Two Minutes of Torah | Sh’mini | Leviticus 9:1-11:47

“Any animal that has true hoofs, with clefts through the hoofs, and that chews the cud — you may eat.” Much ink has been spilled since the Enlightenment trying to explain this commandment. Early reformers tried to banish God from the commandment: perhaps banning pork lessened instances of trichinosis, we tried to rationalize, or maybe outlawing bottom-feeding crustaceans was designed to prevent the bioaccumulation we have come to understand today. The nascent orthodox community pushed back, trying to banish any scientific underpinnings: maybe this command is simply God’s law to be accepted without understanding. Where does the truth lie? Certainty is elusive but a middle way possible.
The authors of the biblical text, like the early rabbis, loved the act of categorization. Something was either declared clean or it was unclean, pure or impure. Animals of a narrowly-defined type were suitable for human consumption; animals that broke the mold declared off-limits. It is, in many ways, a classification scheme similar to that found in modern science. They were uncomfortable with and perhaps thus regulated against uncertainty using systems quite similar to our contemporary methodologies. In their minds, it was synonymous with living in accord with divine will. It just might be a fool’s errand to attempt separation of the two.
– Rabbi Aaron Meyer

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