Mary Douglas and the role of
Dietary Restriction in Judaism
Many scholars have attempted to explain not only the reasoning for the existence of Jewish dietary restrictions but how not conforming to them can be perceived as evil. Some have said that a hygienic component was the most important reason for these restrictions. Others have stated that it was a result of an attempt to preserving the Jewish culture from foreign influences. While others argue that it is a means to achieving holiness or purity. In her book Purity and Danger, Mary Douglas examines some of the arguments put forth by several scholars and theologians. In her examination, Douglas rejects most of the explanations and settles on the explanation that she believes to be the only one without contradiction, the idea of purity. To understand why Mary Douglas comes to the conclusion that she does, it is important to understand how she views the concept of “good” and “evil” or “purity” and “pollution”. Douglas places great emphasis on the idea of purity and how dirt defiles it. This is not always meant to be literal. Douglas makes the distinction between clinical views of dirt versus a symbolic ideal of pollution of purity. She points out that even though the two views come from completely different mindsets, they are much more closely related than it would initially appear when she says “… the resemblance between some of their symbolic rites and our hygiene is sometimes uncannily close.”. Douglas was paramount in our understanding of how the concept of dirt plays an important role in our perception of social norms. These norms help to shape society by outlining boundaries that define what is good and what may be considered evil. “The public identification of “dirt” displays the boundaries of cultural categories...”. When one performs an act that crosses these boundaries, it can be viewed as an act of defilement, which may be perceived as...