January has been labeled National Blood Donor Month, making it an ideal time for Jewish Treats to reflect upon Judaism’s special attitude toward blood.

God called the very first human being Adam (aleph-daled-mem). While the most obvious connection is to the Hebrew word adama (ground – aleph-daled-mem-hey), it cannot be ignored that Adam is also connected to dam (blood – daled-mem). When the Torah states (Deuteronomy 12:23) that “Blood is life,” one cannot help but reflect on how clearly this is implied in the very name of humankind.

The technology of blood transfusions was not available at the time of the Talmud. However, the sages did live in the era when bloodletting was considered an effective treatment, both as a cure and for prevention. In fact, a large portion of page 129 of tractate Shabbat is dedicated to the care one must take when being bled. In these dictums, one can already find many of the practices that are commonly used by blood donors today. For instance:

“Rav and Samuel both say: ‘One who has been bled should wait awhile and then rise’…Samuel said: ‘The correct interval for bloodletting is every 30 days.’”

Jewish thought makes very clear that blood is life and that people must recognize the life-affirming power of blood. For instance, one is not allowed to consume blood as food or drink, and if one deliberately sheds the blood of wild animals or fowl when slaughtering food, the blood must be covered as a sign of respect.

Since human blood cannot be consumed, one might ask whether blood transfusions are permitted. The answer, simply, is yes. One may both give and receive blood transfusions because Judaism puts the utmost importance on preserving life. For those who need it, Ezekiel’s words: “By your blood shall you live” (Ezekiel 16:6) has some very literal implications.

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