Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Friday, March 24, 2006

Dietary Laws and Purity Rulings: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 11 with poem by Robert Herrick, The Chewing the Cud

Daily Readings
Psalm 26 Exodus 30 Leviticus 11 I Timothy 1

Daily Text: Leviticus 11

Dietary Laws and Purity Rulings
Leviticus chapter 11 is divided into two sections: Verses 1-23 have to do with dietary laws and verses 24-47 with purity rulings. There is some confusion between the two because acceptable and unacceptable animals are described in both sections with some obvious overlap. Animals were not clean or unclean because of habits or behavior, but because the Torah declared them clean or unclean. There have been through the centuries attempts to find reasons for these declarations. Philo and a millennium later, Maimonides, attempted explanations. The latter declared that all prohibited species were unhealthful and he did not know that ‘tapeworm and trichina may be transmitted through pork, that rabbits carry tularemia, and that shellfish are prone to infection and spoiling [185:810]. However, it is obvious that some of the dietary laws had salutary effects without being promulgated with that intent [185:810], at least Holy Scripture never makes claims as to the reasons that might lie behind its dietary restrictions.

Ritual defilement came in all sorts of ways, through removing a mouse from your dwelling, by stepping on a carcass inadvertently, and probably deliberately at times. However, there was no sin involved in becoming unclean. There was simply a practice to be followed to be cleansed and this did not involve the temple or sacrifice. Uncleanness became a problem of sin when an individual or community continued in their uncleanness in such a way as to bring it into contact with the holy, for example, entering the sacred area of the Tabernacle or eating consecrated food [Plaut, 185:819]. The goal always was holiness and while being ‘clean’ in terms of the purity laws did not create holiness it allowed one to pursue it. Spiritual holiness could be considered contagious, not so ritual purity. On the other hand, according to Plaut ritual impurity could be transmitted [185:819]; therefore, it ought not to be tolerated beyond the day in which it occurred. Leviticus 11:44 sums it up: “For I am the LORD your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.”

The Chewing the Cud
Robert Herrick


When well we speak, and nothing do that’s good,
We not divide the hoof, but chew the cud:
But when good words, by good works, have their proof,
We then both chew the cud, and cleave the hoof.
395:144

Collect for the Day
God of love and mercy, give us clean hands and pure hearts, that we may walk in innocence and come to your eternal dwelling, to praise you in the company of your saints for ever. [476:735 Psalm prayer]

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