Pure fun for this Shabbat. Or is it? You decide.
It’s all about the blood, ‘bout the blood - no drinking.
Torah is pretty hung up on blood. Blood of all kinds. Animal blood. Menstrual blood. Sacrificial blood. Human blood. (insert a funny "haha" from Sesame Street's Count here.)
The consumption of an animal’s blood is prohibited to all humanity as one of the so-called Noahide laws (Gen 9:4.) It is repeated in Leviticus (3:17, 7:26) and here in our parasha in emphatic and explicit terms (Lev 17:11-15.)
וְאִ֨ישׁ אִ֜ישׁ מִבֵּ֣ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וּמִן־הַגֵּר֙ הַגָּ֣ר בְּתוֹכָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר יֹאכַ֖ל כָּל־דָּ֑ם וְנָתַתִּ֣י פָנַ֗י בַּנֶּ֙פֶשׁ֙ הָאֹכֶ֣לֶת אֶת־הַדָּ֔ם וְהִכְרַתִּ֥י אֹתָ֖הּ מִקֶּ֥רֶב עַמָּֽהּ׃
And if anyone of the house of Israel or of the strangers who reside among them partakes of any blood, I will set My face against the person who partakes of the blood, and I will cut him off from among his kin.
כִּ֣י נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר֮ בַּדָּ֣ם הִוא֒ וַאֲנִ֞י נְתַתִּ֤יו לָכֶם֙ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ לְכַפֵּ֖ר עַל־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־הַדָּ֥ם ה֖וּא בַּנֶּ֥פֶשׁ יְכַפֵּֽר׃
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have assigned it to you for making expiation for your lives upon the altar; it is the blood, as life, that effects expiation.
עַל־כֵּ֤ן אָמַ֙רְתִּי֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כָּל־נֶ֥פֶשׁ מִכֶּ֖ם לֹא־תֹ֣אכַל דָּ֑ם וְהַגֵּ֛ר הַגָּ֥ר בְּתוֹכְכֶ֖ם לֹא־יֹ֥אכַל דָּֽם׃ (ס)
Therefore I say to the Israelite people: No person among you shall partake of blood, nor shall the stranger who resides among you partake of blood.
וְאִ֨ישׁ אִ֜ישׁ מִבְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וּמִן־הַגֵּר֙ הַגָּ֣ר בְּתוֹכָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר יָצ֜וּד צֵ֥יד חַיָּ֛ה אוֹ־ע֖וֹף אֲשֶׁ֣ר יֵאָכֵ֑ל וְשָׁפַךְ֙ אֶת־דָּמ֔וֹ וְכִסָּ֖הוּ בֶּעָפָֽר׃
And if any Israelite or any stranger who resides among them hunts down an animal or a bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth.
כִּֽי־נֶ֣פֶשׁ כָּל־בָּשָׂ֗ר דָּמ֣וֹ בְנַפְשׁוֹ֮ הוּא֒ וָֽאֹמַר֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל דַּ֥ם כָּל־בָּשָׂ֖ר לֹ֣א תֹאכֵ֑לוּ כִּ֣י נֶ֤פֶשׁ כָּל־בָּשָׂר֙ דָּמ֣וֹ הִ֔וא כָּל־אֹכְלָ֖יו יִכָּרֵֽת׃
For the life of all flesh—its blood is its life. Therefore I say to the Israelite people: You shall not partake of the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Anyone who partakes of it shall be cut off.
Interestingly enough, except for one text (Tanna de-Vei Eliyahu Rabbah, 15) the rabbis state that consumption of human blood is not expressly prohibited by Torah. Of course, that never stopped the rabbis from prohibiting anything, so they, too prohibit the consumption of human blood, and it becomes halacha. Spilling the blood of a fellow human being is another matter, and one which is, under almost all circumstances, and allowing for practical defense of one’s own life, prohibited. From my modern perspective verses 11-15, at a p’shat level, do not distinguish, and refer to any and all kinds of blood. But the rabbis don’t recognize either extreme, opting instead to prohibit the consumption of the lifeblood of cattle, beasts, and fowl. Other types of blood may be consumed - but not human.
So the notion of Jewish vampires would be problematic, nu? Yet some of the oldest vampire stories are from Jewish sources, though authorities generally agree that the stories were likely assimilated into Jewish culture from the surrounding Polish and Romanian cultures.
Sefer Hasidim has the striya (or estrie) who flies, and who needs to drink the blood of a live human to survive. Another book from the time, Sefer HaRokeah also mentions striya.
Because she kills at night, Lilith is sometimes likened to a vampire, but I think that’s a stretch, and she fits more into the succubus myth and classic demonology than the vampiric myth. “Lilith who?” you ask. Not the character on Cheers. If you;re not familiar with the myth of Lilith, it’s well worth your time exploring. Here’s a basic start: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/lilith-lady-flying-in-darkness/
Many Jews are uncomfortable with vampires largely because they have seen it used and associated with the anti-Semitic Blood Libel trope. Yet many Jews who would scorn the idea of a Jewish vampire might obtain an amulet to ward off Lilith or the evil eye (or, for that matter, post a picture of The Rebbe.)
Back in 2010, Jewish author Lavie Tidhar spoke of his desire to reclaim the place of Judaism in the popular mythos of magic, demons, elves, vampires, etc. He lamented how he was always bothered that it was the cross and holy water that could subdue the vampire. This was his inspiration for his book “An Occupation of Angels.” He even wrote about it for the Forward: https://forward.com/schmooze/132950/thrilling-hebrew-tales-on-jewish-vampires-golems/
So why not a Jewish vampire? Think about it. A cross and holy water would have no effect. (What might, in their place? A mezuzah? A magen David? Manischewitz?) Would we have to develop a va’ad to certify kosher blood? Can a vampire who keeps kosher drink the blood of a gentile? A heretic? An apostate? An idol worshipper? How long must a vampire wait after consuming the blood of someone who has just eaten meat before he can drink the blood of someone who has just eaten dairy? Vampies, it is said, effectually proselytize, seeking to turn others into vampires. How compatible is that with Judaism? Must a Jewish vampire refuse a request to bite a non-Jewish human three times before allowing them to become a vampire? How will the intersection of vampirism and the laws of niddah be handled? Can a Jewish woman become a vampire? Can a female Jewish vampire get s’micha? and become a rabbi. How will the various movements treat the vampires among them? What will distinguish Haredi, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructing, Renewal from each other? Where will Jewish vampires pray at the wall? Can an undead person say Kaddish yatom? Can a non-Jewish vampire convert to Judaism? Can a Haredi man sit next to a vampire on an airplane? Will a really strict ultra-orthodox vampire only bite someone through a hole in a sheet?
What would life be like for the Jewish vampire? How would the Jewish community deal with them? I can just hear the official line now, ringing with familiarity to some orthodox approaches to homosexuality. It’s OK to be a vampire, it’s just not OK to act on your desire to drink human blood. SMH.
All this is a little silly, no? On one level yes. On other levels, perhaps not.
Like Lavie Tidhar, I would like to reclaim the literary and mythical realms of our imaginations as authentically Jewish. We need not model everything after a European Christian worldview. Why not Arthurian legends recast in a Jewish framework? (The Once and Future Rabbi?) Middle earth? The Tanakh provides as much fodder for stories of intrigue as whatever culture George R.R. Martin based his Song of Ice and Fire stories. Where’s the Jewish Hogwarts ? (Nevermind that J.K. has already told us there were Jewish characters in the Harry Potter books.)
Maybe we can get Sandra Bullock to star in “Spice Box.”
Where is Guy Gavriel Kay’s pseudo-historical fiction based on say, the Solomonic era?
(As for serious historical fiction, you need look no further than the brilliant Israeli author Yochi Brandes.
Let’s reclaim a piece of all of it. (All of it, that is, except zombies. I just don’t get zombies. But that’s my problem, I suppose. Alright, we can have zombies. I guess I sort of already accept the premise since GOT kind of uses it. But I might never even be tempted to watch “The Walking Dead.” Then again, I said that about GOT once, too. Sigh.)
Lavie Tidhar and Rebeca Levene edited “Jews versus Zombies” back in 2015.
There’s Jewish sci-fi out there too. Though they’re dated, check out “Wandering Stars” and the sequel “More Wandering Stars.” Tidhar and Levene also edited “Jews Versus Aliens” the same year as the aforementioned “Jews and Zombies.”
I just heard there’s a new Israeli series about a Jewish vampire streaming on Hulu. Time to check it out.
©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester
P.S. – The title is a Buffy reference.
Other Musings on this Parasha:
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5778 - Same Yet Different
Acharei Mot-Kedosim 5777 - Insults Don't Weigh Anything (Revisited from 5767) (or A Hymn to Homonyms)
Akharei Mot-Kedoshim 5773 - Revisiting Schrödinger's Cat
Akharei Mot-Kedoshim 5772 - Don't Forget That The Goat Goes Free
Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 5770 - Redux 5762 - Dis tinct Unities and United Dis junctions
Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 5769-Schroedinger's Cat 5769 (Redux 5761 w/new comments)
Akharei Mot-Kedoshim 5767 - Insults Don't Weigh Anything?
Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 5766-Redux 5761 & 5762
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5764-Whither Zion?
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5762 - Dis tinct Unities and United Dis junctions
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5761 - Schroedinger's Cat & Torah