The Laws of Kashrut

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The Laws of Kashrut 1. The first category of kashrut laws deals with animals and their byproducts. a. A kosher animal must be a ruminant (chew its cud) and have split hooves - so cows, sheep, goats and deer are all kosher, whereas camels (ruminants without split hooves) are not kosher, and pigs (having split hooves but not chewing their cud) are not kosher. Most common fowl are kosher, like chickens, ducks and geese, but the birds of prey (hawks, eagles, owls, parrots) are not kosher. A sea creature is only kosher if it has fins and scales, so most species of fish are kosher (tuna, salmon, flounder, trout, etc.) but all shellfish are not kosher; dolphins and whales are not kosher, jellyfish, sea slugs (my sincere apologies about this one) and squids are not kosher either. There are four species of locust that are kosher, but are not commonly consumed by the majority of Jews (Thank G-d for that). Any product of a non-kosher animal is also non-kosher (e.g. milk, gelatine, rennet). The exception to this rule is bee's honey. b. In order to eat an animal or bird it must be slaughtered according to Jewish law (Shechita). This involves cutting the animal's trachea and oesophagus (the carotid artery and jugular veins are also severed in this operation, as are most arteries and veins leading to and from the brain) with a surgically sharp knife that has been thoroughly checked for nicks beforehand. The cut must be swift, without pause, tearing or vertical pressure and must be only done by an expert. It must be performed on the neck of the animal not higher than the epiglottis and not lower than where cilia begin inside the trachea. This method of slaughter reduces the blood pressure in the brain to zero immediately so that the animal loses consciousness in a few seconds and dies in less than a minute.


and Nachmanides understand that the reasons for the commandments not as the "motives" behind the commandments but as the side-benefits of the commandments; the impact that the commandments have on the individual, on society or on the universe as a whole. They disagree as to what those benefits are and as to how the commandments impart those benefits; Maimonides stresses the sociological and psychological whereas Nachmanides stresses the metaphysical. All agree, however, that the commandments have "reasons," and that G-d does not benefit from our fulfillment of the commandments; rather, it is we who are refined by the commandments and it is humans who are the main beneficiaries. My revered teacher, Rabbi Moshe Shapiro, once asked Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler to explain the term "taamei hamitzvot" (the Hebrew term used by the Talmud for the reasons of the commandments). Rabbi Dessler replied, "The taam of a commandment is the taste of a commandment ." Rabbi Dessler, translated the word taam literally, as 'taste,' and explained that just as we eat food in order to survive, we nevertheless enjoy its variety of tastes and textures as a pleasant side benefit of eating. Similarly, G-d made the commandments with varied "tastes"; we fulfill the commandments because they are the will of G-d and they are His instructions for living; but investment in the commandments also pays other dividends, which are explained in the literature of taamei hamitzvot. d. What is the purpose of studying the reasons for the commandments? Rabbi Shapiro explained that according to Rabbi Dessler the principal purpose in the knowledge of the "taamei hamitzvot" is to make the commandments palatable to the person performing them, as an incentive for their fulfillment. As our Sages advise, "One should engage in Torah and commandments even for the wrong reasons [i.e. in order to obtain the benefits of the commandments] since this will eventually lead [to observance] for the correct reason [i.e. the love of G-d]." (Pesachim 50b, Mesoret Hashas, ad loc. See Petichtah Eichah Rabbah, 2)


These laws are a major force in maintaining unity, act as a social barrier against assimilation, and create a feeling of community amongst the Jewish people. * Another aspect of the kosher laws is the encouragement of a certain degree of aesthetic sensitivity. Judaism prohibits the consumption of animals that have died of natural causes and animals that are deformed or diseased as well as prohibiting the consumption of insects and loathsome foods. It is possible that one idea behind this is too encourage us to view ourselves with dignity and to act with dignity. One of the best defences against doing that which is immoral, is a strong sense of self-esteem and dignity. Evil should be looked at as beneath our dignity, stealing is stooping too low, gossip is petty and small-minded. In order to help us achieve and maintain this level of dignity the Torah prohibits foods like carcasses and diseased animals. Through this we hope to fulfil the verse that states "And you shall be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation... (Deuteronomy 4:20)" Conclusion Some religions seek the path to spirituality through withdrawal from the physical world. A monastic life is glorified, celibacy and asceticism are seen as ideals. Some view the human as essentially an animal that is incapable of elevating itself beyond the struggle for survival, hence they encourage a life of hedonism and materialism. Judaism sees the human as an essentially spiritual being, clothed in a physical body. Judaism maintains that the physical is not evil, it is just not the complete view of reality. Judaism seeks to elevate the physical world, not to deny it, nor to glorify it. The laws of kashrut allow us to enjoy the pleasures of the physical world, but in such a way that we sanctify and elevate the pleasure through consciousness and sensitivity. Kashrut recognises that the essential human need is not food, drink or comfort, but meaning. Judaism, through the dietary laws, injects meaning even into something as commonplace and instinctive as eating.

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