By Bryan Leinweber
October 31, 2003
The Mosaic dietary laws, the laws imposed by the directives of Moses on the Israelites, extended from earlier restrictions that had been placed on the eating habits of the human race. The Old Testament is full of directives regarding food consumption and God's law, and even Genesis addresses limitations imposed on certain types of food consumption.
Primarily, the restrictions placed on the consumption of certain types of meat, a limitation that continues in rules for maintaining a Jewish kosher home, relates directly to what is viewed as the rules for the holy people of God. The people of God, then, are expected to recognize that "God is to be obeyed, concluding that circumcision and the prescriptions of Mosaic law are still obligatory" (1). In understanding the Mosaic dietary laws maintained in the books of the Old Testament, it is necessary to consider the early restrictions placed on certain types of food consumption, the restrictions outlined by Moses for the people of God, and the implications of these eating restrictions both then and in the modern era. What must be recognized is that "To this day, these ruleswith variations, but always guided by Mosaic lawsare followed by many orthodox Jews" (2). Jewish religious practices, then, are based not only in their ancestral ordinances, but in the specificity of Mosaic law in terms of dietary limitations and circumcision (3). Relating the significance, then, of early restrictions and their application to Mosaic law, as well as an understanding of the role of Moses, are elements important in understanding Mosaic dietary laws.
Early restrictions prior to the initiation of Mosaic dietary laws related directly to the belief that the human race originally consumed just vegetable products, and that it was not until the Flood and the prescriptions relative to Noah's animal ownership that individuals were pushed to consume animal flesh (Genesis 9:3-4). Initially, it was recognized that animal slaughter was an unclean process, and further, from a historical perspective, it can be argued that the consumption of some animals was just unsafe. The lack of refrigeration and the prevalence of bacterial infection in the flesh of animals determined a lack of safety and the people of this region often saw illness related to meat consumption as the result of an unclean act in the eyes of God.
What should be recognized is that initially, the Book of Genesis placed few restrictions, if any, on the consumption of vegetables or fruit, and it was not until the development of a sacrificial system that the people of Israel found restrictions placed on a variety of different food types. In Leviticus 19: 23-25, these restrictions begin with the assertion that consumption of the early fruits of a young tree was forbidden. After the first three years, the fruit was then taken to a temple for worship and to be blessed, after which time consumption could occur on a yearly basis.
In Leviticus 23:9-14, there are notes about the forbidden consumption of new corn until 2 days after Passover, when the corn must be placed in the Temple and blessed prior to consumption. Leviticus refers back to the earliest of the restrictions placed on consumption in a vaguer construct from Exodus 23:19, in which it is asserted that the first fruits of the labor of man must be placed in the Temple and worshipped instead of consumed.
In both Deuteronomy (22:9) and Leviticus (29:19), limitations were placed on the consumption of fruits and vegetables of mixed seeds, and there were later prescriptions for the use of religious men to bless the food sources, which in turn would lead to the development of Kosher principles.
The loss of a great deal of vegetation during the great Flood is a supposition that maintains the reasoning for the consumption of animal products. At the same time, there were...