Recently there has been a great deal of discussion in another thread of this particular forum about "covenants" with
various christians erroneously claiming that "blood" is critical to the making of one, so I thought it was time to make a fresh thread where I could
explain, once and for all, exactly what it is all about.
Now, as is well-known, christians love to use obscure words, whose meanings are not properly understoood by most people, in order to obfuscate the issue and in order to mislead and deceive. The Hebrew word בְּרִית b'rit means an agreement or a pact or a treaty - and far from being rare, the latter usage occurs frequently in the T'nach... here are some examples of it in the text:
וַיֹּאמְרוּ: רָאוֹ רָאִינוּ כִּי הָיָה יְיָ עִמָּךְ, וַנֹּאמֶר תְּהִי נָא אָלָה בֵּינוֹתֵינוּ - בֵּינֵינוּ וּבֵינֶךָ - וְנִכְרְתָה בְרִית עִמָּךְ׃...so they said: "Because we've seen for sure that Adonai was with you, we said, 'There should be an Oath between us - between us and you - so let's make a treaty with you....'." (B'reshit 26:28-29)
וְעַתָּה, לְכָה נִכְרְתָה בְרִית - אֲנִי וָאָתָּה; וְהָיָה לְעֵד בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ׃"...so now, come on, let's make a treaty - I and you - and it will be a proof between me and you..." (B'reshit 31:44)
וַייָ נָתַן חָכְמָה לִשְׁלֹמֹה כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לוֹ, וַיְהִי שָׁלֹם בֵּין חִירָם וּבֵין שְׁלֹמֹה, וַיִּכְרְתוּ בְרִית שְׁנֵיהֶם׃So Adonai gave wisdom to Shlomoh as He had promised him, and there was peace betweeen Hiram and Shlomoh because they had made a treaty between the two of them" (M'lachim Alef 5:26).
Next point: in the Hebrew language, the verb that is used for "making" a b'rit is כרת, which literally means "to cut". In English you "make" or "sign" an agreement or a treaty - in Hebrew you "cut" one. But this doesn't mean that there HAS to be any actual "cutting" involved - in modern, colloquial English one can also "cut a deal" but it's just an expression; and it's the same in Hebrew. I am not saying that the symbolism of cutting or tearing an object in halves and each party keeping one half - a little like Little Orphan Annie's broken locket - to signify the agreement between them was never practised, but that was only ONE way that agreements were formally legalised. For example:בְּרִית בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ בֵּין אָבִי וּבֵין אָבִיךָ - הִנֵּה שָׁלַחְתִּי לְךָ שֹׁחַד כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב לֵךְ הָפֵרָה אֶת בְּרִיתְךָ אֶת בַּעְשָׁא מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיַעֲלֶה מֵעָלָי׃"Look, there's a treaty between us and between my father and your father - I've even sent you a gift [literally 'a bribe'] of silver and gold, so go and repudiate your treaty with Ba'asha, the king of Yisrael, so he will go away and leave me alone!" (M'lachim Alef 15:19)
The exact procedure that used to be adopted is not clear from this verse and the Talmudic authorities had differing opinions as to whether it was the buyer or the seller who handed over his shoe - some maintained that it had to be the acquirer's object (so that Bo'az gave his shoe to the "redeemer"), but others said that the act of acquisition has to be performed with the seller's object (and so the "redeemer" gave his shoe to Bo'az). But either way, as the verse states, anything could be "confirmed" by this exchange of a shoe, no "blood" being required; and remember that Ya'akov and Lavan symbolically formalised their treaty by building a cairn of rocks and sharing a meal together on top it it---וְזֹאת לְפָנִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל עַל הַגְּאֻלָּה וְעַל הַתְּמוּרָה... לְקַיֵּם כָּל דָּבָר: שָׁלַף אִישׁ נַעֲלוֹ וְנָתַן לְרֵעֵהוּ - וְזֹאת הַתְּעוּדָה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל׃Now this is how things used to be done in Yisrael regarding sales and exchanges, or to confirm anything - one person would take off his shoe and give it to the other, and this was how matters were confirmed in Yisrael (Rut 4:7)
וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב לְאֶחָיו "לִקְטוּ אֲבָנִים" וַיִּקְחוּ אֲבָנִים וַיַּעֲשׂוּ גָל וַיֹּאכְלוּ שָׁם עַל הַגָּל׃ וַיִּקְרָא לוֹ לָבָן "יְגַר שָׂהֲדוּתָא" וְיַעֲקֹב קָרָא לוֹ "גַּלְעֵד"׃...then Ya'akov said to his kinsmen, "Fetch some rocks"; so they fetched some rocks and built a cairn... they ate a meal together on top of the cairn: Lavan said it was a y'gar sahaduta while Ya'akov called it a gal'éd. (B'reshit 31:46-47)1. יְגַר שָׂהֲדוּתָא y'gar sahaduta is an "evidence pile" in Aramaic.
2. גַּלְעֵד gal'éd is an "evidence pile" in Hebrew.