The Limb of a Living Animal

Written by Chaim Clorfene and Yakov Rogalsky Posted in eBook - The Path of the Righteous Gentile

1. There is some discussion as to whether or not the prohibition of eating the limb of a living animal was originally given to Adam, the first man. One opinion states that it was included in the original commandment forbidding the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.[1] According to this opinion, Adam, who was clearly given vegetation for food, as it is written, "And God said, Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of the whole earth, and every tree upon which there is fruit of a tree bearing seed, to you these shall be for food" (Gen. 1:29), was not forbidden to eat meat, but was merely forbidden to kill animals for food. If the animal had died of itself, it was permissible as food.[2] What Noah was given, therefore, was permission to kill animals for food, but he was forbidden by God to eat the flesh of any animal while the animal was still alive.[3] According to the other opinion, Adam had received six of the Seven Universal Laws and had been forbidden to eat the flesh of an animal in any manner. Only after the Flood was the leniency of permitting animal flesh instituted.[4]


This commandment is explicit, as it is written, "Every moving thing that lives shall be for you for food; just as the green herbs, I have given you everything. But flesh with its living soul, its blood, you shall not eat" (Gen.9:3‑4). This does not mean that an animal's blood is its soul and God was forbidding man to drink animal blood. The vitalizing animal soul is contained within the blood, and this is what the commandment refers to, for when an animal dies, this vitalizing soul departs. So long as this vitalizing soul remains within the animal, its flesh is forbidden to man as food.[5]

At first glance, this commandment seems peculiarly out of place as one of the Seven Universal Laws. How can eating the limb of an animal take its place side by side with such monumental principles of human morality as those prohibiting idolatry or murder? Besides a few scattered sociological perversions in Africa and China, one is hard put to imagine who would even consider eating an animal's meat while the animal lives.

And yet this is precisely why this commandment may well epitomize the spirit of the Seven Universal Laws.[6] Although mankind is enjoined to obey these commandments as they appear, nevertheless the letter of the law serves only as a minimum, a starting point, which guarantees God's favor and ensures human morality. But, if man wishes to realize his spiritual greatness, he must tap into the infinite potential of the Seven Laws, using them to refine and elevate himself. We see here that eating the limb of a living animal serves as a hint to the potential refinement that man can attain through his eating habits and by practicing kindness to God's creatures. For what man ingests as food is absorbed in his bloodstream and in every cell of his body and thereby becomes part of his essential being. The person who eats snakes and monkeys will surely be different from the one who eats nuts and berries. And the mystical teachings state that the Holy Spirit will never rest on one who kills any creature, even the lowliest insect, purposelessly.[7]

2. The early Sages differ concerning the act of consuming the blood of an animal.[8] The Sages say that the Children of Noah contend that they were never forbidden blood as food.[9]

3. The Noahide may eat the flesh of an animal that dies by itself,[10] but there is an opinion stating that only the flesh of an animal killed through slaughtering is permissible.[11]

4. One guilty of transgressing this commandment is subject to punishment by the courts whether he eats the limb of a living animal or merely the flesh of a living animal or any internal organ, even the smallest amount.[12] (The actual transgression has to do only with eating; the use of the animal's hide or any other benefit is permissible.)

5. A person is subject to punishment by the courts for eating the limb or the flesh of either a living domestic or wild animal, but not for eating the limb or flesh of a living chicken.[13] Although the courts do not punish for this, it is forbidden.

(Note: Animals, birds, and fish may be killed for food in any way that man deems to be efficient and it should be done as humanely as possible. Slaughtering of animals or birds does not have to be in a ritual manner as with Jews. Fish are considered dead the moment they are taken out of the water, but even so, one may not eat a fish while it appears to be alive, as this is a lack of refinement, and the chief reason for the giving of the Seven Universal Laws was to refine the nature of man.)

6. When one slaughters an animal, even if its windpipe and esophagus are severed, so long as the limbs are still moving, the limbs and the meat that are separated from them are forbidden to a Noahide because of this law.[14] However, if one eats the limb or flesh of an animal after it has been killed, but while it is still moving, he is not punished for this by the courts, for it is not actually considered the limb or flesh of a living animal.[15]

7. Whether it is a part of an animal that has meat with sinews, cartilage and bone, such as a leg, or even if it contains no bone material at all, such as the kidneys or the heart or the tongue, it is all the same, that is, it is regarded as a limb for the purposes of this commandment.[16]

8. A limb or piece of flesh that is hanging detached from its original position is not forbidden to be eaten (after the animal is slaughtered) if one could have returned the limb to its original position and the animal could have remained alive for a year. But if one could not have returned this limb to its original position so as to permit the animal to live for a year, this detached limb is forbidden even after the animal is slaughtered.

9. The foregoing refers only to a limb that is actually hanging, that is, it has been dislodged from its original position and is only slightly attached. However, if a bone were broken in a place that does not cause serious damage to the animal or bird (for example, a wing tip), if flesh covers the majority of the broken limb, then the limb is not forbidden when the animal is slaughtered. If flesh is missing from the major portion of the limb, then the limb has to be removed completely after the animal is slaughtered before the rest of the creature can be eaten.

10. If an animal has an extra limb that is located in its proper area and its presence will not affect the life of the animal, this extra limb is permitted and is not considered like a hanging limb. Double limbs that will affect the life of the animal, such as the stomach, liver, and kidney must be removed, for the law of a hanging limb is applicable to them.

11. Everything that is forbidden to a Jew because of the law of the limb of a living animal is similarly forbidden to a Noahide, except that the latter has the added strictness of being guilty of this particular transgression whether the animal is spiritually clean or unclean. The Jew is guilty only if the animal is of a type that is spiritually clean.[17]

12. Animals, together with their lives, were given into the hands of mankind. The higher spiritual rank of man dictates that he not eat the limb of a living animal. Even though human flesh and animal flesh are related, the one may be incorporated within the other through eating. But the soul of an animal may never be incorporated within the soul of man. The soul of an animal must first be separated from its physical being before the animal body may be absorbed within and become part of the human body.[18]

13. Vegetarian practices, including those of many religions (even some fundamentalist Christian sects) are generally spur­ious, and at the very least, reflective of incomplete theology. Lest one think that vegetarianism reflects enlightenment, it is important to remember that the ancient Egyptians were religious vegetarians, yet idolaters and moral degenerates in the extreme.[19]

There are four general reasons why a man will likely be a vegetarian. If meat disgusts him, or if he feels that eating meat is unhealthy (particularly in the modern age of chemicals and growth hormones), or if he distrusts the appropriateness of current methods of slaughtering, a person has every right to be a vegetarian. But, if he claims that it is cruel to eat meat, or he is vainly attempting to hearken back to the time of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he denies the truth of God and places his own understanding of mercy above God's. Since God gave Noah and his descendants the right to eat meat, this right is Divine.

A story is told about Rabbi Sholom Ber Schneersohn, known as the Rebbe Rashab, who was strolling with his young son, Yosef Yitzchak, destined to become the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. As they walked, the young boy idly stretched forth his hand and tore off a leaf from a nearby plant. His father reprimanded him for the act, reminding him that everything in creation has a soul and therefore one must be careful. If man has need for an object and can take it within the bounds that God has determined, he has a right to it, for man was given dominion over the whole world. But man has no right to wantonly destroy, even to the extent of purposelessly tearing off the leaf of a plant.

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 56b

[2] Ibid., Tosefos, "He should eat..."

[3] Gen. 9:4, Commentary of Rashi, "But flesh with life..."

[4] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, chapter 9, law 1

[5] Lev. 17:14, commentary of Rashi; Gen. 9:4, commentary of S. R. Hirsch

[6] The Seven Laws of Noah, Lichtenstein, page 56

[7] Kitvei Arizal

[8] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 59a

[9] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, chapter 9, law 10

[10] Encyclopedia Talmudica, volume 3, page 355

[11] Asarah Ma'amarot, Chekur Din, section 3, chapter 21

[12] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, chapter 9, law 10

[13] Ibid., chapter 9, law 11

[14] Ibid., law 12

[15] Ibid., chapter 9, law 11, commentary of Radvaz

[16] Chochmat Adam, chapter 27, law 14

[17] Ibid., law 13

[18] Gen. 9:4, commentary of S. R. Hirsch

[19] Yalkut Me'am Loez, Exodus 8:22

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