LECTURE 213: THE HISTORY OF THE DIVINE SERVICE AT ALTARS (XXIII) – THE HISTORY OF SLAUGHTERING NON-CONSECRATED ANIMALS AND EATING MEAT (XI)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

In recent shiurim, we discussed various aspects of the Torah's attitude toward blood in general and toward the obligation to cover the blood of a slaughtered beast or bird in particular, as reflected in the relevant chapters in the book of Bereishit and in chapter 17 in the book of Vayikra. We will now complete our examination of the issue of blood by considering the verses in chapter 12 in the book of Devarim.

 

In Devarim 12, the Torah relates to several aspects of the fact that after the people of Israel enter Eretz Yisrael, God will choose a place where they will offer their sacrifices. This stands in contrast to the Canaanites, who worship their gods "upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree," and also in contrast to the people of Israel's practice in the wilderness to offer sacrifices in all places. Now, when they come to "the rest and to the inheritance," the people of Israel will have to bring their sacrifices to the one place that God will choose. Similarly, they will have to eat their tithes, first-borns, first-fruits, and free-will offerings in that same place.

 

After the people of Israel enter Eretz Yisrael, many people will establish their permanent quarters far from the site of the Temple. The Torah therefore permits the slaughter of non-consecrated animals to their hearts' desire in all places, something that was forbidden to them in Vayikra 17.[1]

 

In this context, the Torah repeats the prohibition against eating blood. Together with its warning that sacrifices may only be offered in the place that God will choose, the Torah permits the slaughter and eating of non-consecrated animals in all places:

 

Nonetheless, you may slaughter animals and eat their flesh to your heart's desire, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has bestowed on you, throughout all your gates; the unclean and the clean may eat of it, as they do of the gazelle and deer. Only be strong that you not eat the blood; you shall pour it upon the earth like water. (Devarim 17:15-16)

 

Later in the chapter, when the Torah refers to eating meat at a distance from the Temple, it states:

 

Even as the gazelle and the deer is eaten, so shall you eat them; the unclean and the clean shall eat of them alike. Only be strong that you eat not the blood, for the blood is the life; and you may not eat the life with the meat. You shall not eat it; you shall pour it upon the earth like water. You shall not eat it; that it may go well with you and with your children after you, when you shall do that which is right in the sight of the Lord. (Devarim 12:22-25)

 

This contrasts with what the Torah commands about consecrated animals, which must be brought to the place that God will choose:

 

And you shall offer you burnt-offerings, the meat and the blood, upon the altar of the Lord your God; and the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out upon the altar of the Lord your God, and you shall eat the meat. Observe and hear all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you, and with your children after you forever, when you do that which is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God. (Devarim 17:27-28)

 

In this chapter, with the people of Israel's entry into Eretz Yisrael and the allowance to eat meat to their heart's desire, three new elements are introduced to what the Torah wrote about the prohibition to eat blood in the book of Bereishit and in the book of Vayikra:[2]

 

1. First, we note the Torah's emphasis on "Only be strong that you eat not the blood." Why does the Torah stress this here?

 

2. Second, "You shall pour it upon the earth like water." Why does the Torah state that the blood should be poured upon the earth as water? The Torah says this twice in this chapter, and a third time in Devarim 15 with respect to animals that had been consecrated to the altar but have blemishes.

 

3. Third, "You shall not eat it; that it may go well with you and with your children after you, when you shall do that which is right in the sight of the Lord." This too is stated twice in the chapter (vv. 24, 28).

 

On the one hand, careful observance of this law will yield benefit to the person observing it and to his children for all generations; on the other hand, there is a connection between this commandment and doing that which is good and right in the eyes of the Lord.

 

"Only be Strong that you eat not the blood; for the blood is the life; and you may not eat the life with the meat"

 

On the face of it, the identification of the animal's blood with its life and the prohibition to eat the blood and limbs of a living animal were already stated explicitly in Bereishit and Vayikra. Why does the Torah repeat the prohibition here, and why does it use the formulation "Only be strong that you eat not the blood"?

 

A. A predilection to eat blood

 

Rashi (ad loc.) cites the Sifri:

 

From the fact that it states "Be strong," you may learn that they had a predilection to blood, to the eating of it; it was therefore necessary to state "Be strong." This is the view of R. Yehuda.

 

B. To strengthen them in the observance of the commandments

 

R. Shimon ben Azzai says in the Sifri:

 

The verse comes only to warn you and to teach you the extent to which you must strengthen yourself in the observance of the commandments. If with respect to blood, which is easy to keep away from, for a person does not desire it, it was necessary to strengthen you with a warning against it, all the more so with respect to the other commandments.

 

A person does not lust after blood and it therefore should be easy to keep away from it, but nevertheless the Torah warns, "Only be strong that you eat not the blood," teaching by way of an a fortiori argument about the difficulty of observing the other commandments.

 

C. Blood is Deeply absorbed in all the organs

 

The Rashbam (ad loc.) offers a very practical and realistic explanation. Since blood is deeply absorbed in all the organs, special care and caution is required to properly remove it, and therefore a person needs strengthening in this area.

 

D. So that they not sacrifice to the Demons

 

The Ramban (as well as the Seforno) connects the Torah's warning, "Only be strong that you eat not the blood," to the danger of offering sacrifices to the demons:

 

The midrash of our Rabbis (Sifrei 42) regarding "Only be strong that you eat not the blood" and "You shall not eat it; that it may go well with you," is a beautiful midrash, in keeping with the wording of the text: That they had a great predilection for [blood], and therefore all of these warnings were necessary. And certainly that it was necessary to mention the prohibition [of blood], even though it does not mention the prohibition of fat. This explanation of our Rabbis truly accounts for the multiple warnings with which the Torah warns us against eating blood.

But it does not explain the wording that is used, "Only be strong that you eat not the blood," for what strength and courage is there in refraining from eating blood? It should have said, owing to its severity, "Take heed that you eat not the blood." We find the term "strength" in the commandment that the Holy One, blessed be He, gave to Yehoshua: "Only be strong and very courageous, and observe to do according to all the Torah which Moshe My servant commanded you" (Yehoshua 1:7). And similarly Yehoshua said to Israel: "Be therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the Torah of Moshe" (Yehoshua 23:6). This refers to all the commandments, "to keep" alluding to the negative commandments, and "to do" alluding to the positive commandments. But we do not find this with respect to a solitary commandment. Why is there a need for strengthening for a single negative commandment?

But it seems to me that strengthening is mentioned here because of their clinging to blood in Egypt. For they would always offer their sacrifices to the demons, as it is written: "And they shall no more offer their sacrifices to the demons, after whom they have gone astray" (Vayikra 17:7); and it is written: "They sacrificed to powerless demons" (Devarim 32:17). And that worship involved eating blood, for they would collect the blood for the demons, and they would eat of it, as if they were called to eat at those demons' table, and they would join with them. This was already mentioned in the Guide for the Perplexed (III: 46). Not that this is the primary reason for the prohibition of blood, for the verse spells out the reason: "For the blood is the life" (Vayikra 17:11). But because of this they had a predilection for blood and they chased after it, and they would prophesize and predict the future with it. or the prohibition of blood, for the verse spells out the reason: "For the blood is the lif

Therefore, Scripture comes and warns that if one should hear a prediction from one of these blood eaters and the sign comes true, he should not allow his heart to be enticed, but rather he should strengthen himself in his righteousness and trust in God and not eat of the blood in any way. He should not fear their words as they are vanity, an act of sorcery. It warns here as it warns about a false prophet because of his deceptions.

 

The Ramban first asks why the Torah uses the term "strengthening," a term that is used in connection with the commandments in God's words to Yehoshua. He explains that they would offer sacrifices to the demons, gather the blood for the demons, and, as it were, join with them by eating of the blood. Through this eating, they would prophesize and predict the future. In this sense, the command not to eat blood expresses the obligation that one must strengthen oneself in his righteousness and in his trust in God.

 

"You shall pour it On the ground like water"

 

A. Pouring blood like water - In contrast to bloodshed

 

R. Tz.D. Hoffman explains that while the blood of non-consecrated animals is not sprinkled on the altar, so that the reason given in Vayikra 17:11 for the prohibition against eating blood is not relevant here, one is nevertheless forbidden to eat blood. On the other hand, we are not commanded to cover the blood, as we are commanded with respect to the blood of a gazelle and a deer (Vayikra 17:13); rather, the blood must be poured on the ground – "and this is not deemed bloodshed."

 

Let us explain his words. The Torah commands (Vayikra 17:3-4):

 

What man there be of the house of Israel who kills an ox, or lamb, or goat in the camp, or that kills it outside the camp, and brings it not to the door of the Tent of Meeting, to offer an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, blood shall be imputed to that man; he has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people.

 

According to the plain sense of Scripture, in contrast to this prohibition, when the people of Israel entered Eretz Yisrael, they were granted an allowance to slaughter animals outside the camp, and therefore this is not deemed bloodshed. The contrast to pouring blood in the sense of murder is pouring blood on the ground like water.

 

B. Pouring blood like water – in contrast to covering the blood

 

The Ramban, in his commentary on Devarim,relates to the matter of pouring blood like water:

 

Since the Torah commands here that we should slaughter the animal and eat it as the gazelle and the deer are eaten, one might have understood that we should cover the blood, as we were commanded with regard to the gazelle and the deer (Vayikra 17:13). Therefore, it was necessary to allow us to pour the blood like water without covering it. This is why it says "upon the earth," and not "in the earth," that he should cover it with earth. And since it was necessary to mention the allowance concerning blood [that it need not be covered], it first explains the prohibition [that it may not be eaten].

Scripture was also concerned that people should not reason with respect to blood as follows: In the wilderness, when all of their cattle and sheep were peace-offerings, the meat was forbidden until the blood was sprinkled on the altar, for that is the law regarding sacrifices, that sprinkling the blood is indispensable for eating the meat. And the Torah commands with respect to the gazelle and the deer, which are not offered on the altar, that we should cover their blood with earth, and similarly with respect to birds, as birds are not offered as peace-offerings. Therefore, it should have been necessary with regard to the meat of non-consecrated cattle and sheep that we should cover it or eat it with the meat… Therefore, it says that one should slaughter the cattle or the sheep, and not eat the blood with the meat, but rather pour the blood on the ground and not eat it by itself or with the meat.

And for this reason it was necessary to repeat this again with respect to a blemished firstborn (Devarim 15:23), because its blood was initially meant for the altar. It was therefore necessary now to say that when it has a blemish, its blood should not be treated as having sanctity, nor should it be allowed, but rather one should pour it like water and not eat it.

It seems to me that the reason in this matter is that at the beginning, when they were in the wilderness, where the demons dance, and they were all people who had left Egypt and were accustomed to them, the Torah prohibited showing blood on the surface of the ground and sacrificing anywhere but before God's tabernacle, in order to distance them from that sin. But when they came to Eretz Yisrael and it was necessary to permit the meat of non-consecrated animals owing to the great distance, there was no concern in their houses about pouring the blood of cattle and sheep upon the ground. But as for the blood of beasts and birds that are hunted in the field and in the forest, regarding which the custom is to slaughter the animals there and bring them slaughtered to the house, the mitzva was left as is to cover their blood with dirt so that it would not be offered to the demons. (Devarim 12:23-25)

 

One might have thought that the Torah would require that that the blood of a slaughtered domesticated animal must be covered in the same way that one must cover the blood of a gazelle and a deer. The logic is as follows: In the wilderness, when cattle and sheep were offered as peace-offerings, the meat of the animals was forbidden until the blood was sprinkled on the altar. Since non-domesticated animals are not sacrificed on the altar, their blood must be covered.

 

On the face of it, it follows that there are two possibilities regarding blood:

 

1)    Sprinkling the blood on the altar in the case of domesticated animals that are offered as sacrifices.

2)    Covering the blood when the blood is not offered on the altar.

 

After the people of Israel entered Eretz Yisrael and were granted an allowance to eat the meat of non-consecrated animals, since the blood was not sprinkled on the altar, there are two possibilities:

 

1)    One is obligated to cover the blood.

2)    One is permitted to eat the blood along with the meat.

 

Regarding this new situation, the Torah forbids the eating of blood by itself or with the meat, and therefore the Torah mentions this law with respect to a blemished firstborn. In the book of Devarim, the Torah states:

And if there be any blemish in it, as if it be lame, or blind, or have any ill blemish, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God. You shall eat it within your gates; the unclean and the clean alike shall eat it, as the gazelle and the deer. Only you shall not eat its blood; you shall pour it upon ground like water. (Devarim 16:21-23)

 

According to the Ramban, since the blood cannot be sprinkled on the altar because of the blemish, one may eat the meat without the blood, and the blood should be poured upon the ground, similar to the blood of a slaughtered non-consecrated animal which is not offered on the altar.

 

Even with respect to a blemished animal, it would have been theoretically possible to require that the blood of the animal be sprinkled on the altar, but owing to the blemish this possibility falls away and the blood is not to be treated as having sanctity. On the other hand, the blood may not be eaten, and therefore it must be poured upon the ground like water.
 

The Ramban explains that a distinction must be made between the wilderness and Eretz Yisrael. In the wilderness, it was forbidden to shed the blood of an animal because of the concern regarding demon worship, and therefore it was forbidden for the blood to be seen on the surface of the ground. The only option was to sacrifice the animal to God, and in this way to distance oneself from the possibility of sin.

 

After the people of Israel left the wilderness and settled in Eretz Yisrael, the distance from the settlements to the Temple gave rise to the allowance to eat the meat of non-consecrated animals. If the blood of cattle or sheep fell to the ground, there was no concern that it would be offered to the demons, but as for the beasts and birds that are caught in the fields and the forests, the customary practice is to slaughter them there. Since there is a certain similarity between fields, forests, and the wilderness, the mitzva of covering the blood continued to apply to beasts and birds as it had applied in the wilderness.

 

R. Avraham Yitzchak Kook, in his Chazon Ha-Tzimchonut Ve-Ha-Shalom, also sees pouring the blood upon the ground as standing in contrast to covering the blood. As we explained in the past, R. Kook understands the covering of the blood of beasts and birds as a concealment of man's shame and moral weakness. Why, then, is one not obligated to cover the blood of a domesticated animal after the Torah permitted the slaughter of such an animal upon Israel's entry into Eretz Yisrael?

 

Regarding a domesticated animal, which is maintained by its owner, man is not yet worthy even of beginning to feel a shadow of shame when he slaughters it, since he maintained it and worried about its needs. Were the obligation to cover the blood of a slaughtered animal to apply even to a domesticated animal, the stirring of the moral stimulus would have been more than befits the Divine rod, according to the number of knocks that each action should make on the door of the closed human heart until it opens. "I sleep, but my heart wakes: hark, my beloved is knocking, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled" (Shir ha-Shirim 5:2)… The severe prohibition concerning blood suffices for us, as it in any case awakens the idea that shedding blood is not a moral virtue fit for man. If there were shame in the slaughter of domesticated animals, it would stir up a counter action that would accustom us to transgress the feeling of our inner morality, more than it would influence higher abstention in the end of days.

 

R. Kook, with his far-sighted vision, argues that if the obligation to cover the blood of a slaughtered animal would apply not only to non-domesticated animals and birds, but also to domesticated animals, whose food and care is provided by man, the moral stimulus would exceed the appropriate measure according to the Divine plan in consideration of the current reality. Therefore, the Torah sufficed with the imposition of the prohibition concerning blood, which highlights for man that shedding blood is not a moral virtue fit for him.

 

In the continuation, R. Kook explains that regarding the hunting of non-domesticated animals and birds which do not rely on man for their food, it is fitting that man should be ashamed of taking the life of an animal for the sake of his own needs, this being an act of cruelty that has no place. This is not true regarding domesticated animals, which man sustains at times even when they grow old and can no longer work. Therefore, the Torah permits the pouring of such an animal's blood on the ground and does not require that the blood be covered, as is required in the case of non-domesticated animals and birds, which do not receive their food from man.

 

R. Kook writes as follows:

 

16. A change in the attitude toward undomesticated animals, birds and domesticated animals:

If a person would reach this virtue from the beginning, to understand… that an animal that he does not maintain, that he does not provide with food, but rather he falls upon it and hunts and eats it, that it is an injustice to take its life for his own needs, and that it is appropriate to be ashamed of this moral abasement… no less that he is ashamed of any other moral abasement in him. He will still not reach with this the much higher moral feeling, to feed the animals that are dependent upon him, the domesticated animals, even when they are old and they can no longer provide work, because of the moral recognition, which stems from recognizing the ways of God, which are filled with righteousness and truth.

Therefore, it is impossible that the slaughter of undomesticated animals and birds, which for the most part are hunted, should be on par with the slaughter of domesticated animals, which for the most part are set on their feeding troughs, sustained through the efforts of their owners, and which fall upon them as a burden when the get old and are no longer fit for work. Therefore, it would be impossible for the obligation to cover the blood to apply to domesticated animals. "You shall pour it on the earth like water" (Devarim 12:16).

 

C. Pouring blood like water - a practical way to make the blood inedible

 

The Seforno in his commentary writes:

 

Act in such a manner that [the blood] will not be fit to eat – that is, pour it on the ground like water, and do not store it away in the way that one stores away wine, oil, and other liquids for eating and drinking. (Devarim 12:24, s.v. lo tokhlenu)

 

According to the Seforno, pouring the blood on the ground like water is the opposite of storing away the blood for eating and drinking, as is done with wine and oil.

 

In the next lesson, we will complete our study of Devarim 12 and summarize the Torah's attitude toward the slaughter of non-consecrated animals, eating non-consecrated animals and the blood of living creatures.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 



[1] As may be recalled, R. Akiva and R. Yishmael disagree about what was permitted and what was forbidden during the period of the Mishkan in the wilderness. According to R. Yishmael, the only meat that could be eaten was the meat of peace-offerings, whereas according to R. Akiva, the meat of all non-consecrated animals was permitted even without ritual slaughter. There is a corresponding disagreement about what changed when Israel entered Eretz Yisrael: According to R. Yishmael, now the meat of non-consecrated animals was permitted in all places, whereas according to R. Akiva, even non-consecrated animals has to undergo ritual slaughter. We will deal with this issue at length in a future shiur. In this shiur,we will consider the Torah's attitude toward blood after the people of Israel entered Eretz Yisrael.

[2] As stated, in this shiur we will relate exclusively to the matter of blood, and not to the allowance to eat the meat of non-consecrated animals, to which we will dedicate a separate shiur.