Torah Observant

A Series of Practical Messianic Living (halakhah)
What is Food?

(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)


An oft-misunderstood subject today is the dietary laws of the Torah. What exactly is the Bible talking about when we hear the term "kosher"? In this article, I want to examine the biblical definitions of this concept, its use during the time period of both the TaNaKH and the B'rit Chadashah (New Covenant), as well as its practical application for us today. This subject will take us into an explanation of hermeneutics, halakha, and finally, a biblical understanding of what is kosher. Some of the texts that we will examine in this study include Leviticus Chapter 11; Deuteronomy 17:8-13; Mark 7:1-23; and Acts Chapter 10. In reality, we are going to attempt to define, from the Torah, "What is food?" and "What is not food?", and "Why?".

Before we can embark on a biblical understanding of this subject, we need to establish some basic hermeneutic principles. Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation, especially the branch of theology that deals with the principles of Scriptural interpretation. Properly understood: hermeneutic principles govern proper biblical interpretation. These principles establish the guidelines that are employed by laymen as well as scholars. Why is it so important to establish these principles? If we did not practice these established guidelines, the text would be left to the subjectivity of each individual interpreter, and serious Scriptural injury would be the result. Because well-meaning interpreters come from a variety of cultural, educational and spiritual backgrounds, we can be sure that each one is going to approach any given text with a certain amount of personal bias. Such established principles are therefore needed and should be followed.

One of the most important of these principles involves the preservation of biblical continuity. If the Torah establishes a truth in one passage, then the same truth is recognized as valid in all subsequent passages, even if it appears to be contradicting itself. As the complete, unified, Word of God, we will do well to recognize that the Scripture cannot contradict itself in an given set of passages. More specifically, if it can be shown that the Torah (the foundational part of the Old Testament) establishes the guidelines for the definition of food, then it stands to reason, therefore, that these same guidelines govern the New Testament's definition of food as well.

The word "kosher" stems from the Hebrew root word "kasher" which means "to be straight, or right"; by implication, it means "to be acceptable". Today, in modern Hebrew, this word is naturally associated with the dietary requirements, specifically as it is related to food. To "kasher" something is to render it "kosher". But what does the Torah mean by "acceptable" or "non-acceptable"? Let's establish some foundational truths before we examine what kosher is.

In a dialogue that establishes the basis of "separation", that is "holiness as expressed through set-apart-ness", HaShem explains to Moshe:

"Here is what you are to say to the household of Ya'akov, to tell the people of Isra'el; You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will pay careful attention to what I say and keep my covenant, then you will be my own treasure from among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you will be a kingdom of cohanim [priests] for me, a nation set apart." (Exodus 19:3-6, emphasis mine)

The idea of being set apart for the purpose of serving the One, True, Living God was to be a central concept in the lives and purposes of the budding Nation of Isra'el. To be sure, in this manner, HaShem would showcase his uniqueness to the surrounding nations, through the unique lifestyle of his Chosen People.

Isra'el was not chosen for her size, power, or spiritual aptitude. To be sure, she was usually lacking in one or more of these areas. No, she was chosen to be a "fishbowl" nation, placed in a key, geographical location, for all the world to examine. From this position, HaShem would unfold his wonderful plan of redemption and blessing to the entire earth. With this principle established, we are ready to move on to one of the primary passages in the Torah Proper (first five books) which addresses this subject of "set apart".


What is Food — Part One

In Leviticus chapter 11, the entire chapter is given over to explaining what types of animals are acceptable for consumption, and which one were forbidden to consume as food. In this chapter, the language used, as is typical of most of the subjects dealt with in Leviticus, is "clean" and "unclean". These concepts don’t really translate into the English vernacular too well without compromising some of the rich meaning conveyed in the original Hebrew. For instance, in Leviticus 11:4-8, speaking of some earth-dwelling animals, we read these words:

"But you are not to eat those that only chew the cud or only have a separate hoof. For example… You are not to eat meat from these or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you."

In every single instance, the original Hebrew word translated as "unclean" above is "tamei" (say "tah-may"). As already expressed, this word is rather difficult to render precisely into a receptor language. The concept implied here can mean a wide variety of ideas, ranging from ritually "unclean" to physically "unclean" to spiritually "unclean". Which meaning is in view here? In keeping to the rules of biblical interpretation, we shall make a safe assumption that the physical is possibly in question here, since the text explains that merely coming in "contact" with the carcass renders a person "tamei". To be sure, among the rabbinical attempts at interpreting Scripture, p’shat (plain, literal), remez (hint), drash (search), and sod (hidden), physical uncleanness would be the p’shat. I would have to agree that intrinsic and ritual uncleanness is clearly being taught in Leviticus also. At this point in our study, lets go back and establish the context of the entire passage.

The immediate context suggests that these instructions were given to Moshe and his priestly brother Aharon, to be expressly conveyed to the People of Isra'el. This is our immediate context, and therefore serves to establish the basis of our definition of applicability. Surely these laws and rulings are meant for the people that it is addressed to. But are they meant for the rest of the nations as well? Would these same gracious instructions find validity and application for the surrounding, godless people groups that Isra’el would find herself dwelling among, also? We shall answer those questions shortly, but first, lets return to our text in Leviticus:

"For I am ADONAI your God; therefore, consecrate yourselves and be holy, for am holy; and do not defile yourselves with any kind of swarming creature that moves along the ground. For I am ADONAI, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. Therefore you are to be holy, because I am holy." (11:44-45)

Once again, we find this "signature" of HaShem's deliverance: "For I am ADONAI, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God." This is the exact same concept used in the verse at the onset of our study! Among Isra'el, HaShem was to be remembered as the God who delivered you. As such, your lifestyle was to reflect his absolute uniqueness among the other "gods" worshipped in the world, then and now. How was this concept understood with regards to the way that his people were to eat? Lets let the Torah speak for itself:

"Such then, is the law concerning animals, flying creatures, all living creatures that move about in the water, and all creatures that swarm on the ground. Its purpose is to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten." (11:46-47)

Here in the pages of our text, we find in no uncertain terms, the definition of what is "food" and what is "not food". We also find the counterpart to our peculiar word "tamei". It is the Hebrew word "tahor", translated as "clean". Going back to our hermeneutic principle of context, these concepts of "tamei" and "tahor", as outlined in Leviticus chapter 11, fall right in the middle of a series of chapters dealing with such subjects as the consecration of Aharon and his sons as high priests (chapter 8), the details concerning sin offerings and sacrifices (chapter 9),the consequences of failing to establish a difference between the holy and the unholy (chapter 10), and the beginnings of the rulings concerning "unclean flesh", known as leprosy (chapter 12). It is within this context that HaShem explains "what is kosher" and what is "not kosher", and consequently, what is "food" and what is "not food". Since all men share the same Creator, we can, therefore, conclude that these distinctions of holy and unholy are applicable for the surrounding nations, as well as for Isra'el.


Oral Tradition? — Part One

Although the Torah is amazingly clear in this passage as to what is food and what is not, in many instances, a lack of clear understanding still existed among interpreters of the written text as a whole. To be sure, because of the differences of opinions, an elaborate system of Oral Tradition was established to "humanize the Word of God". It was believed that there existed necessary "gaps" in the exact instructions given in the written Word. It was also necessary, the rabbis supposed, to "fill in what God left out". Where did the rabbis derive this authority from? Why, supposedly from the written text itself. I want to take a small amount of time out to briefly discuss the problem with the "Oral Torah". This discussion will become important later when we look at a key New Covenant passage in Mark, involving a contradiction between the Oral Tradition of Yeshua's day and the Written text, as it was related to food.

Chapter 17 of Deuteronomy talks about the details surrounding official and legal matters. Of particular interest is the subject dealt with in verses 8-13. To be sure, the sages of old understood this to be talking about the matter of halakha and the authority of what is known in rabbinical circles as Oral Torah. From a cursory reading, it appears to be a valid teaching about establishing a governing body of legal authority based on the spoken opinion of the judge of the day. This is where the halakha gains its strength and application. This term is roughly translated the way in which to walk. The rabbis see in this passage an opportunity to establish the tradition of the Oral Torah. As they see it, this passage instructs its readers In accordance with the Torah they teach you, you are to carry out the judgment they render, not turning aside to the right or the left from the verdict they declare to you (v.11). Taking the verse in its most natural and literal sense, it does seem to validate the right for the rabbis to impose their judgments on all succeeding generations. And to strengthen the suggested interpretation, a first century Rabbi by the name of Yeshua had this to say to his crowd, The Torah-teachers and the Prushim, he said, sit in the seat of Moshe. So whatever they tell you, take care to do it. But dont do what they do, because they talk but dont act! What Yeshua is addressing here is the issue of hypocrisy when it comes to correctly interpreting the Torah, yet failing to implement it into our lives. But our LORD does not condone the Oral Tradition as binding, that is, on par with Torah. However, any tradition, when not in direct conflict with Scripture, is harmless I’m sure.

As can be shown, a careful distinction needs to be made by the Jewish believer in Messiah, regarding matters of rabbinical authority (Oral Torah) and Torah issues as a whole. If our Messiah correctly determines correct Torah interpretation, then a misrepresentation of the true nature and intent of the Torah, whether by the sages of the Jewish People, or by the non-Jewish scholars of today, needs to be avoided at all costs.


Oral Tradition? — Part Two

In an effort to gain as complete a view of this topic as possible, let us turn our attention to a secondary passage dealing with Scriptural interpretation, particularly one in which the historic rabbis render a "food" verdict that I personally choose to disagree with.

In Parashat Mishpatim, dealing with Exodus 23:10-24 I made these comments:

Chapter 23 — Verses 10-24 form one complete unit of instructions that center on provision and blessing during the "resting years" that the Land is to experience. HaShem tells the people to grant unto the land a time period of rest (shabbat) so that the soil can replenish itself and provide a healthy crop on the eighth year after its rest. Consequently, during this time of supernatural provision, HaShem knew that some people would be inclined to doubt the providence of his Mighty Hand, and would be tempted to imitate the pagan society around them. The entire section is given over to HaShem assuring them of his provision and blessing despite the fact that no crops will be sown for and entire year! It has been discovered that some of the pagan practices involved worship of the elements of the earth. This worship took the form of offering sacrifices to the gods of the sun, earth, wind, sky, rain, and consequently, the produce of the earth–both crops and beasts! This is why ancient pagan civilizations depicted such adoration for these particular objects in their wall paintings and such. It was during this time that an ancient Kenan'ani (Canaanite) practice involving a beast of burden (an ox, cow, or goat of some sort) was killed, and its body seethed (boiled, stewed, i.e. cooked) in its own mother's milk (a symbol of the animal's fertility). This ceremony invoked the powers of both the agricultural gods, as well as the fertility gods. The pagans believed that this sacrificial ceremony would appease these gods into blessing them with health, offspring, and abundant crops. As 'Am Yisra'el observed these foreign practices it was tempting during their own time of "doing without" to be enticed into experimenting with this pagan ritual. This is why HaShem forbids them in verse 19 not to imitate this practice! Indeed, unless we establish the context of this seemingly odd mitzvah, we are left to speculation as to what it means. Unfortunately, the sages of old, without the proper guidance of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), did just that. Not only did the people engage in gross idolatrous practices, but also our sages completely misunderstood the instructions, and turned the mitzvah into some nonsense involving the prohibition of eating milk and meat products in the same meal! This conclusion of theirs is totally out of context with the surrounding verses! In correct conclusion, as a rabbi I want to emphatically state that it is not forbidden to eat milk and meat product together. In fact, to prove my point, I site the passage found in a previous portion (Genesis 18:1-8).

By way of argument, the context of Deuteronomy 14 does talk about the same topic as Leviticus chapter 11. And in fair context this time the verse about boiling a kid in its mother’s milk is mentioned. However, the context of the passage does commence with a prohibition against the forbidden acts involved in pagan rites for the dead, followed immediately by our list of clean and unclean animals. Verse 22 then picks up the themes of specific harvest tithes. Again eating is mentioned. Could we possibly have a valid reasoning behind the rabbi’s interpretation of this passage now? Let us look a little closer and see.

Rabbi David E. Lipman of Gates to Jewish Heritage writes concerning the ancient Hebrew's important God-given calendar. Quoting him at length concerning the influence of pagan practices on ancient Isra'el:

'Canaanites developed a cosmology which explained this phenomenon. The rain/fertility god Ba'al had a consort Anat, Earth/ Fertility. Their successful union resulted in both rain and crops. In June each year the god Mot, Death/Sterility, strangled Baal. Anat mourned the death of her consort and the earth dried up. Then, in Tishri, Anat would pull out her sword; she and Mot would fight, and Anat would kill Mot. She'd revive Ba'al, they would join, and the result would be the fall rains and fertility throughout the land.

'The Canaanites participated in this yearly struggle. They too would mourn the death of Ba'al. In the fall, they would make special sacrifices. They would perform a limping dance and slash themselves to afflict their bodies. They would blow their war horns (go, Anat!!!); they would beat the ground with plants which required a lot of water, and they would have sexual orgies in huts, trying to encourage the gods to do the same to bring the rains.

'One of the most important world-view features for the Canaanites, however, was that this process was cyclical. It didn't change. Each year fit into this same pattern, and human behavior didn't change the outcome..

'The early Hebrews were greatly influenced by the geographical reality of the Canaanites. The Torah created many similar rituals to the Hebrew fall festivals. However, the reason for the customs changed radically.

'Despite their acceptance of many Canaanite rituals, the Hebrews lived in personal, not cosmic time; there was change, movement, and growth, and what the community did affected God's response. Our actions affect God's actions. God chooses to permit the rains or hold them back. Fertility is a reward for our maintaining our covenant with the Divine. It's a fundamental assumption of the Torah, described brilliantly in Deuteronomy.

'One of the major themes of Deuteronomy (an anti-Canaanite/idolatry text) is that God provided the rains as a result of the Hebrews following God's covenant. If the Hebrews followed idolatrous practices, the rains would cease. However, it is fascinating to see some of the parallels in the Hebrew rituals during the fall festivals.'

This important look at historical and cultural interaction between ancient peoples helps us to understand a bit more of why HaShem wanted his chosen people to be set-apart from the Nations.

Another article, written by Rabbi Isaac Klein speaks of this milk and meat prohibition thusly:

'The separation of milk and meat is the most prominent distinguishing mark of the Jewish home. Most of the laws connected with the consumption of food are the concern of the shohet, the butcher, and the grocer, all of whom are involved before the food reaches the home. With the separation of milk and meat, the family becomes directly involved and the kitchen receives its Jewish character.

'Neither the Bible nor the Talmud gives any rationale for these laws. Maimonides ascribes their origin to Jewish disgust at the fertility rites practiced by the pagan cults of Canaan(Guide 3:48). One of these rites was the cooking of a kid in its mother's milk. Dr. Nelson Glueck reports that this practice is still found among the Bedouins of today, not as a pagan rite but as an act of hospitality to a distinguished guest (see also Finkelstein, Pharisees 1:58-60, 2:831-32, n.; Encyclopedia Miqra'it, 1:89; Baron, Social and Religious History, 1:328, n. 22).

'To us this regulation reflects reverence for life and the teaching of compassion. To seethe a kid in its mother's milk is callous. Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel expresses it thus: The goat–in our case, more commonly the cow–generously and steadfastly provides man with the single most perfect food that he possesses, milk. It is the only food which, by reason of its proper composition of fat, carbohydrates, and protein, can by itself sustain the human body. How ungrateful and callous we would be to take the child of an animal to whom we are thus indebted and cook it in the very milk which nourishes us and is given us so freely by its mother (see Ibn Ezra on Exod. 23:19; Dresner and Siegel, Jewish Dietary Laws, p. 70).


The laws concerning the consumption and cooking of milk and meat together are based on one verse which is repeated three times in the Torah, "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk" (Exod. 23:19, 34:26; Deut. 14:21). The Talmud interprets this prohibition to include all kinds of meat, not only that of a kid, explaining that a kid is mentioned specifically because cooking a young goat in its mother's milk was the prevalent custom (B. Hul. 113b; Y.D. 87:2). The term meat, however, is limited to its popular connotation; it does not include fish, or locusts in places where it is permitted to eat locusts (Y.D. 87:3).

The rabbis noted that the prohibition is mentioned three times; they interpreted this to indicate that it refers not only to cooking, but also to eating and to the derivation of any benefit (hanaah) from the cooked mixture. Thus it is forbidden to cook milk and meat (the very act of cooking), to eat the cooked mixture, or to derive any benefit therefrom. A dish that combines meat and milk may not even be fed to one's dog, but must be disposed of. Since the Bible speaks of "cooking," this stringency prohibiting any benefit from a mixture applies only when the milk and meat have been cooked together, not just mixed (Y.D. 87:1, and Rama).'

(Source: A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice by Rabbi Isaac Klein. copyright 1979, 1992, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America)

Of course the source that Rabbi Klein is referring to is the famous 'Guide for the Perplexed', written by the famous medieval rabbi, Maimonides, also know as the RaMBaM. This guide (in part) can be viewed at:

The book in its entirety can be purchased at Barnes and Noble online:

As a side note, an examination of Maimonides views on the reasons for sacrificial elements in ancient Judaism show that his view was not always the prevalent one. In an article written for The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency, a veteran rabbi notes:

'1. In his Sefer haZikaron, Ritba, reacting to Nahmanides' comment (after quoting Maimonides' Guide, 3;46), writes:

'Our Master (Nahmanides) of blessed memory, rejects the explanation of the sacrifices offered in the Guide for the Perplexed. We need not here repeat his words. It is my opinion that the genuine (kabbalistic) tradition concerning the sacrifices and Maimonides' apparently feeble rationale caused the Master (Nahmanides) to criticize him (Maimonides) for the sake of the sanctity of the Torah and God's holy Name, in the context of the sacrifices. However, Maimonides chose this and many other explanations of the commandments in order to provide them with some meaning and to furnish the masses with some rational arguments against heretics, rather than believing these to be the principal reasons...

'With all due respect to our great Master (Nahmanides) and his divinely inspired word, his zeal confused him and prevented him from examining thoroughly Maimonides' statement. There is no doubt, in my opinion, that Maimonides' explanations contain some elements which do not accord with those of the Kabbalists or other scholars. However, there is neither error nor contradiction in the method he follows, for his carefully presented arguments are full of wisdom and logic.

'Let me now humbly point out the views which Nahmanides wrongly attributes to Maimonides, thus employing arguments which are irrelevant to Maimonides' method of interpretation - and may the Almighty lead us onto the path of truth.

'Our Master, whose pardon I beg, writes that "this is his (Maimonides') lengthy exposition." However, it appears that the length of his exposition did not facilitate its comprehension, for our Master (Nahmanides) apparently concluded that in Maimonides' view the sacrifices were instituted to repudiate the views of the wicked and the foolish, i.e. the Egyptians and Chaldeans. I, however, with my limited intellect, do not glean this from his words. Maimonides' general view of the sacrifices is set out in Part 3, chapter 32 of his work, of which the following is an excerpt (quoting from "Now God sent" until "and not by action" as cited at the beginning of our introduction).

'This clearly demonstrates that according to Maimonides the sacrifices were meant to eliminate the erroneous conception from the minds of our own people, who had also succumbed to idol worship. Unfortunately, our ancestors did not cleanse themselves of that abomination, even after having become a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation. Thus, Moses declared "for I know that after my death you will surely become corrupted" (Deut. 31;29). This is how they acted throughout many generations until they brought upon themselves the dispersion. All this is common knowledge.

'Maimonides' comment quoted by Nahmanides indeed appears in the Guide 3;46, but it refers to the specific animals the Torah declares fit for the altar, and not to the rationale of the sacrifices as such dealt with in chapter 32, which I have quoted. As for the animals fit for sacrifice, i.e., why oxen, sheep and goats have been singled out from among all other animals, this is treated at the beginning of the said chapter (46): "The precepts of the eleventh class are enumerated in the Section on Divine Service (Sefer Avodah) and the Section on Sacrifices (Sefer haKorbanot) of Maimonides' Code (haYad haHazakah).

So much more can be said concerning the rabbis and the Oral Tradition, particularly on this topic of food. A final quote from the Sefer Hahinukh will suffice and then I would like to give my closing thoughts on the Torah traditions.

Sefer Hahinukh — Commandment 73: Not to eat trefa (unclean food): Not to eat of trefa, as it is stated (Ex.22:30): "You shall not eat any meat torn by beasts in the field". Of the reasons of this Commandment is the fact that the body is the vessel for the soul through which it functions, and without which its (the soul's) work can never be accomplished. Hence it (the soul) comes in its (the body's) shadow and not to its detriment, since G-d would not cause ill but only good to all. Thus the body is between its hands, like the tongs in the hand of the blacksmith with which he accomplishes his work which if strong and able to hold (grip) the objects the craftsman will achieve good results, but if the tongs are not good the vessels will not be serviceable. Likewise if there is a defect of any kind in the body, the function of the mind will be affected accordingly. It is for this reason that our perfect Torah keeps us away from anything that damages it.

‘This is the simple explanation for all the forbidden kinds of food. And let us not wonder if the harmful effect of some of them is unknown to us and to the medical experts for the trustworthy Healer Who warned us about them is wiser than they, and how foolish he who thinks that only what he can understand can cause damage or bring benefit, you should realize that it is for our benefit that the reason and the harm has not been revealed, lest men, convinced of their great wisdom, will rise and maintain that the harm caused by certain things declared by the Torah exists only in a certain place where this was decreed or only with a certain person who determined it. Lest one of the foolish be persuaded of this, their reason has not been revealed, to save us from this error.’

To sum up my concluding thoughts on both Torah traditions:

It is crucial for us to understand theologically, that the primary purpose in HaShem's giving of the Torah (written and/or oral), as a way of making someone righteous, only achieves its goal when the person, by faith, accepts that Yeshua is the promised Messiah spoken about therein. Until the individual reaches this conclusion, his familiarity of the Torah is only so much intellectual nutrition. Only by believing in Yeshua will the person be able to properly understand HaShem, and consequently, his Word.

The "righteousness" of the Torah is two-fold: 1) "Forensic", which is appropriated the moment one places his unreserved trusting faithfulness in the Messiah prophesied about in the Scriptures; and 2) "behavioral, which is the resulting lifestyle of the former-mentioned righteousness, i.e., Torah submissiveness. The primary difference are the fact that the first one is an act of faith, whereas, the latter is an act of obedience (read Ephesians 2:8-10 carefully, and you will see this progression of circumstances).

Solid hermeneutics will clearly demonstrate that the Messiah did NOT abolish the Torah of Moshe (this would consequently include the oral tradition which is based on the Torah of Moshe!). Moreover, historical, corporate Isra'el is not keeping (or ever kept) all of the Torah correctly–even the traditions handed down since Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father). The operative word is "correctly". Nor does the "freedom" of Messiah give the Church or Isra'el license to practice "iniquity" (the Greek word here equates to "Torahlessness"). This may be hard to grasp, but if a person has accepted the faith of God, in the (historical) person and work of his Son (past or present), then they are keeping the central part of the Torah! The rest is his journey towards the "works of God" as described in Eph. 2:8-10.

If such an oral tradition leads one towards the above-mentioned righteousness then such a tradition is good and applicable for today's follower of HaShem.


What is Food — Part Two

With this understanding at hand, we may now embark on an explanation of some key New Testament texts, often thought to be teaching the abrogation of the dietary passages of Leviticus 11,or at the very least, the modification of the definition of "food" itself. Since the Messiah Yeshua has become our ultimate example for understanding how to interpret the Torah, we shall look to one of his commonly misunderstood teaching examples for our own clarification.

In Mark 7:1-23 we find our LORD engaged in a confrontation with the religious leaders of his day. As was usually the case, the disagreement stemmed from his definition of Torah observance and their definition of Torah observance. Our text indicates that this certain group of Pharisees observed a tradition passed down from the elders called "n'tilat-yadayim". This technical term described the ritual process of washing the hands before one consumes biblically kosher food. This tradition, however, is not found in the Torah itself. It is found in the compendium of legal rulings passed from oral instruction to oral instruction, later written down and codified. It would become known as the Talmud. In Yeshua's day, however, it was still known as Oral Tradition.

Indeed, from the beginning of the text, the Pharisees don’t have a problem with what Yeshua's disciples were eating, rather, they were having a problem with how they were eating. This careful distinction needs to be pointed out in order for us to establish a proper conclusion to this passage. What is Yeshua's response to their false accusation?

"Yesha'yahu was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites–as it is written, 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. their worship of me is useless, because they teach man-made rules as if they were doctrines.'" (Mark 7:6-7)

What is the Scripture telling us here? That Yeshua recognized a difference between Torah observance (keeping kosher) and man-made tradition (ritual washing of hands). Moreover, he also chastised them for actually replacing the clear instructions of Torah with their own Oral Tradition. We don’t find Yeshua abrogating the Torah, or superceding previously stated commands with his own doctrine. Lets look at another verse of this passage.

"Don’t you see that nothing going into a person from the outside can make him unclean? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and it passes out into the latrine. (Thus he declared all foods ritually clean.)" (7:18-19)

Wait a minute! Isn't Yeshua declaring what we previously read in Leviticus as null and void? Isn't he saying that ALL food is clean? Surprisingly, he IS saying that ALL food is clean, something previously established in the Torah. Yet we commonly make our mistake when we assume that just because "all is clean", that "all is (also) food". This would be in direct violation of the text of Leviticus. Yeshua was discrediting the departure of direct biblical injunction in favor of man-made rules. He was not discrediting the Torah itself. On the contrary, in his own words of Matthew 5:17-20, he did not come to abolish the Torah, but to fulfill it.

Lets move onto another New Covenant example. In Acts chapter 10 we find and interesting story involving "kosher food". I shall paraphrase the passage to conserve space:

One day Kefa has a vision from HaShem concerning a four cornered sheet containing all manner of animals on it. He is instructed three times to "Rise,… kill, and eat". All three times he refuses, explaining that he will not eat something t’reif (literally torn, or not fit for consumption), for he has remained kosher all of his life. HaShem tells him not to call "common" what He has called "cleansed" (KJV). The vision fades.

Meanwhile, Cornelius the Roman Centurion has sent men to inquire of Kefa. A small mix of Jew and non-Jew gathered together as Kefa met in Cornelius' home later on. Kefa explained that it was not "lawful" or taboo for Jews to schmooze (mingle) with non-Jews, however, HaShem had instructed him (Kefa) not to consider non-Jews as t’reif. Indeed, Kefa proclaims that he now understands, after hearing Cornelius' vision account, that HaShem is "no respecter of persons" (KJV). The good news, that Yeshua can and will save Jew as well as non-Jew, is made clear to everyone in the room. To be sure, as Kefa is speaking, suddenly the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) falls "on all them which hear[d] the word" (KJV). The chapter portion ends with the men being immersed into the name of ADONAI.

I personally believe that Kefa's interpretation of his own vision is the best and most important interpretation offered. Namely this: what HaShem has designated as kosher (fit for consumption) and t’reif (not fit for consumption) in the Torah of Moshe, concerning food, still remains clean and unclean respectively. Although the sheet contained all manner of animals, I believe what HaShem is trying to get Kefa to understand is that the animals represent all manner of peoples, not the literal animals themselves. This interpretation is in accord with the unchangeable nature of HaShem. To be sure, is this not how Kefa interprets the vision himself in verses 28, 34 and 35?

In conclusion, isn't this how we might best interpret the dietary laws of Leviticus chapter 11 as well? "All is clean", yet, "all is not food". HaShem desires that we establish among ourselves a distinction between what is "holy" and what is "common". Our treatment of food and non-food serves to accomplish this distinction very nicely.

Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy