Is there doctrine regarding food prohibition in Judaism - God's reasoning.

Has anyone of authority in Judaism proclaimed God’s reasoning for prohibiting, for example, pork products, shellfish, etc? Other than “God says so”?

I know that pigs are considered “unclean”, but certainly any health reasons surrounding pork products have been addressed through proper cooking techniques.

Same with shellfish, other than the occasional allergies.

Plus, I’ve heard of several orthodox Jews that wish they could eat bacon, etc., and have probably cheated once or twice in their life. So they don’t personally find it disgusting.

In Mormonism, God himself gave some reasoning for the prohibitions, mainly regarding health (even if God was not involved, the prohibition of tobacco products and excessive meat consumption, etc., seems prescient).

God said so is pretty much all the reasoning needed.

One orthodox Jew I know noted that only mammals that are themselves vegetarian were kosher and conjectured that the biblical rules were kashruth 1.0 and 2.0 would proscribe vegetarianism. Of course, a lot of vegetarian animals (e.g. horses and camels) are not kosher and I cannot explain that. And a lot of fish are not; salmon is a top predator. So I never found this too convincing.

Nope. It really does come down to “G-d said so”.

Now, some folks might try to second-guess G-d, and there is definitely a contingent that suspects/theorizes that G-d made these prohibitions for health reasons, but G-d has not explained why the rules were put in place and does not have to.

And yes, Jews being human and all most of them do cheat at some point in their life, or eat something they aren’t supposed to by accident. (My dad, who grew up in an Orthodox home, started sneaking out for ham-and-swiss-cheese on rye sandwiches in his teen years. It was his favorite sandwich combo all his life.) Plenty of otherwise observant Jews have had a taste of bacon or shrimp, either accidentally or on purpose. Jewish communities always have those folks who are known to have that one naughty food they transgress with, as well as others who deeply regret that accidental bit of bacon but damn it just smells so good…!

Being that sort of naughty will not get you thrown out of the community… although really blatant transgressions on a regular basis might mean a LOT fewer invitations!

Slight digression, spoilered for those who aren’t interested and just wanted the shorter answer

Jewish dietary laws and who does/doesn’t keep kosher can be almost as much fun as debating vegetarianism/veganism - I spend time at the local Jewish Federation which maintains kosher and non-kosher areas so you have to be aware of what food you are bringing in and where you’re going with it. As an example - my widow’s support group is in a non-kosher area (it’s open to everyone - besides little heathen me we’ve got a Baptist, two Catholics, and at least one atheist attending as well as Jewish women ranging from strict Orthodox to liberal Reform) and we take turns bringing in treats, which are not required to be kosher (although it’s polite to note what is and isn’t when you set it down on the table - I don’t keep kosher so I remind folks so those that do keep kosher can continue to do so. Or cheat if they want, I won’t say a word). What we cannot do, however, is bring those outside goodies in through the kosher kitchen/prep area. During Passover it’s best to avoid any leavened food products whatsoever (so cookies that are butter and sugar are OK, fresh baked yeast bread leave at home for another week, please). Gentiles who break the rules are gently informed and asked to please not do that again. Jewish people who break the rules…well, that can lead to a bit of shouting because they really should know better. After which we usually have the “two Jews at least three opinions” free-for-all debate on the rules, which gets especially fun when two or more of those involved are the folks are are certified as people who keep the rules and regs on kosher food and kitchens.

I say this as someone who was taught this by evangelical Christians, so take it with a grain of salt, but…

Apparently the dietary prohibitions, as well as other laws (no tattoos, no garments made of two kinds of cloth, and so on and so forth) were intended to keep the Hebrews unique among the other tribes of the region. “You Caananites eat lobster? Well, we Hebrews don’t. THBBHTHTT!”

Or something like that.

That’s not necessarily wrong. One theory is that they were cultural identifiers. In a similar way to how many Muslims whose families would not have worn hijab 20 years ago do now as a way to identify with the broader Muslim community. The intent might have been to draw cultural distinctions. “We are not those people. We do things in this particular way.” Modern culture as well has lots of ritualistic things that are common among various communities. I’m Appalachian, so we eat ramps in the springtime and I’ll be honest that I resent that foodies from urban areas are infringing upon this part of our culture. Obviously, ramp-eating in April doesn’t reach the level of religious dictate, but it’s a cultural dietary peculiarity that serves to distinguish our culture. It’s easy to see how such things can easily rise to the level of religious dictate when put in the right set of political and cultural circumstances.

That’s true of many tribal peoples, however. There are many completely arbitrary dietary rules (and other kinds of rules) that serve to distinguish the tribe from “others.” There may also be rules that apply to certain subgroups within tribes, such as clans (which may be prohibited from eating their totem or ancestral animal), women, warriors, or priests.

Now I have a hankering for a pulled pork sandwich. :frowning:

I asked this question of an Orthodox Jewish co-worker. He said “no.” But back then, pigs were often diseased, and shellfish was not considered safe to eat in the summer. So there is some logic to it.

The only “doctrine” is, as others have said, that G-d said so. Beyond that is plenty of speculation, but nothing that can be considered doctrine. In fact, there is a school of thought in Judaism that says attempting to discern human logic and reasoning in divine commandments is a bad thing to do. (Because then one might work around the “reason” and think of a way it wouldn’t apply to him, and it turns out G-d’s wisdom is way deeper than his own. The Biblical precedent for this is King Solomon, who is acknowledged as the wisest of humans, and felt he was steadfast enough in his faith to not be led astray by marrying too many women, but it turned out that G-d knew human nature better than he did and he indeed strayed.)

That said, there are those who feel that speculation about the reasons for commandments is not a bad thing (as long as one acknowledges that the true reasoning is divine and possibly not what he speculates), and among those speculations are:

[li]Keeping Jews separate from non-Jews (as mentioned above)[/li][li]Restricting one’s food to creatures not considered violent or disgusting leads to refinement of character/spirit[/li][li]Slaughter in the kosher manner is especially painless to these particular animals, whereas it would be cruel to other animals[/li][/ul]

Ultimately, though, it still comes down to, G-d has his reasons and we trust they’re for our benefit.

Another suggestion I read was that the group that came up with the rules was heavily OCD. The article pointed out that a lot of the animals that are forbidden don’t fit a pattern - if it’s a fish, it should have scales. If it’s a field animal, it should have split hooves and chew its cud. The icky things that crawl along the sea bottom are probably not good, particularly in a culture with less connection to the sea - shellfish that travel a distance to the table are likely even less safe… and so on.

The meat vs. dairy prohibition was alleged to relate to how the neighbouring tribe had a delicacy that involved cooking a calf in its mother’s milk, which sounds pretty gross - so maybe the tribal identifier is logical. (Recall the whole tale of Lot and his daughters is a just-so-story about how their neighbour tribes are the offspring of incest).

Plus, pigs (a) don’t sweat and (b) have minimal protection from the sun. They therefore (like many other animals, like elephants) roll in mud for skin protection. In more desert climates and with smaller enclosures, the mud is not terribly hygienic, adding to the sense of disgust. And pigs like humans are omnivores, not grazers, thus competing with humans for available food. The prohibition against eating carnivores or non-herbivores probably also relates to the risk those may be more likely to be eating unappetizing dead animals, some “carnivores” are scavengers too.

(Just curious - I there an kosher equivalent hierarchy for eating or not eating different birds? One would assume the same disgust at eating carnivores or scavengers should apply to some of our feathered friends. Or were these roles a bit harder to nail down for birds?)

The thing is, God didn’t say “you can’t have a sandwich with meat and cheese.” He specifically said “you may not boil a calf in its mother’s milk.” That’s a highly specific cooking technique…how the hell did they extrapolate “you can’t ever mix milk and meat EVER in ANY way” from that?

Why don’t Jews just say, “God said to not boil a calf in its mother’s milk. So I don’t do that. He didn’t say not to eat a cheesesteak sandwich. I’m just following the commandments of God here.”


I don’t know where you heard/read this, but that’s a very odd take on the Lot and his daughters story. If that were the purpose of it, one would expect that Biblical law toward the Moabites and Ammonites would be harsher than that against other nations. But on the contrary, the Bible has G-d telling the Israelites to not wage war against them because of Lot’s familial relationship with Abraham. There is a prohibition against allowing them to convert to the Israelite religion, but the reason given for that has nothing to do with their incestuous beginnings. There’s no place in the Bible where the matter of their incestuous origins is used as a point against them.

Regarding birds (actually, any non-swarming creature that flies, including bats), the actual text of the Bible only lists non-kosher birds and does not describe their characteristics as is the case with land creatures, sea creatures and swarming creatures. They do all have predation/scavenging in common. Oral (Talmudic) tradition has a list of four characteristics that render a flying creature non-kosher, and one of those is its being a “doress”, which loosely translates to “mauler” or “slasher”, and is taken to mean any creature that preys on significant other creatures (i.e., bugs don’t count). There’s some question as to whether the other three characteristics are distinct from being a “doress”, or whether the other three are actually meant as indicators that the bird in question is a “doress.” So bottom line is that you are correct, the same level of disgust for eating carnivorous creatures applies to birds as to mammals.

Birds that are predators are not Kosher, I believe.

Security’s sake. You know you never even risk violating the specific instruction if you maintain the more general proscription of not mixing meat and dairy.


Jewish law is a very detailed system. What is the technical, legal definition of “boiling”? If cheese is melted with great heat onto meat, then by Jewish law, the meat is being boiled by the milk-based cheese. I’m over-simplifying, of course, but this example, I hope, serves as a basis to make some sense of how the current implementation of separation of meat and milk comes from the more limited-sounding Biblical commandment.

The best explanation I’ve seen is that the Hebrews were herders, raising goats and sheep. That was also what they offered to sacrifice to God. So when the rules of kosher were set up, they were designed to allow for the types of animals they were already eating. So they set up the definition to cover that.

They didn’t raise pigs – that was more typical of farmers, not herders – so pigs were not included.

I would also figure shellfish was an oversight. Again, they probably caught fish, so wanted to include them as creatures that swam and had scales. That left out shellfish.

It’s the same with locusts.

In any case, the rules were made up to include things they already ate. If something came up that didn’t fit the rules, it was not kosher.

Sometimes I wonder if one of the ancient higher-ups got food poisoning after eating pork, and had a shellfish allergy. :smiley: He died a horrible death and they were like “nope!”

Non-religious POV of course.

It was also mentioned no less than three times, so extra precautions.

From my perspective that sounds to me like they were presuming to know God’s thoughts. God made a very specific rule, about one specific recipe that you have to go to great lengths to cook. As far as I’m concerned (I mean, if I were going to believe in following all these laws literally, which I don’t, but still), God gave a specific instruction and either you follow that specific instruction or you don’t. There’s no point in trying to expand it to include a broader range of things. Did God say “not only will you follow these rules, you will also come up with a bunch of other things at your own discretion that they should apply to?” No. So isn’t it going against the will of God to try to do so?

I’m just trying to think like a theologian here.