Before you continue reading I would suggest you read my blogs on 'The Torah Its Place in Scripture' and 'The Torah Its Place in our Lives' and especially 'Two Laws or One Torah'. This is a very controversial topic for those who have major misconceptions of Torah and in particular have misinterpreted the Jerusalem Council's decrees in Acts 15. These decrees were all about 'sacrificial sexual idolatry' causing a loss of salvation, not about food or table manners. Most Christians tend not even take notice or even attempt to unpack Acts 15:21 that gives the reason for these four minimum rulings as discussed in the article 'Two Laws or One Torah?'
What is Kosher?
The word kosher is a Yiddish word based on the Hebrew kasher meaning 'right, proper'. Kashrut is the Hebrew word related to food and its preparation that complies with the religious requirements of Judaism. Here the Rabbis have placed multiple additional rules and regulations around Torah to make it impossible to break the food commandments in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. This is especially the case for many restrictions placed on the mixing of milk and meat derived from the second part of Deuteronomy 14:21 "You shall not eat anything that has died naturally. You may give it to the sojourner who is within your towns, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. "You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk.” Also note that the sojourner ger (H1616) is allowed to eat meat from a kosher animal that has died naturally but not the Israelites.
Kosher from a Jewish Perspective.
To keep kosher has always been seen to be a Jewish thing that distinguishes Jewish people from non-Jewish people. The primary focus is on food that contains blood which covers meat and food from the sea as the life is in the blood (Lev 17:11). God’s covenant people, Israel, by having a diet peculiar to themselves would be kept from familiar conversation with idolatrous neighbours. The laws, however, were probably sanitary and necessary to the good of the people. In his book "To Be a Jew" (an excellent resource on traditional Judaism), Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin suggests that the dietary laws are designed as a call to holiness. The ability to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil, pure and defiled, the sacred and the profane, is very important in Judaism. Imposing rules on what you can and cannot eat ingrains that kind of self control, requiring us to learn to control even our most basic, primal instincts. (Refer to http://www.jewfaq.org/kashrut.htm)
Even before the Flood the difference between clean and unclean animals and birds was known by Noah in Genesis 7. In Leviticus 11 the requirements for clean and unclean animals, fish birds and insects are given in more detail without giving any reasons except stating twice “be holy, for I am holy."
What has holiness to do with food?
Animals are only clean which have cloven hooves and chew the cud, while fish with scales and fins are clean while everything else from the sea is an abomination as given in Leviticus 11. Any predator or scavenger is unclean including birds. The four animals specifically listed as unclean are the camel, badger, hare and the pig. The first three all chew the cud but do not have cloven hooves, while the pig has cloven hooves but does not chew the cud. What meaning could this have? The first three that chew the cud are clean inside but outwardly unclean. The camel is a good example of having an unpleasant outer character but it would save your life in the desert. The pig on the other hand is outwardly clean but inwardly unclean. This is just what Yeshua accused the Pharisee in Matthew_23:27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. The pig also eats anything and does not know when to stop eating. As it does not chew the cud its stomach does not break down any toxins which are then stored in its flesh. Pig flesh is the closest to human flesh. Hence it can be dangerous to eat if not cooked properly. Consequently the pig is both physically as well as spiritually unclean as it represents a lack of discernment and judgement as well as hypocrisy which God hates. As we are obedient to the Living Word we move from uncleanness to cleanness into holiness. This is being set apart in this world but not of it, living with integrity (the same all the way through, not appearing to be what we are not and into hypocrisy).
What does the New Testament Say?
Besides the misunderstanding of Acts 15 which we have already covered, is the lack of understanding of Acts 10, the narrative of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, the first Gentile believer. Here Peter is prepared for the coming of Cornelius' servants by a vision of unclean animals coming down in what could have been a tallit (prayer shawl) lowered by its four tziztit (tassles) and told by God to "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." At first reading this could be all about food but look at verse 17 which gives the reason for the vision Act 10:17 Peter wondered what this vision meant. The men Cornelius sent had found Simon's house. They were standing at the door.”. Gentiles and especially Romans where considered unclean and Peter and his followers would never have stepped into their home without being told by God, "What God has made clean, do not call common." Peter and his followers did not suddenly become pork eaters after this, but started reaching out to Gentiles who accepted Yeshua as Saviour! God had to speak three times before Peter got the message. That is how ingrained the belief that Gentiles were outside the Covenant. (Now days this has been completely reversed and Christians are just as ingrained in the belief that the Torah is only for Jewish people, and Jewish people in the belief that Jesus is only for the Gentiles!!)
Another misunderstood scripture is Mark 7.
Verse 19 is mistranslated in the newer English translations like the NIV where the sentence “(In saying this Jesus declared all food clean)” is added instead of translating the Greek participial phrase, “cleansing/purging all foods.” as is done in the older translations like the KJV. In this chapter Yeshua is berating the Pharisees for adding to the Word of God, the traditions of man (paradosis παράδοσις) by getting people to dishonour their parents. These modern translates then go and do exactly the same by adding this sentence which does away with the whole of Leviticus 11 commandments! Did Mark the author go off and eat a pork pie now that he has supposedly declared all food clean. He would have been excommunicated from ever entering the temple. (Interestingly paradosis is one of only two Greek nouns where the numerical value of its letters adds up to 666 the other being euporı́a εὐπορία meaning wealth or affluence.)
Nowhere in the Brit Chadashah is there a hint of Yeshua or any of His disciples ever eating anything unclean. The Pharisees for one would have jumped on them very quickly if they had. For example in Mark 7 the only thing the Pharisees could pick on was that the disciples were not ritually cleaning there hands before eating! The Apostle also kept kosher and even taken the nazirite vows (Acts 18:18 and 21:23).
Are these kosher requirements for Jews as well as for non-Jewish believers in Messiah?
There is no doubt that they are for all Jewish people, both believers and non-believers in Yeshua. The sojourneys (ger) with the Israelites would have kept kosher except for being able to eat clean animals which had died naturally which the Israelites could not as given in Dt 14:21. They were not of the seed of Abraham i.e. non-Jewish, but had fully accepted the God of Israel and come into covenant relationship with Him. If you accept that non-Jewish believers in Yeshua are the modern equivalent of these sojourneys (ger) then it can be said that there is some need for all believers to keep kosher not only the Jewish believers. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and we need to keep them undefiled and holy unto the Lord.
As far as eating blood is concerned, Leviticus 17:10-16 is very clear it is detestable to God and denies the atonement of Yeshua's blood for both Jew and non-Jew. So no wonder one of the most common response one gets in talking about the food requirements especially from those who love their bacon butties or black pudding is “We are not under the Law but under grace”! Is this cheap grace? Yeshua if anything came to raise the bar on Torah (Matt 5:21-45) not to do away with it (Matt 5:17-20).
There are both physically and spiritually reasons for keeping kosher. This should flow not out of a having to, but a wanting to be obedient to our Messiah and follow His example. As we are obedient in this most fleshly part of our lives we can move into being holy unto the Lord in other areas of our lives.
My prayer is that you will take this to the Lord in prayer and ask the Ruach HaKadesh to guide and lead you in to holiness.
Psa 119:29 Keep me from being deceitful, and be kind enough to teach me your Torah.
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