J.J Gross

Aharei Mot: Why prohibiting eating blood is not part of the Seven Noahide LAws

וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אַחֲרֵ֣י מ֔וֹת שְׁנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֣י אַהֲרֹ֑ן בְּקרְבָתָ֥ם לִפְנֵי־יְהֹוָ֖ה וַיָּמֻֽתוּ׃

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהֹוָ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה דַּבֵּר֮ אֶל־אַהֲרֹ֣ן אָחִ֒יךָ֒ וְאַל־יָבֹ֤א בְכל־עֵת֙ אֶל־הַקֹּ֔דֶשׁ מִבֵּ֖ית לַפָּרֹ֑כֶת אֶל־פְּנֵ֨י הַכַּפֹּ֜רֶת אֲשֶׁ֤ר עַל־הָאָרֹן֙ וְלֹ֣א יָמ֔וּת כִּ֚י בֶּֽעָנָ֔ן אֵרָאֶ֖ה עַל־הַכַּפֹּֽרֶת׃

And the Lord spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons, when they drew near before the Lord, and they died. And the Lord said to Moshe: Speak to your brother Aharon, that he should not come at all times into the Holy within the dividing curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, so that he should not die, for I appear over the ark cover in a cloud.

 Vayikra 16:1-2

The opening verses of Parshat Aharei Mot are unusual and remind one of the opening verse of Parshat Emor:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֱמֹ֥ר אֶל־הַכֹּהֲנִ֖ים בְּנֵ֣י אַהֲרֹ֑ן וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ לֹֽא־יִטַּמָּ֖א בְּעַמָּֽיו

And the Lord said to Moshe: Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and say to them: Let none [of you] defile himself for a dead person among his people

Vayikra 21:1-2.

In both instances Gםd is sending a message to the kohamim through Moshe, but the message is not verbatim. In both cases the subject is an admonition to the kohanim against certain actions and behaviors

Normally, when God wants to communicate to the Bnei Israel, the Torah says   וידבר ה אל משה לאמר“And God spoke to Moshe to say …” i.e. God commands Moshe to quote Him verbatim.

In Parshat Emor, where God warns against impure conduct among the kohanim he communicates the general idea to Moshe but leaves it for Moshe to articulate the command in his own words.  In our parsha today, where God is warning the kohanim against entering the Holy of Holies, He also leaves it to Moshe’s discretion as to how to articulate the command.

I would suggest – as I did in my notes on Parshat Emor – that unacceptable behaviors on the part of kohanim are in a category of their own, separate and distinct from the misbehavior of ordinary Israelites. God’s revulsion at even the possibility of such behavior is made manifest by His addressing the matter in a more indirect manner.

* * *

Why  is the prohibition against the consumption of blood not part of the Seven Noahide Laws?

וְאִ֨ישׁ אִ֜ישׁ מִבֵּ֣ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וּמִן־הַגֵּר֙ הַגָּ֣ר בְּתוֹכָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר יֹאכַ֖ל כל־דָּ֑ם וְנָתַתִּ֣י פָנַ֗י בַּנֶּ֙פֶשׁ֙ הָאֹכֶ֣לֶת אֶת־הַדָּ֔ם וְהִכְרַתִּ֥י אֹתָ֖הּ מִקֶּ֥רֶב עַמָּֽהּ׃

כִּ֣י נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר֮ בַּדָּ֣ם הִוא֒ וַאֲנִ֞י נְתַתִּ֤יו לָכֶם֙ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ לְכַפֵּ֖ר עַל־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־הַדָּ֥ם ה֖וּא בַּנֶּ֥פֶשׁ יְכַפֵּֽר׃

  And any man of the House of Israel or of the strangers that sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My attention upon the soul who eats the blood, and I 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.

 Vayikra 17:10-11

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” כִּי־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר֘ בַּדָּ֣ם הִוא֒

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

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” וַֽאֲנִ֞י נְתַתִּ֤יו לָכֶם֙ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ לְכַפֵּ֖ר עַל־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶ֑ם

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 God. In other words, God 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 (עבר מן החי). 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 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 a beast.

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 predisposed to not behave like animals. Hence we are less drawn to brutality and barbarism. It is this, in turn, which enables us to focus on loftier goals.

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.