Book Review: FFOZ’s “Biblically Kosher” by Aaron Eby
Human fellowship most often revolves around food. This is universally true among the majority of cultures of the world, and it is certainly true of the Jewish culture and faith. However, the issue of food within the Messianic Jewish context can often be highly divisive, a veritable minefield fraught with many charged opinions and disagreements ready explode. It is often an obstacle to fellowship, not a path to unity. Why is that? The problem that so often divides us, as you may have guessed, is one of the pillars of Judaism, that is eating kosher food, or observing the laws of kashrut.
Messianic Jewish congregations do not lack food. Far from it, there’s usually plenty of it in our synagogues. But is it kosher? In my experience, most of the congregations only pay lip service to kashrut, often not extending it beyond not serving pork and shrimp. The same even goes for many of the leaders as well. Even worse, our Messianic Jewish conferences, the showcases of our Jewishness, of our unity and solidarity with the Jewish people and Judaism, of our allegiance to Torah, are often located far away from Jewish communities or from kosher establishments, with most participants expected to partake in the non-kosher fair served up by the hotel where the conference is taking place! One can cite many reasons for this – historic Christian anti-Judaism that has left its mark resulting in aversion to all things “rabbinic”, rampant secularization of American Jewry, unwillingness to put in the effort required, perceived and actual higher costs of keeping kosher, and often just plain ignorance. Can something be done to turn this around, to make our congregations and members more observant or at least knowledgeable when it comes to this one of Judaism’s most basic and essential Torah requirements?
Yes! This is why I was excited to get my hands on the copy of FFOZ’s Biblically Kosher by Aaron Eby. There are many books on kashrut, but this is the first book that is not only written from a Messianic Jewish perspective, but also with a deep understanding that breeds respect, instead of the usual contempt, for established traditional Jewish norms. However, the author doesn’t simply present the Jewish standards of kashrut as normative. The 190 page book, written in a masterful yet easy to understand style I’ve come to expect from Eby, provides detailed, well-researched explanations about the Biblical origins of various traditional Jewish laws of kashrut.
At first, the title of the book seems almost misleading to those involved in “Messianic” circles. Biblically Kosher? You mean just following the laws as we read them in the Bible? With a title like that, opening this book one almost expects the usual treatment often found in messianic publications on kosher diets – “the Jewish laws for eating kosher are a corruption of the Bible by the rabbis!” However, a few pages into it, one realizes that this book is a deep breath of fresh air.
The book covers such range of topics as (my short summary):
- Why keep kosher in the first place?
- Main purpose behind kashrut laws – health or spiritual?
- Why Messianic Jews ahould keep kosher
- Supposed objections from New Testament
- Torah and kashrut
- Holiness and food
- Kashrut in Messianic congregations
- Relationship of Gentiles to kosher laws and benefits for their spiritual lives
A large section of the book is devoted to the issue of ongoing legitimacy of kosher laws as found in the New Testament and the supposed cancellation of kashrut by Jesus (Yeshua). Did Yeshua, the sinless Messiah of Israel, actually declare kosher laws obsolete? Did G-d really command Peter, the devout Jew, to slaughter and eat non-kosher animals? Did Apostle Paul, the strict Pharisee who claimed to be blameless when it came to Torah, dared to overturn kashrut when he said that “nothing is to be rejected” (1 Timothy 4:1-5) or was he talking about something else entirely? Eby brings up and discusses, in great detail, many such supposed contradictions.
The book also demonstrates how the Jewish traditions are absolutely essential for us today in order to understand many of the more obscure laws of kashrut found in the Bible. As one such example, Eby notes that Torah prohibits eating of fat. But how many of those who claim to follow a supposedly “biblically kosher” diet actually observe this prohibition? Eby asks a legitimate question:
“How can one avoid eating any fat from an animal? All meat contains some amount of fat. At first glance, this law would preclude the possibility of eating any meat whatsoever.”
Eby then answers his question by citing a Jewish interpretation of what exactly constitutes prohibited fat and points out that the Jewish authorities remove this fat from all meat slated for the kosher market.
Since this book is written with not only Jews but also Gentiles in mind, Aaron Eby also addresses the issue of Gentiles keeping kosher following their own interpretations, i.e. the most common way (note: most Messianic Jews would greatly benefit from this section as well). The great majority of “independent Messianics” who say they keep kosher without the so called “rabbinic additions” refer to their diets as “biblically kosher”. In most cases, however, this simply means that they do not eat pork or shellfish and avoid consuming blood outright. In his book, Eby shows why this approach still violates many if not most of the Biblical laws of kashrut, even without rabbinical input. For example – are you planning to fire up the grill and cook up some “biblically kosher” (i.e. prepared without rabbinic supervision) burgers made with ground beef purchased at your neighborhood supermarket at your congregation’s potluck next week? Not so fast! Eby quotes a report by a prime-time television program on why your store-bought “biblically kosher” beef may not be so kosher after all:
“Dateline NBC conducted an investigation in 1998 to determine if what was being sold as pure beef was really that. They submitted 100 samples from different stores to the USDA recognized lab with 29 of those samples testing positive for meats other than ground beef.”
That’s right – there may be pork in that juicy burger! According to other examples cited by Eby, dining at restaurants places one at even greater chance at consuming non-bibically kosher meat and fish products. This is just one example why attempting to keep “biblically kosher” in our modern world without relying on Jewish sources for guidance on observance and on strict rabbinic supervision of food preparation is neither biblical nor kosher. Of course, the Jewish community already knew that. Is it not then reasonable for those Messianics who claim to observe Torah to learn from the Jews who have been observing the laws of kashrut for thousands of years?
It is important to note that while Eby goes into great detail why keeping kosher may be beneficial for non-Jews for both spiritual and fellowship reasons, he nonetheless makes it very clear that neither Torah nor New Testament ever place an obligation on Gentiles to observe kosher laws in the same manner as the Jews. That said, the book outlines those laws of kashrut that all Gentiles must absolutely observe.
In short, as the book’s back cover says, “there’s much more to the Bible’s food laws than saying, “Hold the bacon.”” I would definitely recommend this book to anyone, Jew or Gentile, who is serious about understanding the reasons and the ways to do “kosher” from a Jewish, or Biblical, point of view.
Book review by Gene Shlomovich, DailyMinyan.com