Kosher food in Judaism

Friday, 9 April, 2021 - 8:05 am

Every year, when we read Parshas Shemini, the Parasha that contains the laws of Kashrut regarding meat, fowl and fish, I recall the lecture about “Kosher food in Judaism” that I was invited to a few years ago.

I was told: “A theologian from the university will speak on the connection between food and religion; you are to give the Jewish perspective” – and I was allotted fifteen minutes in which to do so. When I got up to speak, I said that whoever gave me only fifteen minutes to talk about Jewish food has absolutely no knowledge of the subject, because my grandmother, may she rest in peace, could talk just about her gefilte fish for two hours, and did so every single Friday.


Allow me to present to you the Chassidic/Kabbalistic approach to Kashrut (an explanation intended only for intelligent, open-minded people):

Let’s start from the beginning. The Creation of the World consisted of a “breaking of the vessels.” In simple terms: an awesome spiritual light, called “the Ein Sof” was too big and powerful to be contained in the spiritual vessels that were in the world of Tohu (the world before our world of rectification (Olam haTikun) that was created in six days). As a result, the vessels broke, and the Divine sparks of the Ein Sof spread all over, until they reached this material world we live in, including the inanimate, the flora and the fauna in it.

Our task is to collect all these Divine sparks and raise them to a level of Kedusha (holiness). This is not simple, because some of them have settled into some very vulgar, lowly positions.

For the purpose of that, we were given a tool-chest – the Torah and Mitzvot. When I do a Mitzvah, I redeem the sparks that are within the object used to perform the Mitzvah, and they acquire holiness.

For instance, money. Money could be the most material of things. People kill themselves and each other in order to obtain it. On the other hand, when I give eighteen dollars to Tzedakah, I am redeeming and making holy not only the sparks embedded in the money, but even those that were embedded in the work through which I obtained the money – for instance, the sparks that were embedded in the fuel that allowed me to work and earn those eighteen dollars.

Eating, too, is a way of elevating sparks. When I eat a veal steak (medium-rare, if possible), and this gives me the strength to do something positive during the day, I have thereby elevated the Divine sparks that were in the calf to a higher level of Kedusha. (And I have hereby raised the ire of all my vegetarian friends…)

Here’s the problem:

There are animals that the Torah declared non-kosher; those animals cannot be elevated by way of eating them. If we eat from such an animal, we are blocking a spiritual artery in our connection to Hashem. It is simply not for consumption for our souls, just like a degreaser is not to be consumed by our bodies.

And so, other ways have to be found to elevate an unkosher animal to a realm of Kedusha. For instance, a donkey can be elevated if it is used as a beast of burden for some noble purpose.


Hearty appetite!


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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