top of page

Shemini. Unhealthy for Body or Soul?

Tens of thousands have died, and billions of people have been confined to our homes by a worldwide pandemic. Rumour has it that the virus was transmitted from animals to humans by consumption of an infected bat. And here in our parsha we read (Vayikra Chapter 11) about prohibited species of animal, bird, fish and insects.

  • Why are certain species forbidden?

For the Rambam, it was about health:

"I would say that all of those things that the Torah forbade us to consume are nutritionally harmful. Only the pig and the fats may be imagined to not be detrimental, but this is not so...the Torah abhorred its consumption because of its great filth and because it feeds on filthy things ...It has already been pointed out how emphatically the Law enjoins the removal of the sight of loathsome objects, even in the field and in the camp; how much more objectionable is such a sight in towns. But if it were allowed to eat swine's flesh, the streets and houses would be more dirty than any toilet, a saying of our Sages declares: "The mouth of a swine is as dirty as dung itself" (Berachot 25a) ...carcasses of dead animals are difficult to digest and nutritionally poor, and it is well known that a beast possessing a congenital defect is akin to a carcass.

Therefore, concerning the signs that mark a permitted animal – chewing the cud and split hooves for the land animals, and fins and scales for the fish – realize that their existence is not the reason for their permitted status, nor their absence the reason for their forbidden status. Rather, they are signs by which one may distinguish the healthy species from the unhealthy species." (Guide to the Perplexed)