Yeshua and Kashrut (Jewish Dietary Laws)
Did Yeshua keep kosher and does it matter? We are in the New Testament era now and Yeshua did not need to keep the old Jewish laws? Did Yeshua keep Kashrut?
Yeshua was a Jew among Jews. He lived in a Jewish culture in which there was little choice other than keeping the biblical kosher laws. Yeshua’s point of contention was never with the Torah, but with the “Traditions of the Elders”.
Yeshua kept biblical kashrut, as a real Jewish man. We are often given the impression that Yeshua was an iconoclast, destroying all that was before and replacing it with something “new”. Yeshua was not like that. Yeshua brought the lost meanings back to ceremonies and practices, the observance of which had often become automatic and empty.
Yeshua said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17). Yeshua did not break the Torah of God or biblical kashrut, but He was often in conflict with the Oral Torah. At Yeshua’s trial even His enemies could not accuse Him of not keeping biblically kosher. If Yeshua had not kept kosher, it would have no doubt figured as a very significant part of the accusations at His trial; but it did not. Yeshua kept kosher.
What was the Purpose of Kosher Laws?
What were the kosher laws? The Torah contains special regulations relating to the animals which could be used for food (Leviticus 11:1ff; Deuteronomy 14:3-21). The Israelites were also forbidden (treyfah) to use as food anything that had been consecrated to idols (Exodus 34:15) or animals that had died of disease or had been torn by wild beasts (Exodus 22:31; Leviticus 22:8, with other restrictions listed in Exodus 23:19; 29:13-22; Leviticus 3:4-9, 9:18, 19 22:8; Deuteronomy 14:21).
It is easy to be so busy in “observance” and to be involved in it that you never stop to ask why? or, What is God teaching here? Are pigs evil? Are shrimps in league with the devil? Were the laws of kashrut purely arbitrary? Did God give the regulations simply to cramp Israel’s style? God is not like that. The social laws and kosher regulations were intended to teach about separation and holiness, so preserving the Messianic line in preparation for the birth of Yeshua. If you could not eat with the pagan nations you could not socialise or be infected by pagan ideas and practices (Exodus 34:15).
Israel’s kosher laws were not primitive ideas that humanity has since outgrown; they constitute a sophisticated object lesson. More than that, they helped to preserve the messianic line in Israel. Beyond this, though, in the grand scheme of things and in the cosmic battle for the souls of men and women, Satan seeks to pervert everything that God made. Satan cannot create, he can only take what God created and twist it from its original purpose. Hence, the command, “Do not boil a kid in it’s mothers milk” (Exodus 23:19) was given in order to distance God’s people from a perverse pagan practice of using the mother’s milk that gave life, as the tool of its death. A modern parallel may be seen in parental abuse in which the God given bond of trust, between parent and child is wickedly perverted. The kosher laws, then, were intended to preserve both the Messianic line and the moral purity of the nation of Israel.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:22 we see the principal of kashrut contained in the New Testament instruction about the believer’s pursuit of daily holiness: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” This principle corresponds with the injunction of Leviticus 19:2: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Leviticus 19 then lists what is kosher or forbidden. The purpose behind the catalogue of clean and unclean foods was that Israel might copy God. We know that God does not need to eat or wash, because of John 4:24: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” Nonetheless He encapsulated lessons about Himself and His standards of holiness in concrete day-to-day laws. God is Spirit, but the Israelites were flesh and blood and needed tangible lessons. Holiness means separation, being different, and the kosher laws -when they were observed both by the letter and after the spirit. kept Israel separate from the nations.
How Should we View Kashrut?
Yeshua gave a clear perspective on kashrut in Matthew 15:1: “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”
The kosher laws all find their perfect expression in Yeshua. We are kosher not by keeping kosher but by Yeshua Himself making us kosher. If you want to conform to the kosher template of the Tanach, that spoke of Yeshua, then Romans 14:14 is clear: “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”
There are other Scriptural principles that must be considered as we formulate our attitude to kashrut (see Romans 14:21;1 Corinthians 8:13;1 Corinthians 6:12) Paul knew that his freedom should not be a cause for confusion. He knew that kashrut found its ultimate expression in Yeshua. However, he did not gloat over others who had not arrived at this full New Testament realisation (1 Corinthians 9:20-23).
Keeping kosher cannot make you kosher before God, but it is a genuine expression of Jewish identity and culture. Having bacon and eggs for breakfast cannot send you to hell. It may offend some “weaker brethren” and break with traditional Jewish culture, but it cannot take away your ultimate “kosher-ness” if you have Yeshua as your atonement for sins.
There is no biblical ground for forbidding Messianic Jews to keep kosher. But there is, however, a biblical imperative to forbid folk from insisting that Messianic Jews must keep kosher.
Whatever form of cultural identity any believer in Yeshua adopts, they must always affirm that culture cannot save; only Yeshua can make us kosher before God.
© Richard Gibson, Leeds Messianic 2001