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COVID-19 Part 1: Jewish Dietary Laws

COVID-19 Part 1: Jewish Dietary Laws March 20, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Current Coronavirus Pandemic

It seems to me that the current coronavirus pandemic, called COVID-19, that the world is experiencing may prove the existence of the God of Israel. I don’t mean exactly as divine judgment imposed upon us, but that it may have occurred due to the failure of humans to observe, to a certain extent, the dietary laws that Israel’s God gave his people, the Hebrews, and that are set forth in their holy scriptures. How so? It is believed that this new coronavirus was initially transmitted to humans via bats that were sold and slaughtered for human consumption in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the mega-city of Wuhan in China. But it is also possible the disease jumped from bats to other market animals and then to humans. Either way, the origin is bats.

Chinese culture has an age-old tradition of eating wild animals and using some of their carcasses in Chinese Medicine. This source of protein for people in China to eat is estimated to be about an $80 billion annual business. Yet bats are specifically declared as “unclean animals” in the Jewish Bible and therefore forbidden for human consumption.

I’m no expert on Jewish dietary laws, as set forth in the Bible, and what Jews call “eating kosher.” But I think every Gentile should pay attention to it for the sake of their own health. These laws are established in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 in the Jewish Bible (Old Testament). These texts merely say what the Hebrews (now Jews) may eat and not eat. Animals are divided therein between “clean” and “unclean.” Eating clean animals is permitted, whereas eating unclean animals is forbidden.

Jewish Dietary Laws in the Bible

So, let’s take a peek at what some of these laws say. Leviticus 11. 1-4 (NRSV) says, “The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them: Speak to the people of Israel, saying: From among all the land animals, these are the creatures that you may eat. Any animal that has divided hoofs and is cleft-footed and chews the cud—such you may eat. But among those that chew the cud or have divided hoofs, you shall not eat.” So, the animal must have a divided hoof and chew the cud to be acceptable for human consumption.

Then, various animals are mentioned in these two categories. Clean animals include “the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer” and others because they are an “animal that divides the hoof and has the hoof cleft in two, and chews the cud” (Deuteronomy 14.4-6). Several unclean animals are mentioned, and among them are, you guessed it—pigs. For we read, “The pig, for even though it has divided hoofs and is cleft-footed, it does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you” (Leviticus 11.7). We next read of these unclean animals, “Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean for you” (v. 8). So, don’t even touch!

We also read of clean and unclean animals in the water and the same about birds in the air. For instance, “These you shall regard as detestable among the birds. They shall not be eaten; they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the osprey, the buzzard;” there are many others, and finally “the bat” is mentioned (Leviticus 11.13-14, 19; cf. “bat” in Deuteronomy 14.18).

Leviticus 11 concludes, “This is the law pertaining to land animal and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms upon the earth, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten” (vv. 46-47).

Interestingly, neither Leviticus 11 nor Deuteronomy 14 nor the entire Bible ever explains why animals are so categorized as “clean” and “unclean” and thus permitted or not permitted for human consumption.

Both Jews and Christians have sought to understand the reasoning behind these dietary laws. Some have argued there are legitimate hygienic reasons, and some have denied this. Most have concluded there are allegorical reasons for these dietary laws, most of which pertain to the Jews’ separation from Gentiles. But for Christians, any reasoning must be reconciled with the Apostle Peter’s experience in Acts 10 involving a divine vision about him eating both clean and unclean animals. I tend to think God had both hygienic and allegorical reasons for these Jewish dietary laws. Why?

When the ancient Israelites escaped from Egypt and pharaoh’s armies by crossing to the other side of the Red (Reed?) Sea, after those armies were drowned in it the Israelites celebrated and thanked God for their deliverance (Exodus 15.1-21). God soon said to them, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statues, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the LORD who heals you” (v. 26).

God Has Protected Faithful Jews from Diseases

We also read that God said to the Israelites, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. . . . Therefore, observe diligently the commandment—the statues and the ordinances—that I am commanding you today. . . . The LORD will turn away from every illness; all the dread diseases of Egypt that you experienced, he will not inflict on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you” (Deuteronomy 7.6, 11, 15).

Those statues include the dietary laws later given the Israelites and recorded in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. So, it seems that one of the ways God would protect the Israelites from contracting diseases would be by them adhering to these dietary laws.

In Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, he predicted there will be wars and various troubles. He added, “there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues” (Lk 21.11). The word in the Greek text here translated “plagues” is loimoi. BDAG (p. 602) renders it “plagues, diseases,” which surely would include the current CORVID-19. So, what are some of these plagues or diseases that humankind has been suffering lately?

SARS Virus

The U.S. experienced a SARS virus in 2003-2004. It was a coronavirus similar to the COVID-19 that we have now. The World Health Organization (WHO) says it “is thought to be an animal virus from an as-yet-uncertain reservoir of animals, perhaps bats, that spread to other animals (civet cats) and first infected humans in Guangdong province of southern China in 2002.” It infected about 8,000 people in 26 countries, and it killed about 800. There’s those bats!

Ebola Virus

The Ebola virus disease (EVD) was first discovered in 1976 at the Ebola River in the present Democratic Republic of Congo. Scientists are uncertain of the origin of EVD in humans. But they think it is transmitted to humans from the blood of primates (chimps, gorillas, and monkeys) and bats. Again, primates and bats are unclean animals according to the Jews’ dietary laws.

Nearly all Ebola virus outbreaks have occurred in Africa. The largest was the West Africa Ebola epidemic in 2014, with 28,000 reported cases and 11,000 deaths. Eleven people who were infected with this Ebola virus entered the U.S., and two of them died. So, this outbreak did not affect the U.S. But let’s consider some animals that scientists know for sure transmit diseases.

Pigs

Epidemiologists claim pigs and humans have similar immune systems. That makes it easy for viruses to cross between them. Swine farming is a big business in China. Just think of how much Chinese meals have pork. Pork-fried rice is a classic Chinese dish.

Swine influenza virus (SIV) is a seasonal flu that transfers from pigs to humans. It was first discovered in 1919 in an epidemic. The U.S. experienced a swine flu (H1N1) epidemic in 2009-2010 that infected 60 million people and killed 12,500.

Bats

Bats are the only mammal that can fly, and they are known to carry an unusually large number of pathogens that cause diseases. As stated above, so far it is believed that this CORVID-19 originated from one or more bats in a market in Wuhan that is well-known for selling wild live animals and their carcasses as butchered meat which includes bats. Several species of bats carry many different coronavirus strains. COVID-19 is the sixth bat-borne virus outbreak among humans in the world in the past twenty-six years. The others were Hendra in 1994, Nipah in 1998, SARS in 2002-2004, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2012, and Ebola in 2014.

Scientists claim that the advance of human civilization is encroaching further upon wild animals and that this increases the risk of these animals, such as bats, transmitting diseases to humans. Thus, humans are increasingly destroying the natural habitats of these animals. Some of these scientists therefore conclude that humans are the cause of this transmission of diseases, not animals such as bats. But this, of course, is a far different scenario from humans eating bats.

Peter Daszak is president of EcoHealth Alliance. It is a nonprofit research organization based in New York City that collaborates with scientists around the world to discover new viruses in wildlife. He says there are perhaps 5,000 strains of coronavirus in wild animals that are still waiting to be discovered by medical scientists. China’s Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology is nicknamed “bat woman” because she is one of the world’s leading virologists who specializes in the study of viruses in bats. She says, “Bat-borne coronaviruses will cause more outbreaks. We must find them before they find us.”

Chimpanzees

The prevailing theory about the origin of HIV that causes AIDS disease in humans is that HIV-1 was first transmitted from chimpanzees to humans by people in the present Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa, from hunting and eating them, and perhaps cuts in humans being exposed to the chimps’ slaughtered blood, as far back as 1920. Americans did not become aware of HIV until the 1980s. It was not discovered that chimpanzees were the origin of HIV until 1999.

Carnivores are animals that eat only meat; herbivores are animals that eat only plants and fruits; omnivores are animals that eat both. Chimpanzees eat meat, but mostly plants, and they eat monkeys. So, chimps would be unclean animals according to Jews’ kosher dietary laws.

Conclusion

This is just a brief and rudimentary examination of Jewish dietary laws in the Bible and how them may relate to diseases transmitted by animals to humans. I think the comparison is worthy of serious consideration, especially as the world is now suffering greatly from another coronavirus that is believed to have been transmitted by bats which the Bible declares “unclean” and therefore forbidden for human consumption.


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