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Keeping Kosher, how close a look?

Keeping Kosher - How Close a Look?

Further thoughts on Tazria-Metzora

by John J. Parsons
www.hebrew4christians.com

[ The following explores some themes found in Tazria-Metzora. Please read these Torah portions to "find your place" here. ]

In traditional Judaism the word "kosher" (כָּשֵׁר) is a technical term that means "approved," "ritually correct," or "fit," whereas kashrut (כַּשְׁרוּת) refers to the complex set of rabbinical dietary laws that define which foods (and food combinations) are permitted to be eaten and which are not. Note that the word "kosher" does not appear in the Torah itself (though the ideas of "clean/tahor" and "unclean/tamei" foods do), and therefore many of the dietary laws are based on traditions and inferences made by the rabbis (i.e., halakhah). In general terms, the sages identified three classes of foods: meat, dairy, and "parve" (neither meat nor dairy), and they defined strict rules about their consumption and admixture. For example, according to kashrut, meat cannot be eaten with dairy products (no cheeseburgers, meat lasagna, etc.), though either may be eaten with parve (PAHR-vuh) such as fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and grains.  Note that all kosher foods must be entirely insect-free....


 

Regarding land animals, only those that both chew their cud and have cloven hooves may be eaten (Lev. 11:3; Deut. 14:6). For example, cows and sheep are acceptable, but not pigs or dogs.  In addition, in order to be halachically kosher, the animal: 1) must be inspected and shown to be disease-free, 2) must be ritually (i.e., humanely) slaughtered by a Jewish shochet (a certified butcher), and 3) must have the blood and fat removed (Deut. 12:23; Lev. 7:23-25; 17:10). Regarding birds, only non-predatory kinds that are hatched with feathers are regarded as kosher.  Fish that have both fins and scales may be eaten (though fish are technically not regarded as "meat" according to Jewish dietary law).

The Torah says not to "boil a kid in its mother's milk" in three places (Exod. 23:19; 34:26; and Deut. 14:21), and from this the sages "built a fence" by decreeing that meat and dairy products should never be eaten together -- even though Abraham himself offered a meat with dairy meal to the LORD and the two angels when they were on route to judge Sodom and Gomorrah (see Gen. 18:8; and cp. 26:5). The rabbis later extended this prohibition to include the complete separation of the pans and utensils used to cook meat and diary, the plates and dinnerware from which they are eaten, the dishpans in which they are cleaned, and the towels on which they are dried.  A rabbinically "kosher kitchen" will therefore have at least two sets of pots, pans and dishes: one for meat and one for dairy (chalav yisrael), complete with two refrigerators, two stoves, etc.  The strictest people will eat only foods that have reliable Orthodox kosher certification (called a hechsher), partaking of only "glatt-kosher" certified meat and dairy products. A mashgiach (i.e., מַשְׁגִיחַ, "supervisor") is appointed to supervise or oversee the food production process to ensure compliance with the highest kosher standards.

This reminds me of the old joke about keeping kosher:

    God: And remember, Moses, regarding the dietary laws, never cook a calf in its mother's milk. It is cruel, and you are to be holy...
     
    Moses: So you are saying we should never eat milk and meat together.
     
    God: No, what I'm saying is, never cook a calf in its mother's milk.
     
    Moses: Oh Lord, forgive my ignorance! What you are really saying is we should wait six hours after eating meat to eat milk so the two are not in our stomachs.
     
    God: No, Moses, listen to me. I am saying, don't cook a calf in its mother's milk!!!
     
    Moses: Oh, Lord! Please don't strike me down for my stupidity! What you mean is we should have a separate set of dishes for milk and a separate set for meat and if we make a mistake we have to bury that dish outside....
     
    God: Moses, do whatever you want...
     

Some of the sages have attempted to link last week's Torah portion (Shemini), which gives the signs for kosher animals, with this week's Torah portion (Tazria) regarding the ritual impurities of the human body. Shemini concludes with the laws regarding forbidden animals and Tazria begins with the ritual uncleanness of a woman who gives birth.  Maimonides says this sequence is intended to remind us to watch what we eat. If we partake of forbidden (unclean) foods, we might cause damage to the newborn baby. In other words, Jewish dietary laws were a set of divinely given health regulations (i.e. for personal and social hygiene). Moreover, keeping kosher encourages self-control and "mindful eating" practices which are socially beneficial. Others have suggested that the dietary laws were intended to keep the Jewish people separate and distinct from their surrounding culture. Keeping kosher promotes a sense of holiness that forces Jews to rely on one another.  Still others have suggested that because of its strict regulations for slaughtering and its heavy restrictions on eating meat, the kosher laws advocate vegetarianism as an ideal, harkening back to Eden where Adam and Eve ate only from the garden God had created for them.

Keeping rabbinically (as opposed to Biblically) kosher is difficult, however, if not impossible in practice.  The reason has to do with microbiology and the latest molecular biotechnology used for food production. Genes originating from pigs, insects, humans and other non-kosher animals are regularly being inserted into foods.  The widespread use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in our food supply, the genetic engineering of the DNA of plants, infusing them with genes from other species (such as pig genes), and the admixture of pig DNA used in various fertilizers (slurry) makes eating that "parve" strawberry a highly technical matter that involves questions of kilayim (forbidden admixtures), batul (the percentage of an accidental mixture of food that can be called "nullified" before it becomes unkosher) and so on.... The Orthodox Union has ruled that genetically modified organisms do not violate the laws of kashrut since the genes used are microscopic and therefore "batul," or nullified, in the new plant (i.e., "if you don't see the unkosher particles - presto! - they aren't there!").  Even so, some kosher certification companies are developing "leaf cameras" that will be able to detect protein (present in microscopic bugs) so that your leafy vegetables won't be unkosher.... Just how closely are we supposed to look, after all?


 

Some Kabbalistic thinkers suggest that kosher laws refer to "spiritual molecules" that are embedded within foods. Unkosher foods have "negative energy," whereas kosher foods have "positive" spiritual energy.  Of course this is speculation on the "chok" or supra-rational nature of the Torah's laws regarding which foods are permissible to eat, but it is perhaps worth mentioning that just as molecules are invisible to the naked eye (indeed, they are inferred theoretical constructs), it is likewise theoretically impossible to physically separate dairy and meat in our environment.  Indeed, with the operation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the tendency for things to move toward disorder (i.e., entropy), it is impossible to avoid all contact with insect ingestion, mold contamination, and some quantity of "non-kosher molecules." In this regard, keeping strictly kosher is somewhat like making sure that every trace of chametz (yeast) is literally removed from your home before Passover.  Only God Himself could clean a house so thoroughly as to ensure that it was entirely chametz free - just as only God Himself can call foods truly kosher....
 

    And he called the people to him and said to them, "Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person."

    Then the disciples came and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?"

    He answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit."

    But Peter said to him, "Explain the parable to us."

    And he said, "Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone." (Matt. 15:10-20)
     

Note the link between the mouth and the heart: "From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34)... Here Yeshua was teaching by way of contradistinction.  His words were intended for those who were zealous regarding dietary laws (and ritual handwashing) as a means of affecting a heart relationship with God.  Yeshua was saying that instead of investing various foods with "spiritual molecules" and becoming overly fastidious with your diet, look within your heart. If you take as much care about what comes out of your mouth as you do about what you put into it, you will come to the right understanding. The outer is not the inner. Having a "clean cup" on the outside is spiritually ludicrous if the inside of the cup is filled with maggots and all manner of uncleanness (Matt. 23:25-28). Still, as a Torah-observant Jew, Yeshua Himself certainly kept "Biblically" kosher -- and His followers did likewise. Recall that when Peter received the vision of the unclean animals descendng from Heaven (Acts 10), he refused to heed the Heavenly Voice's command to eat of them and said that he never ate anything that was unclean.

Ultimately, we eat to live; we don't live to eat... Just as Yeshua taught that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27), so eating food is a means to the greater purpose of obtaining life... When we eat food, we are partake of the sacrifice of other life forms for our own sustenance...   And since the end or goal of life is to obtain spiritual life -- by inwardly being "made right" with God -- Yeshua alone truly "makes us kosher," since acceptance of His sacrificial love is eternal life itself.  We live in order to receive His love, and His love is what sustains our lives....

The rabbinical idea of "keeping kosher" is really part of the same old tradition that Yeshua condemned as whitewashing the truth about our inward condition.  When we acknowledge our heart's need for His cleansing and salvation, the inner intent of the Torah is written upon our hearts and we are enabled by His Spirit to please God (Jer. 31:31-33; Psalm 1:1-3). Keeping a clean diet gives us no merit before God, but calling upon the LORD for salvation (i.e., inward cleansing) imputes the righteousness of the Messiah to our account.  The laws of the Torah assuredly were not given to mock us; there are indeed valid reasons for God's prohibitions and commandments. Still, the inward heart condition is of primary importance, just as the very first commandment -- i.e., the Shema and the duty to love the LORD with all your heart -- is the starting point for all the commandments that follow.  If we have trouble keeping the first and greatest commandment, we need to begin there and seek Divine Help... Getting fussy over "food laws" can distract us from the greater purpose of why we are eating food in the first place... "Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?'" (Matt. 6:31). After we have genuinely walked in the love of God for a season, He will guide us regarding our food choices, chaverim.

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