How could chalk keep Jews' food pure?

I was reading a neat article on a Jesus-era house found in Nazareth when I came across an interesting line:

I’m not an expert on Judaism by any stretch, so I’m curious about the association between chalk and foods’ purity. Any enlightenment?

I’m just guessing, but it could be for marking which vessels are for meat and which are for dairy. The same dishes/utensils/etc. are not to be used for both.

No, the vessels were actually made of chalk. Which is “stone”. Stone vessels were believed to insure purity.’s_Stone_Age,_Yitzhak_Magen,_BAR_24:05,_Sep/Oct_1998.

I would imagine that the attraction of chalk was that it was readily available, easy to work, and led to an inexpensive way of obtaining stone vessels to conform with ritual purity laws.

By “chalk,” they mean “limestone.” It seems stone vessels are incapable of becoming ritually impure, thus making them ideal storage containers for Sabbath/Kosher goods:

NOTE: The web site (Associated Content) is one of those content farms, so I can’t vouch for the veracity of the source. Seems well-cited, though.

(PS: Gotta love religion. Fired clay pottery = possibly unclean. Cattle-dung pottery? Awesome! Let’s keep our food and water in THAT!)

Hey, awesome. Thank you all!

I think I’ll play “pester the Rabbi” this Shabbat and ask for his explanation of this rule. Maybe CJLS can overturn the Mishnah?

It is an odd distinction to make. I wonder if the real motive was yet another way of distinguishing themselves from the city dwelling Canaanites who could build kilns and fire pottery.


Well, the pioneers of the plains built homes of hardened buffalo chips. I suppose it couldn’t be too foul.


Doubtful, as metal and wood vessels were also susceptible to ritual uncleanliness.

My father says that in The Old Country™ his house had water-buffalo-dung floors, including the kitchen, and in fact that one of his jobs as a kid was to collect fresh dung and deliver it to other customers (no lawn cutting or paper routes for him!).

I can never get out of him quite how this is done and the transformation kept sanitary. Does anyone here know?

I might add that millions upon millions of people still use dung as construction material around the world…

I think you’d probably find that something like the paint or glaze on the vessels used eggs or blood or something and therefore a painted/glazed jar couldn’t be used to store milk (or whatever), but then some Israelites said that the intent of whatever Kosher prohibition wasn’t really being violated–a “letter of the law” vs. “spirit of the law” type of thing–so they said whatever was in/on the jar before it was fired doesn’t really count, but then later people realized the loophole (“letter” vs. “spirit”, but reversed!) and stopped using fired vessels so they wouldn’t have to worry about ritual cleanliness.