In parashat Shemini (Lev. 11:3), we learn that one of the signs for distinguishing kosher mammals is that a species must chew its own cud. Are there any taamim (explanations) that elucidate the significance behind this requirement?

Of course, this law is an example of a chok, in which we cannot rationally deduce its meaning. Nevertheless, since our sages have always offered taamim to explain the deeper, mystical, or moral explanations of chukot, I was wondering if such has been offered regarding this difficult-to-understand halacha.


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R' Shamshon Rafael Hirsch's approach to the dietary laws is excerpted in this article by Rabbi Avi Weiss

Is it possible that food could similarly impact on one's spiritual well-being? This in fact is the position of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in his explanation of kashrut (the dietary laws).

The characteristics of kosher animals point to their being more passive in nature. In Hirsch's words: "If we look at the signs for clean animals they appear plant-like. As they chew the cud, the food consumed passes through two stomachs, is driven up the gullet again and chewed for the second time. Thus, these animals spend a great deal of time in the absorption of food. The cloven hooves of the permitted animals also seem to have been created more for the mere purpose of standing than for being used as weapons or tools."

The same is true concerning fish. To be kosher, fish must have fins and scales. (Leviticus 11:9) Not coincidentally, fish that have these characteristics are by and large more peaceful in nature. The more aggressive fish fall into the category of the prohibited. Moreover, birds of prey are by and large enjoined. The rule holds fast. The more aggressive animals and fowl are prohibited. The more passive are permitted.

Of course, not everyone who consumes kosher food leads lives of inner peace. There are troubled people who eat kosher, just as there are fine people who do not eat kosher. Nonetheless, the ritual of kashrut may help us become more conscious of our responsibilities to live ethical lives.

The balance between outer action and inner feelings is especially discernible in the laws of forbidden and permitted animals. Note, that chewing the cud is an internal characteristic as it deals with the inner digestive system. In contrast, cloven hooves are an external characteristic. One merely has to look at an animal's foot to detect whether this criteria has been met. Perhaps, just perhaps this teaches that to be kosher one's behavior must not only be correct, but inwardly pure.

Whether these rationales are satisfactory or not, the prohibited foods teach us discipline. They remind us that in the end, God is the arbiter of right and wrong. Notwithstanding, the kashrut laws carry powerful ethical lessons--lessons that can help ennoble and sanctify our lives.


The Lubavitcher Rebbe (in Likkutei Sichos #1 p. 226) says that one it teaches on to "ruminate" over one's physical actions — i.e., over if and when should one do them.


Sefer Hachinuch 154 says that "among the bases" of this mitzva is the fact that meat from animals that don't chew their cud is unhealthful.

He explains more fully in 73 (in my own loose translation):

Among the bases for this command [of not eating an animal that was slaughtered and then found to have been close to death] is as follows. The body is a receptacle for the soul; through the body, the soul does its work. Without the body, the soul's work can never be completed. That's why it enters the body: for its own benefit (for God only does good, never bad). The body in the soul's hand is like the tongs in the blacksmith's, with which he makes things.

Now, when the tongs are strong and well-aligned so it can grasp the items, the blacksmith can make good things; otherwise, the items being made will never come out good and nice. Likewise, when the body is missing anything, the intellect suffers accordingly. Therefore, the Torah banned all things that cause the body detriment. Along these lines we can explain simply the Torah prohibition on all forbidden foods; and if there is any among them such that we (and the doctors) don't know the damage they cause, don't be shocked: the Doctor who banned them is wiser. How foolish and confused is he who thinks the only damage in something is that which he comprehends!

Know further that it's for our benefit that the damage in these foods was not revealed to us. For people would then arise who consider themselves very wise and say "oh, that damage? That's only damaging in that climate, or for such people". Lest people be fooled by this, the inherent damage was not revealed to us.


Rambam writes the following about the kosher signs:

Guide for the Perplexed 3:40

The characteristics given in the Law (Lev. xi., and Deut. xiv.) of the permitted animals, viz., chewing the cud and divided hoofs for cattle, and fins and scales for fish, are in themselves neither the cause of the permission when they are present, nor of the prohibition when they are absent; but merely signs by which the recommended species of animals can be discerned from those that are forbidden. (Friedlander translation)

According to this there is nothing inherent or special in these characteristics. Rather, it just "happens" to be that kosher animals have these characteristics and therefore these characteristics are indicative of an animal's kosher status.

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