Orthodox Judaism/blood transfusions


QUESTION: I have read with interest the discussion between you and I suppose a Jehovah's Witness regarding Blood transfusions . It seems to me that even orthodox Jews have no problem accepting a blood transfusion, I just want to check that I have understood your position correctly , that to save a life is the overriding consideration in any situation and that eating blood is not the same as transfusing blood . What about the instruction that any blood that comes from an animal or person should be poured onto the ground? Does draining blood into a bottle not violate that ?      yours in anticipation   Janet

ANSWER: Janet,
Thank you for your interest, kind words and question. Yes, the preservation of life is a major responsibility in our faith. We are, for example, commanded to save the life of someone being pursued whose life is endangered, even if this requires killing the aggressor (of course we hope they can be stopped short of this). The only commandments that one cannot break and should allow him or herself to be slain rather than violate are idolatry, murder and unlawful sexual unions.

In reference to blood, we do not believe transfusions and eating blood are the same. The latter is consuming something through the alimentary tract, starting at the natural beginning of that tract: the mouth. My problem with the Witness position is that they go to great care not to recieve blood products yet take no precautions to avoid eating blood (which of course is the commandment), and call such precautions (salting and soaking meat or only eating liver cooked over an open grill) "adding to the Bible".

The pouring out of an animals blood into the ground only applies to domesticated or wild animals that are killed for meat and are not being used Asa sacrifice in the Temple. Indeed this action reminds us of the Temple sacrifice where the blood is poured upon the altar. It also reminds us to be respectful of life and the sacrifice that the animal made that we might eat. Human blood could never be poured upon the altar and thus is not poured upon the ground.

I hope this helps. I'm typing early in the morning and on a smart phone whose font is a bit small for my old eyes do please excuse any typos. Thanks again for your question. Ask again if I can help. Shalom!

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: thank you so much for your prompt and helpful answer to my question about blood transfusions . May I please ask another question ? I have now finished Leviticus and chapter 27 verse 29 really bothers me "Not even a human being who has been unconditionally dedicated may be brought back : he must be put to death " This seems tantamount to human sacrifice . Could you clarify this point ,please ?       Janet

ANSWER: Sure, ask anytime. No, has nothing to do with human sacrifice. "He" refers to the animal in the previous passage:

28-29 Notwithstanding, no devoted thing, that a man may devote unto the L-rd of all that he hath, whether of man or beast, or of the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy unto the L-rd. None devoted, that may be devoted of men, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death.

Thus, any animal, after having been dedicated to G-d (ie for sacrifice) cannot be purchased back or redeemed for money.

Hope this helps, shalom

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Again thank you for your prompt and extremely helpful answer . It seems that my translation of those verses was inaccurate . I have for verse 28 "no one may sell or buy back what he has unconditionally dedicated to the L- rd , whether it is a human being , an animal or land . It belongs permanently to the L-rd " . I found that confusing (though maybe others wouldn't ) . I felt that I had the wrong end of the stick and you have confirmed that .
 Going back to the question of blood ,Leviticus 17 : 15 Says that "Any person , Israelite or foreigner who eats meat from an animal that has died a natural death or has been killed by wild animals must wash his clothes , have a bath , and wait until evening before he is ritually clean ." Does that mean that if the animal is already dead someone can eat the meat with blood in it , and "only " be considered unclean , rather than being totally disowned ? Meat that you purchase from a butcher is already dead ,  so is it the fact that the animal has been slaughtered by a human being that means that an observant Jew will not eat it if there is blood in it ?. I should explain that I am a Christian who does a lot to try to show Jehovah's Witnesses that their blood ruling about transfusions is wrong . It really helps me to understand the original meaning to the blood rules to try ,at least, to show them the error in their interpretation .

         yours  Janet

I'm glad you asked a follow up (btw the system only allows three total questions in a series so you will not be able to follow up in this question unless you ask an entirely new question) as I was going to amend my previous answer if you did not, after Sabbath. I mentioned my old eyes and small font in my initial answer. Basically I missed the "man" part if the verse. I thought it odd that a cow would be called "he" so I looked at the verse in an actual book and now wish to revise my answer:

Still not a case of human sacrifice, I was right on that point. The simple reading would indicate that if a person had been dedicated to G-d that he could not become undedicated...it was a capital crime. However, since our Sages teach that the Sanhedrin that sentenced one person to death in 70 years was an evil court, it likely never meant that. Rather it meant that one should keep his vow as if under penalty of death even thought he would not be killed if he didn't. Or it meant that the value of a person (ie a slave) must be paid as if ones life depended upon it.

Your most recent question is an example of a "don't but if you do" commandment. Another is stealing...it is forbidden but if you do steal you must pay back more than you stole. We are commanded not to eat if an animal that has died of natural causes. But if one were to do so, he becomes ritually impure and unable to enter the Temple precents until the other criteria in the verse are satisfied. When a living being dies, it's blood rapidly congeals and cannot be poured out. Given the other commandment we spoke about previously, I would assume that if the death was recent enough for draining the blood out, then the previous law would apply. Many situations take more than one law into effect. The Torah was given for life and often it is an unrealized ideal. All we can do is our best and if all we have to eat is road kill that may very well be what we must eat.

Hope this helps! Have a fantastic weekend and ask again anytime. However, the system does time how quickly we answer so your waiting until after sundown Saturday would not adversely effect my stats. Speaking of which, please don't forget to rate my answers. Some "experts" accept donations, appreciation of my time and effort is good enough for me. Shalom!

Orthodox Judaism

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Ovadiah ben Avraham


Willing to answer and research general Halakhah questions in any field, including medical ethics. No synagogue or ritual type questions except by non-Jews looking for a brief summary.


Yeshiva and self-study

Jewish Spiritual Humanism

Doctorate Degree

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.