Notes on Parshat Shemini, 6th Portion (Leviticus 11:1-11:32)

From the Desk of Moreh ha’Tzedek


The 11th chapter of the Leviticus speaks on the laws of kashrut (kosher laws).

11:1 YHWH spoke to Mosha and to Aaron, saying to them

The authority is from YHWH, given unto both Mosha and to Aaron, and essentially the entire Levitical priesthood bears the responsibility of making sure the B’nai Yisrael are aware of YHWH’s commandments concerning kashrut.

11:2 “Speak to the B’nai Yisrael, saying, ‘These are the living things which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth.

The “living things” or “living creatures” and animals are traditionally understood to indicate the same thing, however, there are other instances where these are distinguished from one another, for example, wild animals and domesticated animals.

11:3 Whatever parts the hoof, and is cloven-footed, and chews the cud among the animals, that you may eat.

11:4 “‘Nevertheless these you shall not eat of those that chew the cud, or of those who part the hoof: the camel, because he chews the cud but does not have a parted hoof, he is unclean to you.

The mention of the camel in this verse is obviously meant to be taken literally when it comes to consuming it as food; however, it can also be seen in a spiritual sense; for example, when B’nai Yisrael come into contact with that which is forbidden, including being yoked together with people who do not participate in the Covenant, participating in practices that are against the Law of YHWH, and holding to false religious beliefs and superstitions, one can become spiritually unclean.

11:5 The rock badger, because he chews the cud but does not have a parted hoof, he is unclean to you.

The “rock badger” is also referred to as a hyrax, similar to a woodchuck. (More information on the hyrax)

11:6 The hare, because she chews the cud but does not part the hoof, she is unclean to you. 11:7 The pig, because he has a split hoof, and is cloven-footed, but does not chew the cud, he is unclean to you.

11:8 Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean to you.

The prohibition of touching these animals is enjoined upon the B’nai Yisrael especially during the Holy Days when one would have been visiting the Temple.

11:9 “‘These you may eat of all that are in the waters: whatever has fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, that you may eat.

Ramban holds that this refers to fish that can have their scales removed fairly easy with a knife, as in being scraped off. This is interpreted differently in various Jewish communities. In our Tradition, almost all fish with scales are considered kosher. Distinctions are made, however, when it comes to shellfish.

11:10 All that do not have fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of all the living creatures that are in the waters, they are forbidden to you,

11:11 and you detest them. You shall not eat of their flesh, and you shall detest their carcasses. 11:12 Whatever has no fins nor scales in the waters, that is forbidden to you.

Notice how Torah makes a distinction between “flesh” and “carcasses.” In this verse, the flesh is in reference to those fish that have been caught for consuming, while the term carcasses refers to those fish that died on their own.

11:13 “‘These you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are forbidden: the eagle, and the vulture, and the black vulture, 11:14 and the red kite, any kind of black kite, 11:15 any kind of raven, 11:16 the horned owl, the screech owl, and the gull, any kind of hawk, 11:17 the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, 11:18 the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, 11:19 the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe, and the bat.

Much of the understanding of what some of the original terms meant for each of these types of birds have been lost, thus, there is translation of the list of these birds that is 100% accurate. Some Jewish communities hold that the stork is a kosher bird, while others do not.

11:20 “‘All flying insects that walk on all fours are forbidden to you. 11:21 Yet you may eat these: of all winged creeping things that go on all fours, which have legs above their feet, with which to hop on the earth. 11:22 Even of these you may eat: any kind of locust, any kind of katydid, any kind of cricket, and any kind of grasshopper. 11:23 But all winged creeping things which have four feet, are forbidden to you.

Again, there are various interpretations concerning the various types of creatures that are kosher and non-kosher. For example, the Yemenite community accepts certain types of grasshoppers as being kosher. Some other Jewish communities decided long ago not to consume any insects.

11:24 “‘By these you will become unclean: whoever touches the carcass of them shall be unclean until the evening. 11:25 Whoever carries any part of their carcass shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the evening.

The only method in which the B’nai Yisrael may become clean again, is through ritual immersion in a mikveh in the evening. According to the 25th, one must also make sure his or her clothing has also been washed, especially if the clothing came in contact with the clothing. This not only includes what one wears on the upper and lower parts of the body, such as shirts and trousers, but in our tradition, one would go further and wash gloves, inner wear, and clean hats and shoes to the best of one’s ability.

11:26 “‘Every animal which parts the hoof, and is not cloven-footed, nor chews the cud, is unclean to you. Everyone who touches them shall be unclean. 11:27 Whatever goes on its paws, among all animals that go on all fours, they are unclean to you. Whoever touches their carcass shall be unclean until the evening. 11:28 He who carries their carcass shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the evening. They are unclean to you.

11:29 “‘These are they which are unclean to you among the creeping things that creep on the earth: the weasel, the rat, any kind of great lizard, 11:30 the gecko, and the monitor lizard, the wall lizard, the skink, and the chameleon. 11:31 These are they which are unclean to you among all that creep. Whoever touches them when they are dead, shall be unclean until the evening.

Similar to verse 13, the translation of these creatures is not perfect. Some prefer to leave the text untranslated, and transliterated instead. The Jewish Publication Society’s translations appear similar to the above.

11:32 On whatever any of them falls when they are dead, it shall be unclean; whether it is any vessel of wood, or clothing, or skin, or sack, whatever vessel it is, with which any work is done, it must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the evening; then it will be clean.

See note for verse 24.

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