Shemini: Put your best foot forward
© S.H. Parker, 2018

11:1 And Adonai spoke to Moses and to Aaron to say to them:
2 Speak to the children of Israel saying: These are the creatures that you may eat among all the animals on earth:
3 Any animal that has a cloven hoof that is completely split into double hooves, and which brings up its cud, that one you may eat....

9 Among all that are in the water, you may eat these: any in the water that has fins and scales, those you may eat, whether [it lives] in the waters, in the seas or in the rivers....

13 And among birds, you shall hold these offensive; they shall not be eaten; they are offensive The griffin vulture, the kite, the osprey ... [list of 17 more specific birds follows]

20 Any flying insect that walks on four [legs] is offensive to you.... 

 These passages, along with the previous prohibitions on blood and carrion, are the foundation of our dietary laws (kashrut). What do we know about Israel's dietary laws? We know that some form of dietary restriction, abstinence from pig meat certainly, is among Israel's very earliest observances.

We also know, as P. Kyle McCarter, Jr. points out in his paper "The Origins of Israelite Religion (The Rise of Ancient Israel, Biblical Archaeology Society, 1992) that such customs prevent certain interactions with those not MOT. Such customs are a fine way to create a boundary between groups and begin creating an ethnic group.

These passages are not only the foundation of kashrut, they are the entirety of it. Notice what is missing:

לֹא  תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמוּ        You will not boil a kid in its [own] mother’s milk

This command is the rabbis’ basis for the separation of milk and meat and almost the entire edifice of kashrut as practiced today. Note the precision of its language. On its face, it does not admit of any ambiguity or need for further interpretation. As you may suspect, there is absolutely no archaeological evidence that separation of milk and meat was practiced by Israel before the rabbis of the Gomorrah legislated it in the mid-first millennium CE. Karaites, whom Israeli haredim lately admit are "Jews," have no problem with the precision of the language. If the milk and the meat are from different species (a slight "going beyond the word thereof"), they countenance mixing (would that be a FetaCheeseburger?).

For many years, it has been believed that boiling a kid in its own mother's milk was a pagan religious ritual. That, in itself, would be sufficient justification for the injunction (see ttp:// as well as Recently questions have been raised about this. But it remains true that in the "civilized" world of the time, meat was boiled (and many "old-worlders" still boil their meat). We read, just a few weeks ago, that the korban pesach (Passover offering) must be roasted, it must not be boiled....

Boiling in milk was a delicacy in those times. And we know that Canaanite "nobles" did indeed boil a kid in its own mother’s milk (and imagine the amount of milk required to boil an entire kid goat - is this even possible?). Not doing after the ways of Canaanites is sufficient explanation of this mitzvah; more than sufficient.

Interesting as this is, I want to look at what we can learn out from the rules and examples Torah gives us.

There is one example, in particular, that I find particularly forceful:

11:7 And the pig, because it has a cloven hoof that is completely split but will not regurgitate its cud, it is unclean for you.

Of the examples Torah gives, this is the only one of an animal with a split hoof; all the others chew the cud but do not have a split hoof. Unlike the camel, the hyrax and the hare, the pig shows the outward signs of acceptability, of fitness. The pig walks with its forelegs outstretched, as if to say “See! See my cloven hoof!”

But the pig lacks the internal, unseen substance - the guts - necessary for full acceptability, of fitness.

This is like the one who makes a point of displaying their piety or their observance. It is like one who draws attention to their charity or promotes their accomplishments. Just like the pig, these persons cry “Look at me!” These beg us to "judge [them] by the color of their skin."

And, just like the pig, they lack the internal, unseen substance - the guts - of acceptability and fitness. Their characters lack the content Rev. King dreamed about.

Torah also tells us what internals we humans need to demonstrate to avoid being like this pig, displaying only the external signs, it tells us what the substance of acceptability is:

הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם, מַה-טּוֹב; וּמָה-יְהוָה דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ, כִּי אִם-עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד, וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם-אֱלֹהֶיךָ

It has been told to you human what is good and what Adonai requires of you: to do rightoeously and to love kindliness and to walk with your God humbly. (Micah 6:8)

Do ... not ... be ... a ... pig.