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XV - Kosher & Immaculate

November 19, 2017

What is there to be said about Mary that has not already been said? Who can improve on St. Louis de Montfort? Who can say of Mary more than she said of herself to St. Bernadette, that she is the Immaculate Conception? What love poem can I write that will be more beautiful than the Holy Rosary? What life of Mary more complete than The City of God by Venerable Mary de Agreda?

 

Of course the answer to these questions is, nil, nada. I cannot improve on all the Catholic writings on Mary and don't want to try. But I do want to say something about the kosher laws.

 

I have often wondered about the kosher laws (kashrut). Why were they such a big part of the Old Testament, and why were they abrogated so quickly in the New? St. Peter in the Book of Acts is told "Arise, Peter; kill and eat" [Acts 11:7] and that seems to be the end of it. What changed? As Catholics, we believe the priesthood continued, albeit in a different form, so why would we not still have some form of kashrut?

 

The answer, I believe, is that Mary gave birth to her Son. And her Son got His Body from His mother. And His Body *had* to be free from sin. Mary, the Immaculate Conception, was preemptively saved from sin because her Son, the Son of God Almighty, could not have anything of sin within Himself. So, she would have followed all the Scriptural strictures, in order to remain free of all uncleanness, just as her Son fulfilled the Law even though He had no sin to be propitiated for. As a Jew, she would have kept kosher, and what did this do? It prescribed for her the food that gave her the elements of her own body, which she thus shared with her Son and Lord. God the Father determined that His incarnate Body would not have any hints of the flesh of shellfish, of pigs, of domesticated animals that did not chew the cud and split the hoof. His earthly body would have none of it.

 

Before we answer the perennial question, "Why?", let's get some context put in place.

 

Jesus often preached of leaven. "Beware the leaven of the Pharisees." The bread of the Passover was unleavened, and so is the bread of the Eucharist. What does leaven do? Leaven takes the basic constituent elements of bread and causes them to rise, prefiguring His Bodily Resurrection. Yeast takes the grapes and turns them into wine, it adds the alcohol, prefiguring the Life-giving Blood. Leaven and yeast take these basic elements and add something that makes them more than the sum of their parts. Similarly, the leaven of the Pharisees was the Talmud, the addition of interpretations going beyond the plain meaning of the text of the Law. Nehemia Gordon is a Kara'ite Jew, which is a religious Jew who follows the Torah but not the Talmud. (I first saw him many years ago on a syndicated cable television show hosted by Zola Levitt, a Messianic Jew. I don't expect too many Catholics to know of either of these gentlemen, although a Catholic I met on a tour of Israel with Zola Levitt had an influence on my conversion, albeit 15 years before.) Mr. Gordon explained pretty well what Jesus was speaking of when He accused the Pharisees of "making things invalid by your tradition." Many Protestants I knew thought these man-made traditions had something to do with the Jewish priesthood. Nothing could be further from the truth, it was God Who implemented the priesthood. No, the traditions of men, of washing the hands and saying multiple ritual prayers, of not doing ordinary tasks on the Sabbath out of a misguided notion of what was "work", all these were Talmudic additions. 

 

When Jesus spent 3 days among the doctors of the Temple, He was getting His first dose of the sophistry of Talmudism. He was undoubtedly frustrated with this, and He drew the conclusion that the scribes and Pharisees put undue burdens on men.

 

(Aside: There are people in the so-called "New Age movement" who like to speculate that during the 18 "missing" years of Jesus' life, He went to India and learned Eastern religion and philosophy. They have the conceit that Jesus used Eastern thinking to confound the Law of the Jews. It's a ridiculous concept. When Jesus was 12, and He was found again in the Temple, listening to the scribes and Pharisees and asking questions, His mother told Him she and Joseph had been looking all over for Him. Jesus answered, "How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father's business?" [Luke 2:49] This, coupled with the evidence that Jesus clearly built up an enmity toward the Jewish leaders of His time, is enough to puzzle out His 18 "lost" years. He spent them in Judea, working at His earthly father's business, and spending the rest of His time at His Heavenly Father's business.)
 

So if this is the bad leaven, then what is the good leaven? If the traditions of men are the bad leaven of the Law of Moses, that does not mean the Law of Moses is bad. We know that the Law is not only good, but also that Jesus perfectly fulfilled it. The good leaven is the Spirit of the Law. Jesus' perfect fulfillment of the Law is a concept that many Christians take for granted because of Mathew 5:17 ("Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill."), but it's actually a very difficult prospect. How does a man, even a son of man, "fulfill" the Law. Jesus fulfilled the prophesies of the Old Testament. There are countless Christian books about that and I needn't delve into the subject here. But how did Jesus "fulfill" the law and the prophets? This is the question that the Jews of the time of His ministry, as well as the Jews of today, did not understand. Is it even understandable?

 

Well, to start, we know of 4 things that were abrogated. First, as stated, was kashrut, the kosher laws. Second, was circumcision, in favor of baptism (Colossians 2:11). Third, the Jewish temple worship, including the Jewish priesthood, all ended at the time of Jesus' death, with the rending of the veil, although it took another 37 years for the Temple to be razed by the Romans. Fourth, was observance of the Sabbath. Even during His earthly ministry, Jesus changed the emphasis, that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).

 

Now, as far as the kosher laws go, it has been speculated that the reason for this was that the worship of God was being spread from the singular region of Judea to the whole world, and therefore the laws of unclean animals would have been too much for the market to bear, so to speak. That is a good argument from a practical view of things, but from the point of view of God, it is not acceptable in and of itself. If something is sinful in the eyes of God, it is sinful regardless of what region of the world it is done. If these things could be abrogated, it cannot be just because they were no longer useful. It would have to be because they no longer were applicable. For example, in a region where shellfish are unknown, a stricture against the eating of shellfish would not be useful, but it could still be applicable. If a merchant arrived one day with an exotic delicacy of lobster tails, and members of the community, having forgotten the kosher laws, sat down to eat them, they could find themselves suddenly punished by God, because the law still applied even if the members had long forgotten. But if the law were abrogated, then they would not be at fault.

 

So how did Jesus, to use this example, fulfill the laws of kashrut? How did He, being incarnated and having lived and died, somehow "fulfill" the law against eating lobster? Ask it this way and you can see why atheists use this as one of their "gotcha" verses, because Christians really can't easily answer the question, Why does God seem to hate shellfish?

 

Well, to use this as a springboard, the Torah doesn't specifically declare shellfish unclean. It is inferred by the fact that the only creatures in the sea that may be eaten are those with fins and scales. (Deuteronomy 14:9-10). Interestingly, it is written in the Talmud that any fish with scales will also have fins. So if a particular fish is found to have scales, it is considered a kosher fish.
 

This sounds arbitrary and esoteric until we realize what scales are. Scales protect a fish. They are part of the integumentary system, which is the organ system that protects the body from damage and abrasion. The system comprises the skin as well as hair, scales, feathers, hooves and nails. Notice the inclusion of hooves. Clean animals have cloven hooves. A cloven hoof is protected from damage. (One might argue that shellfish are more likely to be protected against damage, but some crustaceans are related to insects, which are tamei, unclean. Keep in mind that kosher laws were not meant to comprise a detailed taxonomy. If a few potentially kosher animals were included in the tamei category, it was not harmful, whereas including tamei in the kosher category would be harmful.)

 

Animals that are kosher must be slaughtered in a certain way. Animals that die of natural causes or killed by other animals may not be eaten. Also, there may be no diseases or flaws in the organs. 
Animals that chew the cud differ from animals that can naturally digest their food in that an animal that chews its cud is not able to produce enzymes in its alimentary canal to break down the cellulose of plants, instead they have a symbiotic relationship with a variety of microbes that reside in the first chamber of the alimentary canal, known as the reticulorumen. (I am getting this all from online resources- I am neither a biology nor a kashrut expert.) So, a cud-chewing animal that is healthy is one that was well-fed and had time to rest and "ruminate".

 

So the bottom line for the kosher laws was to present animals for slaughter that had the least risk of damage, and also that were treated well. Anyone with an unbiased eye toward Jews knows that Jews favor humane treatment of animals. Part of the rules for kosher slaughter are that it be done humanely, with the least risk of causing undue distress to the animal.

 

So what does any of this have to do with Mary? Jesus was the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. When St. John the Baptist saw Jesus come to the waters, he declared, "Behold the Lamb of God Who takest away the sins of the world." This public identification of the man, Jesus, as the Lamb of God, would have caused anyone paying close enough attention to recognize that Jesus was destined for sacrifice. That was the purpose of the lamb of the passover. As the lamb of the passover was to be without blemish, so the food eaten by Jesus needed to be kosher, undamaged, without blemish. The nation of Israel was "chosen" to prepare the way of the Lord, the Messiah. The nation had to have a moral code. The message of Jesus' earthly ministry would have been lost on the surrounding nations who did not know God. He could have preached all day long and they would have had no clue what He was talking about. The nation of Israel had not only God's moral code, the Law, but also prophecies for the Messiah to fulfill. Everything about the Law was for the express purpose of preparing Israel for the Advent of God Incarnate, right down to the food that He ate. Despite what we may speculate regarding whether the Jews of His Advent should have recognized their Lord, we must recognize that all the signs were there. As soon as God was incarnated, lived, ministered and died, the old Law was abrogated in that it was fulfilled. Some things were no longer required. Kosher laws were not required. Circumcision was not required. The Temple was not required. The body of Jesus was the Temple, and His Body the Church took over as the Temple. The Levite priesthood of the "temple made with hands" was taken over by the Roman priesthood of the people who took it on themselves to slaughter the Lamb, as stated in a previous essay. The Catholic priesthood minister in the new Temple, which is His body, which is the Church, which is His mother, and in which Jesus is "born again" at every Mass, the Holy Spirit overshadowing the priest at the words of consecration in the same manner He overshadowed the Blessed Virgin. The Blessed Virgin, whose body gave Jesus the elements of His body, kept kosher, as she kept all the Jewish observances. She celebrated the Passover, even though she herself was preemptively saved by the blood of her Son and did not need the propitiation of lamb's blood, because it was the Law, just as Jesus told John to baptize Him, even though we could say He didn't "require" it, but it was so "to fulfill all justice".
 

 

 

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