Kosher Blood

27 02 2012

In July of last year, Allan Nadler (Professor of Religious Studies at Drew University, and author of The Faith of the Mithnagdim) wrote an article for Jewish Ideas Daily, in which he discussed the correlation between vampirism and Judaism. Nadler’s post is a review of a book by Sara Libby Robinson, entitled Blood Will Tell: Vampires as Political Metaphors Before World War I.

In Nadler’s article, he indicates the fact that Dracula is nowhere described as having been Jewish himself, although he does remark upon the similarities that he has to Jewish stereotypes:

“Rootless, of East European origin, dark-complected, and lustful for the money and blood of others. Assessing a wide range of themes in which blood and vampirism were evoked in late-19th-century European “scientific” thought (Social Darwinism and criminology in particular), Robinson argues that Stoker’s depiction of Dracula exploited widespread anxieties about the dangers posed by the flood (and the blood) of Yiddish-speaking immigrants to Great Britain.”

Is it a coincidence, then, that the individual whom Dracula enlists to assist him in his escape from England be none other than Immanuel Hildesheim: “a Hebrew of rather the Adelphi Theatre type, with a nose like a sheep, and a fez. His arguments were pointed with specie – we doing the punctuation – and with a little bargaining he told us what he knew” (Bram Stoker, Dracula, XXVI). Is it a coincidence that Dracula’s facial features may appear stereotypically Semitic, that his greatest concern lies in his accent divulging his East European origins, or that the vampire motif had long been employed for the characterisation of Jews as usurers? Nadler, in his review of Robinson’s book, seems to think that it is not. In fact, he even notes with interest the connection that Robinson creates between the fear of kosher slaughtering in the ethnic German population, and the ineradicable blood libel.

In the 1880s, for example, there was a widespread campaign in Germany to forbid any form of animal slaughter that was not preceded by electrical stunning. As Robinson notes (and I quote from Nadler’s review), “Jews supposedly took pleasure in their method of slaughtering, which strengthened their insensitivity and brutality. Propaganda depicted them as a “blood-drinking people,” erroneously positing that Jews drank the blood of their slaughtered animals.” I am sure that it goes without saying that animal blood is not something that religious Jews have ever consumed, and it is an unfamiliarity with Jewish religious law that strikes at the heart of such a depiction, as unfamiliarity strikes at the heart of all racial prejudices.

And yet, while it has long been contended that this same consideration automatically falsifies that version of the blood libel that is of greater antiquity – that Jews slaughter Christian children and use their blood for making food – such is not to be the case. While the libel is most certainly that, the reason that religious Jews would shun such a practise is the more commonplace aversion to murder, together with the fact that drinking human blood – if not necessarily unkosher – just sounds a little bit off.

With the approach of Purim, it is customary to deliver a “Purim Torah”: an halakhic or Talmudic exegesis, designed for the purposes of mockery. This year, I would like to share one of the most enjoyable halakhic exegeses (of this genre) that I have read: Yitayningwut’s discussion of kosher blood for Jewish vampires, found on his The Beis Medrash Blog. Rather than reproduce it below, I encourage you all to have a look at it in situ, for there are many other posts there that are also very interesting. For my part, I don’t think that I’m about to avail myself of this surprising leniency any time soon, but it pleases me to know that my options are open.