& its Many Meanings: A View into the Jewish Dietary Laws
Kosher or kasher means good or proper. For those who keep kosher, the observance of the dietary laws is an opportunity for obedience to G’d and preserving Jewish unity and identity. There are many theories on the origin of the Biblical dietary laws. There is the hygiene hypothesis. It was believed by some that kosher animals were healthier to eat than non-kosher animals. The laws of purity describe the difference between clean and unclean animals and other phenomena related to health. This theory has fallen out of favor among biblical scholars of our time. The rationale is reasonable when considering the laws prohibiting the consumption of scavenger birds, which at times carry disease. Shellfish can contain parasites which can harm people and pork can harbor trichinosis if not properly cooked. There are other animals that carry parasites and fruits and vegetables that are poisonous but are not mentioned in our dietary laws. Therefore, there is some confusion about the laws when not all problematic foods are excluded from the non-kosher foods.
Some of the early philosophers held that the laws of kashrut were symbolic.
Kosher animals represent virtues, while non-kosher animals represent vices.
This hypotheses has been rejected because there is nothing to support
this hypothesis. Some Jewish
scholars believe that some of the inclusion or exclusion of certain kosher laws
are irrational, because there is no particular explanation for their existence.
There are some of G’d’s regulations for mankind that the human mind is not
capable of understanding. The
dietary laws were possibly given as a demonstration of G’d’s authority and
that man should obey without asking for a reason.
Another theory which is widely accepted today is that the laws serve as a
distinction between the Jewish and non-Jewish folks of the world. It helps the
Jewish community to retain its identity. According to the Biblical book of
Leviticus, the purpose of the laws is related to ritual purity and holiness.
The Hebrew word for holiness is etymologically related to the Hebrew word
distinction or separation. This idea is generally accepted by most Jewish people
today and by many Biblical scholars.
There are countless laws pertaining to the kosher laws.
One must not eat meat and milk without waiting specific amounts of time
between the courses. One reason
given for this is that this is a humane statute, as a person must not cook the
calf in it’s mother's milk.
The kosher laws serve the purpose of helping people to suppress their
impulses. It teaches that we must
not have everything that our heart desires.
It teaches self control, which is essential for all humans, be they
Jewish or otherwise. There are too
many human beings today who have lost their inner censor and give in to
unacceptable emotions, often followed by unacceptable, unhealthy and illegal
There are many directives and dictates connected with the kosher laws
which are difficult for the uninitiated to comprehend.
For example, for the orthodox Jewish person, it is necessary to have four
sets of dishes totally separated from each other:
dairy dishes for milk products, meat dishes for meals which include meat
of any kind, Passover dairy dishes, and Passover meat dishes.
There are only certain fish that are kosher.
They must have scales and fins to be acceptable.
No shellfish may be eaten. There
times between three and six hours that kosher eaters must wait between eating
dairy foods after having had meat. The
separate dishes must be washed by themselves - not in the same pan.
A very strict orthodox Jew does not eat in other than a strictly kosher
Animals that are used for food must be slaughtered in a very specific
humane fashion that spares the animal as much pain as possible.
All blood must be drained after slaughter and cannot be consumed by the
There is a great deal more to be said about the kosher laws and these can
readily be found in your literature, on the computer or the orthodox rabbi in
Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).