"And holy people you shall be to Me: flesh in the field torn by beasts you shall not eat” Exodus 22:30

By Rabbi Jeremy Bruce, February 7, 2013

Any explanation of the Jewish dietary laws usually includes the concept of self-control. We are instructed to keep away from non-kosher food not because it is intrinsically bad but because restraint refines us, it makes us “holy”.

This approach is suggested by the midrash in Genesis Rabbah: “The Torah’s commandments were not given to humankind for any purpose other than to refine people.” The ability to refrain from something that is otherwise attractive elevates us to a higher level of holiness.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests a slightly different approach. Animals that are attacked and mortally wounded are considered treifah, or “torn flesh”. Animals that die in this way are generally considered forbidden to Jews because they have not undergone ritual slaughter. Rabbi Hirsch suggests the animal is not fit for consumption because it no longer belongs to human beings; it has been “torn” away from the use of humanity. When a kosher animal is whole and healthy, every part of it belongs to itself; a Jew who slaughters it in the correct ritual fashion can then take possession of it.

However, on receiving a fatal wound, the purpose of the body of this animal shifts. It now serves as nourishment for the earth and other animals. It returns to its original organic state. For humans to partake of the animal is misappropriating or stealing what rightfully belongs to nature.

Becoming holy, therefore, is less about refraining from something but more about a deep respect for

Last updated: 1:00pm, February 7 2013