The Good, the Bad, and the Cleanly

Leviticus 11: Cleanliness is next to godliness

Of all the animals in the world, there is only a select few that we may eat. It is expressly forbidden to eat any of the following:

  • Animals that do not have divided hooves (e.g. camels, horses) or animals that don’t chew cud (e.g. pigs, rabbits).
  • Sea creatures without fins or scales (e.g. shrimp, otters)
  • Eagles, vultures, kites, ravens, owls, cormorants, ospreys, storks, herons, hoopoes, and bats.
  • Flying insects that walk on all fours (e.g. beetles, wasps)
  • Weasels, rats, or lizards, and any animal that moves along the ground (e.g. snakes)
  • Animals with paws (e.g. cats, wolves) or feet other than hooves (e.g. gorillas)

There are, however, a few animals that are permitted:

  • Animals that have divided hooves and chew cud (e.g. cows, zebras)
  • Sea creatures with fins and scales (e.g. fish)
  • Any birds not listed above
  • Flying insects with jointed legs for hopping (e.g. grasshoppers, locusts)

Unfortunately, should you accidentally touch the carcass of an unclean animal, you yourself will be deemed unclean till evening. Similarly, should one of these things accidentally die and land on something, it too is unclean until evening (with the exception of containers, which remain permanently unclean). Unwatered seeds are unharmed by unclean carcasses, but watered ones must be discarded.

Real-world example: Suppose a rat is scurrying across a shelf, when suddenly a piece of plaster inopportunely falls from the ceiling, landing on the rat and breaking its neck. The rat then tumbles off the shelf into a clay pot of water, which tips over and spills onto a bag of oat seeds. The rat’s soggy carcass then rolls out of the pot, down the oat bag, and onto your sleeve, as you are napping beside the bag of oats. You wake up startled, throw your arms up, and inadvertently fling the dead rat out an open window, where it lands in a cistern.

Working backwards, in this case”…

  • The cistern is clean, as is the water in it, but the poor guy who has to fish it out with his hands will become unclean
  • Your shirt is unclean until you wash it
  • You are unclean until evening, regardless of whether you bathe
  • Any dry oat seeds from the bag are clean, while any wet ones are unclean and must be thrown away
  • The clay pot is permanently unclean and should be broken up
  • The shelf is unclean for an indefinite amount of time and should be removed for good measure
  • The plaster is unclean and your ceiling needs repair

As a result of these rules, we can safely generalize any culture whose cuisine centers around pork, shellfish, or any other unclean food as a generally unclean group of people to be avoided altogether.

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