What to Eat?

An important part of Israelite identity was the law concerning foods right for human consumption. Identification with God as Creator leads logically to the desire to please Him. If He gives laws governing foods appropriate for human beings, then why not follow His advice? While it’s often thought that the listing of clean and unclean foods pertained only to Old Testament ritual purity, obedience to God in these matters separates people and allows them to be considered set apart or holy in God’s sight.

The listing in Deuteronomy 14 is mostly a repetition of that found in Leviticus 11, but with more precision and with the naming of additional four-footed animals and the omission of animals with paws, insects, reptiles and rodents.

The main types of clean land animals have hooves that are split in two and chew the cud (Deuteronomy 14:6). They include ox, sheep, goat, deer and bison (verses 4–5). Forbidden therefore are animals such as pig, camel, hare and hyrax (verses 7–8).

As far as salt- and freshwater creatures are concerned, they must have fins and scales to be considered clean (verse 9). This would include salmon, cod, tuna, carp, bream, etc., and exclude dolphin, shark, whale and all shellfish.

Clean birds include turkey, chicken, duck, goose, quail, dove, pigeon, guinea-fowl and pheasant, and exclude eagle, vulture, falcon, owl, sea gull, ostrich, hawk and, though not a bird, the bat (verses 12–18). Insects are unclean (verse 19), with the exception of creatures such as the cricket, the locust and the grasshopper (Leviticus 11:21–22).