Monday, November 26, 2007

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Another Kind Of "Blood Libel"

(Picture courtesy of

Recently I was sent a link to an article on the Revach L'Neshama website discussing the "chumra" (stringency) about not taking a blood transfusion from a non-Jew, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky's defending it against the possible charge of being called a "minhag shtus" (a foolish or baseless practice).

My first reaction to this article was annoyance, anger, and disgust – but I'll get back to that. Let's start with the concept of "minhag shtus." I don't know what this really means, since any minhag practiced by respected Jewish leaders becomes legitimate by definition. Therefore, although we find the term used occasionally in Shulchan Arukh, the "minhag shtus" card is hard to play. Once we try to apply it, we are forced to qualify our words, saying that those who follow a particular custom do so "in a foolish manner," etc. I'd rather not take the bait. Rather, I try to avoid using the phrase (as much as I would like to sometimes).

The issue is not whether or not a source for such a chumra exists. (In fact, the source offered by the author of this article looks like a case of painting the target around the arrow. We have no idea if this Gemara had anything to do with the Rav's request.) The real issue comes down to an individual's hergesh, a subjective feeling – and this feeling is based on the concept of kedushah, separating between the sacred and the mundane. However, this concept, too, is not as easily understandable as it may seem at first glance, especially in this day and age.

Jews are called kadosh (translated "holy"), which actually means "removed," "distant," "separated." For whatever wondrous reason known only to G-d (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov calls it a "segula" – something that transcends human logic), the Jew was chosen, separated from all the nations, and given a specific role, as we say in davening on Yom Tov: "Atah vechartanu – You, O G-d, have chosen us / selected us from among all the nations." So, yes, we believe that we are the "chosen people" -- but what does this mean?

Rabbi Sears explains in his "Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition" (p.111): 1) The doctrine of the Divine election of Israel does not deny that any other individuals may establish a profound relationship with G-d. 2) It neither dehumanizes the "unchosen," nor does it set them up to be exploited (G-d forbid). 3) This doctrine in fact has its own universalistic implications.

It is not possible to go into these points at length here, so I will recommend the book to those who are interested, and proceed to the main point:

Judaism eschews any religion or path that rejects G-d, and takes a critical view of those who follow such doctrines. According to many authorities (among them, Rabbi Yaakov Emden), Christianity and Islam are included among the paths that accept G-d, and we therefore do not regard them in the same negative light as certain other religions. Paganism, polytheism, and atheism, on the other hand, deny the fundamentals of monotheistic faith and ARE considered illegitimate. Of course, much confusion has grown out of this general concept.

Despite all this, a moral non-Jew who believes in G-d is a respected and elevated being in the eyes of Judaism. He or she has a share in the World to Come (Tosefta, Sanhedrin 13:1, Rambam: Mishneh Torah, Hil. Teshuvah 3:5; Meiri on Sanhedrin 57A; et al.). Righteous gentiles are even called "priests" (Midrash: Yalkut, Kings II, 296) and "pious ones" (Tana D'vei Eliyahu Zuta 20:6); and according to some, they will return with the resurrection (Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer 34; according to the other view, they will remain in a state of bliss in the World of Souls and not return to this plane of existence). Righteous gentiles are rewarded for fulfilling G-d's commandments (Talmud Yerushalmi, Peah 1:1); G-d recalls their merits (Yalkut: Tehilim 643); they have a share in Gan Eden (Zohar, Pekudei); and all references to punishment of the nations does not apply to them (Midrash Shochar Tov , Psalm 9; a similar statement can be found in Rashi on Sanhedrin 105A).

Furthermore, the Talmud states that a non-Jew who studies Torah is comparable to the Kohen Gadol /High Priest (Avodah Zara 3A, Bava Kama 38A; this refers to the parts of Torah that apply to him, such as the Seven Noachide Laws and the basics of faith and theology). And, of course, all mankind is equally created "in the image of G-d" (Pirkei Avos 3:14), and Hashem is concerned about all people and all creation. "V'rachamav al kol ma'asav . . . His compassion is upon all of His works" (Tehillim 145:9). R' Yehoshua ben Levi (Bereishis Rabbah 26:2) states on the verse "G-d will wipe away the tears from all faces" (Isaiah 25:8): "This means from the faces of Jews and non-Jews alike."

There are countless quotes of this nature, and we could go on all day, but suffice it to say that the distinction between Jews and non-Jews is often oversimplified. Yes, a distinction exists – but how that distinction is defined often leads to negative consequences.

Generations upon generations – thousands of years! – of persecution, as well as the desire to avoid alien and undesirable influences has caused many Jews to lose track of the universalist side of Judaism. We are products of a galus-mentality that, combined with our inevitable human failings, can develop into subtle (or even overt) racism and disrespect for other human beings. Like many other religious Jews I know, I wish that this was not the case, but unfortunately, too often it is.

However, there always have been and still are many great leaders – for example, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of England in our generation – who "hear the music" and emphasize the universalistic message of Torah; while sadly, others are tone-deaf. This article on Revach L'Neshama (with no disrespect meant to the Gedolim it mentions) is actually a reflection of this problem.

The late R' Ahron Soloveichik wrote: "From the standpoint of Torah there can be no distinction between one human being or another on the basis of race or color. Any discrimination shown to another human being on account of the color of his or her skin constitutes loathsome barbarity. It must be conceded that the Torah recognizes a distinction between a Jew and Non-Jew. This distinction, however is not based upon race, origin, or color, but rather upon Kedushah, the holiness endowed by having been given and having accepted the Torah, Furthermore, the distinction between Jew and Non-Jew does not involve any concept of inferiority but is based primarily upon the unique and special burdens that are incumbent upon the Jews (Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind, Chapter 5, "Civil Rights and the Dignity of Man.") These ideas are stated repeatedly in the works of nineteenth century Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, as well.

I will end with a quote from a powerful section of R' Pinchos Eliyohu Horowitz of Vilna, Sefer HaBris (section II, discourse 13): "Our love of humanity should take no exception to any nation or individual. For man was not created for his own sake exclusively; rather, all men exist for the sake of one another. As a sage once said: "The world and all it contains was created for mankind, and within mankind itself, one person was created for the sake of the next, each to benefit the other." Therefore, not only does [love of one's fellow] apply to the Jewish people but to all mankind. We should love all nations and include all peoples in this universal principle, 'the stranger and native son' alike, all who inhabit the earth."

May we soon merit to see the day when all people will serve Hashem as one!


At November 26, 2007 at 7:58:00 AM EST, Blogger Alice said...

Amen. Have an awesome week.

At November 26, 2007 at 9:59:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

CE wrote: "My first reaction to this article was annoyance, anger, and disgust – but I'll get back to that."

I think that is a "Galut Mentality" sort of an inferiority complex getting upset because some won't use the blood of an einu-yehudi.

At November 26, 2007 at 10:05:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was the Talmud Bavli a product of a "galut mentality" as well?

At November 26, 2007 at 11:09:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On purely halachic grounds, the fact is that this minhag is a pikuach nefesh. Blood products are pooled from hundreds of donated units and refusing to take such blood measn that some people would not accept blood, platelet or fresh frozen plasma even in emergency situations. This is reason enough, even for those who do not know enough to factor in the concept of eivah, chillul hashem, and plain offensiveness of the notion in the light of the long history of anti-Jewish use of the concept of 'purity of blood", staring with "pureza de sangre" in post-exilic Spain.

It's offesnive on moral grounds as well. Volunteers donated this blood to help others - what about the obligation of grattitude.

At November 26, 2007 at 11:51:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful post and I of course can't help but agree with R' Soloveitchik.

Because when I think "racism", I know "loathsome barbarity" is right up there with the descriptors I'D use.

At November 26, 2007 at 12:00:00 PM EST, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

ASJ pointed me to this post, and I cannot help but remember a passage from Seinfeld:

Seinfeld: Father, I think Watly converted to Judaism just for the jokes!

Priest: And this offends you as a Jew?

Seinfeld: No, it offends me as a comedian.

'nuff said.

At November 26, 2007 at 1:05:00 PM EST, Blogger Alice said...

My understanding is that organ transplants and blood transfusions are totally acceptable between Jews and Gentiles, and that's coming from Orthodox rabbis.
Establishing the differences between Jews and Gentiles is quite difficult in my experience. It's hard to pin anyone down on it. A rabbi I trust said the soul of a Jew is different so that he/she can perform the tasks necessary for a Jew. A different rabbi at the service I go to said the same. He then said that it's not that Jews can accomplish things Gentiles can't though, which makes no sense to me. I pushed him on it, letting him know it doesn't offend me (a non-Jew) in the least if it is true that Jews can do things I can't, so he should just explain it. He said that Jews have an agreement to do a certain job and the equipment to do it, but that they are in no way, shape, or form better and he refuses to even discuss it in those terms because he's sick of the people in his congregation walking around thinking they are better than other people. So he has that axe to grind which is really important, I agree, but it keeps him from actually answering my question. (And the congregation about which he’s speaking has some serious superiority issues- internally and externally.) So I asked, "If we both say the same prayer, does it do something different coming from you than from me?" He said, "No." Which I've also heard from other Orthodox sources as well. But these are all people who are fond me so who the heck knows. Another rabbi I know, who seems to find non-Jews frightening and irritating, would probably give me an answer, but it would probably be tainted by the fact that he just wishes I would go away.

I would also add it doesn't have any effect on what I do either way what the answer is. I just try to do what I'm supposed to do.

At November 26, 2007 at 2:12:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Rav Chaim Vital was not only the talmid muvhak of the ARI zal but he received semichah from the Beis Yosef. So he grasped how Chazal wanted us to think. And he wrote in Shaarei Kedushah that we should love everyone, including non-Jews.

How can we reconcile that with remarks that seem to take the opposite view?

Please see Tiferes Yisrael on Avos, Perek 3, in the Mishnah "chaviv adam she-nivra be-tzelem."

There is a light at the end of the tunnel!

At November 26, 2007 at 2:26:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rabbi Sears: I think you misunderstood me. I actually agree with you. I was commenting on the ridiculous annonymous comment that Chabakuk Elisha's insightful posting represented a "galut mentality". I was saying that if you hold that Chabakuk Elisha had such a mentality, you would also have to say that the Amoraim of the Talmud Bavli did as well since they lived outside the Land of Israel.

In my opinion, we ALL have a galut mentality until Moshiach comes!

At November 26, 2007 at 2:48:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As students of Jewish history know, the "blood libel" was an accusation that Jews used Christian blood in the baking of matzoh. This accusation led to brutal pogroms against our people. It is therefore offensive to refer a certain minhag as, "Another Kind Of 'Blood Libel' " - as if those who follow such a minhag are guilty of the same crime as those who tortured and murdered us. As a student of Jewish history, I find the title of this article to be out of place and in poor taste.

I have devoted my life to studying and teaching the universal vision of the Torah, and Reb Dovid Sears and I have been supportive of each other's work in this area. I therefore appreciate some of the other ideas mentioned in this article, but I have learned over the years to overcome the western secular bias of the culture I grew up with; thus, I do not "publicly condemn" teachings, halachos, and minhagim that are cited by any gadol with regard to non-Jews which may sound strange to my sensibility. This caution comes from an awareness that there is so much more Torah that I need to know, and that I may not be properly understanding their words; moreover, this caution also comes from the natural respect I feel for leading Torah sages - a respect which is mandated by the Torah itself. When I come across statements in the Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah, Tanya, or other sources which trouble me, I think about them carefully, and if I need greater clarification, I discuss them with my rebbe or another noted talmid chacham to try to get a deeper understanding of what they mean. This caution comes from an awareness that I am a "simple Jew."

I am not a Lubavitcher Chasid or a member of any other Chassidic group, but I have defended the author of the Tanya and other Chassidic sages from simplistic charges of racism, and I therefore find it strange that I now need to assume this role with a site devoted to Chassidic teachings. Am I alone in this concern? If so, I will need to find another blog to visit.

Another point: There are sages that say that Christians are guilty of a form of idolatry, since they deify a human being. A major premise of classical Christianity is the belief that the only way to reach God and to be "saved" is through this deified man. Judaism teaches, however, that all human beings can approach Hashem directly; thus, the labeling of Christianity as a form of idolatry can be viewed as an affirmation of Judaism's universal view regarding the spiritual ability of all people to directly approach Hashem. We therefore need to remember that “Hashem is close to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon him sincerely” (Psalm 145:18). A classical biblical commentator, Radak, explains that this verse is revealing that the Compassionate One is close to “all” who call upon Him, “regardless of nationality.”

At November 26, 2007 at 2:56:00 PM EST, Blogger A Talmid said...

I don't know anything about this "chumra" and pray that no one will ever need a blood transfusion, but Rav Chaim Kanievsky is the one quoted as giving a reason for this "chumra". He is one of the greatest talmidei chachomim and tzadikim around today; one can't just dismiss his words so easily. Why should anyone be upset by this? Why should not taking blood from a non-Jew be any more racist than not marrying a non-Jew. If they would become Jewish the next day, these same people would take the blood. If I'm missing something, please enlighten me. One can still follow this custom and love non-Jews in the same way we are supposed to love everyone but can take ribbis from a non-Jew.

Also, there are many minhagim that sound "rediculous" but if you look into the reasons sometimes you find the most fascinating reasons behind them. Additionally, if you start questioning minhagim then there is no end, and we can wind up throwing many holy customs away. (This does not mean we can't question if we sincerely are interested in learning the reasons behind it.)

At November 26, 2007 at 3:11:00 PM EST, Blogger Alice said...

Wouldn't marrying a non-Jew cost Jewish lives as oppossed to using blood or an organ from a non-Jew in an emergency situation, which would save a Jewish life?

At November 26, 2007 at 3:11:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read the article apparently some of you didn't... or you just read the three words that interersted you so that you can pontificate your preconceived notions. don't choose to close your eyes and ignore what the article says very very very clearly. Rav Chaim Kanievsky never said this is a chumra. in fact I am not convinced that Rav Chaim Kanievsky would even ask for jewish blood in a similar situation and certainly not advise a questioner that he should stick with jewish blood. All he did was find a possible reason why the Ponevezher Rav (No slouch himself) would make such a request.

You may all be great intellactuals of the Internet rabbinate and leaders of Jewish internet hashkafa and kabala but a gadol may understand things about influences especially something as serious as the blood we carry that you don't.

At November 26, 2007 at 3:12:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chabakuk Elisha:
Paganism, polytheism, and atheism, on the other hand, deny the fundamentals of monotheistic faith and ARE considered illegitimate.

What can you say on the subject, concerning some "pagan" views, which on the other hand consider violence forbidden, and are very tolerable to others, comparing to Christian and Islamic bloodshed in the course of history?

At November 26, 2007 at 3:30:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do some people turn everything into a bigger issue than it is. It seems that Rav Kanievsky was pointing out from the gemara that due to dietery issues and lifestlye issues the temperature in a jew's body versus that of a non jew may be different and therefore the Rabbi was afraid the blood would not be compatible. get a life!

At November 26, 2007 at 3:39:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

from the gemara that due to dietery issues and lifestlye issues the temperature in a jew's body versus that of a non jew may be different

Where is such statement in the Gemora? Anyhow, the original temperature is irrelevant for the the transmittion of the blood. The blood is stored in cool conditions.

At November 26, 2007 at 3:47:00 PM EST, Blogger A Talmid said...

Parenthetically, Reb Chatzkel Abramsky zy’”a said that one of the kavonos he had in birchas hamazon by “lo lidei mantas bosor v’dam” was that he should never need a blood transfusion.

At November 26, 2007 at 3:49:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Sorry for any misunderstanding!

At November 27, 2007 at 10:46:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would just like to clarify a couple things:

A number of people have taken issue with my tone in the posting. I am glad to hear that, because I want to point out that my entire posting was a reaction to the tone of the post over at Revach.

My post was not about R' Kanievsky or the Ponevezher Rov Z"L. I tried not to make the post about them, and I did so because I sincerely respect them. R' Kanievsky was merely pointing out that there may be a precedent for the Ponevezher Rov's request, and the Ponevezher Rov gave no reason. I am confident that nether of them meant anything racist, my concern and reaction is because the Revach post leaves the reader without any perspective. To me, it was upsetting in the way that a quote out of context is upsetting – because that's precisely what it is: out of context. My post was specifically for that reason: to provide context.

Now, as a Chossid, I can relate to sensitivity about kedusha inyanim. And, since our diet surely affects our blood, one might want to avoid blood from a non-Kosher diet. Or one could say that since the yetzer hora, we are told, resides in the blood, one might say that he'd rather avoid non-Jewish blood that may be connected with a non-Jewish yezer hora. And if that's someone's person feeling, that's his business. But, of course, we are talking about pikuach nefesh, and it seems that none of these inyanim should even be relevant (just as we would be mechalel Shabbos, or eat non-kosher food, for pikuach nefesh if there was no choice).

But when someone clicks on that site and reads the tshuva, as I did, what do you think the underlying message communicated is? Is it positive? Is it accurate? Does it promote the true universalistic message of Torah?

"Drachea darche noam V'CHOL nesivosea shalom (Its ways are ways of pleasantness And ALL its paths are peace)."

At November 27, 2007 at 12:18:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Excellent clarification.

I think you have a strong point, and hope that Revach L'Neshamah will give us a revach ("break") in the future!


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