Kashrut Themes and Theology

Print this page Print this page

themes of kosher foodMaimonides also concurred with the suggestion, offered before his time and since, that the strictures of kashrut are intended to curb our appetites, not only for medical reasons but also as a part of a more general effort as self-improvement, by inculcating habits and traits of self-restraint.

Interpreters of the Bible as far back as rabbinic times have explained some dietary laws as expressing compassion for animals. The prohibition on cooking a kid in its mother's milk was understood this way by the thinker Philo in first-century Alexandria, and by some medieval commentators. Such an explanation is also offered for the prohibition against slaughtering both parent and offspring on one day, the requirement that a mother bird be chased away before any of its young are taken from the nest, and other biblical laws. This principle was applied in the rabbinic rules for slaughtering, which were designed to hasten the animal's unconsciousness and its death, sparing it pain.

Finally, some interpreters of Judaism in modern times have presented the observance of kashrut first and foremost as a means of living in accord with the divine will. This is a theme well understood by the classic rabbinic sage who directed his adherents not to express disgust with nonkosher food. He advised them instead to say, "I want it! I want it! But the Holy One has declared it off-limits."

Some contemporary Jews have linked their observance of kashrut with health and environmental concerns, seeing these as natural outgrowths of some traditional reasons behind the Jewish dietary laws.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.