כ״ו בתשרי ה׳תשע״ט (October 5, 2018)

Menahot 56a-b: Blood-Letting and Sacrifices

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 discusses a situation where a bekhor was suffering from a condition described as aḥazo dam – it was suffering from an overabundance of blood – and the recommended treatment was hakazat damblood-letting. Four opinions are offered –

  • Rabbi Meir permits the treatment only in a place where the animal will not receive an injury that would render it a ba’al mum.
  • permit blood-letting, even if the animal will become blemished, provided the animal is not then slaughtered on the basis of that blemish.
  • Rabbi Shimon permits the slaughter even on the basis of that blemish.
  • Rabbi Yehuda 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 aḥazo dam.