Leviticus 11:1-3, 8

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Delivered 2 April 2016




"11 Adonai spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them, 2 “Speak to Bnei-Yisrael, saying: These are the living things which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. 3 Whatever has a split, divided hoof and chews cud among the animals—that you may eat. ... 8 You are not to eat meat from them, nor are you to touch their carcasses. They are unclean to you." (TLV)


The passage we're considering today is taken from Parashah Shemini (meaning eighth day), which concerns instructions given to Aaron following the seven days of his ordination. In the passage before us God issued limitations regarding animals that may be eaten. From the time of Adam to Noah people apparently had a vegetarian diet, because after the global flood, God said to Noah.

"Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood." [Genesis 9:3-4].

But now God issued new diet rules to his people Israel. God divided animals into categories of TAHOR, clean, and TAMAY, unclean, on the basis of physical characteristics. The translation of CLEAN and UNCLEAN may be misleading to modern ears, but the meaning of the Hebrew words for this context is given in verse 47: ACCEPTABLE FOR EATING and UNACCEPTABLE FOR EATING. The prohibition also extended to touching the carcass of a TAMAY animal. So, for example, TAHOR land animals have both divided hoof and chew the cud and TAHOR sea animals have both fins and scales. God prohibited Israelites to eat of the TAMAY animals. The legislation raises the question: why did God prohibit certain animals for eating when the animals hadn't changed since creation, and previously there was no such restriction?

God hints at his reason in verses 44 and 45 by saying "You shall be holy, for I am holy." Some commentators have regarded God's rationale as purely religious. TAMAY animals were used in pagan rituals and the Israelites were not to repeat the practices of the Egyptians. Also, following these rules was part of maintaining ritual purity.

However, other interpreters believe the laws are based on hygiene. TAMAY creatures are unfit to eat because they can be infected with parasites or dangerous bacteria. However, hygiene cannot account for all of the prohibitions and the Torah gives no hint that it regarded the forbidden animals as a danger to public health.

The reason God gives for the strict diet is repeated and amplified in chapter 20, verses 25 and 26.

"Therefore you are to distinguish between clean and unclean animals and between clean and unclean birds; do not make yourselves detestable with an animal, bird or reptile that I have set apart for you to regard as unclean. Rather, you people are to be holy for me; because I, ADONAI, am holy; and I have set you apart from the other peoples, so that you can belong to me." (CJB)

God wanted Israel to be a holy nation. To be holy in the positive sense is to belong wholly to God and in the negative sense to be separated from sinful behavior. God's rationale is first ethical. God's people must be able to distinguish between what is acceptable to Him and what is unacceptable to Him. To have that kind of knowledge requires feeding on God's Word. God's reasoning is secondly covenantal. The division of animals corresponded to the division between holy Israel and the other nations. In other words, God required Israelites to refrain from eating animals that were permitted for Gentiles. The Torah regulation emphasizes this separation by referring to the banned animals eleven times in chapter 11 as "TAMAY to you," that is "unacceptable to you, Israel" (e.g., Lev 11:4). Thus, the Israelites would be reminded at every meal of their status as a chosen, covenant people.

In the time of Yeshua the rabbinic leaders understood there was a connection between the food rules and relations with Gentiles, and in the past Israel had gotten into trouble by sharing in meals with pagan nations. So, the religious leaders made a law that Jews were not to eat with Gentiles and certainly not to go into a Gentile's house.

We see this cultural divide in the life of Simon Peter. In Acts chapter ten God gave Simon a vision in which clean and unclean animals were all mixed together, and of which he was told to kill and eat. He was horrified at the implication that he should eat of the unclean animals, and declared that he always followed kosher food rules. Eventually God explained the point of the vision, a most shocking plan. The unclean animals symbolized Gentiles and they would be spiritually cleansed so that Jew and Gentile might serve the God of Israel together.

We should note that God did not tell Peter that the food laws of Leviticus were canceled and contrary to many Bible versions Yeshua did not declare unclean animals clean for Jews. [See my web article Did Yeshua Cancel Torah Food Laws?] Yeshua did emphasize that what comes out of the heart is more important than what goes into the stomach. However, the emissaries of Yeshua issued some important guidelines related to food. First, the food rules given to Noah are mandatory for Gentiles. Second, Gentile disciples must not offend Jews by minimizing the kosher diet. Third, whatever you eat must be received with thanksgiving expressed to God.

In the final analysis our attitude, whether Gentile or Jew, should be that of Yeshua who said, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me." May our food always be a source of blessing to others.

Barukh Hashem!


Copyright © 2015 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.