Chametz

It was just before midnight when a cloud covered the moon and a bat flew right in front of me. Before I had time to worry about whether I was up to date on my rabies shots, it had transformed into a pale man in a black cloak.

“I have come to suck your blood!” he said in a heavy Eastern European accent.

Years of watching television and movies had prepared me well. I put my hands together into the sign of the cross.

“Oy. Again with the crosses! What do I look like, the Pope?”

The accent was the clue. “You’re Jewish?”

“You think I don’t look Jewish? I’m wearing all black! You want I should have the hat and forelocks, too?”

I groaned. “But…you can’t be Jewish. Jews aren’t allowed to drink blood.”

“Okay Mr. Big-Shot Rabbinical Authority. You’ve never heard of pikuach nefesh? You’re allowed to violate the law if you need to do it to live. What do you want me to eat? Gefilte fish?

“But you’re not allowed to invoke pikuach nefesh in order to justify killing someone.”

“So maybe I don’t kill someone. Maybe I just leave you drained and a little bit blechedich.”

I didn’t know what blechedich meant, but it sounded ominous. I had a plan, but I needed to buy time. I started walking – not running away, just looking like I was pacing as I thought. The vampire followed effortlessly, floating beside me.

“The problem is, it’s not just that my blood isn’t kosher. I’m chametz

“Chametz? You’re flour? You’re leavened bread?”

“No. But I ate lots of bread just before coming out here. Loads of bread. French bread, tortillas, naans, croissants, every type of bread you can think of. I’m sure it’s all in my bloodstream.”

“You ate bread? But it’s Pesach!

“So maybe I’m not the most frum Jew in the world.”

“Not the most frum Jew in the world? Complicated Talmudic controversy, this is not! Not eating chametz on Passover is the basics!”

“Okay, fine, maybe I’m not religious at all. Maybe I’m the kind of Jew they kick out of Reform synagogues for not being observant enough. Whatever. The point is, I ate chametz, my blood is chametz, and it’s not going to kill you to go find somebody else who didn’t eat any bread today.”

“So you’re not religious. Why should I have to suffer because you’re not religious? It’s not like I’ve come to suck your stomach contents.”

I started walking a little faster. I was almost home now. Once I was in front of my house, if I made a run for it I might be able to get into the door. And once I was across the threshold, I knew vampires couldn’t come inside unless invited.

“So that’s actually not relevant. You’re not supposed to benefit indirectly from chametz on Pesach. So if I eat the chametz and use it to form my blood, and you drink my blood, then you’re benefitting. This is why some people won’t drink milk on Passover if they can’t prove the cow didn’t have chametz.”

“Milk, schmilk. Everyone agrees you can have meat on Pesach no matter what the cow ate.”

“So I think blood is more like milk. It’s a liquid product of the body, rather than part of the body itself.”

“It’s more like meat. It’s a part of the body, used to sustain the body, rather than something that’s meant to go outside of it.”

I had exhausted my knowledge of dietary law, but that was okay, because my distraction had been successful. I was in front of my own house now. With a burst of speed, I ran through the front yard, flung the door open, and made it into my living room. “Ha!” I said. “I’m over the threshold! And I’m not going invite you in!”

The vampire shrugged, walked straight across the threshold, and grabbed me by the neck.

How?!” was the last word I managed to say before losing consciousness.

“You are not so frum a Jew? Well, maybe I am not so frum a vampire.”

120 thoughts on “Chametz

  1. Dutch English

    Is there any reason not to just give him your blood? After all, they need people to live, and they’re immortal/smart, so maybe it’s like paying them to keep us safe.

  2. wiserd

    Vampires aren’t alive. They’re undead. Granted, ‘Nefesh’ refers to souls, specifically. But then, the lack of a soul is why vampires don’t appear in mirrors. So if this vampire casts no reflection, there’s nothing there to save.

    As for the erev being vampire inspired to nullify traditional defenses, that’s a great idea. And perhaps they cover the mirrors when sitting shiva so you can’t make out the vampires, also? This explains so much…

  3. Naclador

    In case you ever meet a Jewish vampire, I recommend silver-cast David star shaped shuriken as the weapon of choice.

  4. DavidFriedman

    You ought to publish this in print somewhere. F&SF is the obvious target, but I’m wondering if there is somewhere else where Jewish humor would be particularly appreciated.

    1. Mary

      It is published. First rights have been burned.

      Collecting it with the other works of fiction here and publishing is another matter.

          1. DavidFriedman

            I’ve webbed an article, then had a journal ask me to expand it for publication. My books are usually online as a late draft for comments before they are published.

      1. Nancy Lebovitz

        How much publishers care about online publication varies. The First Immortal might have been the first novel to be published online and then conventionally. For something more recent, consider The Martian.

  5. jhertzlinger

    I’m not sure about vampires but a Jewish werewolf would not be able to attend a seder.

  6. vV_Vv

    From Wikipedia

    Other methods commonly practised in Europe included severing the tendons at the knees or placing poppy seeds, millet, or sand on the ground at the grave site of a presumed vampire; this was intended to keep the vampire occupied all night by counting the fallen grains,[34] indicating an association of vampires with arithmomania. Similar Chinese narratives state that if a vampire-like being came across a sack of rice, it would have to count every grain; this is a theme encountered in myths from the Indian subcontinent, as well as in South American tales of witches and other sorts of evil or mischievous spirits or beings.

    You could have tried to throw some pennies on the ground. 🙂

    1. Mary

      In Eastern Europe, one should, apparently, not sleep all night the nights vampires are most active. Instead you should stay up all night telling stories.

    2. Nancy Lebovitz

      You could have, but I’ve only heard of it as anti-Semitic bullying by children.

      Admittedly, a vampire might count as an emergency where courtesy doesn’t apply.

    3. arancaytar

      if a vampire-like being came across a sack of rice, it would have to count every grain

      There’s a Sesame Street joke in there.

  7. MartMart

    Despite having lived in Israel, I am still unclear on the Jewish concepts of afterlife. I understand that there is one, and there is a heaven analogue. But I got conflicting messages on the hell analogue. Is there one?

  8. JulieK

    Cows may be fed a special diet in the days before Pesach to ensure their milk is chametz-free, but I’ve never heard of human nursing mothers being expected to follow suit (and I am a religious Jew who is currently nursing while typing).

    1. rahien.din

      Jewish nursing mothers are prohibited from eating chametz during Passover not because they are nursing but because they are Jewish.

      I guess one could suggest that a non-Jewish wet nurse might be required by her orthodox Jew clients not to eat chametz but I suspect that it’s verboten to have a gentile wet nurse.

      1. wintermute92

        But the cows are switched over before Passover, adding lead time to ensure that their milk is not Pesach. As far as I know Jewish mothers are free to eat chametz immediately prior to Passover, with no violation on behalf of their baby.

        Can anyone clarify why this would be?

        1. The Nybbler

          According to the link, the issue isn’t the production of the milk; it’s contamination. If the cow is eating grain which becomes chametz, that can contaminate the milk (from the outside) and make it chametz. The cows are switched over early merely because an abrupt change in diet results in unhappy cows.

          So our vampire can suck the chametz-eater’s blood, but he’s probably well-advised to make sure the neck is clean first.

  9. kinetichughreeve

    I was almost hoping the vampire would point out that narrator’s house was in an eruv, so they were already in the same dwelling.

    Also, I was reading about pikuach nefesh earlier this evening. Get out of my head!

    1. beleester

      Oh, that’s clever. I’d almost suspect that vampires invented the concept of an eruv, as a way to convince the mortals to nullify their own thresholds.

      If I ever write an urban fantasy novel, I’m definitely stealing this idea.

    2. Mary

      Lacks drama.

      You have to build to a crescendo. To merely indulge in the same sort of legalisms they have been throwing back and forth is to merely go on; to throw them all out the window is to put in a final climax.

      1. kinetichughreeve

        In my defense, I wasn’t expecting that to be the punchline. Also, expecting something eruv-related made the actual ending more of a twist.

    3. DavidFriedman

      I thought an eruv was supposed to represent a courtyard, so might contain multiple dwellings. But even if that’s right, I don’t know what the exact legal terms are of the rule that frum vampires obey.

      1. Gazeboist

        I usually see “must be invited to cross the threshold”. So the vampire probably has the run of your outdoor land, although there’s probably an argument to be made that a gate and fence would stop them. (compare American cops, in fact)

        1. Protagoras

          Hmmm. Compare American cops and vampires. As far as I know, American cops can go out in the daytime, though I guess Dracula could too in Stoker’s original novel. I believe a wooden stake through the heart will kill either. I don’t know if American cops have to sleep in a coffin with a little of the soil of their home. Anybody else with a greater familiarity with the lore of American cops or vampires able to weigh in?

  10. SoloDov

    Not a bad legalistic analysis, but there’s some bad news for our not so frum protagonist; there is no biblical prohibition against drinking human blood. It’s simply a rabbinic prohibition. Furthermore, if the blood wasn’t separated from the body yet, there seems to not even be a rabbinic prohibition either (Talmud Bavli Keritot 21b).

    Others, however, disagree, and believe that drinking human blood violates the spirit of the law and is therefore totally asur, not permitted.

    1. andrewphilos

      Does Leviticus 17:10-14 not count? It doesn’t specifically mention human blood, but I figure if animal blood is verboten, human blood would be even worse.

      “‘I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.”

      Any Israelite or any foreigner residing among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, “You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.”

      1. Jugemu

        From what I’ve read, Halachic reasoning tends to be rather convoluted and often comes to conclusions that aren’t exactly an obvious interpretation of the text (the meat-milk stuff is an example of taking something way further than seems necessary). In this case they probably don’t count humans because humans aren’t supposed to be sacrificed, and that was the context in which the prohibition is given.

  11. yossarian

    So what are you supposed to use to defend yourself from a Jewpire? Should you throw a tefillin at him, wave a Tora or hit him on the head with a large tome of Talmud with commentaries from the wisest rabbis while reciting the Sacred Names of God? Or should you go for maximum non-kosher and impale him with a pig’s leg while boiling a goat in its mother’s milk… on shabbath?
    (From what I’ve heard from some learned authorities on the subject of Jewish vampires, it appeares that an uncircumsized putz is really good at scaring them away – though good luck at trying to use that instead of the standard wooden stake for the impaling-the-vampire part!)

    1. Nancy Lebovitz

      You can’t recite the most important name of G-d because no one knows how to pronounce it.
      There’s a Chasidic magical tradition, but I’m not familiar with it.

      1. Evan Þ

        And a Samaritan tradition too. But, as everyone who’s read the Gospel of John knows, Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

    2. Diaghilev

      You’d be amazed what you can do with an uncircumcised penis when it’s a matter of life and death.

      Also, per Scott’s other writings–don’t boil a goat in its mother’s milk. Uriel gets very upset.

    3. beleester

      A Star of David probably makes the most sense – it’s the most recognizable symbol of the religion, even if it doesn’t really have halachic significance. But our narrator needs something he can do with his bare hands, like the sign of the cross, and a six-pointed star is a little bit too complicated for that. So I’d probably go for the cohen blessing (geeks will know this one as the Vulcan salute).

      You could also take a page out of Discworld’s book: “Cutting off the head and putting a stake through the heart works on everybody.

      1. kinetichughreeve

        Better still, it’s the Seal of Solomon, good for binding and restraining demons!

        Still hard to create with hand gestures. He might be able to get the same effect by imitating a pinniped that is owned by a wise and wealthy king.

        1. Deiseach

          Better still, it’s the Seal of Solomon, good for binding and restraining demons!
          Still hard to create with hand gestures.

          How to make the Seal of Solomon on yourself, as you would make the sign of the cross (cribbed from years back watching an episode of Bridget Loves Bernie, where one of Bernie’s relatives did this: dialogue went something like “Are you trying to make the sign of the cross?” “No, Star of David”).

          But since it draws a five pointed, not six pointed star, I’m calling it the Seal of Solomon 🙂

          EDIT: Tried this out on myself and this is a better way to make the five-pointed star in a complete way (that is, without a missing ‘line’)

          (1) Start off with touching the fingers of your right hand to the right side of your lower abdomen (if you’re flexible enough, you can touch the top of your upper thigh)

          (2) Move up to your forehead, as when making the sign of the cross

          (3) Move down to left – again, somewhere on lower abdomen/upper thigh

          (4) From there, move up and across to right shoulder

          (5) Move over to left shoulder

          (6) And to complete the sigil, move back down to right lower abdomen/upper thigh. Et voilà! 🙂

      2. Mary

        something he can do with his bare hands, like the sign of the cross

        Actually, all you need for that is ONE hand. Because this is impossible: “I put my hands together into the sign of the cross.”

        All right, maybe he’s a mite confused seeing as he isn’t Christian, but what you do is touch your forehead (in the name of the Father), your lower chest (the Son), one shoulder (and the Holy) and the other shoulder (Spirit) — which shoulder goes first is a matter of local custom, but in the US, it’s left shoulder then right. The Russian Orthodox add requirements on how you’re supposed to hold your hand, which was indeed one of the flash points between the Old Believers and the Church, but Catholics generally just use their hands flat.

        I presume this guy is just holding up his hands, crossing them.

        One notes that he could trace out figures considerably more complicated than a cross, but whether they would work. . . .

        1. martinw

          Making a cross with both index fingers is a traditional way of warding off evil, isn’t it? Or was that invented for vampire movies?

          1. Mary

            I don’t know about whether it’s just for movies — though I suspect so, as witness the traditional was you needed a crucifix, not just not a cross — but it’s not the sign of the cross.

      3. jhertzlinger

        According Larry Niven you might be able to kill a vampire with a revolver loaded with a wooden pencil.

          1. Leit

            Wooden ammunition was actually a real thing. It was generally used for riot control the same way we would use rubber bullets nowadays – blunt rounds fired at relatively low velocity.

            I wouldn’t go loading up something like a .40 with a pencil, and the traditional hexagonal-profile pencil seems like it’d produce some pressure issues without a wad behind it, but I could see someone making it work. Easier if the revolver is something like a Taurus Judge, where you could maybe use a modded shotshell. There is literally nothing that someone won’t try shoving in a shotgun.

          2. LHN

            In the British TV show “Ultraviolet”, the organization fighting “Code Fives” (think Roman numerals) used science to isolate active ingredients. So carbon bullets, pure allicin instead of raw garlic, etc.

            (In addition to mirrors, “Leeches” didn’t show up on video, so their opponents’ gunsights incorporated a camera. Anyone who doesn’t show up on it is fair game.)

      1. Evan Þ

        On the other hand, my favorite explanation for “why garlic?” is that it’s in the lily family. So, garlic is another version of the Easter lily.

      2. yossarian

        Probably just because of the smell. Similarly, I am not sure that the “uncircumsized putz” solution works for any mystical reason – maybe the vampire just runs away, screaming “EWWW! Exhibitionist!”

      3. jhertzlinger

        Garlic doesn’t work on the vampires of “Blindsight” by Peter Watts.

        OTOH, it does work on the vampires of “An Ill Wind” by by Joseph H. Delaney.

        1. TheEternallyPerplexed

          You are right. And it conflicts with my idea in the other comment (that the story was about one of the “Blindsight” kind). Oh, these multiple minds..

      4. Autolykos

        It seems to work quite well against mosquitoes – so that’s probably where the idea came from…

    4. wiserd

      Guilt. You use guilt. “What would your mother think if she knew you were rising from the grave to feast upon the living. She’d probably be rolling over in her own grave.”

  12. aburstein

    This story has just the right amount of insider frum lingo, arcane halachic knowledge, and knowing what details a frum vampire would care about and which ones he’d overlook that I gotta think you’ve spent a good amount of time in yeshiva.

    Suddenly everything I’ve been reading here the past two years… it’s all starting to make sense now…. 🙂

    1. Besserwisser

      It’s fun if you know German and can understand a lot because Jiddish is so similar. Here it isn’t so easy but I once watched a Let’s Play of a game and it wasn’t until the let’s player called it Jiddish until I went “what, this isn’t German?”.

    2. Brad

      Oy – an interjection usually expressing annoyance or some other negative emotion
      pikuach nefesh – a religious meta rule that allows most other rules to be avoided in cases of necessity
      Gefilte fish – a disgusting pressed fish pate thing
      blechedich – made up I think
      chametz – leavened bread, forbidden to be eaten on Passover
      Pesach – Passover
      frum – religious

        1. Brad

          I debated including something on that one, but I didn’t know the term “shm-reduplication” and it’s kind of complicated to write out from scratch. Same thing with “You want I should” which is a pattern of speech that people that speak Yiddish sometimes have in English. (Presumably because that’s the order it would be in Yiddish, but I’m not nearly fluent enough to know.)

      1. John Schilling

        blechedich – made up I think

        Sounded familiar, and Google suggests the first public usage was in the F. Paul Wilson novel “Dark City” (2013, part of the Repairman Jack series). As a bit of possibly-faux Yiddish, with the same connotation, and similar followup: “Jack didn’t know what blechedich meant, but…”

        If this is an unintended clue to our host’s literary tastes, then he has at least let slip a bit of good taste. Or perhaps he and Wilson are drawing from the same obscure Yiddish tradition. One kept hidden from the goyim until 2013, so perhaps the Elders of Zion will be having words with him over the slip. Blechedich he will be feeling, after that conversation.

        1. The Nybbler

          blechedich (bleh cheh dich) Lifeless; sickly. You are just getting over a bad case of the stomach flu when the ship you are on hits rough seas and you discover they are serving boiled rabbit for lunch. You feel BLECHEDICH.

          Yiddish for Yankees: Or, Funny, You Don’t Look Gentile, Martin Marcus, Lippincot, 1968

          The pronunciation key ruins the “Dark City” use; “blechedich” doesn’t audibly start with “blech”.

          1. switchnode

            Doesn’t it? I pronounce “blech” /blɛx/ and would start “blechedich” the same way. Do other people use /t͡ʃ/?

          2. The Nybbler

            See above, “blechedich” is rendered as three syllables, with the first ch as a syllable start instead of an end, probably /blɛ xɛ dɪx/.

          3. Nancy Lebovitz

            One online source says blech came into English in the 60s, and I’m betting it’s by way of Mad Magazine.

          4. switchnode

            See above, “blechedich” is rendered as three syllables, with the first ch as a syllable start instead of an end, probably /blɛ xɛ dɪx/.

            Onset maximization. It’s still the same segment; “audibly” isn’t really well-defined and I’m not sure what distinction you’re trying to make. (I speak some Yiddish and would accept the line given without question.)

          1. bbartlog

            A more likely base is just German ‘bleich’ (pallid, pale, sallow), cognate to ‘bleach’. In that case ‘blechedich’ would be more or less saying ‘bleached-ish’.

  13. Mary

    I notice the narrator didn’t object to the notion of the vampire’s being alive. For maximum nit picking.

  14. Squirrel of Doom

    Depending on transcription, there is a chance the vampire leaves you with a black dick.

    Might not be the worst thing!

  15. Jacob

    You can lose about 60 ounces of blood before you die, and given that it’s Passover I’d think the vampire should settle for 4 wine glasses, or about 16 ounces. I guess that would just leave you blechedich.

    1. xiani

      I’m British, travelled around Europe a lot, and the US a little bit.

      I’m fine with mixing up imperial/metric shit, can almost tolerate kilometres, happily switch between kilos and pounds, will ignore american ‘pints’…but I’ll never get my head around an ounce (a unit of weight used mostly when buying drugs these days) as a quantity of liquid.

      I know about 40s & blunts though, so if 40 is is big-ass can of beer, 60 is a fair bit more than that, but not going to kill you?

      1. Protagoras

        Two liters is just under 68 ounces (or a half gallon is 64 ounces exactly, if you prefer), to give an intuitive idea of what ballpark 60 ounces is in.

      2. SEE

        Hmm? It’s the same trick as a liter of water weighing a kilogram — a fluid ounce of water weighs an ounce (well, usually given as 1.04 ounces, but then you have to define temperature and pressure and the like).

          1. Andrew G.

            A pint’s a pound the world around.

            That statement is of course literally false. While in the USA a pint of water weighs only 4% or so over a pound, here in the UK, where a fluid ounce of water really does weigh an actual ounce, a pint weighs 1.25 pounds.

            (The US “fluid ounce” is actually defined by volume: 128 US fl.oz = 1 US gallon = 231 cubic inches. The Imperial gallon is 10 pounds of distilled water at 62°F and a pressure of 30 inches of mercury, and contains 160 fl.oz.)

          2. SuiJuris

            As a child (in the UK) I was taught the rhyme:
            “a pint of pure water weighs a pound and a quarter.”

            But it had never occurred to me before today that the reason was that a fluid ounce of water weighed an ounce.

          3. keranih

            It’s a folk saying, of course it’s not 100% accurate.

            (Granted, I should have (esp on SSC) emphasized the folksayingness.)

            (And also, y’know, the American reach has been global more recently than that of Britain.)

            What’s interesting to me is the US reliance on volume measure vs the UK (and now much of the EU) where weights are more common. I was told this has to do with the US immigration tradition, where a set of tin measuring cups was more likely to arrive at the farmstead in a satisfactory condition than a scale.

          4. SEE

            And accordingly, US fluid measures are nice and convenient for computers using binary (0b1 gallon = 0b100 quarts = 0b1000 pints = 0b10000 cups = 0b100000 gills = 0b10000000 fluid ounces = 0b100000000 tablespoons = 0b10000000000 fluid drams), metric fluid measures are convenient for humans using decimal, and Imperial fluid measures are only convenient for beer drinkers.

          5. Joe English

            A pint’s a pound the world around.

            A pint was more like £3.50 last time I was in London.

          6. LHN

            It’s a folk saying, of course it’s not 100% accurate.

            Next we’ll discover that every good boy doesn’t do fine. Or that “Oh, Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me” isn’t actually an effective pickup line for astronomers.

      3. alexsloat

        The American usage of “40” to imply things like beer and malt liquor confused me for quite a while. In Canada, a 40 is a 40-oz bottle of liquor(yes, we’re officially metric, but this is a field where people haven’t converted in practice).

      4. Deiseach

        Ounces are fluid ounces, which you might have seen used in recipes abbreviated as fl oz? As in the below recipe for Lamb Madras, which has both the metric and imperial measures:

        2 tbs red wine vinegar
        1 tbs tomato purée
        3 tbs Schwartz Madras Curry Spice Blend
        450g (1lb) lamb, diced
        350ml (12fl oz) water
        3 tbs light olive oil
        1 onion, finely chopped

      5. po8crg

        I’m British too, and I’ve heard of a fluid ounce. We just don’t call them ounces. Ever.

        A fluid ounce is one-twentieth of a pint.

      6. Nornagest

        Most Americans find both fluid ounces and liters pretty intuitive, because the American beverage industries use mixed units. Dairy and beer use customary measurements, with dairy usually denominating in gallons and beer usually in ounces; wine and liquor use metric; soda uses metric for anything above a liter (one- and two-liter soda bottles are common, and you occasionally see three-liter ones at wholesale stores) and fluid ounces for anything below (common sizes are 8, 12, 16, and 20 oz). Bottled water is just a mess.

        I think the historical reason for this is that the US got part way through metricization in the Seventies, and the beverage industries were the furthest along when the government chickened out.

        1. LHN

          Liquor uses metric officially, but in my experience people are more likely to use terms like “a fifth” or “a handle” than the actual measures. Certainly the extremely common use of 750 ml and twice that as units of sale is a matter of continuity with when the fifth (of a gallon, 757 ml) was the standard measure, though there are some 1L bottles for sale as well.

      7. Edward Scizorhands

        The proper marking for an automobile tire includes both metric (width in millimeters) and Imperial (rim diameter in inches), right together. You can’t have just one or the other.

  16. keranih

    It’s a crap kinda world, where even the vampires don’t hold to their sacred principles.

    (This was…cute.)

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