March 28, 2024

One verse, five voices. Edited by Nina Litvak and Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

Any person who eats any blood, that soul shall be cut off from its people.

– Lev. 7:27

Denise Berger
Freelance writer, “Miracle in the Minutiae” columnist

What’s most interesting to me in this admonition is the part at the end, about the nation. The penalty of being cut off, kareit in Hebrew, is perhaps the most ominous in the Torah. There are different understandings of exactly what happens when someone is kareit. It might mean having one’s life cut short, it could mean dying without children so that the lineage is cut off, it can mean being disconnected from yourself or from relationship or joy. Part of what’s scary is that we don’t quite know. 

In the instance of eating blood, this parsha is telling us that the person’s soul will be cut off from the nation. To a modern reader, particularly one who eats non-kosher meat (which generally includes blood), this might seem somewhat drastic — even if we don’t know just what form that rupture will take. But it’s worth thinking about in a slightly different way. 

The soul is cut off, but not the entire person. This suggests that the person is still included with the activities of the nation, they just feel an internal disconnect. And the soul is cut specifically from the nation — not from the self, not from love, not from G-d. This carries the possibility of repair, because there is support. Despite the harsh tone, Hashem never leaves us without a way back. To me that’s the ultimate message.

Lori Shapiro
Rabbi, Open Temple

Our parsha reminds us of Torah’s consequence of the idolatrous act of consuming blood — one becomes kareit, or “cut off, separated” from their people. This edict alludes to a punishment from acts that defile rather than purify, and draws our attention to the choices we make  — are we human, or animal? Do we choose to draw God close through a relationship with Torah, or do we make choices that lead us into exile? 

With Passover on the horizon, the history of the blood libel intimidates like a sleeping beast. The blood libel, a medieval canard, claims that Jews require the blood of humans to bake matzoh. Historically, edicts from Muslim leaders prohibited this discrimination, and defined them as a slander. This was best exemplified in 1840, when European leaders enlisted Sultan Abdulmejid I of the Ottoman Empire to declare, “and for the love we bear to our subjects, we cannot permit the Jewish nation, whose innocence for the crime alleged against them is evident, to be worried and tormented as a consequence of accusations which have not the least foundation in truth …” 

May our entry into this Passover season, replete with conversations for peace, recollect this shared history of Muslims, Christians and Jews restoring dignity and humanity for one another; May the Holy Land be a shelter for peaceful celebrations of Eid, Passover and Easter; and may all of us cultivate a path of intimacy with the Divine through peace and wholeness for all. 

Rabbi Elchanan Shoff
Rabbi, Beis Knesses of Los Angeles

Maimonides (Guide 3:46) records (using the copious written material at his disposal from the ancient Sabeans) that until the time of the giving of the Torah, people believed that blood-eating connected them to demons (sheidim). Their rationale was this: Demons have the capacity to reveal useful things, and future predictions in one’s dreams, they believed. But one needs to create friendly connection to demons for them to be inclined to share knowledge. Dining with them would create connection, and demons eat blood! So they’d slaughter an animal into a vessel or ditch collecting the blood, and eat the meat along with the blood, imagining that they were sharing this meal with demons. This was understood and accepted in pre-biblical times as absolute fact. “There wasn’t a person among the masses,” says Maimonides, “who had any doubt that this was all true.” Torah came to enlighten us, prohibiting this behavior. Kosher meat is salted; great pains are taken to remove excess blood. Here’s a tremendous takeaway to consider the next time that you fulfill the mitzvah of eating only kosher meat. People generally accept whatever society believes, unflinchingly. Questioning what is “Truth” is always seen as absurd. That’s what Torah is for. No groupthink allowed. Living with uncertainty is healthy — part of life. Relying on demons and magic isn’t the solution, comforting as it may seem. “Question even the most well accepted things, don’t just accept them,” says the Jew, with every bite of blood-free kosher meat that he ingests. 

Rabbi Aryeh Markman
Executive Director, Aish LA

Why does the Torah have to command us not to ingest blood? It’s disgusting. 

Truth be told, if you are not eating kosher, then you are consuming blood. Part of the koshering process is to remove all “active” blood from meat. That’s the coarse salting process your great-grandmother used to perform in the bathtub. Grilling kosher meat and having the juice sizzle is not the blood the Torah is describing. Blood is dangerous to our spiritual health. It contains the brutish nature of the animal. In eating blood, you are intaking the animal’s bestial drives. That is anathema to being a Jew, where we strive to rise above our savage nature. 

Kabbalistically, our bad character traits reside in our blood. Our blood is a cocktail of life-giving oxygen and cell waste. Would you want to drink radioactive water if you were thirsty? Jewish factoid: Technically blood that hasn’t left the body, like blood in your gums, can be swallowed. Keep flossing!  

The Torah warns us if we do eat blood, we receive the most severe punishment, being cut off spirituality. Total oblivion upon death. This is not vengeance. It’s the result of poisoning the soul with the forbidden, with inevitably severs us from our life source — God. And now we understand why Israel is blamed for genocide and blood libels. These elements are despicable to us, and the world knows it. Our enemies self-project their own worst behaviors on the Jews, which assuages their guilt for their failings. 

Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Professor of Talmud, Yeshiva University

It may seem completely irrational but purveyors of propaganda long ago understood it: The more outlandish a lie the more powerfully and speedily it gains acceptance. 

So it was in the Middle Ages with an absurd antisemitic claim that cost the lives of countless innocent Jews — and so has an equally irrational condemnation surfaced today that makes a mockery of the world’s supposed sense of truth and morality. 

How was it possible for so long for “the big lie” to gain countless believers in the abhorrent falsehood — Jews slaughtered Christian babies before Passover because Torah law commanded Christian blood be a required ingredient of holiday matzah? Did no one know the gravity of the biblical sin that “any person who eats any blood shall be cut off from his people”? Was it not a preposterous claim that the very people who gave the world the ethical mandate against bloodshed — a religion that required even an egg with a bloodspot be discarded  — should demand innocent blood on the menu of their Passover festival? 

The more absurd the lie, Adolf Hitler proved, the better its chance for belief. And so too the victims of Oct. 7 — victims of a Hamas massacre that echoed the worst violence perpetrated against the Jews since the Holocaust — have incredibly been branded by much of the world as the villains. And their crime? The crime of genocide – a word which did not exist prior to 1944, coined by a Polish-Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, to describe the pioneering Nazi policies of systemic national murder. The “blood libels” of the Middle Ages have again found their irrational partner!

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