Parashat Shemini opens with Moses telling Aaron and his sons about the guidelines for bringing offerings to the sanctuary as atonement for any sins that they or the people may have committed. Aaron follows Moses instructions carefully and places the offerings on the sanctuary altar. A fire from God comes out and envelops the sacrifices, burning them. Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s older sons, bring an offering of a strange fire to God, and God is displeased. God kills noth of them. Moses tells Aaron and two of his remaining sons, Elazar and Ithamar, not to mourn for them. God instructs Moses to tell Aaron about some guidelines for priestly behavior. Then God tells Moses and Aaron which animals the Israelites are permitted to eat and which animals they are not.
The Torah gives us guidelines about the animals we can and cannot eat. We read in the Book of Leviticus, chapter 11:
- And the Eternal spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them,
- Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which you shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.
- Whatever parts the hoof, and is cloven footed, and chews the cud, among the beasts, that shall you eat.
- Nevertheless these shall you not eat of those that chew the cud, or of those that divide the hoof; the camel, because it chews the cud, but its hoof is not parted; it is impure to you.
- And the swine, though its hoof is parted, and is cloven footed, yet it chews not the cud; it is impure to you.
There are no specific reasons for eating certain animals and not eating others. I like to say that the reason why Jews don’t eat swine is the same reason why Americans don’t eat dog – for cultural reasons, we can’t imagine doing it. Eating is a cultural construct, and we are all indoctrinated in the ways of our cultures. Throughout the years, different rabbis tried to find explanations for not eating swine that would highlight Judaism’s cultural aspects. Here are two interesting ones:
- Mahbarot Immanuel
Immanuel Ben Solomon, born c. 1260—died c. 1328, Hebrew poet who lived mainly in Rome, considered the founder of secular poetic writing in Hebrew.
“A stingy person is comparable to a swine, which parts the hoof and can walk around eating everything, yet does not chew the cud (playing on the word gerah, which can mean both a coin and the cud), meaning, does not give even a small coin to Tzedakah.”
Immanuel Ben Solomon finds a creative way to compare a stingy person to a swine, by using alternative meanings for the same word. What do you think of this comparison? Does it change your idea of why Jews don’t eat swine?
- Pachad Yitzchak commentary
Rabbi Yitzchok Friedman (1850 –1917) was the founder and first Rebbe of the Boyan Hasidic dynasty.
And the swine:
R. Papa said: None are poorer than a dog and none richer than a swine. (Talmud, Shabbat 155b)
How interesting it is that over the eating of pork, which carries only one prohibition from the Torah, people are careful about. Yet, from the acts of lying and gossiping, that carries with them many prohibitions, people are not so careful from refraining from it. Maybe what the saying in the Talmud means is that the prohibition against eating swine is stronger and more powerful than the prohibition against lying or gossiping. Yet in the Talmud, (Pessachim 118) we learn: the one that speaks ill of others, deserves to be thrown to the dogs. Therefore, one should be as careful of what comes out of one’s mouth as one is of what come into one’s mouth.
What lesson is Rabbi Yitzchok Friedman trying to impart about the animals we eat or don’t eat? What is his overall message about keeping kosher?
Reminder: Tomorrow, Saturday, March 18th at 8:45 PM – Virtual Whitehead Shiva Minyan followed by Havdalah.
Meeting ID: 977 6446 6801