Leviticus 9:1-11:47, Haftarah ll, Samuel 6:1-7:17
Lay Off the Rock Badger!
Kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws, have evolved through history into a complex set of gastronomical do's and don't's. However in the Torah they fall into three basic guidelines: Do not consume blood, do not mix milk and meat, and eat only the permitted animals. This third area, permitted (and forbidden) animals, are described in this week's portion. The Torah divides animals in to three categories: land animals, water creatures, and birds. (Insects are mentioned, too, but that is another discussion.) Animals permitted to be eaten are "kasher" or clean. This term does not appear in the Torah itself, but is used for this meaning in the Talmud, which we continue to use today. Our portion does call forbidden animals "tameh" or "unclean" and refers to eating them as "sheketz" or an "abomination." The Tora does not give reasons why certain animals are permitted and others are not, and possible reasons have been suggested throughout the ages. A closer look at each category of animal will help us consider some reasons ourselves.
Clean and Unclean Land Creatures
11:1 And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them,
11:2 "Tell the Israelites, 'This is the kind of creature you may eat from among all the animals that are on the land.
11:3 Any that divides the hoof - that completely splits the hooves in two - and that also chews the cud among the animals, you may eat.
11:4 However, these you must not eat from among those that chew the cud and that divide the hoof: the camel, because it chews the cud but there is no dividing the hoof; it is unclean to you.
11:5 The rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not divide the hoof; it is unclean to you.
11:6 The hare, because it chews the cud but does not divide the hoof; it is unclean to you.
11:7 The pig, because it divides the hoof-completely splits the hoof in two-but does not chew the cud; it is unclean to you.
11:8 You must not eat from their meat and you must not touch their carcass; they are unclean to you.
Your Land Creature Navigator
1. Chewing cud is a digestive process of chewing, swallowing, regurgitating to chew some more and so on, until the food is broken down enough to be easily digested by the animal's body. Looking at the list of forbidden cud-chewers, what kind of foods do you think they consume?
2. The only split-hoof animal listed is a pig, which is forbidden since it does not chew its cud. Can you think of other split-hoof animals? What kind of foods do you think they consume?
3. With that in mind, what kind of foods do you think permitted animals that chew cud and have a split hoof consume?
Clean and Unclean Water Creatures
11:9 "'These you can eat from all creatures that are in the water: any creatures in the water that have both fins and scales, whether in the sea or in the streams, you may eat.
11:10 But any creatures that do not have both fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the streams, from all the swarming things of the water and from all the living creatures that are in the water, are detestable to you.
11:11 Since they are detestable to you, you must not eat their meat and their carcass you must detest.
11:12 Any creature in the water that does not have both fins and scales is detestable to you.
Your Water Creature Navigator
1. Think about sea creatures. Can you think of types that have both fins and scales? Do you know what they generally eat?
2. Of the sea creatures that lack fins, scales or both, what do they generally eat?
Clean and Unclean Birds
11:13 "'These you are to detest from among the birds-they must not be eaten, because they are detestable: the griffon vulture, the bearded vulture, the black vulture,
11:14 the kite, the buzzard of any kind,
11:15 every kind of crow,
11:16 the eagle owl, the short-eared owl, the long-eared owl, the hawk of any kind,
11:17 the little owl, the cormorant, the screech owl,
11:18 the white owl, the scops owl, the osprey,
11:19 the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.
Your Bird Navigator
1. What is different about this list than the other two?
2. What do these listed birds tend to eat?
3. What do birds that are not listed tend to eat?
4. Why do you think bats, which are mammals, are listed here?
Rabbi/Professor Baruch Levine asserts that this categorization serves a specific ethical purpose for we human meat-eaters: it is meant to help keep us civilized. He notes that all of the permitted land animals are herbivores, i.e. vegetarians, and unlike the pig for example, are discerning of what they eat. Forbidden animals tend to be hunters like wolves or carrion-eaters, like jackals. Fish with both fins and scales are by and large also consumers of plants and plankton, while those that do not meet these criteria are either hunters, like sharks, or bottom-feeders, like lobster. The bird group is distinct because it lists only specifically forbidden birds which are all hunters or carrion-eaters, and therefore it assumes by omission that all other birds are permitted to be eaten. These permitted birds tend to be herbivorous fowl and water fowl or other types of "tame" birds. Therefore, we are permitted only animals that do not eat other animals! Rabbi Levine surmises that this distinction is meant to direct us towards a more humane level of animal for consumption, and that we will better control our animal instincts by consuming animals that appear to control their own. After all, we were all originally commanded to be vegetarians and live in peace with other animals (Gen. 1:27-31). God only permits us to eat meat after the flood (Gen. 9:2-4), with the assumption that we could not stop ourselves from doing so even when commanded to do so because we are "evil from youth," i.e., possessed of animal instincts to hunt and kill(Gen. 8:21)! Kashrut is a form of control upon those instincts. It echoes back to our original prohibition against eating other creatures. If we must eat meat, the logic goes, then the boundaries of permitted and forbidden foods force us to choose a higher form of nourishment, and thus to raise ourselves above the animals themselves by making us act as creatures made in God's image in a more holy manner.
One other word about the three categories. For land and water animals we are given physical characteristics to determine permissibility, and for birds a specific but manageable list of those forbidden to us. This form of determination allows our dietary laws to be portable. When we traveled from place to place in the world and encountered new species, we have only had to look at them to determine if they were permissible to eat. What an ingenious and accessible method of keeping "clean," i.e. kosher, wherever we may live! So even if you have no idea what a rock badger is, you'll know you can't eat it if you ever run into one.
Prepared by Rabbi Scott Aaron, Hillel at Ohio State University Hillel.