Why Keep Kosher?
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
The Sefer Hachinuch, a medieval commentary suggests that food items forbidden by the Torah are harmful to ones health. He suggests that although scientists may not recognize the harmful effects of non-kosher food products, they simply are not yet aware of their harmful effects. It should be noted though that the corollary is certainly not true. A kosher diet is clearly not necessarily a healthy diet. The Sefer Hachinuch simply means to point out that it is only possible to construct a healthy diet using kosher products. It is of course highly debatable whether this is in fact true and believing this would be somewhat of a leap of faith.
Nachmanides, another medieval commentator based on verses in the Torah understands that consuming non-kosher food items has a negative spiritual effect on the human psyche. It clogs ones spiritual arteries, blocking ones connection with God and the spiritual world. This assertion is supported by the Talmud which states: ‘Rebbi Yishmael taught that transgression blocks the heart of a person as it states ‘Do not disgust yourselves with insects and do not become contaminated and blocked up through them.’ The exact mechanics of how this works is completely beyond our comprehension. Many detailed questions remain. To name a few: If insects are spiritually harmful then why is the ‘Chagav’, the kosher locust species, not spiritually harmful? What difference does it make if an animal is slaughtered correctly? Why were the Jewish people allowed to eat pork found in the homes of the local inhabitants in the initial conquest of Eretz Yisrael?
Friends, the above discussion attempts to explain some of God’s rational for commanding these laws. However, it is important to understand that these are not our reasons for keeping the laws of Kashrut. We observe kashrut for the same reason we observe Shabbat, Lulav and Tefilin – because that is what we were commanded to do. It is a practice of obedience and service. The hallmark of the Jewish people is trust that God knows what he is doing and what is best for us. Understanding is not a prerequisite for our practice. As our nation declared before receiving the Torah ‘We will do, and we will understand.’