Hunting – not a popular activity in Israel, II

(This is a supplementary segment for Part I published here on 8/22/22 under the same title)

Nimrod, the Bible’s first hunter expanded the scope of animal killing from farm to non-domesticated animals. Nevertheless, Nimrod ‘’does not interest the Bible’’ and he is ‘’Biblically unimportant” as Ofer Burin, a Torah commentator, suggests. The same will be true with Ishmael who became ‘’an accomplished archer’’ in the desert, and Esau his paternal nephew, ‘’one who knows hunting’’ as we read in this weekly Torah portion. All three hunters whom the Torah names become peripheral players and outliers to the core interest of the Bible.

Indeed, Biblical textual and archeological evidence minimize the prevalence of hunting among the Israelites. The findings on Mt. Ebal, an early Israelite worship site in Samaria (dated to Joshua’s settlement period, i.e., 12th Century B.C.E), might attest to it. Despite the discovery there of deer bones, the overwhelming percentage of the excavated bones – evidence of food consumed at this site by the ancient Israelites — was of livestock. After all, the flesh of their dairy and fleece flocks was readily available, especially since the charcoaled and seasoned meat flavor of goats is not different from venison (as we find out in Gen. 27:25, when Isaac expecting deer meat from Esau actually eats the kids meat that Jacob brings him and he can’t tell the difference ).

Deer must be laboriously harvested away from man’s habitation. Add to it the Torah’s constricting rules of slaying an animal and you come to understand the real challenges to normative hunting. The hunter must cover with soil any blood that was spilled, even along the animal’s “misery trail”, for the soul which is in the blood must return to the earth from which all life emerged.

“Leaving the blood out, exposed to the elements and to wild animals, shows disrespect” to the slain animal writes Rabbi Zev Farber. Burying the blood then is a gesture of respect in which the hunter expresses his shame and self-guilt upon gazing at the dispatched game’s soul before its flesh is eaten. Both when it comes to the burial of bloodied humans — not in the customary shrouds, but in and with those clothes — and the blood of dispatched game, the burial of their spilled blood is expressive of respect to the blood which is the soul. And it is reminiscent of another Torah requirement to bury by nighttime even a criminal’s carcass that was hung on a stake for “a corpse left hanging is a curse or blight to the departed spirit that once inhabited it”, if not “a disgrace or curse in the eyes of God” (Robert Alter). The Torah, then, is sensitive and reverential for the final respect due both to a human and a hunted animal.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook in his ‘’Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace’’ avers that covering the blood and making it disappear from sight is a moral caulking that alleviates somewhat the hunter’s shame and frail sense of morality. To cover the blood from top and below requires more time at the very site where the animal painfully breathed its last; it is akin to a “protest against God for the permission” to “snuff out the life of any sentient animal soul”, and to eat its meat out of “lust” in repudiation of”the sense of good and just.”

No wonder then why the Rabbis presumed that since “Isaac loved Esau for game was in his mouth,” the latter must have slaughtered properly his downed and bleeding game to render it “kosher”; a word that does not exist in the Bible.

About the Author
Ordained a Rabbi by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1994; in 2019 this institution accorded me the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa. Following ordination I served congregations on the island of Curacao, in Columbia, MO. Currently serving a congregation in Bend, Or. I received academic degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (B.A. in International Relations and History), New York University (M.A. in History), and Emory University (Ph.D. in U.S. History). I am the author of U.S. Policy on Jerusalem (Greenwood Press), and numerous articles on biblical themes in various print and digital publications. I have taught in several academic institutions, including Ben-Gurion University (Beersheba, Israel), and the University of Missouri (Columbia, MO). A native of Afula, Israel. A veteran of the IDF.
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