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quadrupeds and fishes, these distinctions are entirely intelligible at the present day, being made in the way of general definitions based upon familiar facts in natural history. All ruminating mammalia are clean, if, at the same time they have feet completely cloven. Beasts wanting in either of these marks are unclean.* Fishes, whether of river, lake, or sea, which have both scales and fins, are clean; none others are so, the whole class of shell-fish being prohibited.f The distinction in respect to birds is, on the other hand, given in a particular enumeration of such as may not be eaten.This, in the disuse of the Hebrew language, and the consequent uncertain sense of many of the terms, has occasioned to the later Jews much perplexity and dispute ; and it is the opinion of some of the best critics, that in respect to important particulars of domestic economy, their actual practice is in violation of their law. Winged insects, with four exceptions, designated by names, the sense of which is uncertain, are unclean ; $ as are also reptiles of all the three kinds, of which the serpent, the lizard, and the centipede, are specimens.||
It would be quite unreasonable to expect, that, destitute as we are of any contemporaneous comment, we should be able, at this distant time, fully and precisely to explain a class of regulations, having reference to the tastes, the prejudices, and the physical well-being of a people under peculiar circumstances, and to those habits of private life, of which history is not accustomed to take note. It is probable that many of them were intended merely to promote a uniformity of domestic usages, and a decency of manners, according to the most approved standard of the time and place. A remark which has been made, in a more general form,
xi. 13 - 19.
* Lev. xi. 2-8, 26 – 28. § xi. 20- 25.
† xi. 9-12.
holds good especially in respect to the distinction of practices and tastes as to food. In their origin, they are in a great measure arbitrary ; but they constitute a rule, which it is a violation of good sense and good manners, and of one's own sense of propriety, to infringe. A French soldier will easily eat horse-flesh, and would eat it oftener if it were not too dear; a thing, which a German will hardly be induced in any emergency to do. The thought of eating frogs and snails disgusts most of us who have not tasted them. They make, however, the choice and costly luxury of the Parisian cuisine, the best in the world. We should loathe the sight of a dog upon our tables ; a Sandwich islander cannot set out his ceremonious feast without it. The rat often feeds upon the best of our granaries, while we keep the swine for our scavenger; yet we could not endure the flesh of the former, while that of the latter is reckoned a delicacy. Now whatever might have been the standard in this respect, to which old custom, originating in whatever accident, had given an approved authority among the Israelites, to that standard, for reasons which have been urged, it was a legitimate and important object of the Jewish Law to enforce a uniform adherence. If the eating, for instance, of camels or hares, of mice or of tortoises, which are among prohibited articles, was, according to the best current sentiment of the nation, a violation of delicacy and good breeding, there was good reason why a legislator, who aimed at the equal civilization of the people, should expressly forbid it to any who might otherwise be tempted to forfeit their self-respect by indulging appetite at the expense of decorum.
A second reason of these laws, and perhaps a more manifestly important one, — upon the principles of which, however, I have already dwelt at sufficient length,
was to keep the Israelites from contamination through social intercourse with idolaters; a reason actually announced, as was before remarked, in explicit terms.* The Egyptians also had a strict code of rules in relation to food ; and, differing as it did widely from that of Moses, there existed, as long as both were observed, an impassable barrier between the two communities.t On the other hand, the Israelites were probably restrained from intercourse with their nearest and most dangerous neighbours, the Canaanites, by the interdict laid on dog's flesh, as they were from intimacy with the descendants of Ishmael, by the prohibition of the flesh of the camel and the hare, the former of which (though not known to us like the latter) is said to afford food equally wholesome and palatable, and both of which were in common use with those tribes.
Some of these laws, in the third place, clearly had their origin in reasons of dietetics. It is likely that this is true of not a few, concerning which it cannot now be proved, or concerning which proper investigation has not been made; for diet connects itself with
* Lev. xx. 23-26. Compare xi. 45 – 47, where I take the sense of verse 45 to be; By these observances you shall keep yourselves a peculiar subject people to me, as I am a peculiar tutelary divinity to you.
# For some particulars of the Egyptian law on this head, with authorities, see Spencer, “ De Legibus” &c., lib. 1, cap. 5, § 3. The Egyptians, for instance, ate no fish whatever; they rejected only carnivorous birds ; and their distinction between quadrupeds was different from the Jewish. For various citations from ancient writers, showing that this system of rules actually made a separation between the Jews and other nations, see Spencer, ibid., $ 5.
| The Carthaginians, at least, ate dog's flesh, as Justin (Hist. Philip., lib. 19, cap. 1) relates that Darius Nothus summoned them to desist from this practice, among others; and it is probable that they brought the custom from Canaan, the cradle of their race.
§ It is natural to understand such declarations as those in Deut. vii. 12, 15, xxviii. 15, 27, 35, 60 - 62, so as to connect them with the class of laws now before us.
other habits of regimen, and with climate, in such a manner, that what is innocent or salutary in one region, or state of society, would be noxious in another. But it can hardly be questioned, that we are thus to account, in part, at least, for one important provision ; viz. the prohibition of swine's flesh. All accounts agree, that the use of this food favors the spread of cutaneous disorders, where
any circumstances of predisposition exist; nd against this class of diseases it was necessary to use all precautions, among a people crowded together like the Israelites, and accustomed chiefly to the use of woollen garments, not frequently changed, instead of the linen, which is so important an aid to cleanliness and health, in our different state of society. Especially, there appears to be no doubt, that the diet forbidden favored the spread of the leprosy, a disease which is presently to come before us in a different connexion, and which was of so shocking a nature, that too severe precautions could not be used to arrest it.*
Animals dying by disease were not to be eaten by the Israelitest for the same reason probably that they are rejected by ourselves; that is, the unwholesome condition of their meat. The same was the case with animals killed by other animals, the danger here had in view being very probably that of hydrophobia, the contagion of which might have been communicated by a rabid dog, fox, wolf, or jackal. But it would seem that both these provisions were rather matters of indulgence to a common feeling, than of essential importance, or at least that the danger against which they were designed to guard, was not esteemed considerable, as the penalty of their violation went no further than the inconvenience of bathing one's person, and washing one's clothes, and remaining apart from others till the evening of the same day.
* It is likely also that this rule respecting swine's flesh had a relation to that partly arbitrary sense of propriety and refinement of which I have spoken. Herodotus says (lib. 2, cap. 47) that the Egyptians (from whom the Jews must have chiefly derived their notions of this kind) regarded this animal with extreme disgust. | Lev. xi. 39, 40.
| Ex. xxi. 31.
The use of blood and of fat for food was forbidden under all circumstances whatever; the prohibition respecting the former being urged with peculiar strictness and repetition, and being even extended to strangers sojourning within the realm of Israel. Its reason is to be found in the fact, that the eating, or rather drinking of blood, was a custom commonly observed among the Pagan nations of Asia, in their sacrifices to idols, and in the taking of oaths. Upon the other prohibition we are able to obtain less light. It is probable, that it had its origin in considerations of a dietetical character, all sorts of gross food being, like swine's flesh, which has been already mentioned, unwholesome for a people, among whom cutaneous diseases were endemic. A vessel, into which dead vermin had chanced to fall
, became unclean, so that no food contained in it could be tasted.Ş The vessel itself, if earthen, was to be
* Lev. xvii. 15.
f iii. 17; vii. 22-27 ; xvii. 10 - 14. See this point largely proved by Spencer, “ De Legibus" &c., lib. 2, cap. 11, who also argues (ibid., § 3), that the eating of blood connected itself with the pretended arts of magic. Compare xix. 26. Michaelis, in his “ Commentaries” &c., book 4, chap. 4, part 1, § 5, has the following language; “This, indeed, was so much an Asiatic, and, in a particular manner, a Phænician usage, that we find the Roman writers taking notice of it, as something outlandish at Rome, and peculiar to those nations; and as, in the Roman persecutions, the Christians were compelled to burn incense, so were they in the Persian, to eat blood.” This is entirely to the point, but one wishes that he had given his authorities.
§ xi. 29 - 33. The kinds of vermin by which dwellings were most infested, and by contact with which, vessels would be made unclean, are specified by name. They had before been themselves proscribed as food under the more general descriptions. The name creeping things," (o'yny,) is shown by the context to include short-legged animals.