Generally speaking, it is forbidden to injure an animal that has been sanctified for use in the Temple, causing it to become a ba’al mum, that is, a blemished animal that cannot be sacrificed. This includes the case of a bekhor – a first-born animal – that is automatically sanctified at the time of its birth.
The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) discusses a situation where a bekhor was suffering from a condition described asahazo dam – it was suffering from an overabundance of blood – and the recommended treatment was hakazat dam – blood-letting. Four opinions are offered –
- Rabbi Me’ir permits the treatment only in a place where the animal will not receive an injury that would render it aba’al mum.
- The Sages permit blood-letting, even if the animal will become blemished, although not in the place on the animal where it would be slaughtered.
- Rabbi Shimon permits the blood-letting even in the place where it is slaughtered.
- Rabbi Yehudah prohibits blood-letting under any circumstances, even if the animal will die without treatment.
For many generations physicians believed that blood-letting was a powerfully helpful remedy, both as a cure and as a general preventative therapy that would keep a person healthy. During Talmudic times such treatments were commonplace, both for human beings and for animals. At various times, blood-letting was the accepted treatment for almost all ailments.
Today it is well-established that blood-letting is not effective for most diseases. The only remaining condition for which it is used is Polycythemia vera, a disease where the body produces too many red blood cells. Among the symptoms of this illness are bleeding gums, excessive bleeding from ordinary cuts and bruises and a reddish color of the skin. It is possible that these symptoms are what is referred to by the Gemara as ahazo dam.