Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

Is blood transfusion permissible in Jewish belief?

Is blood transfusion permissible in Jewish belief?

 Email

There is nothing in Jewish law that would preclude a person from benefiting from a blood transfusion (or donating blood, for that matter).

Furthermore, according to Jewish belief, saving a life is one of the most important mitzvot (commandments), overriding nearly all of the others. (The exceptions are murder, certain sexual offenses, and idol-worship—we cannot transgress these even to save a life.) Therefore, if a blood transfusion is deemed medically necessary, then it is not only permissible but obligatory.

All the best,

Rochel Chein for Chabad.org

Mrs. Rochel Chein is a member of the chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
19 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Karen Yonkers February 19, 2015

I was almost killed by a typo. I needed a transfusion after surgery and they were taking an unnecessary amount of time and effort explaining why I needed it. It wasn't til later that I found that my religious preference had been entered as JW instead of JE.

If I recall correctly, a Jew can accept a porcine heart valve if it is needed to save his or her life. It's not the same as eating a bacon cheeseburger. Reply

David Rankin New Zealand February 10, 2015

Janice, Tennessee. I agree with your comment entirely.
See my comment of 10 December. Would not withholding a life-saving transfusion (refusing to save a life) equate to murder? If so, would not those who claim that they withhold transfusion on scriptural grounds be claiming that G-d was an instigator of murder? I find it hard to find any alternative, and would like to hear clarification from those who refuse transfusions.
RM. To increase the patient's red blood cell production with Epo, or anything else, they have to be kept alive until it has time to work .
For the information of anyone facing surgery and being able to follow this path; I had an artificial hip implanted, and before the operation I gave two units of blood for an 'autologous' transfusion. If I required blood I would get my own back. If I did not require it, it would go into the blood bank for someone who did need it.
I was a blood donor for 52 years, and praise G-d that I never needed to receive any Reply

janice tennessee February 8, 2015

It;s a huge jump using a dietary law restricting eating the blood of an animal for restricting blood transfusions. The two aren't even comparable and its misapplication of torah Reply

David Rankin New Zealand December 10, 2014

Re the above comment that murder is forbidden, even to save life. This is a more complex issue than that comment would indicate. Firstly, are 'murder' and 'killing' synonymous? Some argue that 'murder' is for personal reasons and 'killing' is for duty or humanitarian reasons. Having the ability to save life and not doing so, is the same as taking life. Seeing a person in the act of taking the life of another, having the ability to prevent that murder (even perhaps multiple murders) but only by killing the perpetrator, is not a hypothetical situation. It is an issue Police Officers and Armed Forces personnel face in the line of their duty. Having to make such a decision is unlikely for most individuals, it was forced on the passengers and crew of flight 93 on 9/11. This is a fraught question, a deeply personal one, and one which we will need to justify before G-d, but the principle is better decided after careful thought rather than in the heat and uncertainty of a stressed situation. Reply

RM Tennessee October 24, 2014

The Torah commands "You must not eat nothing containing blood." Leviticus 19:26. Isn't receiving a blood transfusion just as bad as eating blood? The Torah also commands "You should pour [the blood] out on the ground like water." Deuteronomy 12:16. Receiving a blood transfusion would be in violation of the scripture at Deuteronomy 12:16 which states that the blood (the source of life) should be poured into the ground like water. In addition, there are blood alternatives that can be used such as erythropoietin. Erythropietin or Epo can be used make the bone marrow produce more red blood cells. In addition, blood transfusions are not necessarily safe. In Sherwood v. Danbury Hosp., 896 A.2d 777 (Conn., 2006) a patient filed suit against a hospital claiming that she contracted HIV from from a blood transfusion given prior to surgery. The court sided with the hospital stating that the plaintiff's complaint was time barred due to the statute of limitations. Reply

Dennis Briskin Palo Alto CA May 19, 2014

Dear Mrs. Chein,

Your fine answer does not go far enough in support of Jews (and others) donating blood. Yes, saving a life trumps all but three mitzvot. While donating blood is permitted, saving lives is required. If your spouse, parent, child or rebbe needed blood, you would rush to give, provided it did not endanger your own health. Every day someone's beloved needs blood. The fact that we do not know their name is no excuse under Jewish law. (In the 8 levels of tsedakah from Maimonides, giving when donor and recipient are anonymous to each other ranks #2 from the top. Because of medical confidentiality, this is always the case with blood.)

Thus, because the need is always here and it is safe for the donor, Jews must search out this simple way to save lives. Giving a pint of blood takes about one hour from walking in to walking out. Reply

Shirin O'connor Texas April 21, 2014

Dear Mohammad Khan, You obviously misunderstood my comment. In no way have I ever promoted the eating of pork. I used that example, as have many Muslim and Jewish scholars, only to show that even the most important of laws can be broken to preserve a life. Taking my comment out of context is nothing more than flaming, and there was no reason other than that to feign disgust at my comment. I know nothing of witches' remedies, but I do know of health laws; my father was a scholar of both Islam and Judaism, and translated the Asaf and Rambam into English. All I said - and you repeated it - is that is it permissible to eat pork to save a life. Reply

Mohammad Khan December 22, 2013

As a Muslim I found Shirin Bar Sela 's comment horrible and violation of G-d's law. There is no medical research indicating that a patient would get healed by eating pork. That would have to be remedy from witches of thousand years ago.
However under Islam pork and meat of other animals is only allowed during the outbreak of famine and war when only no other food is available. You only eat as much to sustain your life in that circumstance and not for enjoyment. Reply

Anonymous Ohio April 14, 2013

As a former Jehovah's Witness that watched her mom die from not having a blood transfusion, even though the doctor said she has a good chance of dying if she did not receive one was upsetting to me. It is not up to your conscious, if you take one you would be disfellowshipped (shunned by friends and family in the religion). They never told the members of her congregation why she really died even though it is on her death certificate, they did not acknowledge it. Reply

steve Yeovil, England April 1, 2012

In England Witnesses go door to door in an attempt to convert people. Sadly this is more often than not greeted with scorn and foul derision. I, on the other hand, as a practising agnostic, invite them in and try to convert them.

Mudz, kudos to you. Porphyria - what a genius question!

Anonymous, what happened to you in those three weeks that caused you to u-turn so vehemently? It should also be noted that medicine evolved as it did because of the certain knowledge that blood is even more essential to life than water. We all know that we've only got a few days without taking in fluids but I challenge anyone to survive for just one second without blood. Why do you think keyhole surgery even exists? It will always be chosen before slicing someone open.

If god really exists then surely he would want us to use our brains for our own benefit. Reply

Mudz March 16, 2012

This was quite enlightening. I am curious though, if blood transfusions were also considered as part of the prohibition and therefore disrespectful to G-d, would the commandment to preserve life override this?
Or another way to put it. If literally eating blood became a medically beneficial procedure that could save lives, which takes precedence?
Reply

Shirin Bar-Sela Houston, Texas November 11, 2011

Abraham -
Rochel Chein is correct. My father was a scholar of Talmud and the Rambam and medicine. Saving a life, or even improving health, take priority over almost all other laws. As long as you are not violating laws such as those stated above, one should do everything within one's power to heal the sick or save a life. It was taught to us that such a mitzvah is so important, that if a doctor says you must eat pork in order to live, that is what you must do.

As for everyone else - please debate J's Witnesses on another forum.

Shabat shalom. Reply

Anonymous Queens, NY/USA February 1, 2011

From the tenor of your response, I am convinced that you are a Jehovah’s witness. Therefore, I know that your mind has already been made up. However, let me just remind you that when I said that witnesses do not have the freedom of using their own conscience, I was talking from the perspective of someone who had a close enough relationship with witnesses in school, at work, and in my neighborhood. Witnesses I have known are generally good people who are doing their best to please God. What kind of conscience are you talking about when the mere acceptance of a blood transfusion can get a witness in serious trouble with the faith? Put your own conscience to the test and prove me wrong. I challenge you to even once try to publicly voice your disagreement with a decision from the headquarters. You will see how fast you will be excommunicated on the basis of your so-called conscience. Believe me, you are not as free as you think, especially when men are allowed to play game with your life. Reply

Anonymous Marathon, NY November 11, 2010

Mike was not attacking May Millar so much as providing a logical defense for Jehovah's Witnesses. Mike did some careful and accurate research regarding the latest medical techniques. I don't think May Millar even mentioned any personal experience with Jehovah's Witnesses. What Millar mentioned were the typical accusations Jehovah's Witnesses receive regarding the topic of blood transfusion. Jehovah's Witnesses place a high value on life, and view blood as the equivalent of a person's life. They do not treat this as a light matter. Witnesses understand the concept of death, and especially do not want it for their children. Jehovah's Witnesses do use their conscience on personal matters. How can you be so assured that Jehovah's Witnesses aren't allowed to use their consciences? They choose to have their consciences shaped by Bible principles, so the choice is completely personal. Thank you Mike for that well-researched defense of your faith. Reply

Anonymous Queens, NY, USA September 20, 2010

Mike,

I must say that I was disappointed that you chose to attack Mr. Millar who was talking from experience. You said: "Your comments concerning Jehovah's Witnesses are based on nothing more than hearsay, biased speculation and ignorance." As someone who has a lot of witness friends, I believe that you did not take the time to think before you answered. I have lost at least two witness friends who refused a critical blood transfusion. Now, I am not ready to criticize them for what they did since they were just following what they believed to be taken from the Bible. Nevertheless, let's be clear here, Jehovah's witnesses were never permitted to use their conscience on such personal matters. It is obvious that your religion has recently toned down the rethoric by allowing some modern procedures such as "cell salvage". However, you must at least acknowledged the fact that many sincere witnesses have already died needlessly because they did not have the "cell salvage" option before. Reply

abraham mumbai, india September 18, 2010

recently i had a discussion with one of my friend as she is doing her Post graduation in nursing.. in their studies she was taught that jews dont do blood transfusion(medical unbelief's in differnt culture)


i totally disagreed to what she said.. but ddnt know to check with whom...

so thanks a lot...

Shalom Reply

Mike newport, UK August 20, 2010

Your comments concerning Jehovah's Witnesses are based on nothing more than hearsay, biased speculation and ignorance. Jehovah's Witnesses do not even believe in 'hellfire', as if a God of love would wish to torture anyone. Neither would they 'allow their children to die', nor do they give doctors and nurse a hard time. Jehovah's Witnesses have championed bloodless surgery, have set up almost 2000 hospital liaison committees worldwide. They can now undergo the most invasive surgery without blood transfusions, they can also benefit from numerous bloodless surgery techniques during accident and emergency care. Treatment techniques such as cell salvage, preoperative erythropoietin, bleeding control with the use of sonic scalpels, electrocautery, low central venous pressure anesthesia, blood substitute volume expander mean that it's never a case of 'letting someone die.' Reply

Anonymous FL May 3, 2010

There is a fast growing medical discipline called blood management, bloodless medicine , or blood conservation. According to these medical professionals and researchers blood transfusion is not that harmless as what people assume. Blood transfusion increase the mortality and morbidity of many patients. Strore blood loses a great deal of nitric oxide which is critical in oxygen transfer from blood to tissue.

See the website of society of advance and blood management and the publications of Dr Aryeh Shander. Reply

May Millar Edinburgh, Scotland March 3, 2009

I am happy to have this question answered by both Rabbi Menachem Posner and by your article. When I was young and in Melbourne, Australia, I worked for the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service for about 4 years. There was a substantial Jewish population in Melbourne and now I recall that blood transfusions are of course, acceptable by Jewish Law. However, there is one religion, (Jehovah's Witnesses) that totally prohibit blood transfusions, even to "save the life" of their own children. They give the good doctors and surgeons a hard time. However, in the event of a young child, they can override the parents decision "to let a child die" by getting legal permission. They say that their child would "be damned to hell" or something similar if given blood. I think they have gravely missinterpreted a passage in the Bible, pertaining to "human blood".

Shalom Reply

Related Topics
This page in other languages