Fit for Food
by Deanna Chart
I give this D’var Torah in loving memory of my dear father, Ellis Levine (zl), who passed away on 12 June 1997 (the second day of Shavuot, 7 Sivan 5757) and my dear mother, Cissy Levine (zl), who passed away almost exactly two years later, on 18 May 1999 (3 Sivan 5759). My dear late mother’s yahrzeit was on Friday and my dear late father’s yahrzeit will be on Tuesday.
I also give this D’var Torah in loving memory of my very special brother Ian, who sadly passed away on Tisha b’Av, 9 Av 5769 (30 July 2009).
May their memories be for a blessing
What creatures are fit for our food? Only certain animals, birds and fish. Here are some insights which are not so well known about the background to a kosher diet (based on Leviticus).
Yes, the Torah was into diet well before we were!
Our animal diet is limited to a single family of ruminants, (such as cows or sheep) which have more than one stomach, swallow food and then bring it back up again to continue chewing it. They are domestic or wild and are cloven hoofed and chew the cud. What does it mean to chew cud? Cud is a portion of food that returns from a ruminant's stomach to the mouth to be chewed for the second time. Such animals include cattle, sheep, goats and antelopes, gazelles, deer and buffaloes.
These characteristics belong to species which are preyed upon but do not prey on others. They are completely herbivorous, eat only plants, including grass. The Talmud mentions that they don’t have incisor teeth in the upper jaw, which are used to bite into food – our own incisors are 8 teeth in the front center of our mouths (4 on both bottom and top). Instead, they have a pad, which enables them to break off the grass or foliage more easily. In the wild they are vulnerable to predators when feeding. Their complicated digestive system is designed for maximum food intake in the shortest possible time. They can then retire to the relative safety of the forest where they can digest their food at leisure. The cloven hoof is designed to give them extra spring for a quick getaway if threatened. Their whole structure emphasizes their non-aggressive nature.
The Torah’s purpose is to lead us away from an aggressive lifestyle to one more suited to our spiritual development. Therefore, the Torah selected just this family for our sole meat intake.
As an aside, it’s often said – tongue in cheek – that the pig is half kosher because it has cloven hoofs. But because it doesn’t also chew the cud, it can’t be fully kosher!
All bird species are fit for our food except 24 named species, all of which are birds of prey. The main criterion of a forbidden species is that the bird is or acts like a bird of prey. Again, we are led away from an aggressive lifestyle.
Only fish equipped with fins and scales are permitted – no other sea creatures. This ensures that our intake is limited to vertebrates (spines) with a body structure basically in that respect like our own.
The Torah commands us not to make ourselves disgusting with all that swarms. This means that all insects are forbidden to be eaten, so careful examination of most fruits and vegetables is required to ensure that they are not infested by insects or their larvae. As you may be aware, people eat insects in many countries, where they are regarded as delicacies.
So in conclusion, I wish you all happy kosher eating with these insights!
These are the animals which you may eat…whichever is…cloven-hoofed and chews the cud Leviticus 11:3
These are the birds you may not eat: the eagle, the vulture… Leviticus 11:12
Of all that is in the water you may eat only that which has fins and scales. Leviticus 11:9
You shall not make yourselves disgusting with all that swarms on the earth;
do not defile yourselves with them…You shall be holy, for I am holy. Leviticus 11:43-44
Based loosely on Masterplan by Aryeh Carmell (but the sources from Leviticus remain relevant)