Kashrut: Past, Present, and Future by Yakir Forman


A careful reading of Parashat Shemini reveals an odd nuance in the Pesukim that describe non-Kosher animals. After relating that an animal is Kosher only if it chews its cud and has split hooves, the Torah lists three animals (the camel, the hyrax, and the hare) that chew their cud but do not have split hooves and one (the pig) that has split hooves but does not chew its cud. The Torah strangely shifts tenses when describing the former group of animals in three otherwise parallel Pesukim. Regarding the camel, the Torah states, “UFarsah Einenu Mafris,” “It does not split its hoof” (VaYikra 11:4), in present tense; the Torah then writes, regarding the hyrax, “UFarsah Lo Yafris,” “It will not split its hoof” (11:5), in future tense; finally, regarding the hare, the Torah switches to, “UFarsah Lo Hifrisah,” “It did not split its hoof” (11:6), in past tense. This phenomenon appears again when the Torah describes non-Kosher fish. The Pesukim state, “Sheketz Heim Lachem,” “They are an abomination to you” (11:10), in present tense, and then “Sheketz Yihyu Lachem,” “They will be an abomination to you” (11:11), in future tense. The Torah seems to be stressing that Kashrut is eternal, applying in the past, present, and future. How does the concept of timelessness relate to Kashrut?

A similar phenomenon occurs when the Torah emphasizes that the Isurei Achilah (items prohibited to consume) of Cheilev (forbidden fat) and Dam (blood) are, “Chukat Olam LeDoroteichem BeChol Moshevoteichem,” “An eternal decree for your generations in all your dwelling places” (3:17). The Gemara (Kiddushin 37b) explains that one may have thought that since the Isurim of Cheilev and Dam are presented in the context of Korbanot, they apply only in an era during which Bnei Yisrael bring Korbanot. Thus, the Torah specifies that these Isurim apply even after Korbanot cease to exist.

Similar logic may apply to Kashrut. Bnei Yisrael may have thought that the Isur of eating non-Kosher animals would apply only when Bnei Yisrael camp around the Mishkan and are graced with the local presence of Hashem. After all, due to their proximity to the Mishkan, Bnei Yisrael are not allowed to eat Besar Ta’avah, meat that they do not sacrifice as a Korban (Chullin 16b). Bnei Yisrael may have viewed Kashrut as an extension of the Isur of Besar Ta’avah. Just as that Isur is lifted when Bnei Yisrael enter Eretz Yisrael and are no longer so close to the Shechinah (Devarim 12:20), Bnei Yisrael may have thought that so too the Isur of Kashrut would be lifted at the same time. Indeed, being in the presence of Hashem requires strict standards (see Shemot 33:3,5) that can be relaxed in Eretz Yisrael, where Bnei Yisrael are more dispersed and not concentrated around the Beit HaMikdash. To reject this attitude toward Kashrut, the Torah stresses its timelessness, that both “Sheketz Heim Lachem” now and “Sheketz Yihyu Lachem” after Bnei Yisrael leave the Midbar. This also explains why the laws of Kashrut are repeated in Sefer Devarim (14:3-21). Sefer Devarim contains a list of Mitzvot designed to prepare Bnei Yisrael to enter Eretz Yisrael. By including Kashrut in this list, the Torah stresses that Kashrut will continue to apply even outside the Midbar.

Before appearing in Sefer Devarim, however, the laws of Kashrut first appear in Sefer VaYikra. Far from being concerned with Eretz Yisrael, Sefer VaYikra deals with the laws of the Mishkan. Kashrut’s placement in Sefer VaYikra indicates that there is some validity to the view that “Sheketz Yihyu Lachem” rejects. Kashrut is, indeed, an outgrowth of the closeness to the Mishkan and the Shechinah we experience in the Midbar. Kashrut and the Isur of Besar Ta’avah comprise a strict standard Bnei Yisrael must follow in that context. Now, when Bnei Yisrael are no longer so close to the Shechinah, Besar Ta’avah is permitted. Kashrut, on the other hand, remains as a vestige of our close relationship with Hashem in the Midbar. Every time we eat, we are reminded of the time Hashem dwelled immediately in our midst. It was an extremely meaningful religious experience, and though we have since moved on, we will never forget it as long as we observe Kashrut.

The Pesukim certainly support the idea that Kashrut is a reminder of our close relationship with Hashem. The Torah stresses that Kashrut is not only to give us Kedushah but to give us Kedushah “Ki Kadosh Ani,” “For I (Hashem) am holy” (VaYikra 11:44 and 45). This seems to point to Kashrut as an indicator of the relationship between Bnei Yisrael and Hashem. Furthermore, the idea that Kashrut is a reminder is supported by a Midrash (quoted in Otzar HaMidrashim p.477) that Rabbi Chaim Jachter related to me in a Shiur. The Midrash, in the name of Rabi Pinchas ben Ya’ir, posits that there was nothing inherently wrong with Adam HaRishon’s eating the fruit of the Eitz HaDa’at. Hashem prohibits it “Kedei SheYihyeh Ro’eh Oto Tamid VeZocheir Et Bore’o,” “so that he (Adam) would always see it and remember his Creator.” Rabbi Jachter makes an analogy between this first Isur Achilah and the laws of Kashrut. Just as the Isur to eat from the Eitz HaDaat served as a reminder of Hashem to Adam, the laws of Kashrut serve as a reminder of Hashem to us. Keeping the laws of Kashrut helps us recall our stay in the Midbar, when our relationship with Hashem was as close as it has ever been.

Each member of Bnei Yisrael experiences religious highs and lows throughout his or her life. A religious high helps an individual develop spiritually while the experience lasts. Afterward, however, one can easily lose everything he or she gained. Just as Kashrut serves as a daily reminder of one of the most meaningful religious experiences our nation has ever undergone, every individual should make sure to constantly remember his or her own religious experiences, making sure that his or her development from those experiences is permanent.

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