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.
[Ramban disagrees with Rashi’s interpretation and presents his own:]
But this explanation, according to the plain meaning of the verse, is not sound. 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).
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. (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.