Noahide prohibition against consuming its blood – even if drawn from a live animal, as is the custom among certain African tribes which drink fresh blood drawn from the veins of living cattle. One might think that in the hierarchy of importance, blood might take precedence over a leg, tail or the ever-popular ‘prairie oysters” on which cowboys feast. After all, if the soul of the animal is its blood, surely flesh is of secondary importance.

Can it be the Torah’s prohibition against a Jew’s consuming blood is not merely implying a tolerance of such consumption by non-Jews, but actually is an encouragement of it? Indeed, one rarely encounters even the crudest gentile hacking the leg off a live cow or lamb in order to make dinner. Yet even the most sophisticated carnivores expects their steak to be rare, and virtually floating in a puddle of blood, while sausages made of the blood of pigs and other mammals are a delicacy throughout Europe and Asia.

It would appear then, that the Torah actually divided humankind into two groups – those who consume blood and those who do not. The non-Jew and the Jew.

I would suggest that what the Torah is telling us is that both the consumption of blood and the abstention thereof have direct impact on one’s personality. Because blood is the soul, its consumption introduces that soul into one’s body. In other words one who drinks the blood of a pig or a cow imbibes the soul of a pig or a cow, thereby spiritually becoming more like a beast and somehow less human. Conversely, one who abstains from the consumption of an animal’s blood retains only the soul of the human – which while not quite Divine, is certainly of a higher order than that of an animal.

The Jewish People have excelled in areas that other peoples have not — creative endeavors, the sciences and mathematics, philosophy, economics, business. Not that others do not excel in these as well, but the proportional divide is enormous. By the same token Jews have always been underrepresented in the realms of murder, mayhem, genocide and other sociopathic behaviors that are viewed as beastly and animal-like.

Credit is normally given to the fact that Jews are the People of The Book. This is typically understood as meaning that our literacy and obsession with study are what enable us to achieve such heights. I would suggest, perhaps, that indeed we are a cut above because we are People of the Book in that we adhere to The Book. The fact is that we are People BY the Book even before we are People OF the Book –naaseh נעשה preceedes v’nishma ונשמע. By observing the prohibition against ingesting the souls of animals we are inured against behaving like animals. Hence we are less drawn to brutality and barbarism. It is this, in turn, which enables us to focus on loftier goals.

When is yeshiva education a form of sacrificing children?

Parashat Kedoshim is a major concentration of the Torah’s ethical precepts delivered in terse, tight sentences.

Among these, the prohibition regarding Molech-worship sticks out like a sore thumb for three reasons:

  1. It doesn’t belong here. After all, we already KNOW that idol worship is a capital offense;
  2. The reference to Molech is long, running several sentences, unlike its neighbors in this parasha;
  3. Unlike general idolatry, we are told that those who merely observe someone serving Molech and do not report him/her to the authorities are committing a major transgression, one that will be punished by G-d Himself.

I would like to suggest that there are two aspects to Molech: One is idol worship. The other is child abuse. This is what distinguishes it from other forms of idolatry which are ‘victimless’ crimes. If one were to sacrifice a child to a god other than Molech, or even to G-d Himself, surely that aspect of the ritual would be condemned no less than if it were done in the service of Molech. Hence the special attention given to Molech, and the added law that to abstain from turning in a Molech worshipper is a crime against G-d.

The issue of Molech is relevant in all eras, especially now when in the haredi world virtually all boys are forced into a single type of schooling regardless of whether such an education is appropriate for the child. And in the overwhelming majority of cases it is totally inappropriate. Indeed it is counterproductive, even torture.

Haredi (and in their own way even more modern Orthodox) parents willingly and willfully sacrifice their children’s welfare and happiness in order to do what they believe G-d wants. In Proverbs we are instructed to: “Educate the child according to his way … ”חנוך לנער על פי דרכו (Proverbs/משלי 22:6). And yet we ignore this clear directive and condemn tens of thousands of children to lives of frustration and underachievement in order to appease a G-d who abhors such an approach to child rearing.

How many Beethovens and Picassos, how many Barishnykovs and Heifetz’s, how many airline pilots and athletes, scientists and journalists, actors and astronauts, physicians and acrobats have become lifelong depressives, colossal failures, self-flagellating unfortunates because they were never given an opportunity to discover their real strengths and a chance to achieve a suitable dream?

Even the average kids – the non-geniuses who are forced to struggle and compete in a curriculum designed for a particular kind of genius – how can they find peace and satisfaction knowing they will never amount to anything on the track to which they have been consigned, while not being given any opportunity to engage in more satisfying and remunerative vocations?

Yes, Molech is alive and well, thriving in the Jewish world as parents blindly sacrifice their boys (and girls) to a G-d they do not understand and who does not desire their human sacrifices.

It’s time for some fresh thinking.

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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