Today is January 18, 2018 -
In a manner that occurs many times in the Torah this week we read a series of rules without any explanation of why we should follow them. “These are the instructions concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in water and all creatures that swarm on earth for distinguishing between the impure and the pure, between the living things that may be eaten and the living things that may not be eaten. (Leviticus 11:46-47).” Then we have a list of the rules of kashrut, the dietary laws. On one level the dietary laws are simply what the Rabbis of ancient times called chukim, laws that have no rational basis and are obeyed simply because God said so. That has not prevented Rabbis and scholars from searching for reasons for their observance for thousands of years. They are clearly not about health. Have you noticed any unhealthy Jews who observe those rules? I have. They help solidify group identity. They demand “sacrifice, self discipline, and determination, but what is really worthwhile in life does not?” (Rabbi Samuel Dresner) Who among us could not use a little more self discipline and determination in their life? I like to think of them as adding holiness, and concern for animal life to our daily existence. We should be concerned that animals die to satisfy our hunger. Maybe we should be vegetarians, as were Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Therefore we restrict the animals we eat. We do not eat animals that eat other animals. We do not consume blood, a symbol of life. We do not mix or confuse the source of life with death, that is milk and meat. We require that animals killed for food are slaughtered in a humane manner. All of this is also hope that such humane concerns will translate into how we live our lives at all times. Is that a perfect explanation for the dietary laws? No one reason can be complete. But it adds values to my life and connects me to my ancestors, the Torah, and God.