Kashrut: The Creator’s diet
Kashrut is the ‘ritual fitness of food’. It covers what foods can be eaten, how it is to be harvested or slaughtered, and how it is to be tithed and prepared. Meat that is kosher is only from acceptable animals, and has been drained of all blood, while plants that are kosher are plants that have been tithed properly, and harvested according to Torah e.g. that the corners of the field from which the food was harvested were left for the poor.
The correct term for the opposite of kosher is tamei (pronounced taa-MAY), which means ‘ceremonially or ritually unfit’, and not treyf, which only refers to the meat of animals that have died or been torn and eaten by other animals.
The likely reasons for kashrut
For a long time it was thought that kashrut was purely for sanitation reasons, and since we in the West live in a society which, on the whole, adheres to reasonable standards of cleanliness, it has been argued that we no longer need the kosher laws. However, it seems that this might not have been the only reason for kashrut. Recent research by Dr Peter J D’Adamo, published under the title, ‘The Blood Type Diet’ indicates that certain blood groups actually benefit in their general health by cutting out certain foods.
The Israelite priests, for example, were mostly blood group O. This blood group benefits from a diet which is high in meat content, and from a lifestyle which regularly engages in strenuous work or exercise. Out of all the Israelite population, priests ate the most meat, and the very act of constant animal slaughtering meant that most priests were lean and very fit.
The rest of the Israelite population were mostly blood group B. Amazingly, all the meats which are not kosher happen to be foods which present serious health problems for this group. They contain proteins called lectins which cause joint deterioration and blood problems. Even though there didn’t seem to be any logical reason behind what was deemed kosher and non-kosher, God knew what He was doing, and we now know that a long, healthy and vigorous life can be achieved by following the diet that YHVH recommended.
Look at it this way. YHVH manufactured humans. The manufacturer often knows the best way to treat his inventions. He gave us a set of instructions on the best way to look after the human body. Here’s another way to understand what God is doing: take tropical plants - looking after plants in a certain way, giving them the right heat, light and feed will ensure their proper functioning and long-term health. Kashrut is designed with the same purpose in mind.
There were probably also environmental considerations. For example, the non-kosher camel is more useful as a beast of burden than as a source of food. And in the water-starved Middle Eastern climate, the pig consumes an enormous quantity of food and water – more than a human does. It is therefore not an intelligent idea to keep pigs in hot dry climates.
There is also the matter of holiness – keeping the ways of Israel separate and distinct from those of other nations. Keeping a separate diet (as vegetarians, vegans and other people on allergy-restricted diets have found) ends up being a real barrier to eating and mixing socially with other people. This would have been very important in ancient times, when it was highly desirable not to mix with pagan nations, in order not to be influenced by them. This may have been another of the purposes behind kashrut.
Another aspect of restricting the animals one can eat, one that few people even consider, is conservation. By restricting the species one can eat to the most numerous, God ensured that vulnerable species would not be harmed or harassed by those who followed His ways.
One spiritual view is that, by following the laws that YHVH has given us, we allow the living power of God’s holiness to enter the world. It fortifies the wholeness of our being, and brings the day of the fulfilment of God’s kingdom ever closer.
The logic and reason behind kashrut is probably to be found in all these things. However, the last – yet perhaps the most important – aspect of eating kosher, is that it brings the Presence of God into the very actions of harvesting, slaughtering, preparing and eating food. We have a God who has no physical form, so kashrut helps Yahwists realise God’s presence in this important human act.
General observance by Talmidis
Kosher observance varies greatly within the Talmidi community. Amongst the more conservative it is fairly strict, amongst the more liberal members it is much less so. The minimum most people observe is avoiding the meat of non-kosher animals.
General Outlook of Talmidaism to Kashrut
The ethos of Talmidaism is such that nothing should taken to the extreme of absurd ridiculousness. God is concerned with the intent of the heart, not external shows of false piety; when the observance of kashrut becomes an end in itself, we have forgotten why we are doing this. We do this to remind ourselves of God’s presence in our lives, even in the preparation and consumption of our food, not for kashrut’s own sake.
Kashrut and the Christian practice of blessing food
In the Israelite religion, food is not blessed; kosher food isn’t made kosher by blessing it. We bless God for food, not the food itself.
There are certain animals that may not be eaten, nor may anything of what they produce (e.g. milk or eggs) be eaten either. Rennet, an enzyme used to make cheese, is often obtained from non-kosher animals, so those keeping strict kosher should avoid cheese unless it is specifically stated as being kosher.
When slaughtered, the deaths of animals have to be quick and painless, causing as little distress to the animals as possible. Typically, the Jewish method of slaughter renders an animal unconscious within less than 2 seconds. All blood has to be completely drained from the body. The sciatic nerve and its adjoining blood vessels also may not be eaten. A certain type of fat which surrounds the vital organs and the liver, may not be eaten. And lastly, one cannot eat animals that died of natural causes (Deut. 14:21) or that were killed by other animals; such meat is called treyf.
Mammals: Only mammals that both chew the cud and have a split (‘cloven’) hoof can be eaten (Lev 11:3, Deut 14:6). Scientifically, they are the herbivorous even-toed ungulates within the laurasiathere group. This would include cattle and related species (bison, buffalo, wildebeest, wild oxen), sheep and goats and related species (ibex, chamois, mountain goats, wild sheep), deer and related species (muntjacs, chevrotains), antelope and related species (Saiga), giraffe and related species (okapi).
Of the herbivorous animals, those that are not included are the camels and related species (llamas, alpacas), and pigs and related species (warthogs, peccaries). All other mammals are forbidden – carnivores most notably. Torah itself specifically lists forbidden mammals as bats, hyraxes, rabbits, pigs and camels. Herbivorous mammals such as hippos and horses are forbidden too.
While some mammals are forbidden to eat, it is not forbidden to have contact with them. So, while donkeys, horses, dogs, cats, camels etc are all non-kosher, it is not forbidden to keep them as pets or as work animals.
Birds: Only plant-eating birds are acceptable. What is forbidden are the birds of prey (e.g. owls, eagles), fish-eating (e.g. storks, herons, pelicans) and carrion eating birds (e.g. vultures, ravens, crows).
Fish: only sea-going creatures that have both fins and scales are acceptable. What are not acceptable are sharks, rays, sea-going mammals, molluscs, crabs and lobsters.
Insects: Only grasshoppers, crickets and locusts are acceptable, (Lev 11:20-23). All other insects are forbidden. The bible lists insects under ‘swarming’ and ‘crawling things’; therefore every other type of insects, and every other type of crawling things, such as spiders, scorpions, millipedes, centipedes etc are forbidden.
Reptiles, Amphibians, Arachnids, Molluscs: All these are forbidden.
Mixing meat and dairy
The forbidding of mixing of meat and dairy products is a rabbinical injunction, based on a misinterpretation of the commandment not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk (Ex 23:19, 34:26). In Torah it appears right after the commandments about the Festival of First Fruits. What it actually refers to is telling Israelites not to celebrate the festival in same objectionable way as Canaanites do – by boiling a kid-goat in its mother’s milk. Talmidis therefore have no such injunction.
Kosher fruit and vegetables
Eating kosher fruit and vegetables is really difficult; as a result few Jews bother with this side of keeping kosher. Strictly speaking, produce that is kosher is harvested from fields where the corners have been left for the poor, which has been tithed correctly, which has not been grown and sold in a Sabbatical year, and so on. Most authorities say that these laws only apply to the Land of Israel, and so logically, this would lead to a boycott of produce grown in Israel, because you cannot be sure what has been correctly harvested and tithed and what hasn’t.
We have to maintain some degree of common sense here. It is an important principle of the Way that God is concerned with the intent of the heart, not with the perfection or exactitude with which something is done. Therefore, if someone is concerned about the righteousness of keeping kosher with fruit and vegetables, then one can give 10% or the money equivalent of one’s produce shopping to the poor.
The restrictions on grapejuice products (juice, wine and vinegar) derive from the laws against using wine used in the libations offered to the idols of pagan religions. In ancient times, wine was routinely sanctified for pagan purposes while it was being processed. Because of this, wine and grapejuice processed by non-Jews was prohibited.
The Question of Mushrooms
The bible says that God gave all kinds of green plants for humans to eat (Gen 1:30, 9:3). Since Mushrooms are neither green nor plants (they are fungi), the question remains, should they be considered tamei? Eating fungi can be fatal if you don’t know what you are picking, and we are not aware of the ancient Israelites eating them as part of their diet. This perhaps needs some scholarly debate.
Kosher for Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread
From the end of the 14th of Nisan until the 21st of Nisan, yeast and any food that contains yeast is considered not kosher. Anything that has been brewed using yeast, or which comes from such (such as wine brewed with yeast and wine vinegar), is forbidden during this period. Also, food made from grain that can ferment on its own is forbidden. Where rice, lentils and beans are concerned, because we follow the custom of the Land, we consider rice and beans permissible.
Kashering of utensils
It is rare to find Talmidis who kasher utensils. Since most of the laws on this subject come from the Oral Law, most Talmidis ignore such customs. The only standards that come from Torah concern contamination by tamei (non-kosher) meat, rotting or treyf meat (from animals that have died or have been killed by other animals). In such instances, general common sense standards of hygiene apply. The utensil is washed and sanitised thoroughly and is considered unclean until evening (Lev 11:28, 32). Anything made of clay, if contaminated, has to be destroyed (Lev 11:33).
Keeping kosher is not difficult in and of itself, if you keep the right intent in your heart. It is an exercise in holiness, and a constant reminder of God’s presence in a very important part of our lives. I would encourage Followers of the Way to keep kosher as much as is practically possible; and remember that God seeks a genuine and righteous heart, not one that is necessarily perfect.