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Follow-up question regarding fish blood


Rabbi David Sperling

Iyyar 14, 5783
Shalom, Thank you so much for taking time to answer my question. This is particularly meaningful to me because it is difficult for me to find someone who even cares about the dietary law in Torah since most Christians (pastors and churchgoers) believe they are allowed to eat anything. For your information, below is your response to my first question. -----start line------ The law relating to blood of animals is found in Vayikra (Leviticus), chapter 7, verse 26 “You shall not eat any blood, whether it is of bird or of animal, in any of your dwellings.” The Hebrew word used in the Torah, which is translated as “animal” is “behamah”. This word always refers to land animals, such as cattle, sheep etc. The Hebrew for fish, “dag”, is used when referring to fish of the sea. (See, for example, the first chapter of Berashit (Genesis) where the “behamot” are created on the 6th day, as opposed to the fish, which are created on the 5th day.) So, the Torah commands us to treat the blood of birds and land animals (sheep and cattle etc), differently from that of fish -----end line----- It is true that the Hebrew for fish, “dag” is not mentioned in Leviticus 7:26, whereas this word was mentioned in Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish (ִדְגַ?ת (?i?·?a?)) of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” However, it seems Torah does not always draw a very clean line between fish and other animals (birds and land animals). It seems Torah uses certain word(s) to refer to both fish and other animals (birds or land animals). For example, in Leviticus 11:10 “But the following among all the teeming life and creatures (פֶשׁ (ne·p?e?)) in the water are detestable to you: everything in the seas or streams that does not have fins and scales.”, the Hebrew word “ֶ?פֶשׁ (ne·p?e?)” was used to refer to “creatures (in the water)” which must include fish. Interestingly, the Hebrew word “ֶ?פֶשׁ (ne·p?e?)” was used to refer not only fish, but also other animals, such as birds and land animals (Genesis 1:24, Genesis 2:19, Leviticus 11:46). Also, it appears to me that just because Leviticus 7:26 did not mention “fish”, it does not necessarily mean God has permitted humans to eat fish blood. For example, in Genesis 1:28, God said, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature (חַיָּ?ה (?ay·y?h)) that crawls (הָֽרֹמֶ?שֶׂת (h?·r?·me·?e?)) upon the earth.” There is no mention of the Hebrew word for quadruped (ְּהֵמָה? (b?·h?·m?h)), but it does not necessarily mean that God has not excluded quadruped (ְּהֵמָה? (b?·h?·m?h)) from the dominion of humans, as can be understood in Genesis 1:26. Similarly, in Genesis 8:1, “But God remembered Noah and all the animals and livestock that were with him in the ark. And God sent a wind over the earth, and the waters began to subside”, there is no mention of bird “בָּע?וֹף (b?·‘?·wp?)”, but it does not necessarily mean God failed to remember bird “בָּע?וֹף (b?·‘?·wp?)”, as can be understood in Genesis 8:17. Perhaps, the strongest point that favors the interpretation that the consumption of fish blood is also prohibited is the reason God gave for the prohibition of the consumption of blood. In Leviticus 17:14, God explains the reason as “For the life of all flesh (בָּשָׂ?ר (b?·??r)) is its blood. Therefore I have told the Israelites, ‘You must not eat the blood of any living thing (בָּשָׂ?ר (b?·??r)), because the life of all flesh (בָּשָׂר? (b?·??r)) is its blood; whoever eats it must be cut off.’ If the Hebrew word for flesh, בָּשָׂר? (b?·??r), does not include fish, then there is a strong ground to exclude fish from the prohibition of blood consumption. However, one can understand that the Hebrew word for flesh (בָּשָׂר? (b?·??r)) also includes fish, as is clear in Leviticus 11:9~11, “Of all [the creatures] that live in the water, whether salt water or fresh water, you may eat any that has fins and scales. But the following among all the teeming life and creatures in the water are detestable to you: everything in the seas or streams that does not have fins and scales. They shall be an abomination to you; you must not eat their meat (מִבְּשָׂרָם? (mib·b?·??·r?m)), and you must detest their carcasses.” It seems to me Torah prohibits the consumption of fish blood as well. What do you think? If you would invite other experts in Torah to this discussion/question, I would greatly appreciate it. I do wish to arrive at the truth on this subject once for all. Sincerely,
Shalom, Thank you for writing back to us. I understand from your response (I hope correctly, but if I’m wrong, please correct me), that you are a Christian, but your Pastors do not relate to your interest in the law of eating blood. Without getting involved in an issue that probably is not of my concern, I hope you’ll allow me to make the following observation. According to Jewish law, and our understand of the Torah, a non-Jew is not commanded to follow the laws of “kosher” – except for the Noachide law of not eating the limb torn from a living animal. We understand that the Torah laws were given to “the Children of Israel”, that is the Jewish people. So, if you were to ask me about you keeping this law or not – I would tell you that it does not apply to you. On the other hand, as a Christian, you would probably want to ask your own religious leaders as to what they say. As far as I know (and your letter seems to agree) your Church also does not think you need to follow this law (as the Christian church rejected the keeping of the commands between Man and G-d quite early in its history). So, with that said – I’m happy to continue writing, as you show a great love and respect for the words of G-d in the Torah, and a level of learning and understanding that is a pleasure to see. (May you be blessed with continued learning and understanding). So, in as an exercise in Bible study …. I don’t know if you are familiar with the Jewish approach to exegesis (Biblical study). We have an Oral Torah that accompanies our Bible studies. Let me quote for you a relevant text – this is from the Talmud, tractate Kritut page 20 folio B – (The following is taken from a text of the Talmud with additional exclamational comments interspersed) “GEMARA: The Sages taught in a baraita: The verse states: “And you shall consume no manner of blood” (Leviticus 7:26). I would derive from here that even with regard to the blood of bipeds, i.e., human beings, and the blood of eggs, the blood of grasshoppers, and the blood of fish, all these are included in the prohibition against consuming blood. Therefore, the verse states: “Whether it is of bird or of animal” (Leviticus 7:26). The baraita explains the derivation from the verse: Just as birds and animals are unique in that they have the capacity for both a light form of ritual impurity, if they become impure after they are slaughtered, in which case they are considered impure food, and a severe form of impurity, if they die without valid ritual slaughter, and they have the possibility of being forbidden or permitted, and they are a type of meat, so too, everything that has the capacity for both a light form of impurity and a severe form of ritual impurity, and has the possibility of being forbidden or permitted, and is a type of meat, is included in the prohibition. I will therefore exclude the blood of bipeds, as they have the capacity for a severe form of ritual impurity, i.e., the impurity of a corpse, but they do not have the capacity for a light form of ritual impurity, since the halakhot of the impurity of food do not apply to the human body.” [William Davidson digital edition of the Koren Noé Talmud, with commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Even-Israel]” I assume, that unless you have a good background in Talmudic, Oral-Torah, learning, this text will be very difficult to understand. Let me suffice to say that your question as to the meaning of the verse about “animals and bird” blood, has been examined by the Talmudic Rabbis, and, using the process of Talmudic reasoning, understood as not applying to fish. I hope this is of some help to you. Blessings.
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