The Sabbath approaches and I do hope you are preparing for a family dinner and candle lighting with the ancient blessings of Judaism. For my non-Jewish readers, I do hope you are preparing for a relaxing weekend as well.
The topic I have chosen for this Sabbath meditation might not seem “spiritual.” But the truth is the physical and spiritual are joined in Judaism and in proper Christian theology. It is incorrect to divide them. What could be more devotional than an act which forms a large part of our daily existence — eating.
For all who are new to the topic of kashrut or dietary law, it is important to know that:
1. Leviticus 11 spells out which kinds of animals may be eaten. The most common animals forbidden in the diet of the average American are pork, shellfish, shrimp, lobster, catfish, and rabbit. (I won’t mention possum and squirrel though I do live in Georgia!).
2. It is forbidden to eat torn flesh found in the field (Ex 22:30) or an animal found dead (Deut 14:21) — you know, roadkill.
3. You may not kill a mother bird and her young at the same time for food or any other reason (Deut 22:6-7).
4. You may not boil a baby goat in its mother’s milk (Ex 23:29, 34:26, Deut 14:21).
Now these are the biblical prohibitions, but Jewish tradition, based on decisions of the rabbis, goes further.
5. You may not mix milk and meat in the same dish, eat them at the same time, or cook them together (fowl counts as meat, but not fish).
6. You may not place meat on a vessel used for milk or vice-versa (even knives, dishwashers, silverware, etc. are kept separate by the very traditional).
7. You may not eat any meat (fish don’t count) not slaughtered by a kosher butcher, following procedures deemed more humane than commercial slaughtering (but unfortunately more than doubling the price of meat).
It is a common routine in Messianic Judaism for the stricter requirements of Judaism to be ignored and a style of kosher to be kept that people call “Biblical kosher.” I wish to challenge this status quo.
In the first place, maybe what is Biblical is not so clear. For example, the Bible says that meat must be slaughtered so that the blood is poured out and covered with dust (Lev 17:13). Flesh that is torn may not be eaten (Ex 22:30). How biblical are many of us in interpreting these laws?
There is a tractate of the Talmud where the rabbis debate these issues, Chullin. An excellent but brief summary of all this can be found in Rabbis Olitzky and Judson’s The Ritual and Practices of a Jewish Life on page 50:
Who may be a slaughterer? What are proper and improper acts of slaughter? What should one do if one finds a live fetus in the uterus of the slaughtered animal? Which animals may be cooked in milk? Because rennet, the curdling agent used to make cheese, comes from the stomach of a calf, is it a meat product?
I raise all of these questions to challenge the status-quo. Are you being as biblical as you think? I know that not all of the traditional practices are strictly deduced from the written Torah, but I also do not think modern practices for slaughtering and packaging meat necessarily fulfill all the requirements of Torah. Furthermore, even if we can make a case that separating milk and meat is unnecessary, why should we not follow the other observant members of our community. Why not be more kosher?
This Shabbat, think about how much food is a part of your life. Think how you can sanctify this physical practice. Bless God before eating your food and pray thanksgiving after. Choose your food wisely and think how it impacts your life before God. Enjoyment should be part of it, but also nourishment and righteousness. Let’s get biblical!