This Shabbat we read Parshat Shmini, which deals with the laws of keeping kosher. The Torah provides the laws for what we should and should not eat. Land creatures must have split hoofs and chew their cud. Sea creatures must have scales and fins. We cannot eat birds of prey or scavenger birds. For bugs, the Torah just tells us we can eat certain kinds of locusts, crickets and grasshoppers. We are not allowed to eat from an animal if it is already dead. In addition, we are not allowed to make the animal suffer while it is killed. Therefore, an animal is slaughtered in such a way that very little pain is caused. The laws of kashrut are very straightforward and focus on a humane way of dietary preparation.
But why are these laws in the Torah? Why are they important? The Torah does not tell us. Some commentators say that we keep these laws because the God tells us, “You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). Maimonides claims that these laws belong to a category named chukim (decrees) that have no rational explanation. We are taught that these laws are not based on health reasons and that there is nothing “impure” in the animals that are forbidden such as pigs or camels. We can understand that ingesting blood is prohibited because blood is a symbol of life and we should show complete respect for life and not derive any enjoyment from killing an animal and eating of it. We are taught to respect all that G-d has created. This is why we salt meat after killing it, to get rid of all the blood, which is a sign of life.
We have eliminated many rational reasons to keep kosher so we ask ourselves why we should keep these laws. Some people keep kosher because it is a tradition, passed down from generation to generation. Many people keep kosher because it is commanded in the Torah. As a bar mitzvah, I will continue to think about why we observe these laws and look for personal meaning as I continue to grow as a Jew.
Jamie Lickstein is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.