Sunday, March 9, 2008

Leviticus 11: Ancient Israel's Dietary Laws

Before microscopic organisms or germs were discovered, God gave the ancient Israelites dietary laws which not only had spiritual significance, but would also protect them and help them to survive as a nation. These laws preserved the sanctity of Israel as God's holy people. Though the idea of uncleanness typified sin and defilement, it also protected the Israelites from diseases they may have otherwise become the victims of. Remember, all of this was given by God to Moses and Aaron thousands of years before infectious diseases were discovered, or the microscope was invented.

Following are a few examples:

"The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is unclean for you." (Lev. 11:6)

Tularemia (also known as rabbit fever or deerfly fever) is an infectious disease in ticks and rabbits that is caused by a bacterium (Francisella tularensis). The disease was first described in Japan in 1837. Approximately 150-300 tularemia cases are reported in the United States annually, with a majority of those from Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. The bacteria F. tularensis is a hazard to laboratory staff that work closely with rabbits. Note: as few as 5-10 bacteria can result in disease.

"And the pig, though it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you." (Lev. 11:7-8)

In ages past, pork could cause trichinosis. Modern food preparation techniques help prevent this. Pigs are also host to various parasites. In addition, pork is unhealthy since its even higher in fat than beef. For an explanation of trichinosis, see:

"But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales—whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water—you are to detest." (Lev. 11:10)

Unclean 'fish' such as eels generally contain more parasites than fish with scales. Even today, shellfish often causes food poisoning and enteritis. For example, see:

"These are the birds you are to detest and not eat because they are detestable: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey..." (Lev. 11:13)

Carnivorous animals readily transmitted infection in a warm climate where flesh decayed rapidly. Vermin and predatory birds were likely disease carriers.

Those kosher laws from God were like an ancient version of our Food and Drug Administration, protecting public health by preventing the consumption of unhealthy foods. Yet, their purpose was also to maintain spiritual purity, and served as another way to separate Israel, God's chosen people, from the idolatrous and pagan nations around them.


satire and theology said...

An interesting read on the practical nature of Mosaic law.

Although Christians are in the new covenant (Hebrews 7&9), it is still wise to seriously consider these regulations.

Jeff said...


Yeah, its interesting that God told Adam and Eve to eat only fruits (and vegetables, probably). Only after the Flood did man begin eating meat; and then, man began having a much shorter lifespan. I understand that on average, vegetarians live 7 years longer than flesh eaters. More importantly, they have less chronic illness in their old age.

Diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are all illnesses caused by high saturated fat diets consisting, in part, of animal and dairy products.

(I don't believe that alone accounted for the far shorter lifespan after the Flood; I also believe the earth's atmosphere was changed after the Flood, which I believe may have included allowing more of the sun's radiation to hit the earth, after some type of atmospheric water canopy came down. This is only a theory, of course. But the real reason was that God declared that man would live a much shorter lifespan...presumably because, after man had been living so very wickedly for his long lifespan, God did not want man to continue that long lifespan of wickedness.)

Here's what I found on a Jewish website about Kashrut (kashrut="keeping kosher"):
"According to Jewish law, meat and poultry must be slaughtered in a specific, humane manner, in order to minimize the pain the animal feels during the slaughtering, a process know as sh'hita (a shohet is the name of the trained professional who carries out the process).

Another critical element of kashrut is that the blood of an animal may not be eaten, reflecting a sensitivity to blood as life-force. Before the meat or poultry can be prepared for eating, it must be soaked and salted to drain it of blood."

"The other essential aspect of keeping kosher is the prohibition against mixing milk and meat. Milk represents birth and life sustenance. Meat stands for flesh and death. Mixing them shows an insensitivity to life."