“Of all the things that live in the water, you may eat these: anything in the water that has fins and scales, whether in seas or in rivers — these you may eat. But everything in the seas and rivers without both fins and scales, of all the small water-creatures and of all the living creatures in the water, is a detestable thing for you. Yes, these will be detestable for you — you are not to eat their meat, and you are to detest their carcasses. Whatever lacks fins and scales in the water is a detestable thing for you.”-Leviticus 11:9-12
When studying the Kosher food laws, understand that the examples provided to us in Scripture are just that, examples!
They don’t represent ALL of the unclean animals we are to stay away from.
For purposes of our discussion moving forward, I now need to introduce the Hebrew words for “clean” and “unclean”.
Since we’re going to be encountering these terms often in Scripture, let’s familiarize ourselves with these words.
The word for “clean” in Hebrew is TAHOR.
And the word for “unclean” is TAMEI.
Let me make something crystal clear here.
The words “clean” and “unclean” in Scripture have absolutely nothing to do with hygiene.
Yup, that’s right.
Contrary to Greek thinkers who read Scripture and assume the Kosher laws are basically health laws befitting of times ancient, the truth is these laws are dealing with spiritual matters.
The laws also have nothing to do with whether a given creature is inherently edible by humans or not.
For example, I’m living in Japan right now and I can personally testify that the Japanese people have practically perfected the art of un-kosher cuisine (Raw crab or shrimp anyone?).
For the time being, just accept that the Lord has declared by fiat that there are certain animals He considers OFF-LIMITS by anyone who would call themselves one of His.
So what is the chief characteristic of a sea creature that the Lord permits us to eat?
In two words, the answer is FINS and SCALES.
Any sea creature that has BOTH fins and scales is TAHOR (clean).
For instance the following are all okay to eat:
Now what would the chief characteristic of an UNCLEAN or TAMEI sea creature be?
Unclean sea creatures are those the Bible refers to as “swarming”.
The Hebrew word for “swarming” would be SHARATS.
But what exactly does “swarming” mean?
Well, it carries with it the idea of crawling around in a random manner.
In other words, it refers to those creatures that both group together but also unpredictably dart about.
SHARATS type creatures would be the opposite of let’s say a school of fishes swimming together in unison.
The main attribute of unclean sea creatures is that instead of swimming through the water using fins, they either crawl around on the bottom of the ocean or slither about like a snake.
Lobsters, crabs and shrimp are ALL off limits, as well as sea snakes and eels.
One final point, before I close today’s post.
Let’s take a look at verse 8.
“You are not to eat meat from these
or touch their carcasses;
they are unclean for you.”
Here God is instructing us that we CANNOT eat an unclean animal or touch the dead carcass of one.
What this means is that if you ever come across the dead body of an unclean animal or if you ever have to kill one for whatever reason, DO NOT TOUCH THE CORPSE!!!
However, having said that, there is no prohibition against touching an unclean animal that is alive.
So you can have rabbits for pets or ride a camel as a means of transportation.
You just can’t touch their corpses if they die.