The prohibition of blood is repeated multiple times in Torah: in Vayikra 3:17 and Vayikra 7:26-27 in the context of the Korban Shelamim and laws of fat, in Vayikra 17 and Devarim 12 when speaking of the obligation to sacrifice in the Mikdash and the laws of meat eaten for pleasure (בשר תאווה),1 and in Devarim 15:23 in connection with the laws of blemished firstborns.2 Two other verses, as well, might allude to the ban, though these are less explicit and open to interpretation. In Bereshit 9:4, Hashem commands Noach, "אַךְ בָּשָׂר בְּנַפְשׁוֹ דָמוֹ לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ" and in Vayikra 19:26, the nation is commanded, "לֹא תֹאכְלוּ עַל הַדָּם".3
This seven-fold repetition of the prohibition suggests that Torah views the consumption of blood as a very severe offense. What, though, is problematic about the deed? Why is blood off limits to man?
Vayikra 17 contains the most elaborate discussion of the issue, including a multi-faceted explanation for the prohibition:
(י) וְאִישׁ אִישׁ מִבֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל וּמִן הַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכָם אֲשֶׁר יֹאכַל כׇּל דָּם וְנָתַתִּי פָנַי בַּנֶּפֶשׁ הָאֹכֶלֶת אֶת הַדָּם וְהִכְרַתִּי אֹתָהּ מִקֶּרֶב עַמָּהּ. (יא) כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם הִוא וַאֲנִי נְתַתִּיו לָכֶם עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לְכַפֵּר עַל נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם כִּי הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר. (יב) עַל כֵּן אָמַרְתִּי לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כׇּל נֶפֶשׁ מִכֶּם לֹא תֹאכַל דָּם וְהַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכְכֶם לֹא יֹאכַל דָּם.
These verses make three points about blood, implying that each plays some role in the reason for the prohibition: it is home to the animal's soul ("נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם הִוא"), it is sprinkled on the altar ("וַאֲנִי נְתַתִּיו לָכֶם עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ"), and it atones ("כִּי הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר").
- What is the relationship between these factors? Are these distinct reasons for the prohibition of blood, or do the various points complement and explain each other? If the latter, which is the primary concern that leads to the ban?
- What is the import of the fact that "נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם הִוא", and why should this forbid its consumption?4
- Why is it that blood specifically was chosen both to be dedicated to Hashem and to atone, and how might this relate to the reason for the prohibition? Moreover, if the prohibition stems from the role played by blood in the sacrificial service, why is the ban not limited to the blood of animals fit for sacrifice?5
The Larger Context
How might the differing contexts of the various directives regarding blood shed light on the prohibition?
- Bereshit 9:4 –The command to Noach is sandwiched between the directive that he may eat meat and the prohibition against murder. Does this imply that the prohibition is a direct outgrowth of the permissibility to eat meat?6 Moreover, does the placement suggest that the consumption of blood is viewed as being somewhat comparable to the act of murder?
- Vayikra 3:17 and Vayikra 7:26 – Does the juxtaposition of the prohibition of blood and fat in these chapters suggest that the two share a common reasoning?
- Vayikra 177 – The first half of Vayikra 17 discusses the Wilderness period prohibition to slaughter meat for food if not part of the sacrificial service (בשר תאווה)8 and the prohibition to sacrifice to Hashem outside of the Mikdash (שחוטי חוץ). The verses explain that this was instituted so that the people not sacrifice to demons, and transgressors are compared to those who spill blood. How might these laws and reasoning bear on the prohibition to eat blood?
- Vayikra 19:26 – Finally, the prohibition, "לֹא תֹאכְלוּ עַל הַדָּם" in Vayikra 19 is followed by a warning against divination. Might this suggest that the ban regarding blood, too, is connected to magical practices?
Sprinkling, Covering or Spilling?
The Torah mandates three distinct practices of what should be done with the prohibited blood of slaughtered animals. Blood of sacrificial animals is sprinkled on the altar, blood of non-domesticated animals, not fit to be sacrificed, is covered, and, finally, the blood of domesticated animals slaughtered for food is simply spilled on the ground. What accounts for the difference in law? Why is it only non-domesticated animals whose blood is covered? What is the goal of this practice regardless?9