Is It Kosher?

In Mark 7:15, Yeshua said, “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.” In verses 18-23, Yeshua continued, “whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, [thus] purifying all foods?”

These verses are quoted to me often by well-meaning Christians seeking to deliver me from the evils of obeying the Torah, and showing me that I can now eat Pork, as if God repealed his own Torah which He said was forever. The way they argue so passionately, one would think Yeshua died so I could eat bacon!

I have several problems with their interpretation: First, the placement of the passage; it follows a passage where Yeshua criticizes the Pharisees and Scribes for “making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do,” Mark 7:13. If Yeshua had “set aside” the Kosher Laws, he would have been guilty of making the word of God of no effect as well. It would have been seen as the ultimate hypocrisy.

Second, Yeshua goes on to explain to his disciples what he did mean by the saying. In Mark 7:18-23, He said, “whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, … What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” Clearly, Yeshua is talking about human attitudes and inclinations that are defiling. He is not talking about food. The fact that Yeshua is definitely not talking about food here is made more clear when doing a comparison with Acts 10:11-13. In Peter’s vision, a sheet descends from heaven with all kinds of unclean animals and a voice from heaven tells Peter to arise, kill, and eat. Peter says no, because he has never eaten an unclean thing. Christians tell me that this also proves the Kosher laws have been set aside and we can now eat pork. However, if what Yeshua was saying in Mark was true, one has to wonder why the disciples didn’t start eating pork from that day on. It is clear they did not, because in the complaints against Yeshua, violation of kosher laws was never one of the accusations.

The second passage, in Acts 11 also does not talk about setting aside dietary laws. This is evident from Peter’s own interpretation of his vision. He said in Acts 10:28, “He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” In Peter’s mind, the vision was not about food, but about gentiles, who were previously considered unclean, but now are considered clean, able to receive the Besora.

This interpretation is common in Messianic circles. It undercuts the traditional Christian interpretation that kosher food laws are not in effect. The Christian view misses one important point. In Jewish circles, the circles in which Yeshua and his disciples lived and moved, when the passage says all foods are clean, it needs to be kept in mind that to Jewish people, pork and other unclean meats are not food.

If people took Peter’s vision literally, and said we can now eat anything, the list would extend far beyond pork products. I saw a documentary on television about food in China, and they eat cats and dogs and rats, and literally anything that crawls on the ground; food to them, but far beyond the pale of what Western civilization considers food. People cringe when they think of Koreans eating dog, or watch Chinese preparing cats for food, yet they fall into the same category of unclean food that pork does.

Preservation of the kosher laws not only upholds the validity of Torah, but of the prophets as well. Isaiah 65:3-4 says, “A people who provokes me to anger continually to my face; that sacrifices in gardens, and burns incense upon altars of brick; Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine’s flesh, and broth of abominable [things is in] their vessels;” makes more sense if kosher laws are still valid. Ignoring these laws makes us guilty of Yeshua’s accusation in Mark 7:13, “making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down.” In this case, it is the Christian tradition, not the Jewish, that makes the word of God of no effect.

When I refer to kosher food, for the purpose of this discussion, I am not referring to the current system of rabbinic kashrut, with all its regulations. I am limiting my treatment of this topic to biblical texts. Having said this, I am not advocating that all Christians start observing rabbinic food regulations. I do find, that in consideration of the above texts, there is less support for non-Jewish Yeshua followers eating biblically forbidden meats. While I have maintained that non-Jews are not obligated in the same way to the Torah as Jews, who have a covenantal obligation to it; non-Jews have always found Holy Scripture, including the Torah to be a guide to life, and it would be a good thing for them to avoid forbidden things, as do the Seventh Day Adventists and the Hebrew Roots churches.

Having said this, it should be noted that I am not saying it is sin for non-Jews to eat forbidden meats; not because I think it is acceptable, but because it is not my place to judge. I don’t tell other people what they should do. Most of the time, they don’t listen to me anyway, and besides, I have my own problems.

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17 thoughts on “Is It Kosher?

  1. Michael,

    You have come to the same place that I and many others have – all believers SHOULD keep the commandments (and not just the Big Ten). Gentiles are not called to obey in a Jewish way and thus confuse questions of identity, but they should make their own ways to obey. As long as it does not contradict the instructions given in the Scripture, it’s a good thing.

    The question we face at this juncture is how to communicate this to Christians who have been taught for generations that all “law” has been “done away with”. The law that was “done away with”, “nailed to the cross” and “made of no effect” is the “Law of Sin and Death”, not the Torah. The issue is between each individual and G-d, but they need to understand what the Scriptures truly teach.

    Your thoughts are appreciated.

    • I appreciate the fact that you are careful to not confuse identity issues while recognizing that it is good for Yeshua believers to follow Torah. While I do believe Torah is good for all, I don’t see any scripture that explicitly says a non-Jew who eats a ham sandwich is in sin. These things need to be sorted out with great care and responsible teaching, but not with oneupmanship or judgmental attitudes. There is too much of that as there is.

  2. Great article, keep’em coming!

    I once heard (an Orthodox) rabbi (I forget who) say that pork is perfectly acceptable for a non-Jew, and that there’s nothing inherently unclean about it. He made the case that there are other “unclean” animals, such as horses or ostriches (which people normally do not consider “dirty” like they do pigs), which are just as unclean as pigs (scripturally speaking). What’s more, that rabbi went on to say that if he were a Gentile, he would not hesitate to indulge in pork, but for a Jew, however, these meats are unclean simply because G-d said so (G-d never gave us a reason why certain seemingly clean animals are unclean to eat). People try to come up with all kinds of health related rationale, etc., but when examined closely much of it makes little sense (e.g. Japanese consume gobs of pork and lard, but have some of the longest lifespans in the world).

    In the Torah we see explicit instances where what’s unclean to eat for a Jew is perfectly acceptable for a Gentile (Deuteronomy 14:21). Also, other than a prohibition to eat blood/idolatry related consumption, scriptures never chide non-Jews for eating something that is listed as unclean to Jews. So, as a Jew I do not eat pork simply because that’s what G-d told me to refrain from doing, not because it’s bad for my health or because pigs were never meant to be used for food by people (since they are in fact food for hundreds of millions if not billions of people who depend on them with their very lives as their main source of protein).

    • Gene,

      I did a 3 month study of “the Law” when I first discovered the Messianic movement. I wanted to see whether there were laws that applied to the Jew, but not the Gentile. What I found was that the most often repeated phrase in the Torah is something to the effect of “you shall have the same law for you and the stranger who lives among you”. In fact, the passage you cite was the ONLY place I found a differentiation between the Israelite and the stranger who lives among them.

      That being said, it is my belief that the Gentile who joins himself to the Jewish people (by dwelling among them in the Messianic congregation, the neighborhood, etc.) should understand that he has the same obligations as a Jew. Every Gentile believer on the planet does not “dwell among” the Jews. Therefore, conforming to Jewish community norms should not be an issue for them. HOWEVER, they are still told to keep the commandments as an expression of their love for G-d. (Neh 1:5, Dan 9:4, John 14:21 & 15:10, 1 John 5:2-3 and 2 John 1:6) They don’t need to do so in a recognizably Jewish fashion UNLESS they “dwell among” Jews. But, they DO need to do it in SOME way.

      • “Am Echad”,

        You have to remember that Torah was given explicitly to the Jewish people. As such, it does not touch too often on what is permitted or not permitted for a Gentile. The traditional Jewish understanding, and it’s very much reflected in NT, is that Gentiles are only obligated to the laws given to Noah.

        Gentiles living in a Jewish neighborhood (in Jewish Diaspora) or even visiting a synagogue are under no obligation whatsoever to observe Mosaic Torah. Any traditional Jewish source will tell you that. The very specific laws mentioned in the Bible, most of which are what one would call basic moral laws, such prohibition against murder, theft, idolatry, etc (but there are others, such as Shabbat – because even slaves and cattle in Israel was to rest on Shabbat) and which are said to be equally obligatory to Gentiles apply only to those non-Jews who live in the Land (meaning in the Land of Israel), under a theocratic government that could enforce Torah through judges.

  3. Gene,

    I am not referring to any and all Gentiles. I am referring SPECIFICALLY to those who choose to worship Israel’s G-d, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph…and Y’shua. The way they demonstrate love for G-d is to obey His commands (as mentioned above).

    • “Am Echad”,

      Let me give you a small illustration…

      When it came to Temple Worship, there were and are three kinds of Jews in Israel: Kohens, Levites, and Israelites. If a Levite decided that he is not satisfied with the obligations and responsibilities that G-d gave to him as a Levite but wanted to show his love for G-d in the same way as Kohen’s do and then proceeded to observe those obligations and responsibilities that G-d gave specifically to a Kohen, do you think G-d will be pleased with such voluntary extra effort on the part of the Levite?

      • Gene,

        Did you see my statement that not all Gentiles should behave in a Jewish way? No one is trying to take anything away from you (you specifically or the Jewish people in general). You lose nothing if Gentiles follow what Moses and the prophets taught in their own culturally relevant way. That is my point.

        _IF_ a Gentile is called to come alongside the Jewish people and help work towards the renewal of Israel in Y’shua, and _IF_ that person joins himself to a Jewish community, _THEN_ that person should behave as “the stranger who lives among you”.

        Other Gentile believers should find their own culturally relevant ways to follow all of the Scriptures. (“Culturally relevant” meaning relevant to the culture they live in and are a part of.) This takes nothing away from Judaism in any form.

        Each one is to work out his own salvation before his own Master. (Forgive me for mixing verses, but you get the idea.) It is not my place to judge another person for how they work out their love for G-d.

      • “Am Echad”,

        I agree with Michael’s point regarding converts (and so does the traditional Jewish theology) – only those Gentiles who officially converted to Judaism via an authorized Jewish beit din, in other words those who officially became part of the the Jewish people (i.e. they became “Jews”) have the same obligation as Jews. Everything else is beyond the scope of any “Jewish” Judaism – Gentiles who wish to make their home among the Jewish people have to “play” by Jewish rules, instead of creating their own standards of who should or can observe what.

  4. It should be kept in mind that when the Torah speaks of “the Gentile who joins himself to the Jewish people” it is referring to gentiles who have converted to Judaism, not gentiles who live in a Jewish neighborhood (i.e.,’by dwelling among them in the Messianic congregation, the neighborhood, etc.’) It is saying that gentiles who have converted, (gerim) do have the same obligations as a Jew. Gentile attendees at a Messianic congregation are not in the same category. Conversion requires a greater commitment to the Jewish people (i.e., the community) and therefore the same laws apply to them.

  5. I was thinking as I was reading how many times I have seen the term Gentile who joins himself to the Jewish people” as including all Gentiles in the Messianic movement. In fact many people quote the call of Ruth to support that view. However, Ruth was a convert to Judaism not simply living along side her Jewish neighbors. I respect the view that all who follow Yeshua would want to follow Torah in all ways,but some caution is needed. What if a Gentile in the congregation does not see the need to follow the Torah in his or her life the way others do? Should that person be judged for his/her decision? Not all things are for all people. It is a fact of life in all places including the synagogue. Do not require of a Messianic Gentile what applies to the convert or to the native born Jew no matter how “culturally relevant” the issue..

  6. Am Ehad,

    I feel a bit strange responding to “a movement” as it says on your blog. I assume you’re an individual, so perhaps you could identify yourself?

    Anyway, you wrote, “_IF_ a Gentile is called to come alongside the Jewish people and help work towards the renewal of Israel in Y’shua, and _IF_ that person joins himself to a Jewish community. _THEN_ that person should behave as “the stranger who lives among you”.. .”

    I’m not sure what you mean by “a Jewish community,” but how about thinking about it this way:

    “_IF_a Jewish community believes that gentile is called, etc. and _IF_that community welcomes him or her into the community, _THEN_ that person should follow the norms the community has established in such circumstances.”

    Healthy communities are not groups of autonomous individuals who decide to join and do whatever is right in their own eyes. They have their own dynamics, relationships, and purposes that should be respected. Don’t you agree?

    “joins himself to . . .” If you respect the community, how about “if that person is welcomed into a Jewish community”?

    • Carl,

      Agreed. One cannot “join” a community they are not welcomed into – it must be a two way street. No issue at all there. I apologize if I made it sound like the community had no say in the matter. That was not my intent.

      All,

      Please educate me. I do not understand this: If a “stranger that lives among you” actually refers to a convert – does not that convert become part of Israel when he converts? If the “stranger” has become part of Israel, who is referred to by the term “stranger”? Is the “stranger” still a stranger after he has converted?

  7. The term for stranger is “ger,” as in Moshe’s son, Gershom. I was a stranger here. A convert is called a ger, so at least in Jewish thought, a convert is a ger, or stranger as its translated. He remains a ger all his life, and is treated as one native born according to torah.

    • What then was the status of the “G-d-fearers”- those who were a part of the Jewish community, but did not undergo formal conversion? They seemed to be a part of every synagogue mentioned in the New Covenant Scriptures.

  8. How do you know they did not undergo conversion? As stated above a convert continues to be called a ger or a stranger who joins to the community. While they are given all the rights and privileges of native born Jews they are still referred to as the stranger who joins or in this case G-d fearers. For example, Cornelius was a devout follower of Judaism but was not a Jew. Yet Paul went and met with him in his house. Also, at the time of the second temple there were three courts; one for the Jewish men, one for the Gentiles , and one for the women. While all three groups were able to learn Torah together and worship together they were not on the same level.

    • god fearers were not converts. Cornelius is an example. They believed in the God of Israel, and often adopted Jewish rites of prayer and Tzedaka. They supported the local synagogues, and were fully supportive of the Jewish people, yet had not themselves converted to Judaism. There is no evidence from Scripture that they had any official standing in the synagogue except perhaps as “friends” of the synagogue who were deeply appreciated by their congregations. Not once are they ever spoken of as having any rights within Judaism, but kept their status as friends of the Jewish people. If they wished to take it to the next step, they converted.

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