It should not be a great surprise to anyone studying or evaluating the kosher dietary laws, principally contained in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, that the question “Is eating kosher really healthier?” is something commonly asked. There is little doubting how the Hebrew Scriptures are materialistic, in the sense that normal human activities like eating or drinking, are not to be looked down upon or spurned. The advice of Ecclesiastes 9:7 is, “eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your work.” Given the many regulations regarding cleanliness in the Torah, both ceremonial and hygienic, the Lord is certainly concerned about the physical well being of His people (consider esp. Deuteronomy 23:13). Even with a great number of various washings intended for ceremonial purposes regarding holiness unto Him (i.e., Exodus 19:14), many washings were indeed intended for the healthy living and sanitation of the Israelites. It is rather logical, in evaluating the significance of the kosher dietary laws, to wonder—among the various reasons why God issued these instructions in His Word—if they have anything at all to do with physical health.
There have been many discussions throughout religious history, from both Jewish and Christian scholars, as to whether or not there is any health dimension present regarding kashrut. These discussions have extended into our Messianic faith community, and are present among various people who have addressed the reasons behind kosher—as well as to various scientific and dietary voices, some secular and some religious. Going back to 1953, interestingly enough, David I. Macht presented a paper entitled, “An Experimental Pharmacological Appreciation of Leviticus XI and Deuteronomy XIV,” appearing in the Bulletin of the Story of Medicine published by The Johns Hopkins Press—an article actually referenced in the 1976 Deuteronomy commentary by P.C. Craigie, and more recently in the article, “Foods, Clean and Unclean” by W.J. Houston, appearing in the Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch (2003). Of course, this kind of scientific information by Macht is notably dated, but discussions on the potential dangers of consuming unclean meats (Heb. tamei; Grk. equiv. akathartos) such as pork or shellfish, do continue into the Twenty-First Century. Exploring whether or not there is a health dimension to kashrut, does need to be conducted.
Because the very nature of science is one that is changing, with new studies ongoing in matters of health, nutrition, pharmacology, biology, biochemistry, and zoology—all the main disciplines that surround the issues of whether or not there is a health or hygiene component to the Torah’s classification of clean and unclean meats—our purpose here is to engage principally with how Jewish, Christian, and Messianic examiners have approached the “health” aspect of kashrut. What is the purpose of kosher? This is where we will encounter variance across the spectrum, as some are absolutely convinced that health and hygiene are indeed a significant part of God including instructions on diet in His Word. There are various others who are strongly pessimistic to the idea that the kosher laws have anything to do with health. And, there are those who see the kosher laws as perhaps containing an aspect of health and hygiene, but not as the primary reason for them being issued.
This chapter will be presenting some extensive quotations and references, from those who have proposed various reasons behind God giving His people a dietary code in the Torah. While our intention is to evaluate more what Biblical examiners, as opposed to what scientists or dietitians have said, we will be reviewing some of the thoughts of various figures, who have engaged scientifically and medically with the kosher dietary laws as a matter of health.Is_Eating_Kosher_Really_Healthier_KOSHER
When the subject of kosher, kashrut, or the dietary instructions of the Torah or the Law of Moses come up in various contemporary Messianic settings, there can be a tendency for some strong emotions to arise. The broad Messianic spectrum represents a diversity of views on “kosher”—ranging from the dietary laws being abolished and only to be observed as a part of Jewish culture, to people advocating a strict adherence to many Orthodox Jewish rulings and practices, to a kosher style diet where people mainly avoid pork and shellfish. At times, there has been an over-amount of attention given to the minutiae of keeping kosher, and not enough time given to some of the significant Biblical passages which either inform us about kosher or have been traditionally interpreted to say that kosher has been abolished for the post-resurrection era. And more than anything else, maintaining an appropriate, Messiah-centric attitude toward all of this, is most imperative. There have been far too many extremes represented regarding the issue of the dietary laws, at times, and not enough reasoned discussion. Too many people have issued accusations against others, and not enough have tried to inquire of both the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, what is perhaps important about this issue. Human beings have to all eat, after all!
The Messianic Kosher Helper includes a wide breadth of material, addressing a wide array of topics associated with the Torah’s dietary laws. This publication has been divided up into two main parts: The Significance of Kosher and A Theology of Eating and Kosher. You will be able to detect a progression of sorts, in our family’s own approach to the subject matter, as some things are addressed first more generally and then more specifically. In our experience, we ourselves have certainly had to move from a more elementary view of the issue of kosher, to a more developed view, and we recognize how the Messianic community needs to do the same.
It is important to remember how Leviticus 11:44 says, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (cf. 1 Peter 1:16)—a concept which is directly connected to clean and unclean meats. But, if following this is not enjoined with a better appreciation and understanding of a steadfast mandate for all of us to have clean minds and hearts, imbued with the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, demonstrating the love of Yeshua to all—then outward holiness will not have been joined with the more critical inward holiness. If, however, we learn how to separate external things which are clean and unclean—then perhaps we can also learn, with God’s help, how to separate clean and unclean thoughts, ideas, and attitudes, being mature men and women in Him, and empowered on many different levels for service to His Kingdom!
This is a massive collection of material, well needed for every Messianic home and congregational library!