Blood Curdling: Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 2023

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever gone to great lengths to bring someone a gift, only for something to go wrong before the person could receive it? Were you able to compensate for the snafu somehow?

The Torah speaks of consequences for a particular improper sacrificial offering:

The Pitch: “If anyone of the house of Israel slaughters an ox or sheep or goat in the camp, or does so outside the camp, and does not bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to present it as an offering to יהוה, before יהוה’s Tabernacle, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that party: having shed blood, that person shall be cut off from among his people.” – Leviticus 17:3-4

Swing #1: “The starkness of this formulation is quite startling, and very much in keeping with the emphasis throughout the chapter on the sacrosanct character of blood as the principal bearer and symbol of life. The person who slaughters an animal without having the priest cast some of its blood on the legitimate altar of YHWH is considered to have committed murder. The blood on the altar, then, offered up to the deity together with the burnt suet, is an expiation for the blood of the animal spilled in the slaughtering process, a ritual recognition that the taking of life, even for consumption as food, is a grave act that must be balanced by an act of expiation.” – Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary

Swing #2: “Such slaughtering seems to be equated with the murder of a human being, cut off from amid his kinspeople; Schwartz understands this as premature death (dying before one’s normally allotted time); Tikvah Frymer-Kensky as dying without heirs.” – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Swing #3: “It is as if it said, ‘It shall be considered [for that person] as blood of a person.’ Because if not, would we not know that it is considered bloodshed [of an animal] when a person spills blood during the slaughtering?” – Siftei Chakhamim

Late-Inning Questions: How does this rule reflect respect for animals? Does this seem to contrast from so many other rules regarding animal sacrifice? Is it sensible to regard animal life as equally important to human life?

On-Deck at TBT: I’m excited to welcome my friend Rabbi Jeni S. Friedman, PhD, as this year’s Klein Weekend scholar. Please join us and support the program, taking place May 5th-7th, as we explore Global Jewish Peoplehood.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of gifts that go awry, I admit that I love the comment made by college football commentator Beano Cook after Major League Baseball gave a lifetime pass for any game to the Americans released from Iranian captivity in 1981: “Haven’t they suffered enough?”

Shabbat Shalom!