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SBL e-journal

Eve Levavi Feinstein





The Animal Laws Before Kashrut: A System of Purity





APA e-journal

Eve Levavi Feinstein





The Animal Laws Before Kashrut: A System of Purity








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The Animal Laws Before Kashrut: A System of Purity

The dietary laws in Leviticus are not expressed in terms of kosher (כשר) or not kosher but in the terms of the Priestly purity laws: purity (טהרה), pollution (טומאה), and disgust (שקץ).


The Animal Laws Before Kashrut: A System of Purity

Pure Food (not Kosher Food)

The system of Jewish dietary laws, kashrut,[1] is one of the best-known and most distinctive features of traditional Jewish religious practice. The roots of many of these rules appear in Parashat Shemini, which lists which species of animals may be eaten and which may not. Yet, in language, content, and context, the laws of kashrut in Parashat Shemini are framed in terms of טומאה and טהרה, pollution[2] and purity. For example, when the Torah prohibits eating pork, it uses the clause טמא הוא לכם, “it is polluting to you” (Leviticus 11:7).

In their broader context, the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 open an extensive pericope on ritual purity and pollution, which we will be reading for several weeks. These Torah portions deal with the pollution produced by childbirth, bodily discharges, and scale disease (צרעת, often translated “leprosy”) and with the purification procedures used to cleanse people, objects, and the tabernacle from contamination.

Thus, the best way to understand the meaning of the biblical dietary laws in context is to analyze them through the prism of the purity laws in general. As Yitzhaq Feder argued in “Expiating with Blood,” (TheTorah.com, 2015) the purity laws, including those regarding prohibited foods, are fundamentally “primitive” in the sense of being rooted in basic human psychology. At the same time, their manifestation in the Bible reflects characteristic features of Israelite religion.

The Psychology of Pollution (טומאה)

The basic notion that certain objects pollute is extremely common cross culturally and may even be universal. Psychologists who have studied this phenomenon have found a strong correlation between disgust and attribution of contagious properties. One study, for example, found that participants would not drink juice in which a cockroach had been dipped even after being told that the roach had been sterilized. Their reluctance to drink the juice did not stem from a perceived health threat but from disgust at the roach, which led to the sense that it could contaminate the juice, making the juice disgusting and bad to drink.

Further research showed that while cultures often differ in the particular entities that they regard as disgusting and therefore polluting, these entities tend to belong to certain common domains, including food (especially meat), sex, death, disease, and moral offense.[3] These categories show a high correlation with the entities described as polluting in the Bible.

The idea that holiness is averse to pollution is also common cross-culturally. From the cults of the ancient Near East and archaic Greece to Hinduism and Zoroastrianism, religions often share the belief that temples, priests, and other holy things and people must be guarded from contamination. This belief makes intuitive sense: If we view something as special and valuable, we express this value in part by guarding it from that which we find aversive.

Leviticus 11 and it's Parallel in Deuteronomy

Leviticus 11 (along with the rest of the parashah) belongs to the Priestly (P) Source. A parallel to this passage appears in Deuteronomy 14:3–21 (D Source), although the latter is shorter and the texts differ somewhat in wording and content.[4]


The chapter in Leviticus can be broken up into two main sections.

Food – The first part (vv. 1–23) of the chapter lists different types of animals (land, water, and air) and divides them according to whether or not they may be eaten. Animals that may not be eaten are called טמא, “polluting,” or שקץ, “abhorrent.” Deuteronomy 14:3–21 parallels this section but uses טמא, “polluting,” for all prohibited species (see Appendix 1).

Contact – The second part of the chapter (vv. 24–47) focuses mainly on what types of animals cause pollution when touched. This section also adds in another set of animals that cannot be eaten, namely, small swarming land animals, not discussed at all in the previous section (or in Deuteronomy).

Before the chapter summary comes a call to be holy by following these rules. (For a schematic overview of the whole section, see Appendix 2.)


The relationship between the versions in Leviticus and Deuteronomy is debated, but the most likely scenario, I believe, is that they were both based on a common priestly source.

Laws of Contact – This original text probably did not include the ritual purity regulations in Leviticus 11:24–28, 31–42, which are absent in D and were added by P.

Laws of Swarming Animals – The verses listing the impure swarming animals (29–30) and especially the verses prohibiting their consumption (41–42) are awkward in their current position; they may also be later additions.

Holiness Verses – The common source did not include the verses about holiness (vv. 43–45). These were probably added by the redactors of the Holiness School (H) at a late stage in the text’s development, since they have the characteristic language and distinct thematic mark of that school: an emphasis on the entire Israelite people’s obligation to strive for holiness.[5]

Ritual Pollution and Dietary Prohibition: Separate Categories of טומאה?

As elsewhere in the Torah, the term טמא, “polluting,” refers both to the prohibition of eating and to ritual pollution caused by touching. However, since the passage in Leviticus deals with both the prohibition of eating animals and ritual pollution caused by touching them, it makes a linguistic distinction: the text uses טמא, “polluting,” when describing species that may not be eaten and also cause ritual pollution when handled, and it uses שקץ, “abhorrent,” for species that may not be eaten but apparently do not pollute by external touching.[6] Deuteronomy 14, which does not deal with ritual pollution, uses טמא for all prohibited species, as noted above.

In addition, some pure animals that may be eaten (large land animals with cloven hooves that chew their cud) pollute ritually if they die on their own rather than being properly slaughtered. (Unlike D and E, P and H do not rule out eating carrion from permitted species for regular Israelites.)[7]

All this suggests that dietary prohibition and ritual pollution are separate, albeit overlapping, categories.[8] The former has to do with eating and is prohibited. The latter has to do with external touching and is not prohibited; it merely renders the person polluted.[9]

The distinctiveness of the categories is implied by the summary statement in verse 47:

“For distinguishing between the polluting and the pure, between the living things that may be eaten and the living things that may not be eaten.”[10]

Mixing the Categories of טומאה

But the picture is in fact more complex. According to verse 40, one who eats carrion from a permitted species becomes polluted ritually and must undergo the same purification as one who touches it. This indicates that ingestion is understood as a type of touching and may cause ritual pollution.

Moreover, verse 8 states of prohibited large land animals: “you shall not eat of their flesh or touch their carcasses: they are polluting to you.” This suggests that external touching does not merely cause temporary pollution but may in some cases be categorically prohibited. The law is paralleled in D and seems to contradict verses 24–28, which permit external contact with large land animals that are prohibited as food, so long as purification guidelines are observed.

Since verses 24–40 were probably added later in the text’s development, it is possible that the original author intended to prohibit touching these species categorically, while a later redactor rendered touching permissible by adding purification guidelines.[11]


In short, while P makes a partial terminological distinction between ritual pollution and dietary prohibition, employing שקץ rather than טמא where the latter but not the former applies, it does not draw a sharp line between these categories. What we find here is instead a broad notion that certain animals can contaminate the body, albeit in different ways and with different practical implications.

The Concept of Pollution (טומאה)

P’s failure to differentiate sharply between ritual pollution and dietary prohibition is consistent with the general use of the term טמא, “polluting,” throughout the Bible to refer to prohibited foods as well as ritually polluting people, objects, and substances. In fact, טמא can refer to anything perceived as contaminating, including certain sexual contacts[12] and occasionally transgression in general.[13]

The basic concept behind pollution, or contamination, is that certain entities have the capacity to transmit a negative quality to other entities, usually by means of some sort of physical contact, or at least proximity.

Ritual Pollution: Negative but not Prohibited

The fact that this quality is inherently negative does not necessarily mean that contracting it is prohibited or even discouraged. Some of the sources of ritual pollution, such as menstruation and scale disease (צרעת), occur naturally and are unavoidable. There are even certain cases in which contracting pollution advances positive social goods, such as building a family and burying the dead. People who contract permissible forms of pollution simply have to refrain from contact with the tabernacle and holy things and, in some severe cases, remain outside the camp until they become pure.[14]

Sometimes Ritual Pollution is Prohibited

On the other hand, there are instances in which ritual pollution is prohibited. A priest, for example, may not become polluted from contact with the dead except in the case of an immediate family member (and the high priest not even then) (Leviticus 21:1–4, 11).

Prohibition, or the lack thereof, is thus not a feature of pollution itself. Biblical law simply has different ways of dealing with various types of pollution in different contexts.

Conclusion: Meat, Disgust, and Holiness

Why the particular animals designated as polluting were conceived as such is difficult to establish. However, most of the species prohibited by the Torah’s legislation, with the notable exception of the pig, do not seem to have been generally eaten in the ancient land of Israel, either before or after the appearance of the Israelite people.[15] This suggests that, to a large extent at least, these laws were codifying existing dietary practices. Few human societies avail themselves of all available sources of animal protein, and the flesh of animals not considered proper meat—for whatever reason—tends to be regarded with disgust. This, in turn, gives rise to the view that it contaminates the body.

The complex legislation of Leviticus 11 effectively codifies disgust, adjuring the Israelites to treat certain species in ways that are consonant with an attitude of distaste. The term שקץ, “abhorrence,” though it functions as a technical term in distinguishing between two categories of contamination, was doubtless selected because it expresses the sense of disgust and rejection at the core of the idea of pollution. Much later, after the Second Temple was destroyed and most laws of purity were abandoned, the laws of Leviticus 11 became independent of purity issues and connected to other laws concerning permitted and prohibited foods[16] into a larger, but different, system of kashrut.[17]

Appendix 1

Comparing the Impure Animals Laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy



11:1 Yhwh spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them: 11:2a Speak to the Israelite people thus: 14:3 You shall not eat anything abhorrent.
11:2b These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the land animals: 11:3 any animal that has true hoofs, with clefts through the hoofs, and that chews the cud—such you may eat. 14:4 These are the animals that you may eat: the ox, the sheep, and the goat; 14:5 the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, the mountain sheep, 14:6 and any other animal that has true hoofs which are cleft in two and brings up the cud—such you may eat.
11:4 The following, however, of those that either chew the cud or have true hoofs, you shall not eat: the camel—although it chews the cud, it has no true hoofs: it is unclean for you; 11:5 the daman—although it chews the cud, it has no true hoofs: it is unclean for you; 11:6 the hare— although it chews the cud, it has no true hoofs: it is unclean for you; 11:7 and the swine— although it has true hoofs, with the hoofs cleft through, it does not chew the cud: it is unclean for you. 11:8 You shall not eat of their flesh or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you. 14:7 But the following, which do bring up the cud or have true hoofs which are cleft through, you may not eat: the camel, the hare, and the daman—for although they bring up the cud, they have no true hoofs—they are unclean for you; 14:8 also the swine—for although it has true hoofs, it does not bring up the cud—is unclean for you. You shall not eat of their flesh or touch their carcasses.
11:9 These you may eat of all that live in water: anything in water, whether in the seas or in the streams, that has fins and scales—these you may eat. 11:10 But anything in the seas or in the streams that has no fins and scales, among all the swarming things of the water and among all the other living creatures that are in the water—they are an abomination for you 11:11 and an abomination for you they shall remain: you shall not eat of their flesh and you shall abominate their carcasses. 11:12 Everything in water that has no fins and scales shall be an abomination for you. 14:9 These you may eat of all that live in water: you may eat anything that has fins and scales. 14:10 But you may not eat anything that has no fins and scales: it is unclean for you.
11:13 The following you shall abominate among the birds—they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, and the black vulture; 11:14 the kite, falcons of every variety; 11:15 all varieties of raven; 11:16 the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull; hawks of every variety; 11:17 the little owl, the cormorant, and the great owl; 11:18 the white owl, the pelican, and the bustard; 11:19 the stork; herons of every variety; the hoopoe, and the bat. 14:11 You may eat any clean 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.
11:20 All winged swarming things that walk on fours shall be an abomination for you. 11:21 But these you may eat among all the winged swarming things that walk on fours: all that have, above their feet, jointed legs to leap with on the ground—11:22 of these you may eat the following: locusts of every variety; all varieties of bald locust; crickets of every variety; and all varieties of grasshopper. 11:23 But all other winged swarming things that have four legs shall be an abomination for you. 14:19 All winged swarming things are unclean for you: they may not be eaten. 14:20 You may eat only clean winged creatures.


יא:א וַיְדַבֵּ֧ר יְ-הֹוָ֛ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה וְאֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֖ן לֵאמֹ֥ר אֲלֵהֶֽם: יא:בa דַּבְּר֛וּ אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר
יד:ג לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל כָּל־תּוֹעֵבָֽה:
יא:בb זֹ֤את הַֽחַיָּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תֹּאכְל֔וּ מִכָּל־הַבְּהֵמָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ: יא:גכֹּ֣ל׀ מַפְרֶ֣סֶת פַּרְסָ֗ה וְשֹׁסַ֤עַת שֶׁ֙סַע֙ פְּרָסֹ֔ת מַעֲלַ֥ת גֵּרָ֖ה בַּבְּהֵמָ֑ה אֹתָ֖הּ תֹּאכֵֽלוּ:
יד:ד זֹ֥את הַבְּהֵמָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר תֹּאכֵ֑לוּ שׁ֕וֹר שֵׂ֥ה כְשָׂבִ֖ים וְשֵׂ֥ה עִזִּֽים: יד:ה אַיָּ֥ל וּצְבִ֖י וְיַחְמ֑וּר וְאַקּ֥וֹ וְדִישֹׁ֖ן וּתְא֥וֹ וָזָֽמֶר:יד:ו וְכָל־בְּהֵמָ֞ה מַפְרֶ֣סֶת פַּרְסָ֗ה וְשֹׁסַ֤עַת שֶׁ֙סַע֙ שְׁתֵּ֣י פְרָס֔וֹת מַעֲלַ֥ת גֵּרָ֖ה בַּבְּהֵמָ֑ה אֹתָ֖הּ תֹּאכֵֽלוּ:
יא:ד אַ֤ךְ אֶת־זֶה֙ לֹ֣א תֹֽאכְל֔וּ מִֽמַּעֲלֵי֙ הַגֵּרָ֔ה וּמִמַּפְרִסֵ֖י הַפַּרְסָ֑ה אֶֽת־הַ֠גָּמָל כִּֽי־מַעֲלֵ֨ה גֵרָ֜ה ה֗וּא וּפַרְסָה֙ אֵינֶ֣נּוּ מַפְרִ֔יס טָמֵ֥א ה֖וּא לָכֶֽם:יא:ה וְאֶת־הַשָּׁפָ֗ן כִּֽי־מַעֲלֵ֤ה גֵרָה֙ ה֔וּא וּפַרְסָ֖ה לֹ֣א יַפְרִ֑יס טָמֵ֥א ה֖וּא לָכֶֽם: יא:ו וְאֶת־הָאַרְנֶ֗בֶת כִּֽי־מַעֲלַ֤ת גֵּרָה֙ הִ֔וא וּפַרְסָ֖ה לֹ֣א הִפְרִ֑יסָה טְמֵאָ֥ה הִ֖וא לָכֶֽם: יא:ז וְאֶת הַ֠חֲזִיר כִּֽי־מַפְרִ֨יס פַּרְסָ֜ה ה֗וּא וְשֹׁסַ֥ע שֶׁ֙סַע֙ פַּרְסָ֔ה וְה֖וּא גֵּרָ֣ה לֹֽא־יִגָּ֑ר טָמֵ֥א ה֖וּא לָכֶֽם: יא:ח מִבְּשָׂרָם֙ לֹ֣א תֹאכֵ֔לוּ וּבְנִבְלָתָ֖ם לֹ֣א תִגָּ֑עוּ טְמֵאִ֥ים הֵ֖ם לָכֶֽם:
יד:ז אַ֣ךְ אֶת־זֶ֞ה לֹ֤א תֹֽאכְלוּ֙ מִמַּֽעֲלֵ֣י הַגֵּרָ֔ה וּמִמַּפְרִיסֵ֥י הַפַּרְסָ֖ה הַשְּׁסוּעָ֑ה אֶֽת־הַ֠גָּמָל וְאֶת־הָאַרְנֶ֨בֶת וְאֶת־הַשָּׁפָ֜ן כִּֽי־מַעֲלֵ֧ה גֵרָ֣ה הֵ֗מָּה וּפַרְסָה֙ לֹ֣א הִפְרִ֔יסוּ טְמֵאִ֥ים הֵ֖ם לָכֶֽם: יד:ח וְאֶת־הַ֠חֲזִיר כִּֽי־מַפְרִ֨יס פַּרְסָ֥ה הוּא֙ וְלֹ֣א גֵרָ֔ה טָמֵ֥א ה֖וּא לָכֶ֑ם מִבְּשָׂרָם֙ לֹ֣א תֹאכֵ֔לוּ וּבְנִבְלָתָ֖ם לֹ֥א תִגָּֽעוּ: ס
יא:ט אֶת־זֶה֙ תֹּֽאכְל֔וּ מִכֹּ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּמָּ֑יִם כֹּ֣ל אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ֩ סְנַפִּ֨יר וְקַשְׂקֶ֜שֶׂת בַּמַּ֗יִם בַּיַּמִּ֛ים וּבַנְּחָלִ֖ים אֹתָ֥ם תֹּאכֵֽלוּ: יא:י וְכֹל֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אֵֽין־ל֜וֹ סְנַפִּ֣יר וְקַשְׂקֶ֗שֶׂת בַּיַּמִּים֙ וּבַנְּחָלִ֔ים מִכֹּל֙ שֶׁ֣רֶץ הַמַּ֔יִם וּמִכֹּ֛ל נֶ֥פֶשׁ הַחַיָּ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּמָּ֑יִם שֶׁ֥קֶץ הֵ֖ם לָכֶֽם: יא:יא וְשֶׁ֖קֶץ יִהְי֣וּ לָכֶ֑ם מִבְּשָׂרָם֙ לֹ֣א תֹאכֵ֔לוּ וְאֶת־נִבְלָתָ֖ם תְּשַׁקֵּֽצוּ: יא:יב כֹּ֣ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֵֽין־ל֛וֹ סְנַפִּ֥יר וְקַשְׂקֶ֖שֶׂת בַּמָּ֑יִם שֶׁ֥קֶץ ה֖וּא לָכֶֽם:
יד:ט אֶת־זֶה֙ תֹּֽאכְל֔וּ מִכֹּ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּמָּ֑יִם כֹּ֧ל אֲשֶׁר־ל֛וֹ סְנַפִּ֥יר וְקַשְׂקֶ֖שֶׂת תֹּאכֵֽלוּ: יד:י וְכֹ֨ל אֲשֶׁ֧ר אֵֽין־ל֛וֹ סְנַפִּ֥יר וְקַשְׂקֶ֖שֶׂת לֹ֣א תֹאכֵ֑לוּ טָמֵ֥א ה֖וּא לָכֶֽם: ס
יא:יג וְאֶת־אֵ֙לֶּה֙ תְּשַׁקְּצ֣וּ מִן־הָע֔וֹף לֹ֥א יֵאָכְל֖וּ שֶׁ֣קֶץ הֵ֑ם אֶת־הַנֶּ֙שֶׁר֙ וְאֶת־הַפֶּ֔רֶס וְאֵ֖ת הָעָזְנִיָּֽה: יא:יד וְאֶת־הַ֨דָּאָ֔ה וְאֶת־הָאַיָּ֖ה לְמִינָֽהּ: יא:טואֵ֥ת כָּל־עֹרֵ֖ב לְמִינֽוֹ: יא:טז וְאֵת֙ בַּ֣ת הַֽיַּעֲנָ֔ה וְאֶת־הַתַּחְמָ֖ס וְאֶת־הַשָּׁ֑חַף וְאֶת־הַנֵּ֖ץ לְמִינֵֽהוּ: יא:יז וְאֶת־הַכּ֥וֹס וְאֶת־הַשָּׁלָ֖ךְ וְאֶת־הַיַּנְשֽׁוּף: יא:יחוְאֶת־הַתִּנְשֶׁ֥מֶת וְאֶת־הַקָּאָ֖ת וְאֶת־הָרָחָֽם: יא:יט וְאֵת֙ הַחֲסִידָ֔ה הָאֲנָפָ֖ה לְמִינָ֑הּ וְאֶת־הַדּוּכִיפַ֖ת וְאֶת־הָעֲטַלֵּֽף:
יד:יא כָּל־צִפּ֥וֹר טְהֹרָ֖ה תֹּאכֵֽלוּ: יד:יב וְזֶ֕ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־תֹאכְל֖וּ מֵהֶ֑ם הַנֶּ֥שֶׁר וְהַפֶּ֖רֶס וְהָֽעָזְנִיָּֽה: יד:יג וְהָרָאָה֙ וְאֶת־הָ֣אַיָּ֔ה וְהַדַּיָּ֖ה לְמִינָֽהּ: יד:יד וְאֵ֥ת כָּל־עֹרֵ֖ב לְמִינֽוֹ:יד:טו וְאֵת֙ בַּ֣ת הַֽיַּעֲנָ֔ה וְאֶת־הַתַּחְמָ֖ס וְאֶת־הַשָּׁ֑חַף וְאֶת־הַנֵּ֖ץ לְמִינֵֽהוּ: יד:טז אֶת־הַכּ֥וֹס וְאֶת־הַיַּנְשׁ֖וּף וְהַתִּנְשָֽׁמֶת: יד:יז וְהַקָּאָ֥ת וְאֶֽת־הָרָחָ֖מָה וְאֶת־הַשָּׁלָֽךְ:יד:יח וְהַ֣חֲסִידָ֔ה וְהָאֲנָפָ֖ה לְמִינָ֑הּ וְהַדּוּכִיפַ֖ת וְהָעֲטַלֵּֽף:
יא:כ כֹּ֚ל שֶׁ֣רֶץ הָע֔וֹף הַהֹלֵ֖ךְ עַל־אַרְבַּ֑ע שֶׁ֥קֶץ ה֖וּא לָכֶֽם: ס יא:כא אַ֤ךְ אֶת־זֶה֙ תֹּֽאכְל֔וּ מִכֹּל֙ שֶׁ֣רֶץ הָע֔וֹף הַהֹלֵ֖ךְ עַל־אַרְבַּ֑ע אֲשֶׁר־לא ל֤וֹ כְרָעַ֙יִם֙ מִמַּ֣עַל לְרַגְלָ֔יו לְנַתֵּ֥ר בָּהֵ֖ן עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ: יא:כב אֶת־אֵ֤לֶּה מֵהֶם֙ תֹּאכֵ֔לוּ אֶת־הָֽאַרְבֶּ֣ה לְמִינ֔וֹ וְאֶת־הַסָּלְעָ֖ם לְמִינֵ֑הוּ וְאֶת־הַחַרְגֹּ֣ל לְמִינֵ֔הוּ וְאֶת־ הֶחָגָ֖ב לְמִינֵֽהוּ: יא:כג וְכֹל֙ שֶׁ֣רֶץ הָע֔וֹף אֲשֶׁר־ל֖וֹ אַרְבַּ֣ע רַגְלָ֑יִם שֶׁ֥קֶץ ה֖וּא לָכֶֽם:
יד:יט וְכֹל֙ שֶׁ֣רֶץ הָע֔וֹף טָמֵ֥א ה֖וּא לָכֶ֑ם לֹ֖א יֵאָכֵֽלוּ: יד:ככָּל־ע֥וֹף טָה֖וֹר תֹּאכֵֽלוּ:
Appendix 2

Schematic Description of Leviticus 11

The following outline summarizes the contents of Leviticus 11 in its final form:

v. 1 Introduction  
vv. 2-8 Large land animals (1 בהמה) These may be eaten only if they have cloven hooves and chew their cud. The text clarifies that both criteria are necessary by singling out four creatures—the camel, daman, hare, and pig—which meet one of the criteria but not the other.
vv. 9-12 Marine life These may be eaten only if they have both fins and scales.
vv. 13-19 Creatures of the air Rather than criteria, the text provides a list of forbidden species.
vv. 20-23 Flying insects
(שרץ העוף)
These are prohibited unless they have jointed legs. The permitted species, which have jointed legs, are the locust, the bald locust, the cricket, and the grasshopper. (Deuteronomy 14:19 prohibits all flying insects, with no exceptions.)
vv. 24-28 Large land animals 2 (additional rules for prohibited types) Creatures that lack cloven hooves and/or do not chew their cud, in addition to being prohibited for consumption, pollute by external contact. Anyone who touches or carries their carcasses remains polluted until evening, and one who carries their carcasses must wash his or her clothes and remains polluted until evening.
vv. 29-38 Small “swarming” land animals 1(שרץ השורץ על הארץ) A subset of small land creatures, namely certain rodents and reptiles, pollute by external contact, and anyone who touches their carcasses remains polluted until evening. The text also provides regulations for situations in which these creatures fall into or onto certain vessels or objects.
vv. 39-40 Large land animals 3 (additional rules for permitted ones.) If an animal of a species permitted for consumption dies of its own accord (rather than being slaughtered), it also pollutes by external contact. Anyone who touches or carries the carcass of such an animal remains polluted until evening, and one who carries such a carcass must wash his or her clothes and remains polluted until evening. One who eats the carcass of such an animal is likewise polluted until evening.
vv. 41-42 Small “swarming” land animals 2 (additional rules) While a subset of these creatures pollute externally (vv. 29–38), all land small land animals are prohibited for consumption. This includes insects, snakes, etc.
vv. 43-45 Call to holiness (H) The Israelites are warned not to contaminate themselves by eating prohibited land “swarmers.”
vv. 46-47 Summary  


April 15, 2015


Last Updated

April 9, 2024


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Dr. Eve Levavi Feinstein holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible from Harvard University. Her dissertation, “Sexual Pollution in the Hebrew Bible” (Oxford University Press), explores the Bible’s use of purity and contamination language to describe sexual relationships. She has also written articles for Jewish Ideas Daily and Vetus Testamentum.