Hearing the Biblical Voice
Biblical text-study inspired by the writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch
Finding Meaning in Kashrut, Tzitzit and Tefillin
Sampling of questions analyzed and explained:
PART ONE - KASHRUT:
The Law: At first, humans were herbivorous. After the Flood, humans could eat animal meat, but not from a living animal.
1. For what purpose was the human diet changed after the Flood from herbivorous to omnivorous?
2. Why the simultaneous restriction on the manner of eating and on the consumption of lifeblood?
The Law: Jews, who are a holy nation, cannot eat meat of an animal killed by a predator.
1. What is the relationship of “holiness” to consumption of food?
2. Why should an animal killed by a predator be prohibited; the animal is dead and the flesh of a dead animal is permitted?
3. Why does the Torah need to tell us to throw it to the dogs? What does it matter what is done with the carcass?
The Law: Jews cannot eat meat of an animal that died of natural causes.
1. How does this new restriction relate to “holiness”?
2. Why should an animal dying of natural causes be prohibited?
3. Why is it stated that we can give or sell it to a non-Jew?
The Law: An animal must be ritually slaughtered.
1. We understand the practical need for a quick painless death, but why must there be no pause, no undue pressure from the knife, continuous visibility, intentionality and the absence of tearing even a bit of flesh? If one of these conditions is not met, the animal is considered unfit for Jewish consumption. What is the meaning of the emphasis on these details?
The Law: Animal fat (tallow) and blood are prohibited; the blood of an animal captured in a hunt must be covered with dirt.
1. Why is it that the thick layers of fat (tallow) in an animal must not be consumed?
2. What is the relation of fat and blood that accounts for the two being paired in the prohibitions?
3. What is the underlying meaning of the prohibition of blood? Why does the fact that “the life-source of the animal is its blood” create the reason for the prohibition?
4. Why is it that the blood must be ritually cast on the altar to effect atonement for the offerer?
5. Why does the blood of hunted animals, in contrast with domestic animals, need to be covered with earth?
The Law: Only certain mammals, birds, fish and insects may be eaten. Prohibited living things are called “spiritually impure” or “detestable.”
1. Why are animals, birds, fish and insects having certain physical features permitted or prohibited as food?
2. Why are prohibited types of creatures labeled “detestable” or “spiritually impure?” What is inherently detestable or impure about them?
3. Why does the whole system of dietary laws referring to types of creatures fall under the spiritual dimension of laws? What is its relation to a condition of holiness?
The Law: Meat and milk may not be cooked or combined together.
1. Why should the cooking of two otherwise permitted foods be prohibited? Why cooking -- why not merely consumption, as in the texts of other prohibited foods?
2. We can understand the presentation of the prohibition in the context of other dietary laws, but how is it related to the festival of First Fruits?
PART TWO - TZITZIT:
1. According to the text, there seem to be three main ideas that are evoked into consciousness by tzitzit:
a) to become conscious of all the commandments of God which should motivate our practice;
b) not to follow after those subjective feelings (heart) and perceptions (eyes) which will lead us astray from faithfulness in God; and
c) to “become holy to God” who took us out from Egypt.
What are the conceptual themes of these three imperatives and what is the relationship among them?
2. Gazing at the tzitzit -- at the fringe to which is affixed a te’chelet-thread -- is to raise the three ideas above ideas into awareness.
What does one “see” in a fringe attached to a garment that evokes these ideas into consciousness?
PART THREE - TEFILLIN:
What is significance of placing the sign on the hand and the ornament on the forehead? Why not on other parts of the body like on one’s lips (“in order that the Teaching of God be on your lips”) or over the heart (“Place these words of Mine on your heart…”)?
What is the difference between a “sign” (אות) used for the hand and an “ornament” (טוטפת) used for the forehead?
What is the connection between the hand and forehead symbols and the phrase “God brought you out of Egypt by force” that is used as the reason for these symbols in the first two references?
What is the significance of “tying” the symbols on the hand and head, as indicated in the second two references?
Regarding the context of the four paragraphs in which the key verses appear, we ask:
What is the fundamental teaching of Passover as expressed through the eating of matzah that tefillin are to commemorate?
What is the teaching that is expressed by dedicating our firstborn and how is it related to the fundamental teaching that “God brought us out by force” -- the same expression used in the previous quotation?
What are the “these teachings” that we are responsible to accept on ourselves through the tefillin and teach to the next generation, as described in the third paragraph?
What exactly are “these words” that we should preserve, as described in the fourth paragraph on the themes of reward and punishment?
A whole separate series of questions present themselves about the physical appearance of tefillin, the materials they are made of, the way they are placed and the manner in which they are worn. All of these characteristics are based on ancient tradition within the oral law, since the written Torah is silent on these details. We can assume, however, that the physical characteristics of tefillin are part of the symbolic nature of this mitzvah and therefore open to symbolic interpretation. The symbols of how the tefillin are placed, wrapped and tied will be analyzed and decoded.