One can eat meat, but not blood, according to this week’s Torah portion, Re-eih (“See”).
Only be strong, do not eat the blood! Because the blood is the nefesh, and you must not eat the nefesh with the meat. (Deuteronomy 12:23)
nefesh (נֶפֶשׁ) = animating soul, vital force; mood, appetite, desire; individual; throat.
Like humans, animals are animated by a soul that experiences moods, appetites, and desires. The Torah locates that soul in the arterial blood.
Not only must the blood of an animal be drained and discarded before the meat can be eaten, but the animal must also be kosher. Later in this week’s Torah portion, Moses repeats the rules for kosher animals.
And every animal that has a split hoof and has a hoof cloven into two hoof sections, [and] chews the cud among the animals that you may eat. (Deuteronomy 14:6)
Birds may also be eaten, but not birds of prey. Fish may be eaten as long as they have fins and scales. Any other animals, including shellfish and flying insects, are forbidden in this week’s Torah portion.
Fully observant American Jews heading to Europe would be planning out how to eat only kosher meat, they way they do at home.
I am not strict about keeping kosher. However, I am planning to continue avoiding meat altogether. It was hard for me to give up meat 23 years ago, but I did it. I do not believe an animal’s nefesh is only in its arterial blood, the way the portion Re-eih implies. I believe that eating any meat, drained of blood or not, is participating in the slaughter of an animal that, when alive, had an emotional life–moods, appetites, and desires–just like humans do.
For some people, honoring the death of the animal with a blessing, a prayer, or another ritual is enough. Maybe they are right. After all, everything we eat used to be alive in some sense. The book of Genesis says God created humans to eat fruit from living trees for nourishment; modern science points out that nature made us omnivores.
But I cannot watch a dog joyfully greet its roommates, or crows defend an injured member of their flock, and then go and eat meat. I confess I make an exception for fish, which are less aware of moods and desires than birds and mammals–less like us. (Fish also provide the B-12 and omega-3 fatty acids my omnivore body needs.)
When I get to Israel, I hope my diet will be easier than in America. The Jewish prohibition against mixing meat and milk means, I believe, that I need only ask if a dish is “kosher dairy”.
But in Europe, I will ask in the local language whether there is any “meat” or poultry in a dish I might order. There, as here, I will hope the waiters know what I am talking about.
To read my earlier blog post about the Torah’s version of not eating the soul of an animal, click on Re-eih & Acharey Mot: The Soul in the Blood.