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At first, this may seem obvious. The source is Genesis 9:4 -

"Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat."

Put in other words -

"But you must not eat meat with its lifeblood [still] in it."

But note that the phrase, "ever min hachai" is not found in this Torah passage. The verse says -

אַךְ־בָּשָׂ֕ר בְּנַפְשׁ֥וֹ דָמ֖וֹ לֹ֥א תֹאכֵֽלוּ

Even more interesting, is that it actually means something different. By a simple reading of the verse, this command is kept if the blood of the is removed from the meat. The best way to accomplish this is kosher slaughter, cutting the arteries and pouring the blood on the ground. Noah knew about clean and unclean animals and had just offered a sacrifice. So it wouldn't even be a stretch to suggest the verse is talking about draining the blood from *an animal before eating it.

"Ever min hachai" takes the meaning of the verse in a completely different direction, specifically prohibiting consumption of meat removed from a live animal.

So where does this law the rabbis include in the Noahide Laws come from? Was this law formed in such a way as to address a specific pagan practice they wanted to discourage?

*I originally wrote "...it wouldn't even be a stretch to suggest the verse is talking about draining the blood from a /-kosher-/ animal before eating it." This is INCORRECT. It is crystal clear in the previous verse that God permitted Noah to eat ALL living things. I was reflecting on God's pleasure with Noah's offering and had been researching kosher slaughter, and tried to make a connection that wasn't there. I wanted to leave the "kosher" in there and strike it through, but I couldn't figure out how to do it.

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    Not sure about a pagan practice, but someone once told me an interesting point: pre-refrigeration, if you wanted a piece of meat, then instead of having to find customers (or extended family, etc.) to eat an entire animal, or instead of having the rest of it go to waste, one might well cut a piece off the living animal and eat it.
    – Meir
    Mar 18 at 20:26
  • No the simple meaning is not eating from an animal while it's still alive. Noah didn't keep any Torah laws he was merely told what animals would be considered pure in the future
    – Dude
    Mar 18 at 22:32
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    @Dude I don't see any way to get "not eating from an animal while it's alive" from "you must not eat meat with its lifeblood still in it." To get the simple meaning of the verse, you would need to start with the words of the verse and work out from there. "ever min hachai" does not appear to have any place in the passage that it's supposed to originate from.
    – user34203
    Mar 18 at 23:11
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    That means the animal is still alive when it's lifeblood is it it. You are just hyper focussing on a particular phrase that's used to describe this in another location. The verse doesn't have to say ever min hachai to give that meaning
    – Dude
    Mar 19 at 10:44
  • @Dude Hyper focusing? Rabbis invented hyper focusing. But this command is always the given reference for the 7th Law of Noah. Yet the law is different from the command. Materially different. Life is in the blood, only eat meat with the blood removed. The question is, where did the Noahide Law get a law not to take meat from a living animal. And more importantly, why would they change a command God gave to Noah?
    – user34203
    Mar 19 at 13:41

4 Answers 4

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The verse literally means “Even Flesh, in its life, its blood, do not eat”.

The main word of the phrase “in its life its blood” is the word “life”. The word “blood” modifies the word “life”, not the other way around. Therefore, the primary intent of the verse is that one shouldn’t eat flesh off a living animal.

A consequence of this us that blood from a living animal is forbidden to gentiles, because it's considered "blood of life". If it's blood from a dead animal, it is simply lifeless blood, which gentiles are completely permitted to consume.

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    It is not obvious the primary intent of the verse is that one shouldn't eat flesh off a living animal. The verse's wording is unclear. The very next verse links the two together: "However, your blood..." or "And surely your blood..." Implying the focus could be on blood. Rashi states in the comments of the Chumash, "Accordingly, the verse states that flesh is prohibited while life is still in the animal, and that this prohibition applies to its blood, as well." The command would be satisfied by a kosher shecht where the animal bled out.
    – user34203
    Mar 20 at 22:58
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    Again, Rashi's comment in the Chumash for this verse merely restates the Noahide Law, "It is forbidden to eat 'ever min hachai' , a limb taken from a living animal." The question is, where does this law come from? Where did they get this phrase? Because it's taking a different approach to the common understand, just like Rashi said in my comment above.
    – user34203
    Mar 20 at 23:00
  • Rashi seems to acknowledge the non-contextual meaning of the verse that I brought to light, and also the apparent meaning brought out by the context, claiming them both as correct, which is indeed the final ruling. Mar 20 at 23:11
  • This: "אֵבֶר מִן הַחַי" is not from Genesis 9:4. That Torah verse is talking about something else that MAY include that situation. However, God did not command "אֵבֶר מִן הַחַי". So if you are aware of a rabbinic ruling that unpacks how they established the last of the Noahide Laws from Genesis 9:4, I'd like to know. Keep in mind that the rabbis have said the punishment for violating this law is DEATH. And Rashi's comment in the Chumash is not a final ruling.
    – user34203
    Mar 21 at 1:31
  • If you eat flesh off a living animal, you are taking an אֵבֶר מִן הַחַי. Correct? Mar 21 at 2:01
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I'm not a Rabbi. This answer is my own opinion. I would assume the Rabbis get it from Genesis 9:4

אַךְ־בָּשָׂ֕ר בְּנַפְשׁ֥וֹ דָמ֖וֹ לֹ֥א תֹאכֵֽלוּ

I think we as modern readers translate this a bit incorrectly because we are too far removed from the times these laws were given and we expect only one meaning. Therefore we translate this in English as just:

"But flesh, with its soul in its blood, do not eat."

Most people read these verses and conclude that blood is a symbol for life. But it is my opinion that the Bible makes a stronger claim: blood is life.

One of many examples is the blood of Abel cries out to God, because the blood is still life even after Abel is dead. The Nile was turned into blood because of the Israelite children who had been drown there and had been dead for decades. And there are various other scriptures that say life is in the blood, which we should take to mean blood is life, because it's made of life.

So I argue that an ancient Israelite would also translate the verse as:

"But flesh, its soul in the lifeblood, do not eat."

And so there are two commandments here:

Do not eat flesh that still has its soul in its lifeblood. If you rip a limb off a living animal the soul remains in the flesh until the animal dies, therefore you cannot tear / remove flesh off a living animal to eat it.

And do not eat flesh with it's lifeblood still in it. Which is where we get the idea of kosher slaughter and draining of the blood.

Note: The answer is my own opinion but I was only able to come to this understanding after having read the book: Blood Ritual in the Hebrew Bible.

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    "Do not eat flesh that still has its soul" - I see what you mean now, and I can see the distinction you're making. It makes sense, seems logical, and the passage seems to support it. If the interpretation leading to the first command you mentioned is written out, it would read something like "ever min hachai." I was hoping for a rabbinic reference leading up to that conclusion, and their discussion as to why they went silent on the second command you mentioned.
    – user34203
    Mar 21 at 14:05
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    @PaulWalker Sometimes I believe the Rabbis just inherited a tradition that made such deep sense to their mindset that they don't see a need to explain it out. I don't think they could look at the verse and understand someone wouldn't inherently get the double meaning I brought up.
    – Aaron
    Mar 21 at 20:22
  • Brilliant answer!! I recall hearing something similar quoted from Rabenu Chaim BenAtar (Or Hachaim) expounding the verse כי הדם הוא הנפש... Though I don't have that sefer with me now...
    – Grapefruit
    Mar 31 at 17:06
  • @Grapefruit let me know when you find the quote
    – Aaron
    Mar 31 at 19:02
  • I didn't do a thorough job looking for the quote but the answer here raises this concept in the name of Rav Chaim Vital (Etz Chaim Shaar 39) and others judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/40472/…
    – Grapefruit
    Apr 2 at 22:38
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So where does this law the rabbis include in the Noahide Laws come from?

From Chullin 102a in the Mishnah:

(דברים יב, כג) לא תאכל הנפש עם הבשר ר' יהודה ור' אלעזר סברי כל שאתה מצווה על דמו אתה מצווה על אבריו והני טמאין נמי הואיל ואתה מצווה על דמן אתה מצווה על אברין

Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Elazar hold that with regard to any animal whose blood you are commanded not to eat, you are commanded with regard to its limbs, i.e., you are prohibited from eating its limbs that were severed while it was still alive. Consequently, with regard to these non-kosher species also, since you are commanded not to eat their blood, you are commanded with regard to their limbs.


Was this law formed in such a way as to address a specific pagan practice they wanted to discourage?

Not that I'm aware of. Wikipedia lists some examples of people eating live animals, but none of them are traditional religious practices.

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  • The problem I see with this interpretation is that it seems to take a law given with a wide application (blood drained from an animal to the point of death, which would also include ever min hachai) and reduce it to that specific application. Usually, in the spirit of building a fence around a mitzvah, a specific law will grow larger with application. It's not logical.
    – user34203
    Mar 18 at 23:18
  • Also, there is no prohibition of eating a limb from a living animal in the verse. Unless you hold the position that if the blood was not removed from the meat, the meat therefore still has the lifeblood in it. So in a manner of speaking, taking meat from the animal could be interpreted as 'taking meat from a living animal. But the focus on the command should be removing the blood - the kosher shecht bringing about the death of the animal - not ever min hachai.
    – user34203
    Mar 19 at 13:53
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This is found in the fourth edition of the book, The Divine Code by Rabbi Moshe Weiner which is the English translation of the original Hebrew publication, ספר שבע מצות השם - חלק א.

The specific discussion is found in the English edition on pages 237-240, starting with section 2 and 3.

From Bereshit 9:2-3, Noach and his descendants were permitted to kill any type of animal in any way they desired for the purpose of food.

Bereshit 9:4 specifically prohibits eating any flesh separated in any manner from any animal, meaning domesticated animals, wild animals, birds (and humans) while it is alive. These four categories of flesh are associated with the four faces on the Throne of Glory.

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  • I appreciate the reference to The Divine Code. It's a great book. However, it is not the source of this Noahide Law. There does not seem to be a rabbinic reference to the explanation of why the sages interpreted the command to Noah as "אֵבֶר מִן הַחַי" The manner of death of the animal is not described, but the result is. The fact that they derive laws of animal cruelty and not slaughter from the verse, for me, begs the question ,'why?"
    – user34203
    Mar 24 at 23:16
  • If you don't have the Hebrew original or the fourth (expanded) edition in English, you will not see the more extensive discussion of this subject found there. The original permission to Adam was that he could be a scavenger, meaning it was permissible to him if he had no other food. If a predatory animal killed something and left the dead carcass, it was permissible to Adam. The change with Noach and later was that they could kill for food to begin with. It's important to distinguish that all this is only addressing the sustenance for the body. The prohibition over blood is about soul. Mar 25 at 13:03
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    FYI, the subject of עבר מן החי was in volume 2 of the Hebrew original ספר שבע מצות השם (I believe). Not positive. I haven't been able to find a copy of volume 2 in Hebrew yet, but working on it. Mar 25 at 13:07
  • I have it in Hebrew, but it doesn't have the vowels. And I still read like a 4 year old. It's the Jerusalem Edition from 2008 and ever min hachai is the last section of Volume 1. My set has only 3 volumes. They hadn't finished the 4th volume at the time.
    – user34203
    Mar 26 at 2:34
  • You're raising another question, though. What is the Torah source that the rabbis derive that Adam could eat a dead carcass like a scavenger? My understanding is that the rabbis viewed Adam at a much higher level of holiness that we are today. And somewhere, somehow God gave Adam permission to feast on a dead carcass like a vulture? I know Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Jews are obligated to view the rabbinic decrees of the Mishnah and Talmud as the Divine Oral Torah, but if you're going to talk to Gentiles, you need to come with the Written Torah.
    – user34203
    Mar 26 at 2:41

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