Divrei Torah

PARSHAS SHMINI 5779

We have several laws and traditions regarding various foods that we do and don’t eat. Towards the end of this week’s Parsha, the Torah lists the qualifications for kosher animals and fish. Kosher animals must chew their cud and have split hooves. Kosher fish must have fins and scales. The Torah does not list qualifications for kosher birds. The Torah provides us with a list of 24 non-kosher birds. Any bird that is not listed is kosher. However, since we are unable to identify all the birds that are listed, we do not eat any birds unless we have a tradition that they are kosher. Therefore, we eat chicken, goose and duck.

There are those who would not eat turkey and it had nothing to do with Thanksgiving. Rather, it was that the American turkey did not have a tradition as being an acceptable bird, so many people ran afoul of it. Today, it is almost universally accepted as a kosher bird.

In the Talmud, the Rabbis note common denominators among the non-kosher birds. They are birds of prey and they have two toes pointing both towards their front and their back. The kosher birds have an elongated toe, don’t have two pointing in both directions and are not birds of prey.

There are certain birds that have a kosher tradition among the Sefardim, however, the Ashkenazim have lost that tradition.

There are other creatures where that same idea applies. The Torah lists certain species of grasshoppers to be kosher. Ashkenazim and some Sefardim no longer have the tradition as to the kosher grasshoppers. However, there are some Sefardim who do have the tradition and can eat those grasshoppers, as repulsive as it may sound to the Western mind. So, in a certain sense that knowledge is academic because most of us would not even fathom eating grasshoppers.

Somebody once made note of the fact that the Titanic was built by professionals and the Ark was built by an amateur. There are people who like to say that the Rabbis should stick to their books and not become involved in other matters. However, those of us who study the Talmud know that the Rabbis of the Talmud and the rabbis who study Talmud in depth know much more than the so-called experts in whatever field they claim to have expertise. Here is an example:

Kosher animals are ruminants while non-kosher animals are not ruminants. There are three exceptions to this rule. The Torah lists three species of animals that chew their cud but do not have split hooves. The Rabbis in the Talmud make note that milk from non-kosher animals does not curdle. That would seem to indicate that the milk of ruminants curdles. What about the camel - it is a ruminant, but it is not a kosher animal?

I once investigated this matter. In the course of my investigation, I came across the following: camels are an exception among ruminants because they have an enzyme in their stomach that prevents their milk from curdling. That is mind-boggling! The Rabbis knew everything!

When you read the Talmud, Rashi the Rambam, etc., you begin to realize their vast breadth of knowledge. It is astounding. Their understanding of the world and human nature is beyond anything that we could imagine. They knew it all. The topic of kashrus is just one example for us to appreciate the words of our Rabbis and have some insight into who they were. We might not always understand their words or decrees and practices, but we must realize that they knew what they were doing. It was for our benefit and we will gain by following their words.