Creation Care and the Leviticus Food Laws

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The above essay was published by Jewish Voice Ministries International as part of their 2019 Writers Contest. Below is the original essay that I submitted to them, which of course is almost identical to what was published.

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Creation Care and the Leviticus Food Laws

 

          Does a rejection of kashrut food instructions harm the Earth? It seems an odd question, but I propose it is worthy of consideration.

            When it comes to matters of Torah, perhaps no other set of mitzvot evokes more debate than the distinctions of kosher and non-kosher meats listed in Leviticus 11 and later repeated in Deuteronomy 14. Many in Messianic Jewish and Torah-positive Christian circles would argue in favor of keeping these instructions while traditional mainstream Protestant Christians consider them antiquated ritual prohibitions that no longer apply in modern times.

            Arguments in favor of adhering to these food laws range from health benefits to the principle of zot chukat haTorah—if it’s in Torah, that’s all that matters. These are great reasons to keep the dietary mitzvot, and not to be ignored. However, I propose another argument; an assertion that they have a relationship with the balance of all life on Earth.

            Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:15 charges humanity with responsibility for and stewardship of all Creation. Revelation 11:18 indicates that, depending on how one interprets the text, God will destroy those who currently and historically have contributed to the destruction of the Earth. This leads to a logical conclusion that a life pleasing to our Creator is founded in loving and caring for all of His Creation. So how do mitzvot about a list of meats either permitted for or prohibited from use as food pertain to a biblical ecological ethic? Consider these few examples of environmental devastation resulting from humans using creatures from the unclean list as food:

• Overharvesting of sharks for production of the Chinese delicacy shark-fin soup creates a chain effect where the overpopulation of mid-level predators decimates local shellfish populations that are essential for maintaining clean aquatic ecosystems.(1)

• Overharvesting of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay has caused drastic environmental changes with elevated carbon levels, making water more acidic and therefore toxic to other aquatic species.(2)

• The introduction of pigs to Bermuda in the 16th century by sailors using them as a food source caused the near extinction of a seabird, the Bermuda Petrel, and the total extinction of other native species.(3)

• The introduction of wild boar into the United States by immigrants, primarily in the early 20th century, has had devastating effects on the environment and native plants and animals.(4)

            Pork and seafood seem to comprise the two most commonly eaten groups of unclean meats today, at least in the United States. It seems only logical that examples of the devastating effects this has on the environment would come from these two groups as well.

            Something worth noting is that many non-kosher species are either scavengers or predators whose numbers are naturally low in their native environments. The loss of these species creates imbalances in nature. In contrast, the overpopulation of kosher species like deer or permissible fish (those with fins and scales)—resulting from lack of predation—also creates ecological problems from overgrazing and excess waste.

            Professor Calvin DeWitt says, “Since God creates and sustains all of creation, we should expect the Bible to call us to bring honor to God in creation. We should expect Scripture to support creation’s care and keeping and to encourage us to maintain the integrity of the creation that God repeatedly called ‘good’.”(5) Rabbi Arthur Waskow proposes that Torah’s economic/ecological vision is found in us humans restoring the Earth to the same degree we deplete it.(6) And Christian farmer Joel Salatin boldly declares, “The satisfaction of being nature’s nurturer always trumps the short-lived adrenaline high of being nature’s conqueror.”(7)

            Are the food laws from Leviticus essential to the care of Creation? Are they a part of the actual design of Creation and the balance and harmony of all life in the biosphere?

            Two Hebrew phrases come to mind when I examine this and related Torah concepts: bal-tashchit and sidrei bereshit. If combined into one phrase, we could say they mean: You shall not destroy the order of creation.

            We are charged with the care of this Earth and the fullness thereof, which belongs to our Creator.(8) Many of us inhabiting the planet today might not be in a position to go on some grand adventure to save a species on the brink of extinction. But we can all do simple things in our daily lives that make a difference. Perhaps keeping the kosher meat regulations is one way we can all care for Creation and honor our Creator.

1. Decline Of Big Sharks Lets Small Predators Decimate Shellfish, Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post, March 30, 2007
2. Ecological Changes in Chesapeake Bay: Are They the Result of Overharvesting the American Oyster, Crassostrea virginica?, Roger I.E. Newell, University of Maryland, March 1988
3. Rare Birds: The Extraordinary Tale of the Bermuda Petrel and the Man Who Brought It Back from Extinction, Elizabeth Gehrman, Beacon Press, 2012, pg. 26-28
4. The biology of native and invasive Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) and the effect it is having in its invasive range, Jillian Pastick, Lake Forest College, March 2012
5. Earthwise: A Guide To Hopeful Creation Care, Edition 3, Calvin B. Dewitt, Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2011, pg. 71
6. Torah of the Earth: Exploring 4,000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought, Vol. 1, Arthur Waskow, Jewish Lights, 2000, pg. 80
7. The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting and Caring for all God’s Creation, Joel Salatin, FaithWords, 2016, pg. 243
8. Psalm 24:1, 1 Corinthians 10:26

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