Saturday, January 06, 2007

Why Don't Christians Keep Kosher?

This question came up in my mind as I was making a comment on the blog of one of my law school professors. Some quick poking around revealed that most Christians point to the following passage from Acts as the basis for not following the strictures of the dietary laws set forth in the Old Testament, in Leviticus:
About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."

"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."

The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
Acts 10:9-15; see also discussion at Metafilter.

As I mentioned in my comments on Prof. Dorf's blog, I wondered if the New Testament's amendments of the law of the Old Testament meant that other Old Testament proscriptions such as proscriptions on homosexuality were similarly superceded by the new covenant created through Jesus. Some research into this reveals that, according to the Gospels, Jesus does not appear to say anything about the specific topic of homosexuality, but there are statements in other chapters of the New Testament that suggest that the proscription stands. Needless to say, it's a matter of significant controversy between Christians.

One thing that becomes clear: there is no easy reading here. We are dealing with interpretations of multiple English versions of the New Testament, which in turn rely on the understanding of the use of ancient Greek terms such as "malakoi ". It seems that the very nature of the exercise would caution against dogmatism. It does seem to me, though I am not expert, that, on the whole, Jesus' approach was one of forgiveness and tolerance: the basic message seemed to be that the technicalities of what one ate, or what went into the body were not important so long as one was pure of heart and word.


toddy said...

The incosistencies in doctrine and practice are to be expected. As any other religion, Christianity is as much a product of interpretation based on social and political needs as primal inspiration.
it is always a laugh to discuss theology with the dogmatic. They have chosen their way, they have picked out their key verses.

There is this great Australian movie, perhaps one of my all time favorites called "The Castle" in which during a court scene an overcome attorney keeps repeating the phrase "its just the vibe of it really."

Anonymous said...

I can't speak for Christians, but as an Atheist, I can say that I don't follow any form of the kosher diet because it's unnecessary given modern food safety practices.

I do recognize that it had its place in a time before germ theory was understood, and even the pork ban might have been a solid idea until the American pork industry cleaned up the pig in the 1980s (trichinosis was just nasty).

Now, though, it's just outdated thinking to ban a food just because some bronze-age religious leader said so.

Having said that, one of the best cooks I know is jewish and one of my favorite places to eat is a kosher deli, so at least it's not an empty practice.

Elsa said...

I really do believe that it was for health reasons...and we added all the extra laws for different stages of different governments and the end...but only those souls that survive will can not love your neighbor if you do not love yourself...Pork is not only dangerous...though delicious...but its tinny little friends stay with us...forever and have proven to infect our modern day society has a lot of excuses...I have to see the Castle now...instead of reading up on kosher...for a break