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Vayikra/Leviticus 11:2 These are the living things that you shall eat from all the animals that are on the earth
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On the basis of the words immediately preceding our text, - Speak to the children of Israel - Rashi claims that the following dietary regulations apply to all the Israelites and so to all Jews today. Moshe and Aharon were told to speak to all the people, not just Aharon and his sons, or to the elders of Israel. The Ramban, on the other hand, while agreeing that "these sections apply to both Israelites and the priests" qualifies that by adding "but their subject-matter affects mostly the priests, for they must always guard themselves from touching impure objects, since they have to come into the Sanctuary". The Ramban is saying that because they serve G-d and come into His presence in the tabernacle, the priests have to be especially careful about their status of purity otherwise they may become disqualified from being able to serve. Moreover, as the priests were also charged with the responsibility of teaching the Israelites "how to distinguish the sacred from the profane and the unclean from the clean" (Vayikra 10:10), it was important that they understand and implement these requirements for themselves.
Targum Onkelos translates the words - here literally, the living thing or the life, singular - and - again, literally, animal, singular - with and . While the two words are normally used to compare wild animals and domestic animals, the Bechor Schor comments that in this context, this means healthy animals. He is supported by the Baal HaTurim who states that "An animal that is healthy", meaning one that is not only living but capable of remaining alive, "you may eat, but an animal that is not healthy, you may not eat." Notice that the question of kosher or non-kosher animals is not in view in these comments; it is assumed that any animal being considered for eating is already kosher according to its genus (species) and method of slaughtering - all that is here being discussed is whether the animal is sick or healthy.
Collecting together the views of several well and lesser known commentators,Nechama Leibowitz explores the reasons for the dietary laws being given to Israel. Modern scholars, pointing to the fact that dietary laws were common in ancient cultures, try to find a connection between various animals and foods, and good and evil spiritual forces who were imagined to be fighting between themselves. Leibowitz comments, "there is nothing intrinsically unclean, evil or demonic in living creatures. Thus in Genesis all living creatures are the work of G-d, the sole Creator who fashioned from the ground 'all the beasts of the earth and fowl of the heaven'. They are therefore merely unclean to you - forbidden as food to you." Maimonides offers a medical basis for the dietary laws: "The principle reason why the Torah forbids swine's flesh is to be found in the circumstances that its habits and its food are very dirty and loathsome" (Guide for the Perplexed 3,48), but this is rejected by many commentators such as the Akedat Yitzkhak: "We ought to bear in mind that the dietary laws are not, as some have asserted, motivated by therapeutic considerations, G-d forbid! Were that so, the Torah would be reduced to the level of a minor medical treatise." The Sforno comments that "G-d thus forbade the foods that defile the soul morally and intellectually", trying to make the reason for the restrictions apply at a spiritual rather than a physical level. Others see the dietary laws as part of the way of distinguishing Israel from the nations, that they might be a set apart and holy people to the L-rd: "Every Jew must set himself apart by keeping laws and principles that differ from those of the pagan nations. He must not imitate them, but cleave to the G-d of his forefathers." (S. D. Luzzatto). Leibowitz, however, both dismisses and sums up these opinions by saying, "the more we rationalise such prohibitions as intrinsically noxious to body or soul, the farther we drift from their actual basis" and closes with a quote from Sifra, Kedoshim 128: "Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya says: One should not say: I dislike wearing sha'atnez, or eating pork; rather one should say, I crave these but what can I do - my Father in Heaven has prohibited these!"
With that as a background, Yeshua called the people together and said to them, "There is nothing outside a person which, by going into him, can make him unclean. Rather, it is the things that come out of a person which make a person unclean!" (Mark 7:15, CJB). The disciples were puzzled; they asked Him what He was talking about. "Don't you see that nothing going into a person from outside can make him unclean? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and it passes out into the latrine." (Thus he declared all foods ritually clean)" (vv. 18-19, CJB). Does this mean that Yeshua is voiding the dietary laws? Generations of Christian commentators have similarly been confused about what Yeshua was saying because they have ignored the context in which Yeshua was speaking and His immediate audience. When this originally spoken, it was said to an exclusively Jewish audience and following a debate with the Pharisees and Torah-teachers about the observance of the Traditions of the Elders, in particular the requirement to wash the hands before eating. This sets the debate clearly in the context of an "internal" Jewish debate about the dietary laws - which like the comments of the Ba'al haTurim above take certain things for granted; in particular, it defined the word 'food' as meaning something that apart from the matter immediately being discussed is otherwise completely kosher. Yeshua - and any Jew of His time - did not consider pig meat as food. The key word to notice in Yeshua's statement is "ritually" - Yeshua is saying that anything that is food (for the people concerned) is ritually clean and that it's kosher-ness is not dependent on the person eating it or the ritual surrounding the eating. Eating something that you know to be unclean, or that has been involved in harmful spiritual practices - such as Rav Sha'ul is later going to explain when talking about food that has been offered to idols (Romans 14 & 2 Corinthians 6) - or in the wrong way, is a human choice that makes the eater unclean, regardless of the food itself. After listing unacceptable forms of behaviour, Yeshua makes it clear what He is talking about: "All these wicked things come from within, and they make a person unclean" (v. 23, CJB).
Physically eating the food that is "allowed" for you is a matter of simple obedience to the commands that G-d has given you. If you are Jewish then pork and shellfish are not defined as 'food' for you and eating them is, while probably not directly harmful to your physical health, disobedience; if you are Gentile then this does not apply to you, although it is important to make sure that pork is properly cooked to ensure that the bacteria and parasites present in the meat are killed before you eat it.
The same rules apply to our spiritual diet. What do we take into our spirits, our minds, by what we read, listen to and watch? How do we allow "the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2, NASB) to feed our souls? Many believers feel that this is a matter of personal judgement and freedom; that they are free to choose what they read and watch, what they take into their minds. In one sense that is true, since G-d has given us all freedom of choice, but, just as with physical food, Rav Sha'ul explains: "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify" (1 Corinthians 10:23, NASB). Not everything is profitable for our minds and not everything builds up our souls in a manner that is helpful and healthy according to kingdom standards. Sha'ul defines the boundary for us: "In conclusion, brothers, focus your thoughts on what is true, noble, righteous, pure, lovable or admirable, on some virtue or on something praiseworthy. Keep doing what you have learned and received from me, what you have heard and seen me doing; then the G-d who gives shalom will be with you" (Philippians 4:8-9, CJB). In order to know G-d's peace, in order not get get spiritual indigestion or parasites, we need to exclude anything from our spiritual diet that falls outside these limits. However much we might protest, it is simple matter of obedience. To quote Rabbi Elazar: what can I do - my Father in Heaven has prohibited these!
Further Study: Psalm 34:5; 2 Peter 3:14
Application: Are you sure that you only read and watch things that Yeshua would approve and be happy to sit and watch with you? If not, why not ask Him to show you where your reading or viewing material falls outside the limits He has set for you? He wants us all to clean up our act and be spiritually clean and healthy before Him so that we may be a part of the pure radiant and spotless bride.
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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