web analytics
May 28, 2015 / 10 Sivan, 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 founder and president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.


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
FIFA president Sepp (Joseph) Blatter and PM Benjamin Netanayhu
Netanyahu Warns FIFA Palestinian Threats Will Destroy International Sport
Latest Judaism Stories
Business-Halacha-NEW

“What do you mean?” asked the secretary. “We already issued a ruling and closed the case.”

Taste-of-Lomdus-logo

Tosafos suggests several answers as to how a minor can own an item, m’d’Oraisa.

Naso Lecture

This week’s video discusses the important connection between the Priestly Blessing and parenting.

Mosaic of 12 Tribes

Many of us simply don’t get the need for the Torah to list the exact same gift offering, 12 times!

There is a great debate as to whether this story actually took place or is simply a metaphor, a prophetic vision shown to Hoshea by Hashem.

Every person is presented with moments when he/she must make difficult decisions about how to proceed.

One does not necessarily share the opinions of one’s brother. One may disapprove of his actions, values, and/or beliefs. However, with brothers there is a bond of love and caring that transcends all differences.

This Shavuot let’s give G-d a gift too: Let’s make this year different by doing just 1 more mitzvah

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 […]

God and the divine origin of His Torah are facts even though we do not fully comprehend them.

So if we basically live the same life, why should he get eternal reward and not me?”

The question is: What about pidyon haben? Can one give the five sela’im required for pidyon haben to a kohen’s daughter?

In Parshas Pinchas the Torah introduces the Mussaf for Shavuos by describing it as Yom HaBikurim when we bring the new offering.

Rachel was thrown by the sight and began to caringly think whom this person might be.

The desert, with its unearthly silence & emptiness, is the condition in which the Word can be heard

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

More Articles from Rabbi Avi Weiss
Rabbi Avi Weiss

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

View of the Temple Mount from Mount of Olives

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

While Judaism believes the hereafter is of important status, it takes a back seat to this world.

Myth that niddah=dirty stopped many women from accepting laws of family purity and must be shattered

Poland’s great Jewish cities where Jewish life had once flourished and thrived, were now desolate

Kashrut reminds us that in the end, God is the arbiter of right and wrong.

Unless ritual is introduced, the Shoah will be remembered as a footnote in history in 100 years

Dayenu is not a song of complaint; it is rather a song of thanksgiving to God.

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: