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Monday, February 20, 2012

Animal fat prohibited in Jewish dietary laws

Leviticus 7:22 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘You shall eat no fat, of bull, or sheep, or goat. 24 The fat of that which dies of itself, and the fat of that which is torn of animals, may be used for any other service, but you shall in no way eat of it. 25 For whoever eats the fat of the animal, of which men offer an offering made by fire to Yahweh, even the soul who eats it shall be cut off from his people. 26 You shall not eat any blood, whether it is of bird or of animal, in any of your dwellings. 27 Whoever it is who eats any blood, that soul shall be cut off from his people.’” (World English Bible, public domain)

The Old Testament has many dietary regulations, some still kept by some Jews (and some Christians). See the Wikipedia article on kosher foods.

The text quoted above prohibits the consumption of fat from types of animals which could be offered as a sacrifice. Since the Jews were not allowed to eat any part of most kinds of animals except those listed, they would not have had much fat in their diet. However, an article in the Jewish Encyclopedia says that "The fat of birds or of permitted wild animals is not forbidden."

In my musing on this subject, I note a few things:

1) Fat formed an important part of the sacrifices. Perhaps that's the main, or the only, reason why the prohibition on eating it. It is also possible that the prohibition was so the Israelites wouldn't get too much cholesterol, or be more likely to be overweight.
2) This had to have been symbolic, rather than absolute. Meat usually has fat blended in with the muscle, so that it would have been impossible to remove all the fat from, say, the leg meat of a cow. We can buy hamburger which is 96% lean, but the Jews couldn't have eaten meat that was 100% lean.
Note, also, that the King James Version uses the phrase "fatted calf" to describe an animal to be killed and eaten as part of a celebration, as in the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, or in the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22.
3) In Acts 15:20, the Jerusalem Council asked Gentile Christians not to eat blood, but there was nothing said about fat. Why? (A search for "fat" turns up over 100 instances in the Old Testament, mostly about dietary laws or sacrifices, but no occurrence at all in the New Testament.)
I would guess, and it's only a guess, that the reason has to do with the symbolism of blood sacrifice. It was Christ's blood that paid for our sin, not his "meat."

Any thoughts? Thanks for reading.


atlibertytosay said...

I'm not sure the 100% lean isn't impossible.

A restaurant chain called Boom Burgers sells 100% lean beef. Several processes - including several known to Jews can remove fat content.

One must also consider that fat melts away somewhat during cooking process ~ many today prefer to "keep that flavor locked in" though. Very slow, low temp, non stick, beveled edge cooking can leave a meat rather raw, but cook the fat out of it.

One way Kobe beef is prepared is too cook the fat out of it and place it atop sushi or as sashimi. It is still considered raw as it is not browned or brined by the process.

Blood born disease and sickness is much more deadly … I believe this is the reason that Jews were told to avoid swine due to trichinosis. I believe that Jesus was the new covenant and a new way of life in more ways than just the soul. God knew that one day we would have perfected refrigeration (rather than archaic) and also preservation and sterilization techniques. Most beef today is sterilize with x-ray and some UV ray. I recently saw how they are developing an high intensity infrared sterilization at Clemson.

I think one reason the mention isn't in the New Testament as much is because the Old testament is about Jews living - the new testament is about Gentiles (and Jews) living.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, atlibertytosay.

I'm still doubtful that processes known to the Jews, in the days of Exodus, Joshua and Judges, could have removed all the fat from meat. Now, yes. I don't think they could have gotten all the blood out, either, but my post was about fat.

I should have mentioned trichinosis as a possible reason for the prohibition on pork.

Anonymous said...

Please read Leviticus 3. The fat that is not allowed is the one that cover the inwards.

Martin LaBar said...

Perhaps you are right, Anonymous.

But the passage quoted in the post says "no fat." Also, there's Leviticus 4, which uses, some of the time, anyway, all the fat:

4:26 All its fat he shall burn on the altar, like the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin, and he will be forgiven.

4:27 “‘If anyone of the common people sins unwittingly, in doing any of the things which Yahweh has commanded not to be done, and is guilty; 4:28 if his sin, which he has sinned, is made known to him, then he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has sinned. 4:29 He shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering, and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering. 4:30 The priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering; and the rest of its blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar. 4:31 All its fat he shall take away, like the fat is taken away from off of the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a pleasant aroma to Yahweh; and the priest shall make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven. (World English Bible, public domain.)