web analytics
July 5, 2015 / 18 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post


Home » Judaism » Columns »

The Rationale For The Dietary Laws

Cows in the Emek Yizrael valley. (illustrative)

Cows in the Emek Yizrael valley. (illustrative)
Photo Credit: Liron Almog / Flash 90

The Torah in this week’s parshah mandates that for animals to be kosher they must possess two characteristics – they must have cloven hooves and chew the cud (Leviticus 11:3).

In contemporary times there is much ado about the impact of food on physical health. My doctors keep telling me, for example, to keep the fat and cholesterol down. Is it possible that food could similarly impact on one’s spiritual well being? This in fact is the position of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in his explanation of kashrut.

The characteristics of kosher animals point to their being more passive in nature. In Hirsch’s words: “If we look at the signs for clean animals they appear plant-like. As they chew the cud, the food consumed passes through two stomachs, is driven up the gullet again and chewed for the second time. Thus, these animals spend a great deal of time in the absorption of food. The cloven hooves of the permitted animals also seem to have been created more for the mere purpose of standing than for being used as weapons or tools.”

The same is true concerning fish. To be kosher, fish must have fins and scales (Leviticus 11:9). Not coincidentally, fish that have these characteristics are by and large more peaceful in nature. The more aggressive fish fall into the category of the prohibited. Moreover, birds of prey are by and large enjoined. The rule holds fast. The more aggressive animals and fowl are prohibited. The more passive are permitted.

Of course, not everyone who consumes kosher food leads a life of inner peace. There are troubled people who eat kosher, just as there are fine people who do not eat kosher. Nonetheless, the ritual of kashrut may help us become more conscious of our responsibilities to live ethical lives.

The balance between outer action and inner feelings is especially discernible in the laws of forbidden and permitted animals. Note that chewing the cud is an internal characteristic as it deals with the inner digestive system. In contrast, cloven hooves are an external characteristic. One merely has to look at an animal’s foot to detect whether this criterion has been met. Perhaps this teaches that to be kosher, one’s behavior must not only be outwardly correct but inwardly pure.

Whether these rationales are satisfactory or not, the prohibited foods teach us discipline. They remind us that in the end, God is the arbiter of right and wrong. Notwithstanding, the kashrut laws carry powerful ethical lessons that can help ennoble and sanctify our lives.

About the Author: Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

3 Responses to “The Rationale For The Dietary Laws”

  1. Herman Christoffel Kuun says:

    A very acceptable explanation

  2. Makes sense. I'm guessing catfish aren't kosher either, since they don't have scales like most other fish, which makes sense, as catfish are also bottom-feeders and have higher levels of mercury than other fish. It also makes sense not to eat the carnivores in nature, throwing off the delicate balance found in the animal kingdom. Whatever it is, I'm pretty sure Spam isn't kosher either….it's great for a heart-attack though with all the salt and fat. I could go kosher easy….I can't afford lobster anyways, so it's not like I'd miss anything.

  3. Anonymous says:

    And your doctor is wrong: fat and cholesterol are needed for most people, high amounts of fatty food are not.

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2012.
Hillary Clinton Says She Will Be Better Friend than Obama to Israel
Latest Judaism Stories
Rabbi Avi Weiss

With Ruth, The Torah seems to be stating that children shouldn’t be punished for the sins of parents

Neihaus-070315

Without a foundation, one cannot hope to build a structure.

Torat-Hakehillah-logo-NEW

Why do we have a parsha in Sefer Shemos named after Yisro who was not only a former idolater, but actually served as a priest for Avodah Zarah!

Q-A-Klass-logo

Question: Should we wash our hands in the bathroom with soap and water, or by pouring water from a vessel with handles three times, alternating hands? I have heard it said that a vessel is used only in the morning upon awakening. What are the rules pertaining to young children? What is the protocol if no vessel is available? Additionally, may we dry our hands via an electric dryer?

Harry Koenigsberg
(Via E-Mail)

This Land Is ‘My’ Land
‘[If The Vow Was Imposed] In The Seventh Year…’
(Nedarim 42b)

The Shulchan Aruch in the very first siman states that one should rise in the morning like a lion, implying that simply rising form bed requires strength of a lion, in line with the Midrash.

Attempts to interpret the message of Hashem in the absence of divine prophecy ultimately may twist that message in unintended ways that can lead to calamitous events.

Suddenly, the pilot’s voice could be heard. He explained that this was a special day for those passengers on board who lived in Israel.

If the sick person is thrust into a situation where he is compelled to face his sickness head on, we who are not yet sick can encourage him by facing it with him.

All agree that Jews ARE different. How? Why? The Bible’s answer is surprising and profound.

What’s the nation of Israel’s purpose in the world? How we can bring God’s blessings into the world?

“Is there a difference between rescuing and other services?” asked Ploni.

To my dismay, I’ve seen that shidduch candidates with money become ALL desirable traits for marriage

Bil’am’s character is complex and nuanced; neither purely good nor purely evil.

Amalek, our ultimate foe, understood that when unified, we are invincible and indestructible.

More Articles from Rabbi Avi Weiss
Rabbi Avi Weiss

With Ruth, The Torah seems to be stating that children shouldn’t be punished for the sins of parents

Rabbi Avi Weiss

Halacha isn’t random; it’s a mechanism guiding individuals and society to a higher ethical plateau.

Essential principle of arguments for Heaven’s sake is recognizing no 1 person has monopoly on truth

It becomes clear that the problem the Jewish people faced wasn’t temporary but endemic to its core

Mitzvot, even restrictive laws, often teach self-discipline which is a venue to freedom.

Torah learning is valueless unless it enhances personal morality, fostering closer connection to God

The census focused on the individual, proving each is created as irreplaceable, unique images of God

Torah hints to a divided Jerusalem that will become a city without walls forever united

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/the-rationale-for-the-dietary-laws/2014/03/20/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: