“My soul is dark with stormy riot: Directly traced over to diet” - Samuel Hoffenstein
We have invited a Jewish couple to dinner in the New Year and we are reading up on what is permissible (“Kosher”) and what is not (“Traif”). The first source of course is the biblical passage of Leviticus, chapter 11, and Deuteronomy, Chapter 14, which list the dietary restrictions God gave to the nation of Israel. The dietary laws include prohibitions against eating pork, shrimp, shellfish and many types of seafood, most insects, scavenger birds, and various other “impure” animals.
At the time that these restrictions were put in place and given the geographic and climatic conditions prevailing, these restrictions made a great deal of sense. In a hot climate shellfish quickly spoils, for example, and can cause very severe food poisoning. Pork is notorious for the number of parasites it can contain and the horrible disease it can give rise in humans if the pigs are not kept in hygienic conditions and the animal is not slaughtered properly. Moslems have some dietary restrictions that are similar and are based on the same hygienic factors.
According to Jewish dietary laws, to be “pure” an animal must also be free from certain defects, and must be slaughtered and cleaned according to specific regulations (Shechita). Any product of an impure or improperly slaughtered animal is also non-kosher. Animal gelatin, for example, has been avoided, although recently kosher gelatin (from cows or from fish prepared according to kosher regulations) has become available. The status of shellac is still controversial. The prohibitions also extend to certain parts of pure animals, such as blood, certain fat tissues, and the sciatic nerves.
It is forbidden to cook milk or dairy product with meat. Meat and milk are not even eaten in the same meal and different pots, crockery, cutlery and washing up equipment are used to cook them. Dairy food, even a cup of tea, may not be eaten until 3 hours after the consumption of meat or fowl. Other regulations affect wine, cheese and their derivatives such as wine vinegar and grape juice. All these products must be made under strict Rabbinical supervision. Leaven is also to be avoided at prescribed times of the religious calendar and it must eradicated from the house – in many cases different sets of crockery, pots and pans, cutlery, glassware being used in a different kitchen during the period of prohibition. Fasting si also prescribed on certain religious feast days.
The short answer as to why Jews observe dietary laws is because the Torah says so. The Torah does not specify any reason for these laws, and for a Torah-observant, traditional Jew, there is no need for any other reason. Orthodox, observant Jews follow the dietary laws, in a similar way to Islam, in order to show obedience to the word of God.
It is interesting that in the New Testament, Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19). God gave the apostle Peter a vision in which He declared that formerly unclean animals could be eaten: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). When Jesus died on the cross, He fulfilled the Old Testament law (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:24-26; Ephesians 2:15). This includes the laws regarding clean and unclean foods.
Romans 14:1-23 observes that not everyone accepts the fact that all foods are clean. As a result, if we are with someone who would be offended by our eating “unclean” food, we should give up our right to do so as to not offend the other person. We have the right to eat whatever we want, but we do not have the right to offend other people, who believe differently. Christians have the freedom to eat whatever they wish as long as it does not cause someone else to stumble in his/her faith.
Now in terms of our dinner party, the next place to mine of course, would be Jewish cookbooks where we can find some interesting recipes to try. Fortunately in Melbourne we have a plethora of shops that sell Kosher foods and ingredients and it should be fairly easy to obtain ingredients for the menu we decide on. Failing all, of course, we could order some Kosher food in from a Kosher restaurant! Any other suggestions welcome!