Leviticus 11 – Clean and Unclean Animals
A. Laws regarding eating animals of land, sea, and air.
1. (1-8) Eating mammals.
Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth: Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud; that you may eat. Nevertheless these you shall not eat among those that chew the cud or those that have cloven hooves: the camel, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; the rock hyrax, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; the hare, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you.'”
a. Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud; that you may eat: The rule was simple. If an animal had a divided hoof (not a single hoof as a horse has), and chewed its cud, it could be eaten.
b. These you shall not eat among those that chew the cud or those that have cloven hooves: For example, the camel, the rock hyrax, and the hare all chew the cud, but do not have divided hooves – instead, they have paws – they are considered unkosher.
c. And the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you: Additionally, the swine has a divided hoof, but it does not chew the cud – so it is considered unkosher.
i. “It is now known that the pig is the intermediate host for several parasitic organisms, some of which can result in tapeworm infestation. One of these worms, the Taenia solium, grows to about 2.5 m in length, and is found in poorly cooked pork.” (Harrison)
d. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch: If an animal was considered unclean, one obviously could not eat it. Yet additionally, one could not touch an unclean animal, whether living or dead.
i. God was not making up new rules for Israel. Noah knew about clean and unclean animals (Genesis 7:2, 8:20). God simply codified what was already in the traditions of Israel.
2. (9-12) Water animals.
“These you may eat of all that are in the water: whatever in the water has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers; that you may eat. But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you. They shall be an abomination to you; you shall not eat their flesh, but you shall regard their carcasses as an abomination. Whatever in the water does not have fins or scales; that shall be an abomination to you.”
a. These you may eat of all that are in the water: The rule again was simple: Any water creature having both fins and scales was kosher and could be eaten.
b. Whatever in the water has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers; that you may eat: On this principle, most fishes were considered clean – except a fish like the catfish, which has no scales. Shellfish would be unclean, because clams, crabs, oysters, and lobster all do not have fins and scales.
3. (13-19) Birds.
“And these you shall regard as an abomination among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard, the kite, and the falcon after its kind; every raven after its kind, the ostrich, the short-eared owl, the sea gull, and the hawk after its kind; the little owl, the fisher owl, and the screech owl; the white owl, the jackdaw, and the carrion vulture; the stork, the heron after its kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.”
a. These you shall regard as an abomination among the birds: There is no rule given to determine if a bird is clean or unclean; only specific birds (twenty in all) are mentioned as being unclean.
b. The eagle, the vulture, the buzzard . . .: The common thread through most of these birds is that they are either predators or scavengers; these were considered unclean.
4. (20-23) Insects.
“All flying insects that creep on all fours shall be an abomination to you. Yet these you may eat of every flying insect that creeps on all fours: those which have jointed legs above their feet with which to leap on the earth. These you may eat: the locust after its kind, the destroying locust after its kind, the cricket after its kind, and the grasshopper after its kind. But all other flying insects which have four feet shall be an abomination to you.”
a. All flying insects that creep on all fours shall be an abomination to you: Among insects, any creeping insect was unkosher (such as ants or grubs). Yet if there were a flying insect with legs jointed above their feet, these could be eaten. Good examples of kosher insects include the locust, the cricket, and the grasshopper.
b. On all fours: Some people think that means Moses was uninformed and thought that Moses had. “This phrase can hardly describe insects as having four legs, since the Insectae as a class normally have six legs. The reference is evidently to their movements, which resemble the creeping or running of the four-footed animal.” (Harrison)
B. More on clean and unclean animals.
1. (24-28) Disposal of the carcasses of unclean animals.
“By these you shall become unclean; whoever touches the carcass of any of them shall be unclean until evening; whoever carries part of the carcass of any of them shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening: The carcass of any animal which divides the foot, but is not cloven-hoofed or does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Everyone who touches it shall be unclean. And whatever goes on its paws, among all kinds of animals that go on all fours, those are unclean to you. Whoever touches any such carcass shall be unclean until evening. Whoever carries any such carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. It is unclean to you.”
a. Whoever touches the carcass of any of them shall be unclean until evening: Unclean animals, when dead, couldn’t just be left in the community to rot; they had to be disposed of. But the people who disposed of the unclean animals had to remedy their uncleanness by washing and a brief (until evening) quarantine.
i. This means that if a dead rat was found in an Israelite village, it would be carefully and promptly disposed of, and the one disposing of it would wash afterward. This would help prevent disease in a significant way; after all, the Black Death – bubonic plague – killed one quarter of Europe’s population around 1350, but Jewish communities were largely spared because they followed these hygienic regulations. Sadly, because they were often largely preserved, they were often accused and punished for being “masterminds” behind the plague.
b. Whoever carries any such carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening: This shows that ceremonial uncleanness was not the same as being in a state of sin. No sacrifice was required to remedy the condition of ceremonial uncleanness. It was a state of ceremonial impurity that needed to be addressed.
2. (29-30) More unclean animals: Reptiles and other creeping things.
“These also shall be unclean to you among the creeping things that creep on the earth: the mole, the mouse, and the large lizard after its kind; the gecko, the monitor lizard, the sand reptile, the sand lizard, and the chameleon.”
3. (31-38) The transmission of uncleanness from unclean animals.
“These are unclean to you among all that creep. Whoever touches them when they are dead shall be unclean until evening. Anything on which any of them falls, when they are dead shall be unclean, whether it is any item of wood or clothing or skin or sack, whatever item it is, in which any work is done, it must be put in water. And it shall be unclean until evening; then it shall be clean. Any earthen vessel into which any of them falls you shall break; and whatever is in it shall be unclean: in such a vessel, any edible food upon which water falls becomes unclean, and any drink that may be drunk from it becomes unclean. And everything on which a part of any such carcass falls shall be unclean; whether it is an oven or cooking stove, it shall be broken down; for they are unclean, and shall be unclean to you. Nevertheless a spring or a cistern, in which there is plenty of water, shall be clean, but whatever touches any such carcass becomes unclean. And if a part of any such carcass falls on any planting seed which is to be sown, it remains clean. But if water is put on the seed, and if a part of any such carcass falls on it, it becomes unclean to you.”
a. These are unclean to you among all that creep: From a hygienic standpoint, these laws were very important. They required, for example, that if a rodent crawled inside a bowl, the bowl had to be broken. Therefore any disease the rodent carried (such as bubonic plague) could not be passed on to the one who would use the bowl.
b. Everything on which a part of any such carcass falls shall be unclean: These laws also promoted a general state of cleanliness inside the Hebrew home. This certainly promoted the health and the welfare of the family.
4. (39-40) Carcasses of clean animals.
“And if any animal which you may eat dies, he who touches its carcass shall be unclean until evening. He who eats of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. He also who carries its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening.”
a. If any animal which you may eat dies: Seemingly, these laws apply to the natural death of clean animals, not to their butchering for food or death for sacrifice. Those handling such carcasses were ceremonially unclean and needed to be cleansed by washing and a brief quarantine.
5. (41-43) Creeping animals considered unclean.
“And every creeping thing that creeps on the earth shall be an abomination. It shall not be eaten. Whatever crawls on its belly, whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet among all creeping things that creep on the earth; these you shall not eat, for they are an abomination. You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps; nor shall you make yourselves unclean with them, lest you be defiled by them.”
6. (44-47) The purpose for God’s dietary laws.
“For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. This is the law of the animals and the birds and every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth, to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten.”
a. For I am the Lord your God: God claims the right to speak to every area of our life, including what we eat. He had the right to tell Israel what to eat and what not to eat.
b. You shall therefore sanctify yourselves: One great purpose of the dietary laws of Israel was to sanctify – to set them apart – from other nations. It made fellowship with those who did not serve God far more difficult.
i. We see this sanctifying effect in Daniel 1, where Daniel and his friends refuse to eat the unkosher food at the king of Babylon’s table – and God blesses them for being set apart for His righteousness.
c. Neither shall you defile yourselves: Not only did unclean animals defile one spiritually, but there was also a hygienic defilement, and Israel was spared many diseases and plagues because of their kosher diet.
i. Among the animals, most considered unclean fell into one of three categories: Predators (unclean because they ate both the flesh and the blood of animals), scavengers (unclean because they were carriers of disease, and they regularly contacted dead bodies), or potentially poisonous or dangerous foods such as shellfish and the like. Eliminating these from the diet of Israel no doubt had a healthy effect!
ii. “In general it can be said that the laws protected Israel from bad diet, dangerous vermin, and communicable diseases.” (Harris)
d. For I am the Lord who brings you up out of Egypt: This was the second claim God had upon Israel. The first claim was connected to His role as Creator. This claim is connected to His role as redeemer. We are obligated to God on both claims.
i. Some Christians believe we are under obligation to observe a kosher diet today. Yet this issue was settled once and for all at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15; where it was determined that obedience to Mosaic rituals was not required of the followers of Jesus.
ii. Paul pointed out that we have the full liberty to eat whatever we want to: Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrine of demons . . . commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1, 3-5)
iii. Some are under subjugation to food, or to certain foods, and that is sin under the principle of 1 Corinthians 6:12: All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Certainly, many would benefit from the attitude of self-denial and bodily discipline Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
iv. Yet, apart from these considerations, Christians are free to eat or not eat whatever they please – and no one should think themselves more right with God because they eat or don’t eat certain things
© 2004 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission