Kosher in the Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible gives us the separation between the clean and the unclean. To understand what being healthful in the Torah means when defining kaf-shin-resh(Kasher), the terms clean and unclean guide us to understand what G-d was communicating to our ancient ancestors, people of the Covenant. The words clean and unclean are standards found in the Torah that we logically associate with different meats regarded in the Torah as acceptable and unacceptable for eating based on Vayikra/Leviticus 11. The implications of their definitions extend beyond food and illuminate how human activities render a person physically or spiritually contaminated, defiled, or absorbed in some sort of immoral or destructive behavior. Being kosher involves a person’s behavior, attitudes, and actions. The assumption is that as people are separating things in their diet according to the Torah, they are becoming trained and disciplined to likewise learn how to live a disciplined and healthful lifestyle. This foundation of being kosher builds a disciplined, balanced, and self-aware lifestyle.
The basic root for conveying the idea of cleanness is taheir, (Vayikra/Leviticus 15:13; 22:4), and this word in Torah conveys the cleansing of a person in three main ways: one, physically (Ezekiel 39:12; Job 37:21; 2 Chronicles 29:15,16,18); two, ceremonially (Vayikra/Leviticus 16:19; Nehemiah 12:30; Ezekiel 43:26); and three, morally (Vayikra/Leviticus 16:30; Psalm 51:2). This implies that this word describes people who are in tune with G-d on all levels of their lives—spiritual, physical, psychological, and emotional.
Closer examination of the Torah reveals a deeper lesson in the relationship between health and the biblical description of kosher. When looking at the Torah and the root words involved in creating a word, we must remember that Hebrew words are adaptations based on a group of consonants that make up the root of the word. For example, the Hebrew root, kaf-shin-resh,, is the foundation for the words kosher (and kashrut). This root literally means fit, proper, or worthy. Like all Hebrew word studies, this invites further contemplation in consideration of all things kosher to be all things fit, proper, and worthy.
Today, we think of kosher as a term indicating that food or other items are fit for Jewish consumption or purpose. We look for the kosher symbol on our food at the market and butcher. We also make sure our religious items such as tzitzit, tallitot, tefilin, and mezuzot are all kosher as well, further legitimizing our mitzvoth. But the tradition of ‘kosher’ goes much deeper than this when we delve into historical roots.
Let’s look for the word kosher in the Torah. Surprisingly, it doesn’t appear in the context of food at all, as one might expect. In fact, the word kosher doesn’t even appear in the Torah at all—not once in all of the books of Moses! In actuality, a word using the kaf-shin-resh root appears just three times in later biblical texts; however, this is not in reference to the food a person eats. We find it in the book of Kohelet/Ecclesiastes, where the word root means succeed. We also find it in the Book of Esther where it means appropriate. The book of Esther has the closest meaning to current definitions of kosher in its description of King Ahasuerus’ assessment of Esther, that she is kosher, or appropriate, which is part of the reason why he ultimately chooses her to be his queen. Thus, appropriate is another word to add to this growing classification of all things kosher. This word should be included with fit, proper, worthy—and surely what we would also deem healthful.