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Locusts, Giraffes, and the Meaning of Kashrut

August 26, 2016 | By: Meir Soloveichik

Why does the Torah prohibit eating certain types of animals? Several explanations have been posited: From Maimonides’s suggestion that the prohibitions are rooted in a concern for health, to Samson Raphael Hirsch’s explanation concerning the connection of one’s body to one’s soul. In this 2006 Azure article, Meir Soloveichik argues these explanations misunderstand the true biblical meaning of Kashrut. The laws of Kashrut, with intrinsic mystery, separate the Jewish people from other nations; they set apart the nation of Israel in a way that reminds all of the Jews’ special relationship with God.

Israel is to distinguish and separate among the animals in order to express, and reinforce, its own distinctiveness from other peoples. Kashrut, then, is a symbolic expression of Jewishness: Israel distinguishes between kosher and non-kosher animals, permitted and prohibited fish and fowl, and ingestible and forbidden insects in order to remind itself, and inform others, of the separation between the Jewish people and the other nations of the world. While the Tora leaves as a mystery the reasons for the specific criteria of permitted animals legislated in Leviticus, it is explicit with regard to the overall purpose that these dietary distinctions are meant to achieve: A daily lifestyle that expresses Israel’s chosenness. The nature of kashrut is thus at once mysterious and obvious; while God does not explain the importance of cud-chewing or leaping, of split hooves or scales, the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Tora-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.

Read the entire article in Azure.

More about: Jewish Political Thought  • Theology