Eating Kosher and Stoicism (Parsha Sh’mini)

This weeks (3/6/21) Parsha is Sh’mini (Lev. 9:1-11:47) and includes the Kosher laws (Lev. 11). Why did YHWH give us the Koshrut (Kosher laws)? Some say they were given for health reasons, others say they were given for no reason we can ever know.  The first century Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria believed that they were given to teach us self-control.  He wrote:

XVII (100) Moreover, Moses has not granted an unlimited possession and use of all other animals to those who partake in his sacred constitution, but he has forbidden with all his might all animals, whether of the land, or of the water, or that fly through the air, which are most fleshy and fat, and calculated to excite treacherous pleasure, well knowing that such, attracting as with a bait that most slavish of all the outward senses, namely, taste, produce insatiability, an incurable evil to both souls and bodies, for insatiability produces indigestion, which is the origin and source of all diseases and weaknesses. (101) Now of land animals, the swine is confessed to be the nicest of all meats by those who eat it, and of all aquatic animals the most delicate are the fish which have no scales; and Moses is above all other men skilful in training and inuring persons of a good natural disposition to the practice of virtue by frugality and abstinence, endeavouring to remove costly luxury from their characters,
(Special Laws IV)

This is in keeping with the teaching of 4th Maccabees which says:

For whence is it, otherwise, that when urged on to forbidden meats, we reject the gratification which would ensue from them? Is it not because reasoning is able to command the appetites? I believe so. 34 Hence it is, then, that when lusting after water-animals and birds, and fourfooted beasts, and all kinds of food which are forbidden us by the law, we withhold ourselves through the mastery of reasoning. 35 For the affections of our appetites are resisted by the temperate understanding, and bent back again, and all the impulses of the body are reined in by reasoning.
(4Maccabees 1:33-35)

This teaching is in keeping with the teaching of Ben Zoma who, in the Mishnah said: “Who is strong? He who controls his inclinations.”  (m.Avot 4:1)

We read in 4th Maccabees that one key to self-control is to become master over the emotions and that this is accomplished thru reasoning (or in the Aramaic version, a “mind of shalom”):

30 For reasoning is the leader of the virtues, but it is the sole ruler of the emotions. Observe then first, through the very things which stand in the way of self-control, that reasoning is absolute ruler of the inclinations and emotions. 31 Now self-control consists of a command over the lusts.
(4Macc. 1:30-31)

The first century Jewish Philosopher Philo of Alexandria echoes this teaching saying:

For these passions are the causes of all good and of all evil; of good when they submit to the authority of dominant reason, and of evil when they break out of bounds and scorn all government and restraint.
(Life of Moses 1; VI, 26)

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