Body positivity; what goes in and what goes out.
In this week’s 929 weekly roundup I focus on Leviticus chapters 11 and 15.
Leviticus 11 talks about Kosher food laws. So I reflect on what the origins of those food laws were. Is it all really just about a lack of refrigerators in biblical times or is it about child sacrifice (see below)? Honestly, nobody knows. But the ways in which Jews are relating to how we are eating our food is changing nowadays with regards to the “why” behind our food choices.
It’s not just about cloven hooves or animals that chew their cud (pigs have cloven hooves but don’t chew their cud – and you have to do both to be kosher)… instead, many are starting to take into consideration the ethical nature of how our food was created.
Questions about the sustainability of the earth and the fair treatment of workers is starting to become a factor in what some consider to be kosher or not. One of these such movements is called Eco-Kashrut.
Even if we find the answers to these questions, what happens 5-10 years from now when many of the ways in which we relate to food will be completely different thanks to meatless meat restaurants like Clover.
“What happens when you can start making food inside of a laboratory. So a lot of these questions that emerge out of Leviticus 11 about what’s kosher and what’s okay to eat are going to have to start to adapt as the times begin to change?”
Another thing that I talk about is the hypothesis that Christopher Hitchens raised in one of his books – and it is that the fear of pigs originates in the similarities between humans and pigs. And that in a time when human and child sacrifice was still happening, the Israelites who pushed back against such a practice, became disgusted with pigs as a consequence of their closeness to human anatomy (you can use a pig heart to replace parts of a human heart) and to how cooked pig supposedly smells like cooked human.
Now we jump to the stuff that comes out.
Leviticus 15 focus on bodily emissions. Semen for the fellas and menstruation for the ladies. There was a lot of skepticism amongst the ancient Israelite crowds around these things. As a result of that – people that had bodily emissions were not allowed to participate in the religious rituals for either 1 to 7 days after.
“So one thing that this kind of body skepticism connects to is just the idea that there’s a difference between a body and a soul and the two of these things are really kind of fighting one another on the battle ground that is each and every one of us. And as a result of thinking that the body is separate from the soul, all of a sudden, whatever, whenever the body does something that’s a little suspicious or that we don’t fully understand especially in those days like menstruation, then it becomes even more so something that is to be kind of pushed aside to the corners of society.”
There is a lot to think about when it comes to what goes in and comes out of our bodies. The ideas brought up in Leviticus help us to think about the ways in which we relate to our bodies in contemporary times. Is there still a menstruation taboo nowadays? Is food still banned as a result of being connected to practices that disgust us? How are our traditions evolving to match our values? Would love to hear your thoughts on the episode below!
Full Transcript – Scroll below to read along:
00:04 Hello and welcome to Raising Holy Sparks with Reb Misha Clebaner, a show where we celebrate the beauty. In this seemingly mundane, we delve deep into Torah. We go back to the basics of Judaism 101 and get practical tips for building positive habits, with both ancient and contemporary techniques. So much wonder out there. Let’s get started.
00:28 Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the 929 weekly roundup. Rather than looking at all five of the chapters that were studied during this week’s 929 study, I want to look at just leviticus 11 and leviticus 15. Chapter 11 talks about the laws of kosher eating, so it focuses on what comes in the body. And Chapter 15 talks about bodily fluids that are emitted from the body. For Boys, it’s semen. And then for the ladies it’s menstruation. So chapter 15 talks about what comes out of the body.
01:17 So in looking at these ideas this week of things that are coming in and also things that are going out, I wanted to kind of take a contemporary lens to these age old Jewish questions and practices and traditions around either kosher eating or also how we view the connection between the body and the soul and where our priorities should be. And so with this modern lens on these age old questions, I hope that we can see some variety of options of how we can relate to these questions.
02:00 So I’d like to start with leviticus 11 and in thinking about kosher food laws. So to do a little bit of clarification, one kind of question or hypotheses I get from a lot of friends when they’re trying to understand or guess the origins of kosher food laws. A lot of the time I hear people say the only reason that kosher food laws exist, kashrut exists, is because people didn’t have refrigerators back in the day.
02:39 And so without refrigerators you clearly have to develop a whole different set of rules for what you can and cannot eat. So I love that as a guess, however people were able to survive without refrigerators were able to create systems to keep their food fresh. Whether that’s shrimp or pig, you can still keep food fresh without having refrigeration. So that’s just one thing that I think is important to remember is that kind of, the biblical laws around what to eat or what not to eat, but were not at all a reaction to the lack of having a refrigerator. But I think that is a great guess of where they came from. So if you’re thinking of what are some ways that people were able to preserve food without refrigeration, I’m totally not an expert in how food was preserved, but, of course there was always canning and pickling and so you can keep various types of food safe and bacteria free for long periods of time just by keeping it in the vinegar or in enclosed packages.
04:14 So it definitely could have been impossible to eat whatever you wanted to eat through long stretches of time. If you’re, you’re canning and pickling, if you’re making jams, that’s one way to keep fruit preserved through long periods of time. But also people were very creative about how they used caves and other kinds of dark spaces that were kept cool for long periods of time and kind of one place where we see the possibility of kind of the cool dark places keeping something preserved is when they found the Dead Sea Scrolls in these caves near the Dead Sea. And even though that they had been around for thousands of years, they still were preserved in pretty great condition. You were still able to see the writing, the paper hadn’t torn. And all of this was just because they were inside the crevices of these caves. So there’s definitely many ways for things to be protected from the, the high heat of that region without worrying about refrigeration.
05:39 But along the lines of great guesses of what’s going on with kosher food laws, the author and a famous new-atheist, is the title for this group, the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens. He actually has a pretty interesting theory about what the deal with the ban on pig is versus any other animal. He thinks that it’s because during the time when a lot of these laws were coming into creation, one practice that was still happening in the region and one practice that Judaism really kind of pushed against was child sacrifice. And when you ever, you get rid of the bodies after these human sacrifices, they would be burned. And so Christopher Hitchens says that whenever he interviewed for his work, people that lived in cannibalistic societies that cook human flesh, that it smells of a similar smell as pigs do when they’re being cooked.
07:09 And so kind of, there was this kind of psycho-visceral disgust that people had, whenever they would smell this smell because it would remind them of kind of the terrifying practice of human sacrifice. And so anything that’s smelled similar to that would be avoided. And so that’s where one of the kind of serious bans against a pigs came from, was just the remarkable similarities between pigs and humans. And of course he mentioned.. mentions things such as the fact that you can take a pig heart or part of a pig heart and use it for transplants for humans if there’s something wrong with the human heart as well.
08:08 So it’s very hard to say what the origins of any of these food laws are. I think Christopher Hitchens, his guess is a fun and interesting guess, but, the way that these laws have developed is that it’s not necessarily about knowing why you’re doing something, but rather just as a practice of discipline to be able to say I’m doing something without actually having a complete understanding of why I’m doing it and I’m doing it on a regular basis.
08:52 And so Jewish laws are actually into a variety of categories of laws that make sense. And then also laws that the explanation is a bit more implicit, but you can still kind of deduce it. And then laws that you can’t even understand whether through reasoning, kind of like kosher food laws where they just don’t really make sense to our modern minds anymore.
09:23 So a very interesting question and nowadays it’s not even about whether it’s a pig or what have you, but contemporary movements such as the Jewish renewal world, they also have kind of come up with their own dietary food systems where they say we have a new definition of what makes food kosher and it’s about sustainability. It’s about, are you paying the workers and the farmers that are involved with the preparation of the food. And so this is a really fascinating question of how are our, how is our approach to, kosher food laws going to evolve as the times move forward and are our kind of practices going to match up with our ethics?
10:19 And so there’s definitely a slow but sure movement with this redefinition of what makes something kosher with it’s not just about whether it’s shrimp or it’s pig, but it’s about the larger global implications of what it means to consume the various things that, that we’re going to eat.
10:43 And it’s not even just the more progressive communities as well. In the Orthodox world there was a lot of question, is it okay to eat veal? Which is a meat that becomes a bit more tender when you eat it, but that’s only a result of the cow is kept in this confined space and it’s not really able to grow at all. And so kind of the kosher status of the veal wasn’t at all contingent upon the types of hooves it has, like the pig (cloven) or whether it chews its cud, like the pig (it doesn’t). You’re not concerned about those classic things primarily… or exclusively. Instead, you’re also thinking about, um, kind of the ethics that are involved. And so some communities don’t eat veal as a result of the humanitarian and ethical implications of the food rather than just the biological aspects of the food.
11:48 So that’s leviticus 11 where we’re thinking about what it mean to eat in the system of holiness with intentionality, and it’s a developing question. I think even as we move forward with the rise of a lot of meats that are being created in laboratories, whether it’s the restaurant Clover or these other places that are creating meatless meats, they’re going to be able to do that whether for bacon and for shrimp and so all of a sudden these things that were considered not kosher or not Hallal, what happens when you can start making food inside of, inside of a laboratory. So a lot of these questions that emerge out of leviticus 11 about what’s kosher and what’s okay to eat are gonna have to start to adapt as the times begin to change.
12:50 Okay. And now I’d also like to look at leviticus 15 which talks about body emissions and it says that for boys that begin to have emissions of semen, whether intentionally or unintentionally, they’re not able to participate in all of the stuff that happened in the religious ritual until later that evening and they have to wash beforehand. And same thing for, for the women, but with an extended period of time that whenever they are in the process of menstruation, they also are not to participate in the religious ritual until their periods are complete. So they give the number of approximately seven days and then they also have to wash and only then afterwards can they participate in the religious rituals.
13:52 And so I think that this idea of being very skeptical about the body, all of a sudden you see something coming out of the body, and in a world before having the opportunity to conduct scientific tests with repetition and hypotheses and people cross-examining one another, where you can’t really go that deep to figure out what’s going on with this kind of rare bodily thing.. That people began to really take a skeptic, go lens and approach to whatever happened with the body.
14:42 And so as a result of that skepticism, it kind of fed into a bit of a negative perception and all of a sudden something that’s very regular, like a period which happens every month. In fact, in the Hebrew, it can be translated actually as machzor, which means “to return”. So if something is happening so regularly, can it really be seen with suspicion? Isn’t it part of just what it means to be a human being is you have this bodily process? Nevertheless, the skepticism stuck around and it turned into kind of, a vision of negativity as well that, you know, after the woman has gone through many menstruation that says you can’t sit in the same seats that she was sitting in and you have to make sure you wash all the clothes. And so I can get where the fear of blood is coming from, but when it’s happening on such a regular basis, even though it’s blood, isn’t it becoming a much more normalized thing where we understand: oh, this happens!
16:03 So one thing that this kind of body skepticism connects to is just the idea that there’s a difference between a body and a soul and the two of these things are really kind of fighting one another on the battle ground that is each and every one of us. And as a result of thinking that the body is separate from the soul, all of a sudden, whatever, whenever the body does something that’s a little suspicious or that we don’t fully understand especially in those days like menstruation, then it becomes even more so something that is to be kind of pushed aside to the corners of society.
16:51 But the question is, so what happens when you actually believe that there isn’t a battle going on between the soul and the body and that what it means to be a human being is kind of a fusion between those two things, between the soul and the body, that you can’t actually take the two of them apart and that when ever we have something going on with our bodies, that’s just as much of a concern as something that’s happening with our spirits. Whether it’s depression or joyousness, those emotional kind of indicators of how we’re feeling are just as relevant as kind of if you have a rash or you’re feeling strong and your muscles are doing great. Those are physical indicators of how you’re doing. So rather than looking towards the indicators of spirituality, only the realm of the soul and the saying, “hooray thank goodness we have the indicators for our spirits are doing, but we should be very skeptical of the indicators from the body”. Instead, we should be thinking “okay, well any indicator is a fantastic, extra addition for us to understand how we’re doing as human beings because we are not either a soul or a body or a body versus a soul. But rather it’s a combination of the two of those things together.”
18:23 So one thing that I mentioned about leviticus 15, which I wrote up in the blog post, was about how a few years ago something called period parties actually started coming out where parents would throw their daughters, a party to mark the coming into adulthood for these young ladies as something to be celebrated rather than as something that’s unfortunate.
18:53 And so one of the things that I mentioned in the blog post is a book that came out called “My little red book” and the author she talks about her own story of how she got her first period while participating in a water sports activity and she was wearing this yellow outfit and there was a whole big deal. But imagine if she would know that later that week or whenever there would actually be a process of excitement of saying “fantastic, you have this thing which is actually something to be celebrated because it’s part of your body”… just in the way that I’m somebody who is participating in a kind of a marathon or in a bodybuilding competition when they reach a place where their bodies able to do something that that’s celebrated as a result of hard work. So too, should we celebrate what our bodies do on a natural basis.
20:07 I mean, for anyone that’s ever studied biology or what happens inside of our bodies, it’s obvious that every little action that works correctly in our bodies is a miracle. Because so many things can go wrong. And so when we have this thing from our body that works in the way that it should, rather than the feeling “oh my goodness, this is so embarrassing”, but we should say, “hooray, this is what the human body should do”.
20:39 And of course we should also be very sensitive to folks that, you know, they’re not able to go through the proper process of menstruation or they have some other sort of thing which is out of the usual ways that we expect the body to work. And to say that that’s okay too, because that’s what it means to be human. So many of us are having the one thing work, but then any other day another thing won’t work. And so what it means to be human is that sometimes things go as we expect. Another times things don’t go as we expect. And that’s part of the process of what it means to be a human being and to have and to have a body.
21:30 So whether it’s celebrating things that do work or if it’s about accepting the moments in our lives when our bodies are not working as expected, this is such an important shift in the way that we relate and teach how to relate to our bodies, to the next generation, for people to be proud of their bodies rather than thinking, “oh my goodness, I’m not as expected”. There was no such thing as expectation… everything is constantly changing. And when we can be excited about that change, rather than be suspicious of it, especially nowadays, since we have the science to make sure that the change is not going to be harmful to our health, then why not celebrate the change?
22:25 So that’s something that leviticus 15 brings up and it gives us a lot to think about; just as leviticus 11 gives us something to think about how we eat kosher food. So if you enjoyed this episode, I encourage you to subscribe to be able to listen to future episodes. And if you really enjoyed the episode, I ask that you give it a five star review. It really helps to support the show. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. I look forward to being on this adventure and this journey with you for many weeks to come. Take care. Bye.
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