Category Archives: Shmini

Lowest Common Denominator

Leviticus Hizkuni: Shmini

Lowest Common Denominator

The Torah, in its day, and even to this day, is considered a legal marvel. The hundreds of laws that affect almost every aspect of life were revolutionary in a pagan, polytheistic society. The laws that govern social interactions, court systems, damages, marital relationships, holiday observance and so much more have survived and evolved with Judaism over millennia.

One of the more curious laws are those of dietary restrictions. For many gentiles it is the strangest, most detailed and least understood Jewish law. Discussions with inquisitive business colleagues about keeping Kosher have taken up much time and have lasted multiple emails.

Regarding the consumption of mammals, the Torah gives a rather short description of restrictions. Any mammal with a cloven hoof and that chews its cud is permissible. This definition is followed by a list of animals that are lacking one of these signs and which are therefore forbidden: Camel, rock-badger, hare and swine. No other mammals are mentioned as restricted.

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) wonders as to the lack of further biblical details or restrictions. There is an entire kingdom of mammals that are not listed as forbidden that we know however from rabbinic sources cannot be consumed.

Hizkuni explains that other animals (mammals with neither cloven hooves nor who chew their cud) are so repulsive to the general population that the Torah did not find it necessary to sanction it. It is interesting that the Torah which seeks to legislate almost every aspect of life, even those that seem obvious (don’t kill, don’t steal, etc.) takes such a laid back approach to this particular area.

Hizkuni seems to imply that even amongst the heathen, idol-worshiping masses there is also a minimum level of self-respect, or conversely of repulsion to the same things. There are some aspects that bind humanity so universally that it needs no legislation or even mention.

May always find the things that unite us and not only those that divide.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the Spitz Clan. We demonstrated our ability to eat (and drink) and enjoy from a variety of mammals, fowl, fish and exquisite Kosher wines. May we have many more such opportunities.

The Eternal Life Diet

The Eternal Life Diet

After eating too much Matzah, potatoes, eggs and all the new Kosher for Pesach foods that weren’t even kosher in the past during the rest of the year, it certainly seems time for a diet. The Torah obliges with what is perhaps the main list of eating restrictions that God commands.

While it’s hard enough to stick to one of the more recent popular diets, the Torah’s diet can be fairly limiting. However, while the Torah doesn’t promise a slim figure, reduced calorie intake or feeling full, it has other rewards in store.

Leviticus 11:43-44 states regarding eating non-kosher items:

“…do not defile yourselves with them, and do not become impure, for I am the Lord, your God, and you will make yourselves Holy; and you will be Holy, for I am Holy…”

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno is intrigued by the repeated mention of “Holy” regarding our eating habits. He explains that the first aspect of holiness by refraining from eating “contaminating” foods is to prepare ourselves and our bodies for holiness and a closer relationship with God.

The second mention of holiness refers to the fact that those who adhere to the laws of eating kosher are granted the possibility of nothing less than eternal life. (That beats any diet I know hands down!)

Sforno adds the caveat that one needs to “walk in God’s ways” as well, but the Kosher diet seems to be a prerequisite of sorts for an everlasting spiritual relationship with God.

Sforno further explains that God also offers to become a coach for anyone who embarks on this diet, quoting the dictum from the Talmud (Tractate Yoma 39a) that if a person makes himself Holy a bit, he is made Holy a lot (with divine help).

In this post-eating holiday period may we all return/start/continue with better eating habits and may a reasonable concern for the laws of eating properly guide our gastronomic decisions.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the memory of Sylvia Jaffe Feigenbaum (Chana Sara bat Mirtza) of Efrat/Cleveland. The mother of my aunt Eudice Spitz and the Matriarch of the extensive Feigenbaum tribe.

While much has and will be said and written about this remarkable woman, one recollection from the many that I found noteworthy is that this was the only family I knew that under her leadership published a regular newspaper about and for the family, to keep her clan connected in a way that is amazing and enviable and I am certain will be felt for many generations to come.