Return to main index
H3. Creatures We Are Allowed to Eat and Forbidden to Eat [Make a Comment]
We are to examine creatures for signs of their eatability, and are not to eat those that are forbidden to us.
This precept is derived from His Word (blessed is He):
(Maimonides RP149, RN172; Meir MN93; Chinuch C153, 154)
Tell the people of Isra'el, 'These are the living creatures which you may eat among all the land animals: any that has a separate hoof which is completely divided and chews the cud - these animals you may eat. But you are not to eat those that only chew the cud or only have a separate hoof. For example, the camel, the coney and the hare are unclean for you, because they chew the cud but don't have a separate hoof; while the pig is unclean for you, because, although it has a separate and completely divided hoof, it doesn't chew the cud. You are not to eat meat from these or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.'
Any animal that has a separate hoof that is completely divided and also chews the cud, these animals you may eat. But you are not to eat those that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof. For example, the camel, the hare and the coney are unclean for you because they chew the cud but don't have a separate hoof; while the pig is unclean for you because, although it has a separate hoof, it doesn't chew the cud. You are not to eat meat from these or touch their carcasses.
(Maimonides RP152, RN173; Meir MN95; Chinuch C155, 156)
Of all the things that live in the water, you may eat these: anything in the water that has fins and scales, whether in seas or in rivers - these you may eat. But everything in the seas and rivers without both fins and scales, of all the small water-creatures and of all the living creatures in the water, is a detestable thing for you. Yes, these will be detestable for you - you are not to eat their meat, and you are to detest their carcasses. Whatever lacks fins and scales in the water is a detestable thing for you. ((see also, Deuteronomy 14:9-10))
(Maimonides RP152; Chinuch C155)
Therefore you are to distinguish between clean and unclean animals and between clean and unclean birds; do not make yourselves detestable with an animal, bird or reptile that I have set apart for you to regard as unclean.
(Maimonides RN174; Meir MN94; Chinuch C157)
The following creatures of the air are to be detestable for you - they are not to be eaten, they are a detestable thing: the eagle, the vulture, the osprey, the kite, the various kinds of buzzards, the various kinds of ravens, the ostrich, the screech-owl, the seagull, the various kinds of hawks, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the horned owl, the pelican, the barn owl, the stork, the various kinds of herons, the hoopoe and the bat.
(Maimonides RP150; Chinuch C470)
You may eat any clean bird; but these you are not to eat: eagles, vultures, ospreys, kites, any kind of buzzard, any kind of raven, ostriches, screech-owls, seagulls, any kind of hawk, little owls, great owls, horned owls, pelicans, barn owls, cormorants, storks, any kind of heron, hoopoes and bats.
Creatures that Swarm
(Maimonides RP151; Chinuch C158)
All winged swarming creatures that go on all fours are a detestable thing for you; except that of all winged swarming creatures that go on all fours, you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, enabling them to jump off the ground. Specifically, of these you may eat the various kinds of locusts, grasshoppers, katydids and crickets. But other than that, all winged swarming creatures having four feet are a detestable thing for you.
(Maimonides RN176; Meir MN97; Chinuch C162)
Any creature that swarms on the ground is a detestable thing; it is not to be eaten -
(Maimonides RN178; Meir MN98; Chinuch C163)
whatever moves on its stomach, goes on all fours, or has many legs - all creatures that swarm on the ground; you are not to eat them, because they are a detestable thing.
(Maimonides RN179; Meir MN99; Chinuch C164)
You are not to make yourselves detestable with any of these swarming, crawling creatures; do not make yourselves unclean with them, do not defile yourselves with them.
(Maimonides RN177; Meir MN100; Chinuch C165)
For I am ADONAI your God; therefore, consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am holy; and do not defile yourselves with any kind of swarming creature that moves along the ground.
(Maimonides RN175; Meir MN96; Chinuch C471)
All winged swarming creatures are unclean for you; they are not to be eaten; but all clean flying creatures you may eat.
In the foregoing Scriptures, we encounter categories of creatures (and also specifically named creatures), some of which are clean and may be eaten, and others of which are unclean and may not. Eatability and cleanness generally coincide, but they are separate attributes as Leviticus 11:46-47 explains:
Such, then, is the law concerning animals, flying creatures, all living creatures that move about in the water, and all creatures that swarm on the ground. Its purpose is to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.
The commandments specifying which creatures may and may not be eaten are generally complied with as an unchallenged part of Messianic Jewish life and practice. Nevertheless, the question sometimes arises as to God's rationale for these restrictions and whether today, in the absence of the Holy Temple (ceremonial cleanness had to be maintained in the Temple), the restrictions still apply. Those who say "yes," often proffer their private opinions as to "why," and some seem reasonable, such as their being possible dangers to health from eating prohibited creatures. As interesting as some of these theories may be, they are not the reason put forth in Scripture; Leviticus 20:24b-26 gives us the best reason:
I am ADONAI your God, who has set you apart from other peoples. Therefore you are to distinguish between clean and unclean animals and between clean and unclean birds; do not make yourselves detestable with an animal, bird or reptile that I have set apart for you to regard as unclean. Rather, you people are to be holy for me; because I, ADONAI, am holy; and I have set you apart from the other peoples, so that you can belong to me.
The reason is that Israelites (today called Jews) are a holy people and are therefore commanded to a unique lifestyle (including restrictions as to what they are allowed to eat) so that they will be seen as set apart from other peoples of the world. This reason is not Temple-related, and is as valid today as it was at the time the commandments were given to Moses. Perhaps it is even more important today, because so many of the world's Jews are integrated into the general society and have thereby lost visibility. It is my opinion, therefore, that God's will is that today's Jews and the K'rovei Yisrael who dwell alongside, them continue to obey the biblically commanded restrictions on what may be eaten.
There are those who say that it is not so - that Jewish believers in Yeshua who aspire to keep the food laws (in fact any laws) are rejecting Messiah's sacrifice and God's grace, and are putting themselves in an unholy bondage. This false theology is discussed in general terms in the essay "Elephants in the Room: What Paul Really Meant by His Comments on the Law" that is found in the preliminary section of this book. It is beyond the scope of this Mitzvah #H3 to discuss the various New Covenant Scriptures that are typically used to come against obeying God's food laws in the Torah, but I will footnote the main ones for the reader's convenience.1
1. Mark 7:18-19; Acts 10:9-15, 11:1-9; 1 Corinthians 8:8, 10:25-27; Colossians 2:16; 1 Timothy 4:1-5.
I should like to say a few words about the term "kosher", as it applies to the dietary laws and which I have intentionally not used in the foregoing discourse. The word means "clean", and it is correctly used in describing whether a creature is biblically clean to eat (e.g., "A goat is a kosher animal."). The reason I have avoided its use in this Mitzvah, is that the word "kosher" has another connotation as well, and that is in stating whether the flesh of a particular creature (or a particular substance) is clean to eat according to rabbinical standards. So, for example, the meat of a goat (which is a kosher animal) is not kosher according to rabbinical standards, if the goat was not slaughtered under rabbinical supervision. One has to therefore be careful of how the word "kosher" is used.
Daniel C. Juster
For those not satisfied that the only rationale for this Mitzvah is that it is a standard created by God to make a distinction between Israel and the nations, they may consider these others:
First is that it is for health. This is argued in "None of These Diseases" by S. I. Macmillan. The problem with his position is that not all the creatures prohibited in Scripture are clearly unhealthy to eat. Certainly, God's best for Israel is that it be healthy. Second, is the idea that the clean-unclean laws (beyond the food laws) show the nature of sin in a symbolic way in that certain animals feed off death or, like pigs, are unclean because they are filthy (Keil and Delitzsch, "Commentary on the Old Testament", first published in 1866). Third, is "Purity and Danger" by Mary Douglas, in which she argues that there was a reasoned sense of the ancients as to what was fitting or not fitting - what was whole or not whole - in categories of living creatures. It was seen as natural that fish should have fins and scales. In her last years before her death, she was no longer convinced of her position, and came to believe, instead, that there simply were animals that God valued as being free from men's use.
While there is truth in all of these views, it would seem best that we embrace the idea that God's reason for making distinctions is part of his making the Jewish people distinct, and that not all of the creatures named in Scripture are subject to a human rationale.
Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch are unified in their mitzvot that prohibit the eating of certain creatures but, whereas Maimonides and HaChinuch have written positive mitzvot requiring that we examine creatures for signs of their cleanness and consequent eatability, Meir has no such corresponding mitzvot - no doubt because Scripture does not specifically state that we must distinguish between clean and unclean creatures; it is inferred because we must do so in order to assure that we do not eat prohibited creatures. The greatest stretch in Maimonides' and HaChinuch's finding Scriptural support for their positive mitzvot, is their use of Leviticus 20:25 which, though containing no reference to fish, is their sole support for stating that we must examine fish for signs of cleanness.
JMm JFm KMm KFm GMo GFo
Return to main index
Return to main index