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WHAT FAMILIES ARE SAYING ABOUT YCT

L’chvod Rav Avi, Rabbi Lopatin, Rabbi Linzer, Rabbi Love, Rav Katz and the rest of the faculty and staff, Obviously, we are grateful that you have created a holy place of learning for both Chai and Tzachi. But do you realize the profound influence you have had and continue to have in our lives? Thank you for helping us to create an open orthodox home where Torah is observed consciously. Thank you for modeling for us how to live the Torah that we learn. Thank you for helping us to raise our children with the knowledge that they could question anything that did not make sense to them, and that that is a proper and healthy attitude to apply to all aspects of Torah living. It brings us tremendous comfort and gives us strength knowing that Yeshivat Chovevei Torah is here to inspire and guide all of us.

With heartfelt thanks,
Estelle and Harvey Posner
Parents of Chai Posner (YCT ’10) and Tzachi Posner (YCT ’17)

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Written by Rabbi Avi Weiss   
Friday, 25 March 2011

The Rationale for the Dietary Laws

March 25-26, 2011/ 20 Adar II 5771

By Rabbi Avi Weiss

The Torah in this week's Parsha mandates that for animals to be kosher they must possess two characteristics--cloven hooves and chew the cud.  (Leviticus 11:3)  In contemporary times there is much ado about the impact of food on physical health. My doctors keep telling me for example, to keep the fat and cholesterol down. Is it possible that food could similarly impact on one's spiritual well-being? This in fact is the position of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in his explanation of kashrut (the dietary laws).

The characteristics of kosher animals point to their being more passive in nature. In Hirsch's words: "If we look at the signs for clean animals they appear plant-like. As they chew the cud, the food consumed passes through two stomachs, is driven up the gullet again and chewed for the second time.  Thus, these animals spend a great deal of time in the absorption of food.  The cloven hooves of the permitted animals also seem to have been created more for the mere purpose of standing than for being used as weapons or tools."

The same is true concerning fish. To be kosher, fish must have fins and scales.  (Leviticus 11:9)  Not coincidentally, fish that have these characteristics are by and large more peaceful in nature. The more aggressive fish fall into the category of the prohibited. Moreover, birds of prey are by and large enjoined.  The rule holds fast. The more aggressive animals and fowl are prohibited. The more passive are permitted.

Of course, not everyone who consumes kosher food leads lives of inner peace.  There are troubled people who eat kosher, just as there are fine people who do not eat kosher. Nonetheless, the ritual of kashrut may help us become more conscious of our responsibilities to live ethical lives.

The balance between outer action and inner feelings is especially discernible in the laws of forbidden and permitted animals. Note, that chewing the cud is an internal characteristic as it deals with the inner digestive system. In contrast, cloven hooves are an external characteristic.  One merely has to look at an animal's foot to detect whether this criteria has been met.  Perhaps, just perhaps this teaches that to be kosher one's behavior must not only be correct, but inwardly pure.

Whether these rationales are satisfactory or not, the prohibited foods teach us discipline. They remind us that in the end, God is the arbiter of right and wrong. Notwithstanding, the kashrut laws carry powerful ethical lessons--lessons that can help ennoble and sanctify our lives.

 

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