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>Two Minutes of Torah: Tzav (Leviticus 7:22-38) Why Kosher?

>In my American Jewish history class, the teacher, Dr. David Kaufman, shared the joke about the modern Jewish family who don’t have two sets of plates and utensils, but instead have three sets. As is expected they have a set for milky foods and they have a set for meaty foods, but they also have a third set for the treif (non-Kosher) food. I am not sure whether any Jewish family keeping separate plates for milk and meat, actually keeps another set for treif food, but it reminds us that today the Kashrut rules people follow are not necessarily what they once were.

What we eat is an important concern within the Torah, and we receive a variety of rules and regulations at different points relating to what animals we can and cannot eat, and also in relation to the parts of the animal which we should and shouldn’t eat.

While next week we will read about the various animals which are kosher. In this week’s Torah portion we are told about two parts of the animal which we are forbidden to eat. First we read: ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, You shall eat no kind of fat, of ox, or of sheep, or of goat’ (Leviticus 7:23). And then ‘Moreover you shall eat no kind of blood, whether it is of bird or of beast, in any of your dwellings’ (Leviticus 7:26).

Within the Torah laws are divided into two categories: mishpatim and chukim. The mishpatim are the laws for which we can discern a rational explanation, frequently in relation to creating an orderly society. In contrast the chukim are laws for which there is no rational explanation, we cannot be sure why God commands us to behave in the way specified. Kashrut belongs to this category of chukim, for which no explicit reasons are given in the Torah. For example at no point does it say, ‘you shall eat animals who chew the cud and who have split hooves because they are good for you’ we are simply told that these are the animals which are classified as kosher.

People will often try to discern reasons for the laws of kashrut as a way of explaining, or even justifying, them. And it is clear that with the two regulations in this week’s Torah portion we can detect good reasons for following the laws. Today we know that fatty foods are generally considered to be unhealthy and bad for us. And we can also understand a prohibition against blood, which is the source of life. The prohibition against fatty foods may be considered practical, while the exclusion of blood is ideological.

Some would argue that the kashrut laws are written in the Torah, and therefore we follow them without question or hesitation, with no need for a reason or justification.

For me the kashrut laws quite simply make me conscious of what I eat. From the time when I bought lunches in the school cafeteria, I have been aware that my decision of what to eat, and what not to eat, was related to my Jewish identity. The very existence of kashrut laws makes sure that whenever we eat we are reminded that we are Jewish. The specifics of the laws are not as important, as is the awareness which they encourage. Just as the tzitzit is supposed to be a reminder of the commandments throughout the day, the kashrut laws are simply a reminder of Jewish identity.

And on a secondary level the kashrut laws make us aware of what we eat. We cannot indiscriminately buy food; we have to check that the food is kosher. Today perhaps that exploration should not just be for non-kosher ingredients, but also for non-kosher means of production and farming. We can expand our definition of kashrut, not into three sets of plates, but rather into food which is kosher both in ingredients and production. We can decide what to eat based on both requirements. Then we can truly achieve a kashrut which is practical and ideological.

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