The phrase "unclean to you" is repeated throughout Leviticus 11. What does that say about the inherent cleanliness or uncleanliness of some creatures?


Leviticus 11:4

NASB - 4 Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these, among those which chew the cud, or among those which divide the hoof: the camel, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you.

Clarify Share Report Asked May 06 2013 Mycontactpic Michael Sisson

Ari Ariel HaNaviy Messianic Jew and Torah Teacher with Messianic Congregation 'The Harvest'
This answer may come across as highly technical. Please bear with my scientific approach as I attempt to explain the inherent cleanliness and uncleanliness of some of the creatures in Leviticus using my knowledge of Hebrew and the Law.

In Leviticus 11, the entire chapter is given over to explaining what types of animals are acceptable for consumption, and which ones were forbidden for consumption. In this chapter, the language used, as is typical of most of the subjects dealt with in Leviticus, is "clean" and "unclean.” These concepts don’t really translate into the English vernacular too well without compromising some of the rich meaning conveyed in the original Hebrew. For instance, in Lev. 11:4-8, speaking of some earth-dwelling animals, we read these words: 

“But you are not to eat those that only chew the cud or only have a separate hoof. For example, the camel, the coney and the hare are unclean for you, because they chew the cud but don't have a separate hoof; while the pig is unclean for you, because, although it has a separate and completely divided hoof, it doesn't chew the cud. You are not to eat meat from these or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.” 

In every single instance, the original Hebrew word translated as "unclean" above is "tamei." As already expressed, this word is rather difficult to render precisely into a receptor language. The concept implied here can mean a wide variety of ideas, ranging from ritually "unclean" to physically "unclean" to spiritually "unclean" to ethically “unclean.” Related to tamei is the synonym “shekets,” a word normally associated with birds, water-dwellers, and swarming creatures (fish, insects, etc.), usually rendered “disgusting, detestable, or abominable,” defined by lexicons as “detestable thing or idol, an unclean thing, an abomination, detestation.” Which meaning is in view here? Ritually unclean/detestable? Physically unclean/detestable? In keeping to the rules of biblical interpretation, we shall make a safe assumption that the physical is likely and firstly in question here, since the text explains that merely coming in "contact" with the carcass renders a person "tamei.” 

I would suggest that declarative and ritual uncleanness is additionally and clearly being taught in Leviticus. What is more, to describe an object and label it in terms of tamei/shekets is to compare such an object to the Holy Sanctum or to the community at large: the object is unclean unto (or in relation to) the Holy Sanctum and/or unclean (or in relation to) your fellow Isra'elite. Such items are not generally thought of as tamei/shekets in a vacuum.

The immediate context suggests that these instructions were given to Moses and his priestly brother this Aaron, to be expressly conveyed to the People of Isra'el as they interacted with a Holy God at the designated meeting places that God commanded, viz, the Tabernacle (later the Temple). This is our immediate context, and therefore serves to establish the basis of our definition of applicability. Surely these laws and rulings are meant for the people to whom they are addressed, as they would find themselves wishing to approach God.

Conclusions: Here in the pages of our text, we find in no uncertain terms, the definition of what is "food" and what is "not food.” Using the hermeneutic principle of context, we fine that these concepts of "tamei" and "tahor," as outlined in Leviticus chapter 11, fall right in the middle of a series of chapters dealing with such subjects as the consecration of Aaron and his sons as high priests (chapter 8), the details concerning sin offerings and sacrifices (chapter 9), the consequences of failing to establish a difference between the holy and the unholy (chapter 10), and the beginnings of the rulings concerning "unclean flesh," known as leprosy (chapter 12). It is within this context that God explains "what is kosher" and what is "not kosher,” and consequently, what is "food" and what is "not food.”

September 03 2015 2 responses Vote Up Share Report

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