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Why Keep Kosher  
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Question

The Food laws in Leviticus suggest a hygiene reason for their application.
In Judaism are there any other reasons for observing the food laws?

Answer

The following article on the Aish.com website, written by Rabbi
Kalman Packouz, should answer your question:

More than likely, if you ask someone why the Torah has dietary laws, he'll tell you that the reason is because Moses didn't have USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) supervision to ensure that pigs healthy and don't have trichinosis.

It is an interesting explanation, but it doesn't explain why kosher fish need fins and scales, why fruit from trees can't be eaten before the fourth year, why animals must be slaughtered in a certain manner and all blood removed from the meat, why meat and milk are not to be mixed, why shellfish, insects and other creepy-crawlers of land and sea, as well as birds of prey (not pray), and milk from a non-kosher animal are all forbidden. The laws of kashrut cover the depth and breadth of the food chain.

Perhaps the most revealing response to those who maintain that kashrut is for health is to look at the traditional staples of Ashkenzai (European) Jewish cuisine -- chopped liver, grivines (fried chicken skin), cholent (a Shabbat stew). A food can be kosher and a first class ticket to a heart attack!

In all discussions in life, it is important to have two things before coming to a conclusion: definitions and facts. If we don't define our terms, we waste a lot of time before clarifying what were talking about. And if we don't have the facts, we can end up looking foolish. So, why do Jews keep kosher?

The two reasons why Jews for thousands of years have kept kosher is because Jews believe: 1) There is a God who created the world, sustains and supervises it. 2) God entered into a covenant with the Jewish people, and gave the Torah, obligating Jews to uphold and fulfill its commandments. The kosher laws are a part of that covenant.

Sure, there are many benefits of keeping kosher (even some health ones!). However, these are "benefits" and not "reasons." God wants us to use our intellect to understand the mitzvot to the best of our ability.

Perhaps the following understandings of keeping kosher will be food for thought:

1) Hygienic: There are many laws that promote health. Judaism forbids eating animals that died without proper slaughter and the draining of the blood (which is a medium for the growth of bacteria). Judaism also forbids eating animals that have abscesses in their lungs or other health problems.

Shellfish, mollusks, lobsters (and yes, stone crabs) which have spread typhoid and are a source for urticara (a neurotic skin affliction) are not on the diet. Milk and meat digest at an unequal rate and are difficult for the body; they are forbidden to be eaten together.

Birds of prey are not kosher -- tension and hormones produced might make the meat unhealthy.

2) Moral Lessons: We are taught to be sensitive to others' feelings -- even to the feelings of animals. A mother and her young are forbidden to be slaughtered on the same day, and of course "don't boil a kid (goat) in its mother's milk."

The Torah prohibits cruelty to animals. We must not remove the limb of an animal while it is still alive (a common practice, prior to refrigeration). When we slaughter an animal, it must be done with the least possible pain; there is a special knife that is so sharp that even the slightest nick in the blade renders it impermissible. This prevents pain to the animal.

And we are reminded not to be vicious, by the prohibition to eat vicious birds of prey.

3) National Reasons -- The Jewish people have a mission of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. A special diet reminds us of our mission and keeps us together as a people to fulfill it. (Intermarriage is kind of hard when you have to take your non-Jewish date to a kosher restaurant, or if you go to a prospective mother-in-law's home and you won't eat her food...)

Keeping kosher is also a reminder of gratitude to the Almighty for taking the Jewish people out of Egypt, and a symbol of the holy covenant. (see Leviticus 11:45-47)

4) Mystical -- The Torah calls the Jews a "holy people" and prescribes a holy diet (see Deut. 14:2-4). You are what you eat. Kosher is God's diet for spirituality. Jewish mysticism teaches that non-kosher food blocks the spiritual potential of the soul.

Kosher animals properly slaughtered and prepared have more "sparks of holiness" (according to the Kabbalah) which are incorporated in our being.

5) Discipline -- If a person can be disciplined in what and when he eats, it follows that he can be disciplined in other areas of life as well. Kashrut requires that one must wait after eating meat before eating milk products and we may not eat certain animals or combinations of foods. (Even when you're hungry!) All of this instills self-discipline.

To learn more about kashrut, read "The Kosher Kitchen" by Rabbi Ze'ev Greenwald, a user-friendly, practical and illustrated guide that eliminates the mystery and confusion of keeping kosher. (All three books are available from your local Jewish bookstore, or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242, or online at www.aish.com/a/eichlers/).

With blessings from Jerusalem,

Rabbi Shraga Simmons
Aish.com

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