Volume 2 Issue 25
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Blood. At worst, it invokes ghastly images of death and war. At best, it
represents life-saving transfusions. On any scale it is not appetizing. It
is for that reason that it is difficult to comprehend the repeated warnings
and admonitions that the Torah makes concerning the consumption of blood.
Beginning this week, there are three warnings in the Torah concerning the
prohibition of consuming blood. There is a specific verse that tells
parents to admonish their children and discourage any thought they may have
of eating or drinking blood.
Leviticus 22:26-27: You shall not consume blood... from fowl or
animal. Any soul that consumes blood will be cut off from his people.
Leviticus 17:10-12: Any man of the House of Israel and of the
proselyte who dwells among them, consume any blood -- I shall concentrate
My attention upon the soul consuming blood, and I will cut it off from its
Deuteronomy: 12:23: Only be strong as not to eat blood...
Rashi quotes the words of Rav Shimon Ben Azai: "if blood, which is so
repulsive, needs such dire warnings surely one must take great precaution
not to succumb to sins that are appealing." Rabbi Yehudah explains the
repetitive admonitions in the context of history. During that era, many
nations would actually indulge in blood-drinking ceremonies. Thus the Torah
exhorts the Jewish nation on that matter. In any case, it is quite apparent
that both Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yehudah were bothered by repeated
warnings, which should be unnecessary. It is difficult to comprehend why
the Torah spends more energy warning, admonishing, and exhorting the Jews
against blood-consumption than against most other prohibitions that are
much more alluring.
Also, why is this one of only two prohibitions that our sages interpreted
an extra verse, as "a warning for parents to admonish their children." Why
does this prohibition surpass the norm of parental supervision that is
required by any other Mitzvah?
An old Jewish story has a devoutly religious woman running into a Chasidic
Rebbe as she was crying uncontrollably.
"Rebbe," she cried, "it's my son. He went absolutely meshuga. He started
acting totally insane. Even you won't be able to help him. He needs a
"What's the matter?" Asked the Rebbe.
"The matter?" She cried. "He's crazy! He's acting like a gentile! He
dances with gentile women and began dining on pig!"
The Rebbe looked to the poor woman as he tried to put her problems in
"If he would dance with pigs and dine on women, I would say that he is
crazy. But the way you describe him he is not crazy at all. I'd just say
that he is becoming a very lascivious young man. And I can deal with that."
On a homiletic note, perhaps, we can explain the Torah's passionate
admonitions about blood. The Torah understood the test of time. Acts that
are considered vile and obscene by today's standard may be accepted as the
norm tomorrow. Societies change and attitudes change with them. The ten
greatest problems of the 1950's public school class may be considered
decent, if not meritorious, behavior today. The Torah understood that
society changes. Therefore it admonishes us on the lowest form of behavior
with the same intensity as if it would be the normal custom. And it tells
us to pass these specific admonitions to our children. We can not dismiss
the warnings by thinking, "drinking blood is bizarre behavior. Why should
my children need to worry about it?" The Torah says, even if something may
be base and bizarre to our generation, if it's Torah it must be told to our
children. It is impossible to know what the next generation will consider
repulsive and what it may consider fashionable. Today's revulsion may be
tomorrow's bloodsport. Times change and people change, but Torah remains
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