Lowest Common Denominator

Leviticus Hizkuni: Shmini

Lowest Common Denominator

The Torah, in its day, and even to this day, is considered a legal marvel. The hundreds of laws that affect almost every aspect of life were revolutionary in a pagan, polytheistic society. The laws that govern social interactions, court systems, damages, marital relationships, holiday observance and so much more have survived and evolved with Judaism over millennia.

One of the more curious laws are those of dietary restrictions. For many gentiles it is the strangest, most detailed and least understood Jewish law. Discussions with inquisitive business colleagues about keeping Kosher have taken up much time and have lasted multiple emails.

Regarding the consumption of mammals, the Torah gives a rather short description of restrictions. Any mammal with a cloven hoof and that chews its cud is permissible. This definition is followed by a list of animals that are lacking one of these signs and which are therefore forbidden: Camel, rock-badger, hare and swine. No other mammals are mentioned as restricted.

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) wonders as to the lack of further biblical details or restrictions. There is an entire kingdom of mammals that are not listed as forbidden that we know however from rabbinic sources cannot be consumed.

Hizkuni explains that other animals (mammals with neither cloven hooves nor who chew their cud) are so repulsive to the general population that the Torah did not find it necessary to sanction it. It is interesting that the Torah which seeks to legislate almost every aspect of life, even those that seem obvious (don’t kill, don’t steal, etc.) takes such a laid back approach to this particular area.

Hizkuni seems to imply that even amongst the heathen, idol-worshiping masses there is also a minimum level of self-respect, or conversely of repulsion to the same things. There are some aspects that bind humanity so universally that it needs no legislation or even mention.

May always find the things that unite us and not only those that divide.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the Spitz Clan. We demonstrated our ability to eat (and drink) and enjoy from a variety of mammals, fowl, fish and exquisite Kosher wines. May we have many more such opportunities.

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