Saturday, March 13, 2010

Biblical Dietary Laws, Part 2

This will also be in Becky Holm's Douglas County News.  I get a small section of page 7, so it may take me several articles to discuss the subject until either a) I am satisfied or b) people are getting bored!

The Book of Leviticus, which lays out God's expectations for the Israelites, includes dietary laws. Many have tried to discern hard and fast rules for why certain animals are included or prohibited. The only clear commonality I see is that "clean" meats are low on the food chain. Most of the "unclean" animals are predators or carrion eaters. Others are simply unusual for where they live, like animals that live in water but can walk on land or are so simply made that there is no way to separate ingestive and excretory organs from the meat (as in shellfish). Clean animals include: cloven hooved animals that chew their cud, fish with fins and scales, crickets, locusts and grasshoppers, and non-predatory and non-carrion eating birds.

The fact that pork is prohibited is well known, and most people assume this is for health reasons. In Virginia, I raised pigs. They are hilarious and intelligent, but they will eat absolutely everything. I purchased them to clear marshy woods (unsuitable for goats) of thorn bushes and poison oak, which they did admirably. They also ate grass, some live chickens (to my horror) and excess garden produce. Occasionally, they'd break fences and go beg at the neighbors' houses or run up Courtney's Corner Road to Highway 17, literally looking for road kill to eat. An animal that died three days ago is still food to a pig. No doubt, the ancients knew that any animal that ate decomposing critters could give them food poisoning.  Distressed pigs will also turn on their human handlers and eat them. 

Poultry also are rather unpicky about their diet, but the Israelites may have highly valued their proclivity for chasing down and eating insects.

Although the command "you shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk" is repeated three times, it is never explained. The Rabbis in the Talmud wrote that milk and meat could not be eaten in the same meal, but the Bible itself does not say this. Dairy and meat together are difficult to digest. The Bible also commands one to never slaughter a calf in front of its mother and to set a mother bird free before taking her young. I view the "boiling a kid" rule as an injuction against cruelty to its mother.

Continued next week!


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