Friday, May 16, 2014

Religious Meaning of Food II: Jewish Perspective


In a previous post I discussed how religious dietary restrictions can function as a barrier between "Us" and "Them". I then suggested that if diverse religious groups could find commonalities among their dietary allowances that they could find communion and friendship around the dinner table. In this blog I will discuss Jewish dietary restrictions and compare these restrictions with Muslim halal dietary laws and attempt to find commonalities.

Kosher Food Laws

Jewish dietary laws are found in the New Testament in Leviticus 11:1-23 and Deuteronomy 14:3-20 in what can be called "The Law of the Beasts". They are fairly comparable to Halal dietary laws, as can seen by the chart below.
While Muslims are forbidden from eating pork, Jews are forbidden from eating all mammals which do not have cloven feet and which do not eat grass (which includes pork, rabbit, and others). These restrictions may also be related to those restricting both Jews and Muslims from eating carnivorous animals and birds of prey. Evidently, they both do not want to consume animals that eat other animals. The same restriction does not seem to pertain to fish that eat other fish. However this specific restriction may also be related to the necessity for  both groups to properly slaughter their animals in order to drain the blood. Muslims require, however, that in addition to proper slaughter, that the animals must be slaughtered in the name of Allah, which some groups of Muslims believe is the same God described in the Torah and the New Testament.

A Kosher Kitchen

In addition to the rules described above, Jews must a kosher kitchen. This enables them to better meet the meal requirements laid out in the Law of the Beasts.  From what I have gleaned, a kosher kitchen just ensures that Jewish families can keep their meat and their dairy separate. They can do this by using separate dishes and silverware for meat and dairy. They can also cook their meat and dairy separate, in different pots or pans, while using the oven at different times for either dish. more information on kosher kitchens can be found in the link above.


We have been discussing Jewish and Muslim dietary restrictions. We have noted that if food can be a powerful uniting tool for families or other groups, then it may also be a powerful divisive tool separating "Us" from "Them". This has been an attempt to analyze both Kosher and Halal food laws so as to see just what Jews and Muslims, and by extension Christians may eat together. I was personally surprised by how similar the two sets of dietary laws were. This makes sense though, as Muslims believe that their Qur'an is just an additional later version of the revelation received by Jews and Christians. To answer our question then, it seems that the three groups may eat any mammal, fish, or bird, so long as it is not carnivorous. Large mammals must also have cloven feet. This animal must then be properly slaughtered so as to drain the blood. In order to appease the Muslims this slaughter must happen in the name of Allah, but liberal observers of any tradition may be able to agree that Allah is just another name for their G-d. Lastly, to ensure that everyone is pleased, this food must be prepared by methods used in a kosher kitchen, ensuring that the meat is separated from the dairy. If all of these laws are followed then, in theory, the three groups should be able to eat up!

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