Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Leaving Tophet / Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 2015/5775

Violence erupted on the streets of Baltimore Monday. Shortly after the funeral for Freddie Gray zl concluded, and despite pleas by Grays family that all protests be suspended and the day be devoted to prayer and remembrance, as 3:00 pm rolled around and schools let out, youth and others descended on Mondawmin Mall. Media reported that, in conjunction with three local gangs, looting began, police were attacked, and numerous fires were set. A CVS in West Baltimore was torched and a community center under construction in East Baltimore was engulfed in flames. As evening wore on, African American pastors, to their great credit, called members of the three gangs to meet with them at the Old Shiloh Baptist Church where Freddie Gray had been eulogized earlier in the day.

We watched horrified as the events unfold on our TV screen. Days of largely peaceful demonstration and protest against what appears to be another case of police brutality against a young black man who died in police custody was now being overtaken by violent rioting and looting by people who appeared to be inspired by greed far more than any semblance of righteous anger. In all, it was reported that 15 structures were burned, 144 cars destroyed, dozens of businesses looted, and 20 police officers injured. The National Guard was activated and the city placed under a curfew for perhaps a week.

Of all the words and images that emerged in the following 24 hours, two stand out in my mind. The first is an interview reporter Deborah Weiner conducted at the Old Shiloh Baptist Church with members of three gangs: the Bloods, the Crips, and Black Gorilla Family. You can view it here.[1] The second is a video of Toya Graham, who found her son dressed in black hoodie and face mask to participate in the looting; she pulled him out, screamed at him and smacked him, telling him to go home. I dont want him to become Freddie Gray, she said.  You can see several video clips here.[2]

These scenes of Baltimore, and especially the interview of the gang members and the mother pulling her son off the street, came into sharp focus for me this week as I read the combined Torah portions of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Amidst a long litany of forbidden sexual relationships enumerated in Leviticus chapter 18 (traditionally read on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, as well) we find this seemingly out-of-place prohibition against sacrificing children to Molech[3]:

וּמִזַּרְעֲךָ לֹא-תִתֵּן, לְהַעֲבִיר לַמֹּלֶךְ
Do not allow any of your offspring to be offered up to Molech. (Leviticus 18:21)

Who or what is Molech, what is this about, and how does it speak to what is happening on the streets of Baltimore and elsewhere in our country?

Molech was an ancient deity, worshiped by the Ammonites, Canaanites, and Phoenicians, that was propitiated by the sacrifice of children. Acharei Mot forbids offering up children to Molech. Kedoshim (Leviticus 20:2-5) tells us that one who goes ahead and sacrifices his children to Molech is to be executed by stoning; but in the next verse we are told that such a person will be punished by karet, the divine punishment of being cut off from the peoplehood of Israel. Despite these dire warnings I Kings 11:7, in describing the many excesses of King Solomon, tells us that he built a high place for Molech. Similarly 2 Chronicles 28:3 and 33:6 and Jeremiah 7:31 and 19:26 know these sacrifices to have happened in a place called Tophet in gai ben-Hinnom the Valley of the son of Hinnom. For example, Jeremiah 32:35 tells us.

וַיִּבְנוּ אֶת-בָּמוֹת הַבַּעַל אֲשֶׁר בְּגֵיא בֶן-הִנֹּם, לְהַעֲבִיר אֶת-בְּנֵיהֶם וְאֶת-בְּנוֹתֵיהֶם לַמֹּלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-צִוִּיתִים וְלֹא עָלְתָה עַל-לִבִּי, לַעֲשׂוֹת הַתּוֹעֵבָה הַזֹּאת--לְמַעַן, הַחֲטִי אֶת-יְהוּדָה
They built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to set apart their sons and their daughters for Molech; which I did not command them, nor did it ever enter My mind that they should do this abomination thereby causing Judah to sin.

The term Gehenna is derived from gai ben-Hinnom. Gehenna is purgatory. Hell on earth. Where children are sacrificed, hell is established in our midst.

The Rabbis, in an attempt to explain what evil could have been so great as to warrant the destruction of the Second Temple by the Babylonians in 70 C.E., employ the image of Tophet in the Valley of the son of Hinnom. They craft a horrifying description of parents who ceremonially process with a variety of offerings to enter concentric gates around a core cultic sacrificial altar. The priests loudly praise each offering, saying May it be sweet and pleasing to you! in order to mask the cries of children who, behind the innermost gate, are being offered up as sacrifices.

Another interpretation of And her uncleanliness on her skirts (Lamentations1:9): There was a place below Jerusalem, called "Tophet." And why did they call it "Tophet"? R. Yudan said: "Because of the fire that was there." And why did they call it the Valley of the son of Hinnom? It was named the valley of [a person named] the son of Hinnom"; and our rabbis said: Because from there they could hear the groaning of their children. There was a great idolatrous image there placed before [the entrance to] seven chambers. Below was a copper stove and in its hand a copper basket. For one who brought an offering of flour they would open the first gate; for an offering of turtle-doves the second gate; for a lamb the third gate; for a ram the fourth gate; for a calf the fifth gate; for an ox the sixth gate; for a human being the seventh gate. The priest would accept it and place it in the copper basket, light the fire underneath, and praise aloud: May it be sweet to you! May it be pleasing to you! Why so much [exclamation]? So that [the parents] would not hear the cries of their children and repent their deed [i.e., change their minds]. (Eichah Rabbah 1:9, Buber ed., pp. 71-72)

Certainly no such place existed in the first century, if ever it did exist. Why are the Rabbis drawing on the image of sacrificing children to Molech? What are they telling us?

It seems to me that the message is that the people are destroying their own future. Sacrificing children is emblematic of their failure to set priorities that insure a healthy, prosperous future for the nation. Narrow, selfish concern with being lauded for minor gifts to Molech conceal the enormous evil of children being sacrificed on an altar none choose to see or hear, behind a series of gates, out of sight, their cries muffled by the affirming praise of priests.

How different are things today? Im not excusing the violence and lootingthere is no excuse for such anti-social and criminal behavior. But at the same time, its important to honestly confront the reality of the lives many of these kids live. Far too many of the schools they attend are deplorably inadequate and under-resourced, the dropout rate is still far too high, and poverty is a crushing existential reality in their lives. Here is a frightening assessment.[4] We still have a drug policy designed to incarcerate black men in obscene numbers, but fewer and fewer vocational programs to convey skills needed to earn a living (click here[5]). Its important to honestly assess the employment situation these young people face. No longer does a full time job pay a living wage.[6] Income equality in America grows each daythe gap is a yawning chasmfueled by the insidious myth that those who dont make it are lazy and undeserving. (Read this.[7]) How many young people, and young black men in particular, are sacrificed on an altar of misconstrued and avaricious capitalism?

II Kings 23:10 tells us that when Josiah ascended to the throne of Judah in the 7th century B.C.E., he ordered the High Priest Hilkiah to use tax monies to clean out the Temple. There Hilkiah discovered סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה the book of the Torah (understood by many scholars as Deuteronomy) which inspired Josiah to institute sweeping reforms to obliterate rampant idolatry introduced by his predecessor Manasseh. Josiah burned the Asherah in the brook of Kidron, cleared the Temple of the vessels and altars for worshiping Ba’al and,

וְטִמֵּא אֶת-הַתֹּפֶת, אֲשֶׁר בְּגֵי בני- (בֶן-) הִנֹּם:  לְבִלְתִּי, לְהַעֲבִיר אִישׁ אֶת-בְּנוֹ וְאֶת-בִּתּוֹ בָּאֵשׁלַמֹּלֶךְ
He defiled Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, so that no one could make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.

It is time to defile Tophet and tear down the altar to Molech. We owe our children far more. It is trite to say that are our futurebut it is true. People who destroy their future degrade their lives and society.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Linking All of Creation / Tazria-Metzora 2015-5775

Recent news items:
    Globally: The National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council is releasing a booklet this month. It explains that global climate change is radically reshaping the Arctic which, in turn, will produce more intense snow, heat, and rain; rising sea levels; and amplified global warming due to the thawing of the permafrost.[1]
    Across the ocean: As many as 900 migrants packed onto a ship that capsized off the cost of
Libya may have died, as the number of refugees escaping poverty, persecution and war in North Africa, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East continues to surge.[2]
    In the Middle East: ISIS continues its murderous rampage, cutting a brutally bloody swath through Iraq. For the first time, Daesh[3] carried out a suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed  at least 33 and wounded more than 100.
    Close to home: Freddie Gray, 25, died in Shock Trauma a week after his arrest by Baltimore police, who refused to say why they stopped Gray. It appears that he suffered a broken vertebra while in police custody, lapsed into a coma, died, was resuscitated, underwent surgery but finally died.

Meanwhile, we open the Torah to a lengthy and detailed discussion of the ancient taboos of tumah (ritual impurity) and taharah (ritual purity). Its hard to find two Torah portions more concerned with the gritty side of and the baser side of the human corporeality than Tazria and Metzora. Etz Hayyim delicately notes that, After the previous chapters discussions of how food entering our bodies can make us ritually impure [i.e. the laws of kashrut in Parshat Shemini], the Torah now discusses how that which comes out of our bodies can do the same.[4] What has any of this to do with the world we inhabit and the challenges we face in the 21st century?

For those unfamiliar with Tazria and Metzora, here is a brief survey: Tazria opens with laws concerning the impurity imparted by childbirth, tzaraat (skin afflictions evident both on human bodies and houses), seminal emission, and menstruation. We are told the procedure for restoring ritual purity, which generally involves a period of quarantine (for tzaraat), emersion in a mikveh, and a sacrifice. It is important to point out that none of this is related in any way to cleanliness and hygiene as we understand them. Its about being in an invisible and intangible state of ritual purity. Etz Hayyim points out that, arguably, no concept is less accessible to the modern reader than tumah. It is certainly difficult to access the concept, but the question I wish to pose is: Is it irrelevant? Do Tazria and Metzora have any wisdom to impart in an age of characterized not only by remarkable scientific discoveries and technological progress, but also plagued by the horrors in the daily headlines?

The Sfat Emet (Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger, 1847-1905) provides a commentary that bridges what strikes many in the 21st century as an inward and obsessive concern with ritual purity and a more outward-looking, worldly concern with what is happening around us and among us today. The Gerer rebbe begins not by citing our parashah, but instead by citing a classical midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 1:54-55) that opens with a verse from Psalm 139:5. The verse is: אָחוֹר וָקֶדֶם צַרְתָּנִי  וַתָּשֶׁת עָלַי כַּפֶּכָה You formed me backward and forward, and You placed Your hand upon me. The midrash from Bereishit Rabbah offers R. Yochanans interpretation of this verse: If a person is righteous, he will enjoy two worlds, for it says, You formed me backward and forward but if not, he will have to account for it, for it says, and You placed Your hands upon me.[5] It certainly sounds like R. Yochanan is speaking about this world, and the world-to-come, but the Sfat Emet writes:

All of creation is in need of Tikkun (correction, repair, redemption), as Scripture says, אֲשֶׁר-בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת which God created to do (Genesis 2:3). The human was created last in deed [i.e., on the sixth day, after everything else in the world had been created], but first in the order of Tikkun, because it is through humanity that Creation and Tikkun are joined together. That is what the Sages meant by noting [Tosefta Sanhedrin, ch. 8] that humans were created last [on the sixth day, just before the advent of the first sabbath], so that they could enter shabbat immediately [upon being created], since shabbat is about Tikkun. Backward refers to the weekdays, the days when we work to repair/redeem those things of this world that are not yet repaired, and through this we afterward come to merit shabbat, which is the forward, the time for thought and Tikkun/redemption. The human being is the one who links and connects all [the aspects of] Creation together. That is why the human contains the lowest corporeality of all physicality and [also] a spirit that surpasses all [the rest of Creation]. כִּי בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים עָשָׂה אֶת-הָאָדָם [God] created humanity in the divine image (Genesis 9:6).

What has any of this to do with Tazria-Metzora? And what has it to do with the state of the world in which we find ourselves living?

The Sfat Emet alludes to polar human tendencies: our baser animalistic physical instincts, activities, and proclivities on the one hand, and our loftier spiritual capacity on the other. Human beings, alone in all creation, embody both. Only human beings are capable of comprehending the unity of all Creation, all being, on all levels, from the base corporeal level to the vaulted spiritual level. The process of undergoing ritual purification from tumah (ritual impurity)from the lowly aspects of our corporeality as described in Tazria/Metzoraparallels the process of raising and repairing (tikkun) the various elements of this world in need of redemption that we are called upon to labor to redeem six days a week. When we succeed, we can experience the joy of shabbat, the time for thought and Tikkun/redemption,”—the spiritual reward of our labor. Just as Torah describes people going from tumah (a state of ritual impurity) to taharah (a state of ritual purity), so does our week go from six days of purifying the things of this world that are not yet repaired by doing mitzvot, to the time of thought and Tikkun/redemption that is shabbat. Just as an individual can go from tumah to taharah, so too can we transform our world, bit by bit, from the tumah of injustice, greed, violence, and cruelty to the taharah-vision of a world redeemed.

At the outset, the Gerer Rebbe makes clear that people, and people alone in all of Creation, are capable for coupling Creation (the baser elements of physicality, deriving from our experience as embodied beings) and Tikkun (spiritual redemption, our capacity to see beyond what is to what ought to be). We might be inclined to identify Creation/Tikkun with the Body/Soul dichotomy, but just as the Sfat Emet resisted going down the path of the this-world/world-to-come dichotomy,  I have the sense that this is not what the Sfat Emet has in mind. To  the contrary. I think the Gerer rebbes intention is to tell us that the aspects of Creation and Tikkun are inseparably fused in the realm of ultimate reality and only people have the capacity to comprehend the unity of the universe. Our lives should reflect this: We should live in such a way that we dont try to wrench them apart and focus on only one at the expense of the other. Living in and of the world without a vision of what it ought to be, or living in a spiritual bubble without participating fully in the physical world, is only half-living.

This has enormous implications for our mindset toward life and the universe and, indeed, everything we do: how we spend our time and resources, what causes we promote, with whom we engage. In particular, our attention to the use of earths resources and how we live in relationship to the global environment, and the tragic social injustices at home and abroad. How do we in our lives inadvertently and unintentionally contribute to the problems and injustice that surround us, and how can we, in our lives, affect a measure of Tikkun? The Psalmist reminds us that as small as we may feel at times, in Gods eyes our potential is enormous:

מָה-אֱנוֹשׁ כִּי-תִזְכְּרֶנּוּ; וּבֶן-אָדָם, כִּי תִפְקְדֶנּוּ
 וַתְּחַסְּרֵהוּ מְּעַט, מֵאֱלֹהִים; וְכָבוֹד וְהָדָר תְּעַטְּרֵהוּ
What is humanity that You are mindful of them?
What are human beings that you think of them?
Yet You have made them but little lower than the angels,
and have crowned them with glory and honor.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

[2] Meanwhile, another ship crashed near the Greek island of Rhodes. Altogether, it is estimated that ~1,100 people drowned this week in the Mediterranean Sea.
[3] DAESH is the acronym for al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham, which means the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Daesh is a name commonly used by its enemies because it sounds similar to the Arabic words Daes ("one who crushes something underfoot") and Dahes ("one who sows discord).
[4] Etz Hayyim Torah and Commentary, JPS and the Rabbinical Assembly, p. 649.
[5] The midrash goes on to describe the primordial human God created: a hermaphrodite that God separated into two separate beings, female and male. The Sfat Emet writes only about R. Yochanans interpretation.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dishing It Up / Shemini 2015-5775

Parshat Shemini is loaded with menu tips for your next dinner party: It famously includes the foundational laws of kashrut. The Rabbis enlarged upon them. The medievalists debated whether there was a purpose behind them. Now, in the 21st century, particularly when some see fit to expend enormous amounts of time and energy worrying about tiny and microscopic organisms (see here and here), but ignoring the imposing of pain and suffering on animals, the exploitation of human beings, and the despoliation of our planet in the pursuit of food to please the palate, it is time to ask: Are the standards of kashrut morally appropriate?

To arrive at a place where we can explore that question, we begin with Parshat Shemini, which stipulates which animals the Israelites may consume and which are forbidden. Mammals must both be ruminants[1] and have split hooves. (Torah even provides examples of species that have one attribute but not the other: the hare chews its cud but lacks split hooves; the pig has split hooves but is not a ruminantboth are forbidden.) Fish must have fins and scales. Birds go according the list in Leviticus 11:13-19. Winged insects that walk on four legs are impermissible with the exception of those with jointed legs that can leap or hop; hence locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers are permissible. Torah then provides a laundry list of forbidden species: moles, mice, lizards, crocodiles, chameleons. Even physical contact with these species imparts ritual impurity to a person, wooden utensil, and cloth or skin container. Any animal of any species that has died is also forbidden and its carcass imparts impurity.

In addition, the Rabbis developed laws of shechitah (slaughter), and expanded the prohibition against boiling a kid in its mothers milk (Exodus 23:19; 34:26; and Deuteronomy 14:21) to include cooking, eating, and deriving benefit from the combination (BT Chullin 113b and 115b), mandating a far greater separation of meat and dairy than we find in Torah.

In addition, people have long asked what the purpose of the laws of kashrut is. Traditional holds that the mitzvot concerning dietary restrictions in Parshat Shemini are chukkim, commandments promulgated without any reason we can discern, and we are meant to follow them. Nonetheless, in the eleventh century, Moses Maimonides asserted that the laws of kashrut promote health and hygiene.[2] (Rambam was a physician, so perhaps this should not surprise us.) Don Isaac Abravanel, living four centuries later, recognized the problem implicit in Rambams claim that there are cogent rational reasons behind the laws of kashrut: If they can be demonstrated not to serve the purposes people claim for them, then may we jettison them? Abravanel asserted that the laws of kashrut are about spiritual health, not physical health.[3]

Both views have value. With Abravanel, we can affirm that the dietary laws are a powerful agent of Jewish identity, causing us to stop and consider the Jewish way to carry out arguably the most basic aspects of living multiple times each day. The need to eat Jewishly, day in and day out, reinforces our sense of belonging to the Jewish community and our commitment to Jewish tradition on a continual basis.

With Rambam, we can affirm that there can, and ought to be, underlying reasons for at least some of the dietary rules. We can and should ask: Are the laws of kashrut sufficient to promote Jewish values we hold dear? The answer will make many people squirm with discomfort: probably not. If Im to be entirely honest: definitely not. Now, in the 21st century, with the advent of factory farming and its affect on animals, people, and the environment, it is time to move beyond Rambams concern for our physical health and incorporate our highest moral values into the package we call kashrut. From field to plate, our food entails a wide variety of activities that impact the lives of human beings, animals, and the environment and sadly often subvert justice, compassion, and the sustenance of our biosphere.

If we are to be Gods stewards of the earth, to protect and preserve life, and consider the pain and suffering of people and animalsall of which our tradition calls us to doit is no longer  possible to claim with integrity that the traditional standards of kashrut fulfill these sacred obligations. For example, the environmental impact of cattle is a triple-whammy: It requires inordinate amounts of grain and water to produce each ounce of protein; with so many undernourished people in the world, should we be devoting so much grain and water to livestock that feed the wealthiest? Second, cattle emit enormous amounts of greenhouse gases into the environment; shockingly, livestock emissions outstrip all the cars and trucks on the planet. Third, cattle severely damage the land they trample as they graze (70% of all agricultural land is devoted to rearing livestock). Third, factory farming is a cruel way to treat any living creature. Similarly, chickens have a miserable existence. The terms cage-free, grass fed, or free range may console us, but we need to know that they rarely translate to significantly more humane treatment nor mitigate the environmental concerns.[4] The Jewish ethical imperative of tzar baalei chaim (prohibiting inflicting suffering on a living creature) is routinely violated in the pursuit of kosher meat; the uncomfortable truth is that shekhitah (kosher slaughter) as it is practiced does not reach that ethical standard.[5] (And I havent yet mentioned genetically modified organisms (GMOs), whose long-term effects on human health are entirely unknown, yet they are increasingly pervasive in our food supply.)

There is morefar morethat needs our attention. Justice and safety for workers should be of paramount importance. When the ethical violations at Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa that came to light in 2008, including substandard wages, inadequate safety measures, horrific accidents, routine short-changing of pay, bribe-taking by shift supervisors and more,[6] as well as egregious abuse perpetrated on animals, it became clear that the letter of the law in kashrut was sorely insufficient. Consider also the predicament of the Immokalee tomato pickers.[7] Ninety percent of the nations tomatoes are grown in Immokalee, Florida. They are harvested by immigrants and migrant workers who live in destitute poverty and are debt slaves. Senator Bernie Saunders proclaimed in a U.S. Senate hearing: “”In America today we are seeing a race to the bottom, the middle class is collapsing, poverty is increasing. What I saw in Immokalee is the bottom in the race to the bottom.[8] I have heard horrifying descriptions from two colleagues who visited Immokalee. Consider this description:

If you are very unlucky you could be one of those workers held in debt slavery in a farm camp run by contractors known as crew leaders. It starts off by having to pay a transportation fee for the ride to Florida. Workers are told they can work off their debt over time but cannot leave until their debt is paid off. Workers are then over charged for food, rent, alcohol and cigarettes. In many cases workers have been held against their will under the supervision of armed guards. Workers have been pistol whipped, raped and threatened with death if they try to leave the camp. Many camps are surround by fences topped by barbed wire. Over a thousand men and women have been freed from slave camps in the last fifteen years in Florida.[9]

TheMagen Tzedek Commission of the Conservative Movement came into being to make the standards of justice and decency cherished by our tradition normative kashrut requirements. The Commission describes their commendable and increasingly necessary work this way:

The Magen Tzedek Commission has developed a food certification program that combines the rabbinic tradition of Torah with Jewish values of social justice, assuring consumers and retailers that kosher food products have been produced in keeping with exemplary Jewish ethics in the area of labor concerns, animal welfare, environmental impact, consumer issues and corporate integrity.

The cornerstone of the program is the Magen Tzedek Standard, a proprietary set of standards that meet or exceed industry best practices for treatment of workers, animals, and the Earth; and delineates the criteria a food manufacturer must meet to achieve certification. Upon successful certification, the Magen Tzedek Commission will award its Shield of Justice seal which can be displayed on food packaging.[10]

It is time for tzedek (justice) to become a central concern of kashrut certification. We need to put a stop to disasters like Agriprocessors and Immokalee.

Anna Lappe, in Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do about It, explains in detail and depth the food life-cycle and its connection to global climate change, which interpenetrates every sector of our economy. Lapp offers us a useful set of goals and guidelines that comport with Jewish ethical values, delineated as seven principles of a climate friendly diet. They are non-technical, easy to comprehend, and straightforward to apply:
1.         Reach for real food [avoid processed foods]
2.         Put plants on your plate [eat more vegetables; less meat and dairy]
3.         Dont panic, go organic [organic and sustainable agriculture]
4.         Lean toward local [reduce transportation-related emissions and lower pesticide and herbicide usage]
5.         Finish your peasthe ice caps are melting [reduce waste, and compost]
6.         Send packaging packing [avoid products with extensive packaging of styrofoam, plastic, cardboard; bring your own bags to the supermarket, and stop buying bottled water!]
7.         Get ourselves back to the kitchen [avoid unhealthful fast foods and processed foods; prepare real food]

We need kashrut now more than ever to remind us that there is a chain of events that brings food to our plates, and it sometimes entails injustice, abuse, suffering, and the degradation of the environment that will continue especially if we shut our eyes. We need to broaden our understanding of kashrut to include a range of Jewish moral concerns for animals, workers, human health, and the environment. Parshat Shemini provides the framework: It teaches us to think before we pick up a fork, and to consider what we should be eating and whether our actions are in concert with our understanding of Gods will.

New menu tips from a more expansive view of what makes food kosher:
    No animals were abused or suffered.
    No people were abused, enslaved, or denied justice and decent, safe working conditions.
    The needs of the global environment (which sustains us all) were given priority.
    The food is healthful and nutritious, not just delicious.

Recipes to follow.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

[1] Ruminants consume vegetable matter; they have four-chambered stomachs and chew their cud in order to digest their food entirely and extract maximum nutrition from it. This means that cattle, goats, sheep, deer, antelope, and at least hypothetically giraffes are kosher.
[2] Rambam wrote: “I maintain that food forbidden by the Torah is unwholesome. There is nothing among the forbidden foods whose injurious character is doubted except pork and fat. Yet, also in these cases, doubt is unjustified; for pork contains more moisture than necessary for human food, and too much of superfluous matter. The principle reason why the Torah forbids swine flesh is to be found in the circumstances that its habits and its foods are very dirty and loathsome…the fat of the intestines makes us full, interrupts our digestion, and produces cold and thick blood…it is more fit for fuel than for food.” (Moreh Nevuchim III:48)
[3] Commenting on this week’s parashah, Abravanel wrote: “God forbid that I should believe that the reason for forbidden foods is medicinal! For were that so, then the books of Gods Laws would be in the same class as any of the minor and brief medical books…Furthermore, our own eyes see that the people who eat pork and insects and such…are alive and healthy to this very day…moreover the more dangerous animals… are not even mentioned at all in the list of prohibited ones. And there are many poisonous herbs known to physicians which the Torah does not mention at all. All of which points to the conclusion that the Torah of God did not come to heal bodies and seek their material welfare, but to seek the health of the soul, the cure of its illness.”