• Gabbai

Shemini – Hooves and Scales

In Parshat Shemini the Torah instructs us in the laws of Kashrut, as they pertain to living creatures. The Torah lists the criteria for mammals which we are allowed to consume, followed by fish and then birds.

Kosher means different things to different people, not all of the reasons having any basis in our tradition. For some consumers kosher indicates a higher level of oversight and hygiene while for others it indicates better health benefits and a step closer to organic. Little of this has any basis in reality or in our tradition. The only difference between a creature listed in the Torah as permissible for eating and a creature listed as not permissible – is that the Torah allows us to consume one and the Torah does not allow us to consume the other. The Torah offers no reasons for the distinctions and offers no reason why there are restrictions altogether. Attempts to attribute reasons to this have invariably led to some degree of disillusionment when the theory was dis-proven.

What the Torah does tell us, however, are the rules, the criteria, for defining a kosher animal. Both mammals and fish have clear physical characteristics showing whether the animal qualifies as kosher or not. (Birds do not have such characteristics mentioned in the written Torah although the Mishnah does list several requirements for a bird to be considered kosher, in addition to a requirement of having a tradition of eating it.)

Mammals must have split hooves and they must be ruminants in order to qualify as kosher. Cows, sheep, goats, deer, bison, elk and even giraffes(!) number among the kosher species, each having four stomachs and split hooves.

The characteristics of kosher fish are also well known. The Torah requires one to identify the fins and scales of a fish before eating it.

There are many layers to the Torah, many facets of understanding. There is far more to a verse in the Torah than that which meets the eye. When the Torah instructs us that a mammal must have split hooves there is a lesson in that for us, and the same applies to the chewing of its cud. Similarly fins and scales of a fish must bear a message for us.