Biblical Bloodwork

As we begin the book of Vayikra/ Leviticus, we read of a myriad of sacrificial offerings that were employed by the Israelite priests in the Tabernacle and later in the temples in Jerusalem. There were several types of animals and several types of sacrifices, but there is a constant throughout all of the offerings and that is the prohibition of consuming blood. Even today, part of the Kosher preparation process is the removal of blood through soaking and salting. Why is the meat of kosher animals permitted, but the blood proscribed?

The Torah lists seven times the prohibition of consuming blood. Two of the verses are in the beginning of the book of Vayikra:


חֻקַּ֤ת עוֹלָם֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם בְּכֹ֖ל מוֹשְׁבֹֽתֵיכֶ֑ם כׇּל־חֵ֥לֶב וְכׇל־דָּ֖ם לֹ֥א תֹאכֵֽלוּ׃

It is a law for all time throughout the ages, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood.


 וְכׇל־דָּם֙ לֹ֣א תֹאכְל֔וּ בְּכֹ֖ל מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶ֑ם לָע֖וֹף וְלַבְּהֵמָֽה׃

And you must not consume any blood, either of bird or of animal, in any of your settlements.

The commentators provide explanations why blood is not biblically acceptable:

  1. Since blood is the life force of a creature, it is symbolic of a soul and would be inappropriate to consume.

  2. Since it is the life force of an animal, there is a concern that a person would acquire some of the animalistic characteristics of the food.

  3. Finally, since blood, the sacred life force is used as part of the atonement process, it is off limits and not to be consumed.

One final question: how come at the beginning of Genesis, Man was not permitted to consume animals at all, and only after the Flood of Noach was animal consumption permitted but animal blood prohibited? How can we understand this?

Rabbi Dovid Leibel explains that while both man and animal were created as living beings by G-d, it is only man that was created in the Divine Image and was meant to rule over the Animal Kingdom. During the age of the Flood, humanity lost sight of their supremacy, therefore after the Flood when the world was reset anew, G-d demonstrated the supremacy of man over the animal kingdom by permitting the consumption of animal flesh. However, due to the sanctity of life generally, blood remains prohibited.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence