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SBL e-journal

Daniel H. Weiss





Predators Are Prohibited, Why Are Ducks Kosher?





APA e-journal

Daniel H. Weiss





Predators Are Prohibited, Why Are Ducks Kosher?








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Predators Are Prohibited, Why Are Ducks Kosher?

Biblical dietary laws forbid consuming animals that shed the blood of other animals, reflecting an ideal world without violence among humans or animals. But what counts as blood?


Predators Are Prohibited, Why Are Ducks Kosher?


The Torah gives clear guidelines for distinguishing between pure and impure quadrupeds,[1] permitting only those with split hooves that chew their cud (Deut 14:6–8; Lev 11:2–8).[2] Likewise, only fish with fins and scales are permitted (Deut 14:9–10; Lev 11:9–12). In the case of birds, however, no specific traits are mentioned; instead, we simply get a list of the impure ones:

דברים יד:יא כָּל צִפּוֹר טְהֹרָה תֹּאכֵלוּ. יד:יב וְזֶה אֲשֶׁר לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מֵהֶם הַנֶּשֶׁר וְהַפֶּרֶס וְהָעָזְנִיָּה. יד:יג וְהָרָאָה וְאֶת הָאַיָּה וְהַדַּיָּה לְמִינָהּ. יד:יד וְאֵת כָּל עֹרֵב לְמִינוֹ. יד:טו וְאֵת בַּת הַיַּעֲנָה וְאֶת הַתַּחְמָס וְאֶת הַשָּׁחַף וְאֶת הַנֵּץ לְמִינֵהוּ. יד:טז אֶת הַכּוֹס וְאֶת הַיַּנְשׁוּף וְהַתִּנְשָׁמֶת. יד:יז וְהַקָּאָת וְאֶת הָרָחָמָה וְאֶת הַשָּׁלָךְ. יד:יח וְהַחֲסִידָה וְהָאֲנָפָה לְמִינָהּ וְהַדּוּכִיפַת וְהָעֲטַלֵּף.
Deut 14:11 You may eat any pure bird. 14:12 The following you may not eat: the eagle, the vulture, and the black vulture; 14:13 the kite, the falcon, and the buzzard of any variety; 14:14 every variety of raven; 14:15 the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, and the hawk of any variety; 14:16 the little owl, the great owl, and the white owl; 14:17 the pelican, the bustard, and the cormorant; 14:18 the stork, any variety of heron, the hoopoe, and the bat.[3]

As ancient and modern interpreters have highlighted, the forbidden birds appear by and large to be predatory carnivores.[4] This explanation of the bird laws is found already in the 2nd century B.C.E. Letter of Aristeas:

Aristeas 145 For of the winged creatures of which we make use all are gentle and distinguished by cleanliness and they feed on grain and pulse, such as pigeons, doves, locusts, partridges, and also geese and all similar fowl.

146 But of the winged creatures which are forbidden you will find that they are wild and carnivorous and with their strength oppress the rest and procure their food with injustice at the expense of the tame fowl mentioned above. And not only these, but they also seize lambs and kids, and they do violence to men too, both the dead and the living.[5]

Aristeas goes on to explain the allegorical meaning of the law, that violence is an impure trait, and we should strive for gentleness.[6] Philo of Alexandria (ca. 25 B.C.E.–ca. 50 C.E.) gives the same explanation:

Special Laws 4.116 (=§22) …the inhabitants of the air. Of these he disqualified a vast number of kinds, in fact all that prey on other fowls or on men, creatures which are carnivorous and venomous and in general use their strength to attack others. 4.117 But doves, pigeons, turtledoves, and the tribes of cranes, geese and the like he reckons as belonging to the tame and gentle class and gives to any who wish full liberty to make use of them as food.[7]

The rabbis of the Mishnah (early 3rd cent. C.E.) made a similar observation:

משנה חולין ג:ו [קאופמן] סִימָנֵי בְהֵמָה וְחַיָּה נֶאֶמְרוּ מִן הַתּוֹרָה, וְסִימָנֵי הָעוֹף לֹא נֶאֶמְרוּ. אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים: כָּל עוֹף הַדּוֹרֵס, טָמֵא...
m. Hullin 3:6 The signs of the domestic animal and wild animal were stated in the Torah, but the signs of the fowl were not stated. The Sages have said: “Any fowl that mauls is impure…”[8]

In other words, the common characteristic of these prohibited birds is their dietary habit of killing and/or eating other birds or mammals.

Likewise with Quadrupeds

When it comes to distinguishing between pure and impure quadrupeds, the Torah’s distinguishing marks do not simply divide predators from herbivores; the requirement of both cud-chewing and cloven hooves precludes many non-predators from being pure, such as camels, horses, donkeys, and rabbits.

Nevertheless, it excludes all predators. Indeed, Deuteronomy includes a list of pure quadrupeds, all of which are herbivores:

דברים יד:ד זֹאת הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר תֹּאכֵלוּ שׁוֹר שֵׂה כְשָׂבִים וְשֵׂה עִזִּים. יד:ה אַיָּל וּצְבִי וְיַחְמוּר וְאַקּוֹ וְדִישֹׁן וּתְאוֹ וָזָמֶר.
Deut 14:4 These are the animals that you may eat: the ox, the sheep, and the goat; 14:5 a the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, the mountain sheep.

With regard to quadrupeds as well, early commentators suggested that at least one factor that disqualifies an animal from being considered pure is if it is a predator. Philo, for instance, notes that in theory, we should be killing and eating predators:

Special Laws 4:103 (=§17) Possibly it might be thought fitting that all wild beasts that feed on human flesh should suffer from men what men have suffered from them. But Moses would have us abstain from the enjoyment of such, even though they provide a very appetizing and delectable repast.[9]

Instead, Philo argues, Moses wished to emphasize the importance of having a gentle soul by permitting the eating of only gentle animals:

Special Laws 4:103 (=§17) [Moses] was considering what is suitable to a gentle-mannered soul, for though it is fitting enough that one should suffer for what one has done, it is not fitting conduct for the sufferers to retaliate it on the wrongdoers, lest the savage passion of anger should turn them unawares into beasts.[10]

Similarly, Rabbi Moses Nahmanides (Ramban, ca. 1195–ca. 1270) notes that kosher quadrupeds, like birds, are not predators:

רמב"ן ויקרא יא:יג והנה טעם אסור העופות מפני אכזריות תולדותם. והבהמות יתכן שיהיו מפני כן, שאין בבעלי הגרה והפרסה השסועה דורס, והשאר כולם יטרופו.
Nahmanides Leviticus 11:13 The reason for forbidding certain birds is because of their cruel natures. As for the quadrupeds, it is likely the same, since among animals that chew their cud and have split hooves, there are none that maul, and all other [categories] have predators.

Sacrificial Animals Are Not Predators

Leviticus Rabbah (mid-1st millennium C.E.) makes a similar point about limiting of sacrificial animals to non-predatory species in a homily on Ecclesiastes 3:15, וְהָאֱלֹהִים יְבַקֵּשׁ אֶת נִרְדָּף “and God seeks the pursued.” It notes:

ויקרא רבה (מרגליות) אמור כז:ה ואף בקרבנות כן, שור נרדף מפני ארי, כבש נרדף מפני זאב, עז נרדף מפני נמר, לפי' אמ' הקדוש ברוך הוא אל תקריבו לפני מן הרודפים אלא מן הנרדפים. "שור או כשב או עז כי יולד" (ויקרא כב:כז).
Leviticus Rabbah, Emor 27:5 [God’s preference for the pursued over the pursuer] is also the case with sacrifices. An ox is chased by a lion; a sheep is chased by a wolf; a goat is chased by a leopard. Therefore, the Blessed Holy One said: “Do not bring an offering to me from the pursuers, but from the pursued, “An ox, or a sheep, or a goat, when it is born…” (Lev 22:27).[11]

The Babylonian Talmud offers a similar observation in a different homily:

בבלי בבא קמא צג. [פירנצה 8–9] אמ[ר] ר' אבהו: לעול[ם] יהא אדם מן הנרדפין ולא מן הרודפין שאין לך נרדף בעוף יותר מבני תורין ובני יונה והכשירן הכתוב לגבי מזבח.
t. Baba Kama 93a Rabbi Abahu said: “A person should always be among the pursued and not among the pursuers, for among the birds there is nothing more pursued than turtledoves and pigeons, and scripture permits them to be offered upon the altar.”

These interpretations of biblical laws as anti-predator fit with a theme we find in various biblical texts which cast predatory animals in a negative light.

Are Only Vegetarian Animals Kosher?

Several modern scholars, such as Jean Soler, Michael Carroll, and Leon Kass, have posited that the permitted animals must be “vegetarian,” and have connected the Israelite dietary restrictions to the ideal in the creation story, that humans and animals were originally meant to be vegetarian[12]:

בראשית א:כט וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת כָּל עֵשֶׂב זֹרֵעַ זֶרַע אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי כָל הָאָרֶץ וְאֶת כָּל הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ פְרִי עֵץ זֹרֵעַ זָרַע לָכֶם יִהְיֶה לְאָכְלָה. א:ל וּלְכָל חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ וּלְכָל עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּלְכֹל רוֹמֵשׂ עַל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה אֶת כָּל יֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב לְאָכְלָה וַיְהִי כֵן.
Gen 1:29 God said, “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food. 1:30 And to all the animals on land, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything that creeps on earth, in which there is the breath of life, [I give] all the green plants for food.” And it was so.

In such a reading of the dietary laws, although humans were given permission to eat animals after the flood, only animals that fulfill the ideal of creation are considered pure and fit for consumption.

What About Ducks?

As Meir Soloveichik notes, however, the theory that only vegetarian animals are kosher is contradicted by the duck, which is a kosher bird—i.e., not listed in the Torah among the impure birds—yet it eats insects, mollusks, fish eggs, small crustaceans, fish, and even frogs.[13] In other words, ducks are predators and certainly cannot be characterized as “vegetarian” as per Kass, Carroll, and Soler.

The Prohibition Against Eating Blood

Nevertheless, the explanation that kosher animals are non-predatory can be tweaked to explain why ducks are kosher. Whereas in Genesis 1, God had specifically designated plants as that which is given to human beings (and animals) to eat, in Genesis 9 God adjusts the law, saying:

בראשית ט:ג כָּל רֶמֶשׂ אֲשֶׁר הוּא חַי לָכֶם יִהְיֶה לְאָכְלָה כְּיֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת כֹּל. ט:ד אַךְ בָּשָׂר בְּנַפְשׁוֹ דָמוֹ לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ.
Gen 9:3 Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these. 9:4 You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it.

While after the flood, human beings are permitted to eat the flesh of animals, they must nevertheless refrain from consuming the animal’s blood, as this is linked to the nefesh (life/soul).

The prohibition against eating blood appears again in Leviticus, in the context of sacrificial law, specifying that it applies only to birds and quadrupeds, with no mention of fish or insects:

ויקרא ז:כו וְכָל דָּם לֹא תֹאכְלוּ בְּכֹל מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם לָעוֹף וְלַבְּהֵמָה. ז:כז כָּל נֶפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר תֹּאכַל כָּל דָּם וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מֵעַמֶּיהָ.
Lev 7:26 And you must not consume any blood in any of your settlements, either of bird or quadruped. 7:27 Anyone who eats blood shall be cut off from his kin.[14]

Similarly, in a later chapter, after repeating the prohibition for Israelites and sojourners to eat blood,[15] Leviticus adds a specific requirement to cover the blood of a hunted animal:

ויקרא יז:יג וְאִישׁ אִישׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּמִן הַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכָם אֲשֶׁר יָצוּד צֵיד חַיָּה אוֹ עוֹף אֲשֶׁר יֵאָכֵל וְשָׁפַךְ אֶת דָּמוֹ וְכִסָּהוּ בֶּעָפָר. יז:יד כִּי נֶפֶשׁ כָּל בָּשָׂר דָּמוֹ בְנַפְשׁוֹ הוּא וָאֹמַר לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל דַּם כָּל בָּשָׂר לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ כִּי נֶפֶשׁ כָּל בָּשָׂר דָּמוֹ הִוא כָּל אֹכְלָיו יִכָּרֵת.
Lev 17:13 And if any Israelite or any stranger who resides among them hunts down a wild quadruped (ḥayah)[16] or a bird that may be eaten, that person shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of all flesh—its blood is its life. 17:14 Therefore I say to the Israelite people: You shall not partake of the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Anyone who partakes of it shall be cut off.[17]

Again, the text makes no mention of such a requirement for fish.[18] While biologically speaking, fish also have blood,[19] the biblical text does not seem to count it as דָּם (dam, “blood”). In other words, from the Torah’s perspective, fish and insects are “bloodless” animals; only birds and quadrupeds fall under the category of “blood-containing animal.”[20]

Reinforcing this point is the fact that only quadrupeds and birds are eligible for sacrifice, since the atoning element in sacrifice is linked specifically to the pouring or sprinkling of blood on the altar (cf. Lev. 17:11). If fish or insects are not considered blood-containing animals, then it stands to reason that they would not be able to serve as animal sacrifices on the altar.

In Biblical Thinking Ducks Aren’t Blood-shedding Predators

Accordingly, it is not that permitted animals must be “vegetarian,” but rather that they must refrain from eating blood, including any animals with blood.[21] Thus, although much of a duck’s diet consists of animals such as fish and insects, the Torah does not classify these latter as blood-containing animals. As such, in the framework of Leviticus, the duck would still not count as a “blood consumer,” and the same goes for the insect-and-earthworm-eating pigeons, doves, and chickens.

Notably, this same logic holds for the permitted fish and insects, which also appear to be ones that do not prey upon blood-containing animals or consume blood. Thus, for instance, the permitted fish eat insects, crustaceans, and smaller fish, whereas fish such as sharks, which might eat birds or mammals, are excluded by the fins and scales rule.

Likewise, among the insects, the permitted locusts consume plants, in contrast to blood-consuming insects such as mosquitoes. The dietary restrictions against eating animals who themselves spill or consume blood functions in parallel to the prohibition against human consumption of blood and to the prohibition of bloodshed in the form of murder.

Biblical Abhorrence for Bloodshed

In Genesis 9, the prohibition of consuming blood is juxtaposed to that of shedding of human blood. Even animals that shed human blood will be punished:[22]

בראשית ט:ה וְאַךְ אֶת דִּמְכֶם לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם אֶדְרֹשׁ מִיַּד כָּל חַיָּה אֶדְרְשֶׁנּוּ וּמִיַּד הָאָדָם מִיַּד אִישׁ אָחִיו אֶדְרֹשׁ אֶת נֶפֶשׁ הָאָדָם. ט:ו שֹׁפֵךְ דַּם הָאָדָם בָּאָדָם דָּמוֹ יִשָּׁפֵךְ כִּי בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים עָשָׂה אֶת הָאָדָם.
Gen 9:5 But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of humankind, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of everyone for each other! 9:6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in His image did God make man.

Just as eating blood is linked to the punishment of being “cut off” (as we saw in Leviticus), so likewise bloodshed, i.e., the violent killing of other human beings, is among the actions that severely defile the land and lead to exile, as emphasized in various places in the Bible.[23]

Elsewhere, the Bible draws parallels between the violent actions of human beings and the violent actions of bloodshedding animals.[24] Thus, the prophet Ezekiel compares unjust violence and oppression committed by other nations against the Israelites (as God’s “flock”) to the behavior of predatory beasts:

יחזקאל לד:ו יִשְׁגּוּ צֹאנִי בְּכָל הֶהָרִים וְעַל כָּל גִּבְעָה רָמָה וְעַל כָּל פְּנֵי הָאָרֶץ נָפֹצוּ צֹאנִי וְאֵין דּוֹרֵשׁ וְאֵין מְבַקֵּשׁ. לד:ז לָכֵן רֹעִים שִׁמְעוּ אֶת דְּבַר יְ־הוָה. לד:ח חַי אָנִי נְאֻם אֲדֹנָי יְ־הוִה אִם לֹא יַעַן הֱיוֹת צֹאנִי לָבַז וַתִּהְיֶינָה צֹאנִי לְאָכְלָה לְכָל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה...
Ezek 34:6 My sheep stray through all the mountains and over every lofty hill; My flock is scattered all over the face of the earth, with none to take thought of them and none to seek them. 34:7 Hear then, O shepherds, the word of the YHWH! 34:8 As I live—declares the Lord YHWH: Because My flock has been a spoil—My flock has been a prey for all the wild beasts…[25]

Some biblical texts use similar imagery in condemning the rich and powerful within Israelite society for oppressing the poor:

יחזקאל כב:כז שָׂרֶיהָ בְקִרְבָּהּ כִּזְאֵבִים טֹרְפֵי טָרֶף לִשְׁפָּךְ דָּם לְאַבֵּד נְפָשׁוֹת לְמַעַן בְּצֹעַ בָּצַע.
Ezek 22:27 Her officials are like wolves rending prey in her midst; they shed blood and destroy lives to win ill-gotten gain.

Those who use force to harm other human beings are compared to wolves and lions:

תהלים נז:ה נַפְשִׁי בְּתוֹךְ לְבָאִם אֶשְׁכְּבָה לֹהֲטִים בְּנֵי אָדָם שִׁנֵּיהֶם חֲנִית וְחִצִּים וּלְשׁוֹנָם חֶרֶב חַדָּה.
Ps 57:5 My soul is among lions, I do lie down among them that are aflame; even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.

Blood-shedding weapons are linked to the blood-shedding teeth of predatory beasts.

משלי ל:יד דּוֹר חֲרָבוֹת שִׁנָּיו וּמַאֲכָלוֹת מְתַלְּעֹתָיו לֶאֱכֹל עֲנִיִּים מֵאֶרֶץ וְאֶבְיוֹנִים מֵאָדָם.
Prov 30:14 There is a generation whose teeth are as swords, and their great teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.

YHWH’s commandment to the Israelites to bar the violent animals from their tables parallels YHWH’s commandments to the Israelites to avoid harming and oppressing vulnerable human beings, which reflect this same prophetic ethos.[26]

Prophetic Hopes of Peace Even Between Predators and Prey

The prophet Isaiah envisions a future era in which such forms of predation will cease among human beings, as well as animals. His famous depiction of the messianic future reads:

ישעיה ב:ד וְשָׁפַט בֵּין הַגּוֹיִם וְהוֹכִיחַ לְעַמִּים רַבִּים וְכִתְּתוּ חַרְבוֹתָם לְאִתִּים וַחֲנִיתוֹתֵיהֶם לְמַזְמֵרוֹת לֹא יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל גּוֹי חֶרֶב וְלֹא יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה.
Isa 2:4 [YHWH] shall judge between the nations and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.[27]

A few chapters later, Isaiah turns to the animal kingdom and declares:

ישעיה יא:ו וְגָר זְאֵב עִם כֶּבֶשׂ וְנָמֵר עִם גְּדִי יִרְבָּץ וְעֵגֶל וּכְפִיר וּמְרִיא יַחְדָּו וְנַעַר קָטֹן נֹהֵג בָּם. יא:ז וּפָרָה וָדֹב תִּרְעֶינָה יַחְדָּו יִרְבְּצוּ יַלְדֵיהֶן וְאַרְיֵה כַּבָּקָר יֹאכַל תֶּבֶן. יא:ח וְשִׁעֲשַׁע יוֹנֵק עַל חֻר פָּתֶן וְעַל מְאוּרַת צִפְעוֹנִי גָּמוּל יָדוֹ הָדָה.
Isa 11:6 The wolf shall live with the lamb; the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the lion will feed together, and a little child shall lead them. 11:7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 11:8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

Here, just as the warlike nations will turn their implements of war and bloodshed into implements of vegetable cultivation, so too the predatory animals (who are correlated to those nations) will cease from their blood-shedding diets and will take up the vegetable-based dietary ways of the cow, sheep, and goat. In this sense, although those animals currently sustain themselves through bloodshed, they will ultimately, so to speak, beat their fangs into cud-chewing flat teeth and their claws into cloven hooves.

You Are What You Eat

Symbolically, the intra-human form of violence is presented as paralleling the intra-animal form: just as the Israelites are called upon to obey God’s prohibition against bloodshed, so are they called upon to include on their tables only those animals that do not engage in bloodshed against other animals. Indeed, Leviticus explicitly draws a parallel between the Israelites’ special calling to obedience and the permitted animals:

ויקרא כ:כב וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת כָּל חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת כָּל מִשְׁפָּטַי וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם וְלֹא תָקִיא אֶתְכֶם הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה לָשֶׁבֶת בָּהּ. כ:כג וְלֹא תֵלְכוּ בְּחֻקֹּת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מְשַׁלֵּחַ מִפְּנֵיכֶם כִּי אֶת כָּל אֵלֶּה עָשׂוּ וָאָקֻץ בָּם. כ:כד וָאֹמַר לָכֶם אַתֶּם תִּירְשׁוּ אֶת אַדְמָתָם וַאֲנִי אֶתְּנֶנָּה לָכֶם לָרֶשֶׁת אֹתָהּ אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ אֲנִי יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר הִבְדַּלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִן הָעַמִּים.
Lev 20:22 You shall faithfully observe all My laws and all My regulations, lest the land to which I bring you to settle in spew you out. 20:23 You shall not follow the practices of the nation that I am driving out before you. For it is because they did all these things that I abhorred them 20:24 and said to you: You shall possess their land, for I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I YHWH am your God who has set you apart from other peoples.
ויקרא כ:כה וְהִבְדַּלְתֶּם בֵּין הַבְּהֵמָה הַטְּהֹרָה לַטְּמֵאָה וּבֵין הָעוֹף הַטָּמֵא לַטָּהֹר וְלֹא תְשַׁקְּצוּ אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם בַּבְּהֵמָה וּבָעוֹף וּבְכֹל אֲשֶׁר תִּרְמֹשׂ הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר הִבְדַּלְתִּי לָכֶם לְטַמֵּא. כ:כו וִהְיִיתֶם לִי קְדֹשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי יְ־הוָה וָאַבְדִּל אֶתְכֶם מִן הָעַמִּים לִהְיוֹת לִי.
Lev 20:25 So you shall set apart the pure beast from the impure, the impure bird from the pure. You shall not draw abomination upon yourselves through beast or bird or anything with which the ground is alive, which I have set apart for you to treat as impure. 20:26 You shall be holy to Me, for I YHWH am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine.

Here, just as God has separated the Israelites from the other nations, and has called upon them to obey God’s commandments, so too the Israelites are to separate out the permitted (i.e., obedient) animals in relation to their own tables.[28]

By confining its diet only to the non-bloodshedding animals to which it “corresponds,” the Israelites are called by God to align their communal life with the rejection of violence and predatory oppression of others. We can thus understand this as a variation of “you are what you eat”: the biblical text presents the permitted animals in terms of “eat only what you ought to be.”


August 11, 2023


Last Updated

June 4, 2024


View Footnotes

Dr. Daniel H. Weiss is Polonsky-Coexist Senior Lecturer in Jewish Studies, Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge. He holds an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School and a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia’s Department of Religious Studies. Weiss is the author of Modern Jewish Philosophy and the Politics of Divine Violence (Cambridge, 2023) and Paradox and the Prophets: Hermann Cohen and the Indirect Communication of Religion (Oxford, 2012). He is also co-editor of Tsimtsum and Modernity: Lurianic Heritage in Modern Philosophy and Theology (with Agata Bielik-Robson; De Gruyter, 2021); Scripture and Violence (with Julia Snyder; Routledge, 2021); Interpreting Interreligious Relations with Wittgenstein: Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies (with Gorazd Andrejč; Brill, 2019); and Purity and Danger Now: New Perspectives (with Robbie Duschinsky and Simone Schnall; Routledge, 2016). Weiss is actively involved in the Cambridge Interfaith Programme, and is a recent recipient of a Humboldt Research Fellowship for Experienced Researchers.