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In the Bible there is an absolute prohibition on the consumption of blood. The blood of an animal must be drained before the flesh may be eaten (Lev. 3:17; 7:26; 17:10–14; Deut. 12:15–16, 20–24). This prohibition is not found anywhere else in the ancient Near East. Moreover, within Israelite legislation it is the only prohibition (coupled with murder) enjoined not on Israel alone but on all men (Gen. 9:4). It is thus a more universal law than the Decalogue.

That none of Israel's neighbors possesses this absolute and universally binding prohibition means that it cannot be a vestige of a primitive taboo, but the result of a deliberate, reasoned enactment. This is clear from the rationale appended to the law: blood is life (Lev. 17:11, 14; Deut. 12:23). Men (the sons of Noah) are conceded the right to eat meat, if they drain off the lifeblood, which belongs to the Creator (Gen. 9:3–4, see *Noachide Laws ). Israel has an additional obligation to drain the blood of sacrificial animals on the authorized altar, "for it is I who have assigned it to you upon the altar to expiate for your lives; for it is the blood, as life, that can expiate" for your lives when you take the animal's life for its flesh (Lev. 17:11; cf. verse 4; see *Atonement ).

An unresolved problem is presented by a second blood prohibition, differently worded: loʾ toʾkhelu ʿal ha-dam ("do not eat over the blood"; Lev. 19:26; I Sam. 14:32–33; Ezek. 33:25). Various interpretations of this have been offered: in one, ʿal is interpreted as "with" (so LXX, ad loc.; for usage, cf. Ex. 12:8; 23:18; Lev. 23:18, 20; et al.). Thus, the two prohibitions are synonymous: both forbid blood as food. A second interpretation holds that ʿal means "over," figuratively. The situation envisaged is that the blood has not been consumed, but has been spilled to the ground instead of being brought to the altar. Such a profane disposition of the blood is forbidden by this law. This accords with the requirement of the priestly code (and of King Saul, I Sam. 14:32–33) that all permitted flesh must be sacrificed (Lev. 17:11, above). However, it is not in agreement with the Deuteronomic Code, which allows profane slaughter and expressly orders that blood be spilled upon the ground (Deut. 12:15, 21–22). ʿAl has also been interpreted as "over," literally, in which case the prohibition refers to a pagan rite (see Ibn Ezra and Samuel b. Meir (Rashbam) on Lev. 19:26, and Maimonides, Guide, 3:46). According to a recent formulation of this view by Grintz, it harks back to the worship of underground deities, who drank the blood out of a pit in which the animal was slaughtered (e.g., Odyssey, 10:530–40).

Blood plays a pervasive role in the cult. When daubed on the horns of the *altar or sprinkled inside the sanctuary (see *Sacrifices ), it purges ritual impurity (see *Atonement ; *Day of Atonement ). It may also serve this purgative function in the initial rites of purifying the leper (Lev. 14:4–6, 18–29; cf. verses 49–53; see *Leprosy ), and in consecrating the priest (Ex. 29:20–21, 33). When dashed upon the side of the altar, as in the case of animals sacrificed for food (see above), its purpose is to expiate sin (see *Kippur ). It also operates as an apotropaic to ward off future harm, e.g., by smearing the paschal blood on doorposts and lintels (Ex. 12:7, 13, 22–23). This usage may also underline the rites of covenanting (dam berit; Ex. 24:6–8) and circumcising the Israelites (Ex. 4:24–26; Ezek 16:6).

[Jacob Milgrom]

In Halakhah

The prohibition of blood enjoined in the Bible is defined by the Talmud as referring to the blood of cattle, beasts, and fowl, and prescribes the punishment of *karet for the consumption of the minimum amount of the volume of an olive (Ker. 5:1). The blood for which one is so liable is "the blood with which the soul emerges," i.e., the lifeblood, but not the blood which oozes out subsequently, or blood in the meat. Blood of all other creatures, fish, locusts, and human blood, is permitted according to the rabbinical interpretations of biblical law, although according to one source (Tanna de-Vei Eliyahu Rabbah, 15) human blood is equally forbidden by the Bible. All authorities agree, however, that it is forbidden by rabbinic law (Maim. Yad, Ma'akhalot Asurot, 6:2). The Talmud uses the peculiar phrase "bipeds" (Ker. 20b), and although all the halakhic authorities regard this phrase as a synonym for humans (Sh. Ar., YD 66: 10), J.S. *Bloch , in answer to the *blood accusation whose fomenters quoted this passage in support of their allegation, put forward the intriguing suggestion that it actually refers to simians. Although the content, which enumerates "blood of bipeds, the blood found in eggs, the blood of locusts and of fish" would appear to lend some support to this view, it must be regarded as belonging to the realm of apologetics. Nevertheless, the repugnance felt by Jews for blood caused an extension of the prohibition even of permitted blood "because of appearances" if it were collected in a vessel. Thus it is permitted to swallow the blood from one's bleeding teeth and suck one's bleeding finger, but should a piece of bread, for instance, be stained by blood it must be discarded. Similarly the blood of fish collected in a vessel is forbidden (Ker. 21b).

The prohibition of blood is confined to its consumption; it is, however, permitted for other uses, and the Mishnah (Yoma 5:6) states that the sacrificial blood which flowed into the brook of *Kidron was collected and sold to gardeners as fertilizer. For the most extensive prohibition of blood, the need for its removal from meat before it is fit for Jewish consumption, see *Dietary Laws .

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]

Menstrual Blood

The biological reality that women regularly menstruate is central to biblical and rabbinic constructions of the female. Prohibitions against male contact with menstrual blood, deeply rooted in the cultures of the ancient Near East, appear in Leviticus 11–15, where the niddah, the menstruating or postpartum woman, is listed among a number of threats to male ritualpurity. Leviticus 18:29 specifies sexual contact with a niddah as among those sinful acts punished severely by karet, or extirpation from the community. In Leviticus 18:9 and 20:18 such contact is part of a list of prohibited sexual unions that has nothing to do with ritual purity. Even when the purity system lapsed after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., the prohibition of union with a menstruant endured.

Menstrual blood, an indication of the failure of fertility in women's natural cycle of fruitfulness, is strongly linked with death in rabbinic Judaism. In a religious system which likened ritual impurity to a state of spiritual extinction, periodic female flows of blood were repugnant to men both as a potential source of ritual pollution and as a reminder of women's supposed responsibility for human mortality. Several aggadic passages suggest that women menstruate as punishment or atonement for spilling the blood (dam) in perpetuity of Adam (adam), who is designated "the blood of the Holy One, blessed be He" or "the blood of the world" (ARNB 9, 42; Gen. R. 17:8, Tanḥ. Noah 1).

[Judith R. Baskin (2nd ed.)]


J. Milgrom, in: Interpretation (July 1963), 288–301; E. Isaac, in: Anthropos, 59 (1964), 444–56; J. Grintz, in: Zion, 31 (1966), 1–17; D.J. Mc-Carthy, in: JBL, 88 (1969), 166–76; M. Greenberg, Understanding Exodus, 2 part 1 (1969), 110–22. IN HALAKHAH: ET, 7 (1956), 422–40ff. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J.R. Baskin, Midrashic Women (2002); S.J.D. Cohen, "Menstruants and the Sacred in Judaism and Christianity," in: S.B. Pomeroy (ed.), Women's History and Ancient History (1991), 273–99; H. Eilberg-Schwartz. The Savage in Judaism (1990).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.