Meat taken from a living animal and “there aught to be a law”

Every now and again, I like to think about one of the seven laws, go through its basic principles and just revise that law. By “revise,” I mean the sort of revising someone does to prepare for an exam, looking through previous notes to absorb and retain info. So first I’ll write down what I think the core details are – that’s my main aim here, not necessarily the extensions – and then I’ll compare with the resources I have.

So one of the laws is known as “eiver min hachai,” or the prohibition against eating meat taken from an animal while that animal is alive.

So this does not mean it is forbidden to take meat or a limb from an animal while it’s alive. It means that it is forbidden to eat that meat.

This prohibits the eating of the meat, not the blood. The core command does not forbid the blood taken from a living animal. Also, once the animal is dead, there is no prohibition regarding the blood. I remember, as a christian in a non-mainstream denomination, thinking I had to wash the meat or soak it to remove the blood. It is a command for Jews to remove the blood, but it is not so for us Gentiles. So we can wash meat out of logical hygiene, but there is no divine command upon us to be scrupulous about the removal of blood.

Essentially, our aim should be to make sure an animal is fully dead before eating it. That death refers to death with a total cessation of movement. If a person cuts the meat and afterwards the animal spasms, then the cut meat is forbidden.

It doesn’t matter if that meat gets packaged, frozen, stored for days or weeks. None of that matters. The issue is this: was the animal dead before the meat was taken?

I’m not quite sure the prohibition includes the bone. I’ll have to check the resources when I get to the next section.

This prohibition does not cover insects and it doesn’t cover … ah, I was about to type birds, but it’s not “birds” as we define it. It is more properly “flying things.” So the prohibition doesn’t cover insects or flying things or water creatures, like fish. It seems limited roughly or generally to what we call “mammals.”

Ok, so that’s the core prohibition. Let me compare that to the resources I have. (I am writing this “chronologically,” so any mistakes I’ve made will remain to be corrected by what follows.)

Rashi says this when commenting on Genesis 9:4:

flesh with its soul: He prohibited them [to eat] a limb [cut off from] a living creature; i.e., as long as its soul is in it, you shall not eat the flesh. — [from Sanh. ad loc.] [i.e., if the limb is cut from the animal while it is alive, it is forbidden to be eaten even after the animal expires.]
with its soul, its blood: As long as its soul is within it.
flesh with its soul…you shall not eat: This refers to a limb of a living creature. And also, its blood, you shall not eat-This refers to blood of a living creature. — [from above source]

Then let’s see what Rambam says. He agrees mainly with what’s been said above but disagrees on a certain point. This is from Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and their Wars, Chapter 9, halakhot 10 to 12. It does continue to 13 but nothing significant is added there for the purposes of this article.

(10) Similarly, a gentile is liable for violating the prohibition against eating a limb or flesh from a living creature. This applies regardless of the amount involved, for the specification of minimum amounts only applies to Jews.

A gentile is permitted blood from a living creature.

(11) The prohibition applies to a limb or flesh that is separated from either a domesticated animal or a beast. However, it appears to me that a gentile is not executed for eating a limb taken from a living bird.

(12) Though one slaughters an animal, even if one severs the two signs that distinguish it as having been slaughtered in a kosher manner, as long as the animal moves convulsively, the limbs and meat which are separated from it are forbidden to a gentile because of the prohibition against a limb from a living creature.

The words I emphasised shows the difference between Rashi and Rambam. Let’s see what Ramban can add to this.

Rashi writes: flesh with its soul means while its soul, i.e., its life, is still in it. – The verse means: flesh with its soul you shall not eat. Thus you have the prohibition against eating limb which is severed from a living animal. And, in addition, blood you shall not eat. Thus you have the prohibition against eating blood drawn from a live [animal].

[Ramban clarifies the essence of Rashi’s interpretation:]
Accordingly, [Scripture] is saying, Flesh with its soul “and” the blood of [such flesh], you shall not eat.[4]

[Ramban disagrees with Rashi’s interpretation and presents his own:]
But this explanation, according to the plain meaning of the verse, is not sound.[5] Furthermore, even according to rabbinical exegesis, [Rashi’s explanation] is not halachically true. For the Noahides were only commanded concerning refraining from eating a limb that was severed from a living [animal], as is the opinion of the majority of the Sages, but not concerning eating blood drawn from a living [animal], as is the opinion of Rabbi Chanina ben Gamliel (Sanhedrin 59a).[6]
Rather, the interpretation [of the verse] is: But flesh with its soul – which is its blood – you shall not eat, for the soul of any creature is its blood.[7] (taken from “The Torah: with RambaN’s commentary, translated, annotatated, and elucidated, Bereishis/Genesis” where Ramban comments on Genesis 9:4)

As the explaining footnotes are very helpful, let me quote them too.

4. i.e., Rashi understands its soul and its blood as two separate terms, and the verse thus includes two distinct prohibitions: (1) a limb from a living animal, (2) blood from a living animal.

5. There is no conjunctive [vav or waw] (“and”) preceding the word [damo, “its blood”] to justify interpreting the verse as, and its blood.

6. Ramban is noting that though Rashi’s interpretation of the verse does concur with the opinion of Rabbi Chanina, it is only the minority view, and it is not accepted as halachah.

7. Leviticus 17:14. Hence, the term soul and blood express a single concept and, unlike Rashi, our verse includes only the prohibition against eating a limb of a live animal … (.ibid)

To refer to a few modern books, I’ll start with The Divine Code, by rabbi Moshe Weiner. On page 303 it says,

… a Gentile is liable for a capital sin only for eating eiver min ha’chai meat from mammals (in the specific conditions explained in topics 1:12 and 3:1 which follow), but not from birds.

I do know that rabbi Moshe Weiner says that the prohibition applies to more creatures, but I’m focusing only on what is part of the core seven laws, that which makes a person liable. According to the Talmud and others, what is part of the seven laws makes a person liable. Hmmm … Maybe someday I can do another article about how the core commands blossom out into much wider teachings.

Please note, I’m using this quote as it is concise and encompasses a lot without me having to add too many quotes.

Anyway, let’s carry on with the info from the resources. A few more from the Divine Code.

The prohibition against consuming flesh from a living animal does
not apply to fish and insect-like creatures. (.ibid, page 300)

Blood from a living animal is not included in this prohibition. (.ibid, page 303)

A little aside, page 307, topic 3 says bone is not included in the core prohibition.

In rabbi Mikhael Shelomo bar-Ron’s book, Guide for the Noahide, Part 2, section 6, he writes this:

Not to eat raw flesh or cooked meat removed from an animal before it has completely cease to convulse after slaughter or death by other means, be it a domesticated or non-domesticated mammal, from pure species (that can be offered on the altar) or impure species (that cannot be offered). Again: the capital prohibition for non-Jews does not apply to bird flesh and certainly not fish …

… There was never a Divine prohibition against consuming blood that was removed from a non-living animal for non-Jews; only for Israel. Despite the overly literal reading, blood — even from a living creature — is not forbidden for Noahide consumption. (Laws of Kings & Wars 14-17[10-14])

I could quote from other resources that I have. I love the way Elisheva Barre’s book, Torah for Gentiles, puts this across. But when it comes to discussing the practical parts of the law, it’ll just be a rephrasing of what has been said before.

Now, going through the different books, it’s amazing how much more there is to this law: the deeper meaning to the law, the possible reasons for it, the lessons and principles that are not the core but are still important to know. Believe me, I think this law is taken for granted. I think this law, like the law of Dinim/Justice, is not given as much airtime as other laws, like that of murder or idolatry, but for a different reason than the law of Justice.

I’ve heard people say it’s too simple, that it is obvious, that people keep it nowadays naturally. But again, the principle of making sure an animal is actually and fully dead before partaking of it … it requires a patience and attention that, I believe, is easy to just brush past. Does everyone have the same definition of death? I think there is an importance in this law that is too easily brushed aside.

Anyway, that’s all where it comes to the law.

But there is an objection that I’ve heard which I want to tackle here. Someone said, with disgust, that this law allows a person to eat even roadkill. The objection was against the seeming basic nature of this law. The implication was that there aught to be a divine law against eating certain other dead creatures like roadkill.

To me, there is a morality to this law that I can’t help but respect. What is it? Make sure an animal has absolutely no chance of having to experience the removal of a limb while it is conscious. And then once that animal is dead, then you can start the chopping, cooking and eating process.

Now, what is immoral about eating an animal that has died? Even if it died from a road accident or whatever vehicular means, where’s the immorality? There aught to be a law? Really? Even if there is a question about hygiene, is it really just and right to punish a Gentile for eating roadkill? I don’t think so.

Remember, the seven laws, although quite a detailed system, is the bedrock, something foundational for a non-Jew to build upon. And I believe that truly appreciating the laws, even this one, can lead to a morality that exceeds them.

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15 Comments

  1. Andrew Overall

    An excellent article David. Kol hakavod!
    I will add to your comment regarding the attiude on the supposed easiness of observing ever min hachai.
    The majority observe ever min hachai by accident as a result of a combination of state and market forces guided by hygiene and science. But I don’t believe there are accidents. Or better to say, the Hand of HaShem shows more than we imagine. So while the American market at large has come onto this Torah compliance unawares and out of sekhel (reason), it is a blessing all the same.
    Jacob Scharff (as well as our rabbi) conducted very thorough research on the practice of slaughter, at least for the US, some years ago. And our findings, and those of other rabbis knowledgeable of US slaughter, found the vast majority of meat sold in the US does not pose to consumers in transgressing this law.
    So while this Divine law may appear easy, again for Americans, it is only because mass marketing and ready made food are the norm – someone else did all the work far out of sight and out of mind. People don’t know the origin or quality of our meat. Not without research anyway, which itself shouldn’t be too difficult. And we leave it to the market and state (for better and worse) to make the determination of what is fit for our plates. Yet outsourcing responsility does not excuse us from our own Divine obligation to be mindful of what we use, for all is owned by and lent to us by the Creator.
    By the way, the mindfulness of animal suffering is not so recent, but a matter encoded into US law with the “Humane Slaughter Act” in 1901. And while definitions were not aware of Torah law, and observance and enforcement imperfect, it does say something positive about a society that is at least was willing to strive to move away from savage behavior, if only on paper. Start somewhere.

    • Fantastic comment, Andy. A great addition to the article. muchas gracias

  2. May I repost this on my blog site?

    • Of course, my friend. Mi casa es su casa.

  3. Hrvatski Noahid

    I agree that this law is taken for granted. Many people say that all 7 laws are too simple and obvious. Serious Noahide scholars know that the 7 have endless details. Every time I reread the Divine Code, I learn something new.

    Since Rashi is the foremost Torah commentator, that he failed to give the majority Torah Law amazes me. It shows that his authority is not absolute. Since we do not have a commandment to learn Torah, I think that learning the Written Torah even with commentaries is a waste of time for Gentiles.

    I too wish to address the roadkill disgust. Our subjective feelings regarding HaShem’s Will mean nothing. Logical reasons for following the 7 laws mean nothing. I can give a thousand logical reasons why murder is good. Killing idiots creates a more intelligent and productive society. Murdering the poor means that resources will be used in the arts and sciences.
    The **only** reason murder is wrong is because HaShem said so. If He commanded us to eat meat taken from a living animal, we would do so.

    • Amen and amen! A lot of no-nonsense truth there. Thanks.

      How did you come to the conclusion that Rashi is “the foremost Torah commentator?” Or that his authority is absolute?

      Actually, there is loads of value in learning the written Torah. Loads. It teaches about so much relevant to Gentiles that to put it aside is dangerous. In this age of secularism and science worship, God’s voice in Torah, the written Torah, challenges us, just like it challenged the Egyptian mindset during the plagues. It’s God in control, not the Egyptian gods. It’s God in control, not the laws of forces of nature. It gives us our real history, not the clumsy ape (simian) becoming a man. It tells of God’s right over the lives of every single human and the land. The written Torah points to more rational obligations for humanity on a whole and the distinction God set up between Israel and the nations. And it has so many levels to teach on marriage, raising children, dealing with friends and enemies, just so much. To call it a waste is to miss out on too much, including aspects of the seven laws.

      But the absolute nature of God’s morality … oh, HRV, how can I argue against that? That’s where I live.

  4. Hrvatski Noahid

    You asked how I came to the conclusion that Rashi is the foremost Torah commentator.
    I blame the Jews: https://asknoah.org/essay/rashi

    Bro, are you learning Spanish?

    • LoL! You are funny! “I blame the Jews!” With that article, I can understandea tremendous amount of respect for the man and the surprise in him quoting a minority opinion. I think I take you too literally at times. You weren’t saying the dude is perfect. I should learn to appreciate your sentiment without thinking you’re saying something you’re not.

      Ah, the spanish. I’m just in the mood, I guess. I’m not learning. I just learn a few phrases. If I have to talk to someone, I still have to rely on the translation software I have, like Google Translate or Bing Translator

  5. Actually Shemot 22:31 says that meat from an animal that was “torn in the field” must be given “to the dogs”, while the nevelah (animal dead without slaughtering), according to Devarim, can be given to the ger toshav or to the pagans outside Israel. So the animal torn in the field is forbidden even to Gentiles. Maybe this is an issue of ever min hachai where you are not allowed to eat the animal even after it’s dead. The fact that it was torn is a sufficient reason to make it forbidden.

    Also, as you wrote, RambaN says that the pshat of Genesis 9:4 is that the prohibition actually refers to blood, and Ibn Ezra says the same thing in his commentary. Rav Benamozegh (the father of the modern Noahide movement) also writes in his book “Israel and Humanity” that blood seems to be “the exclusive object of the prohibition” (according to simple pshat). So, even though we have to accept the halacha as it is, I would not be comfortable with saying that “blood is absolutely permitted”.

    • Your reference to Exodus 22:31 and Deuteronomy 14 doesn’t lead to the conclusion that all Gentiles are forbidden to eat animal torn in a field. Exodus 22:31 only tells Jews what to do with such meat. There is no injunction on Gentiles at all. Deuteronomy 14 doesn’t refer to “pagans.” It speaks of foreigners, people who don’t live or reside in Israel at all.

      So textually, those texts say nothing about torn meat being forbidden to Gentiles.

      You misread the quote from Ramban. He never said the pshat refers to blood. You’ve provided no evidence of what Ibn Ezra said. If rabbi Benamozegh really did say “blood seems to be the exclusive object of the prohibition, which I doubt, he still goes against the majority view regarding the verse and the prohibition.

      I understand you may not be comfortable saying blood is absolutely permitted. I have a different approach that forsakes comfort and looks for the facts. The fact is that the prohibition doesn’t include blood, so it is forbidden. There may be some disagreement about the status of the blood of a living animal (not a dead one), but RambaM, RambaN and the Targums simply limit the prohibition to flesh not blood, as do other sources.

      • Dear friend, the RambaN is clear about the pshat of Genesis 9:4, and you quoted his words in your article (even though the last footnote you quoted doesn’t seem to portrait his interpretation correctly). I quote the Hebrew text of RambaN:

        אבל פירושו אך בשר בנפשו שהיא דמו לא תאכלו כי נפש כל בשר דמו הוא

        Literal translation: “but its meaning [is]: only the flesh with its life which is its blood do not eat, because life of all flesh is the blood”.

        If you don’t trust my translation you can check a shiur on the Yeshiva Har Etzion website, written by Rav Yonatan Grossman, I can provide the link.
        The RambaN himself accepted the halacha of ever min hachai, but still recognised the pshat as it is.
        Regarding Ibn Ezra, you can check his commentary on the Sefaria website and verify by yourself.
        I guarantee that my quote of Benamozegh was accurate, and I can also provide you the exact page number if you ask.
        Also I add another source: Shmuel ben Chofni Gaon, one of the very few medieval codifiers of the sheva mitzvot, includes “blood” in its list.
        I know it’s a minority view, but still it exists and it seems to reflect the pshat of Genesis 9:4 accurately. As a noahide, I chose to care about it.

      • Here’s the issue with the Ramban quote. Your understanding his words differently that what he was saying. Ramban was not saying “here’s the flesh and separate from that is the blood, therefore you can’t eating either what is from living flesh or, separately, you can’t consume blood either. Everything that he said before contradicts that idea. It’s Rashi that had that minority view and not Ramban.

        Rather Ramban states that the verse means that flesh WITH the life/blood you shall not eat. Ramban understood that living/soul and blood are used as a single idea here “life = lifeblood” or “life which is the blood.” So Ramban is talking about “flesh from living animals” and not making the mistake of artificially separating life and blood, imagining a vav conjunction between flesh and life, or a separate ideas of life and blood.

        I understand that many think a separate prohibition against eating blood is in this text, but that ignores context and how “blood” is used in the rest of the passage. When the text keeps using blood to mean life in following verses, that seems to be ignored. For example, “a man who sheds the blood of another …” Using the so-called “natural” interpretation would mean if a man cuts another man’s finger so that blood is shed, then another man can literally pour out some of the guilty man’s blood. But it should be understood that “blood” is talking about “soul” or “life” as verse 4 defined. So we know it means “a man ends another man’s life” not literally “blood.”

        So it’s known that there is a minority view that blood taken from a living animal is included. But Rambam’s approach to the minority view is that it’s not part of the prohibition. And that’s the same for RambaN’s approach as well. So quoting places that talk about the minority opinion doesn’t do much for me.

        You said it best,

        “As a noahide, I CHOSE to care about it.”

        That’s your choice. Nice. For me, as a simple Gentile with no love for labels that seem empty to me, such as “noahide,” but who is passionate for the seven laws and finding the right approach to them, I know that a minority view exists. It’s in my mind. But practically, the majority view is the prohibition of the flesh WITH the life, i.e., only meat taken from a living animal, not a separate prohibition about the blood taken from a living animal.

        It should also be stated that blood found in a dead animal is not part of this discussion or the halachah. So even though a Jew has to be very careful about cleaning the meat, a Gentile does not at all, as there is no injunction about this at all.

      • I also don’t like labels, and I’m not part of any community. I said “noahide” in its literal meaning of Gentile/son of Noah/non-jew.
        I see that the Hebrew is very clear in Ramban’s comment, and again, it’s not just me, I can show you shiurim by learned rabbis who say the same thing.
        First, RambaN criticise Rashi for his attempt to see both the flesh and the blood in the verse, and then goes on to explain the “perush” (simple meaning) of the text. The phrase “the blood is the life” should be read according to the similar statement in Leviticus 17:14 and Deuteronomy 12:23 which says “you shall not drink blood, because blood is the life of all flesh”.
        Please note: the RambaN and the other sources that I quoted do not refer to blood from a living animal (as does the minority opinion in the Gemarah) but to blood in general, just like the parallel passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
        You made a good point in explaining the meaning of “lifeblood” in the context, and I may agree with you. I also believe that the interpretation of the Sages (the base of the halacha) is not disconnected from the pshat, but has a deep relation with it. But still, the opinion exists and it would be proper to mention it.

      • Firstly, thank you for this conversation. That’s a sincere thank you. I hope that if we have any disagreement, it won’t seem like disrespect.

        Thanks for clarifying your use of “noahide.” If we should talk again, and I start getting aggressive over that label, remind me of your stance. Hopefully I’ll remember, but I don’t trust my memory (it has its good aspects and its bad aspects, I’m talking about my memory). So if we talk again, I’ll try to remember you’re using “noahide” like I use “Gentile.” Thanks.

        We live in a terrible world of confusion and different opinion amongst Jews. I’m sure you can quote me rabbis that go with your view. I got my view from the rabbi who wrote the Graf-Rand edition from Artscroll. But I also read the context of what Ramban so I’m not simply following what a rabbi says (I’m not saying you are, I’m only speaking for myself). I know that part of Ramban statement came from Leviticus 17:14. I don’t believe he was using it to state “as Israelites are forbidden blood, so are Gentiles.” I don’t see that usage.

        If the other sources are referring to blood in general, then we’re no longer talking about the verse. The verse doesn’t isolate blood like the Jewish prohibition does. Those other sources may believe that there is a Gentile prohibition of blood, but that is not Genesis 9:4 in context. At least that’s my stance.

        I also believe the words of the sages should not be disconnect from the pshat, just like Ramban says. And that’s why Rashi’s interpretation was unsound and why a separate prohibition against blood in general is unsound. Because the Talmud clearly states the main prohibition is against flesh from a living animal and not blood in general.

        Whether it is proper to mention a minority view, I’m not sure about that. It’s something I will ponder but something I’m not convinced of yet.

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