Jewish Dietary Laws- Shehitah
The dietary laws appear large in Jewish life. They are referred to many times in the Torah apart from part of the chapter in Deuteronomy (Deut. 14:4-21), and the full chapter devoted to them in Leviticus (Lev. 11). They are elaborated in the Talmud in a large treatise, Hullin, which deals with them almost exclusively. The laws of Kashrut can seem puzzling or arbitrary to the outsider, but they held great meaning for Jewish people throughout their history.
Efforts have been made to give a basis for the dietary laws. The most constant, hailing back to Maimonides, is that they were originally hygienic measures. Thus Maimonides says, “I maintain that the food forbidden by the law is unwholesome. There is nothing among the forbidden foods whose injurious character is doubted except pork and fat. But also in these cases is the doubt unjustified” (Guide 3:48). Those who wish to discard the dietary laws on the grounds that we can attain the same health measures by other means often give this account.
The inadequacy of the medical rationale was pointed out by Isaac Abarbanel. He stated, “God forbid that I should believe that the reason for forbidden foods is medicinal. For were it so, the Book of God’s Law would be in the same class as any of the minor brief medical books…Furthermore, our own eyes see that people who eat pork and insects and such…are well and alive and healthy at this very day…Moreover, there are more dangerous animals….which are not mentioned at all in the list of prohibited ones. And there are many poisonous herbs known to physicians, which the Torah does not mention at all. All of which points to the conclusion that the Law of God did not come to heal bodies and seek their material welfare, but to seek the health of the soul and cure its illness” (Abarbanel on Leviticus, quoted in Cohn, Royal Table, p.17).
The sources, the Bible in particular, never bring up such reasons. Instead, it is usually suggested that the...