Vayikra Eleven: Kashrut

Aaron has barely had any time to recover from the death of his sons, but it’s time to move on. We are now told about the stipulations for the laws of kashrut, which animals the people are and aren’t allowed to eat. “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: These are the creatures that you may eat among all the animals of the earth: Any animal that has a cloven hoof that is completely split into double hooves, and which brings up its cud that one you may eat (Leviticus 11:2-3).” No specific reason is given for why these qualities are necessary for an animal to be considered edible, other than that animals that don’t have split hooves and don’t chew their cud are unclean. We are also told about what makes a sea creature clean or unclean – fins and scales are acceptable, but bottom-dwellers are an abomination. For birds, there is a specific list of what does or doesn’t make the cut. Additionally, in exciting news that I didn’t know: locusts are acceptable! Adding that to my foodie to do list now…

“And through these you will become unclean; anyone who touches their dead bodies will be unclean until evening (Leviticus 11:24).” Here, we learn that the impureness of the animal will transfer to those who touch or eat them. This seems to speak to how easily we human beings can be corrupted, and how hard it is to remove impurity once a person has been lax in these matters. There is then a process of becoming pure once again, something that requires much more mindfulness than impurity.

People regularly ask why we Jews have so many rules regarding what we can and cannot eat. In this chapter, we have the answer. “For I am the Lord your God, and you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, because I am holy, and you shall not defile yourselves through any creeping creature that crawls on the ground (Leviticus 11:44).” We have specific standards regarding what we eat as a result of being made in the image of God, and emulating His holiness through our actions.

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