Keeping Clean

Keeping Clean

Yoel Halevi 2 comments

I get asked about my opinion of what to do with nonfood/nonhuman food items made from unclean animals, and can you have pets.
This question relates to clothing, toys pet food, and more, and in our industrial world, the issues continue to grow. 

In general, I personally do not buy or bring into my home anything made from unclean animals, and will not feed pets things such as pig ears. I do so not because I think a pet needs to keep clean, but more than the home should be clean. We are commanded in Lev 11:8

מִבְּשָׂרָם לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ וּבְנִבְלָתָם לֹא תִגָּעוּ טְמֵאִים הֵם לָכֶם

You are not to eat meat from these or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.

It seems that the verb תגעו (root נגע-touch) is mostly about the direct contact with the carcass. However, I think that the explanation “they are unclean” shows that contact is only one aspect, and in truth one is to keep away completely from unclean creatures when they are dead. This in turn does not prohibit having unclean animals in your home, as long as they are alive. We find that Israelites had horses, donkeys, and other animals used in everyday life. 

Another intriguing concept of keeping clean in your home can be found in Ezekiel 4:14

וָאֹמַר אֲהָהּ אֲדנָי יְהֹוִה הִנֵּה נַפְשִׁי לֹא מְטֻמָּאָה וּנְבֵלָה וּטְרֵפָה לֹא־אָכַלְתִּי מִנְּעוּרַי וְעַד־עַתָּה וְלֹא־בָא בְּפִי בְּשַׂר פִּגּוּל

I objected: “No, YHWH Elohim! I have never defiled myself — from my youth until now I have never eaten anything that died by itself or was killed by wild animals; no such disgusting food has ever entered my mouth.”

Ezekiel is presenting his lifelong reality of not eating unclean food. However, one must ask “but isn’t that what Torah any how asks of a person?”. It is possible that Ezekiel is mostly protesting that he has never sinned in this aspect and therefore it is unfair to ask him to break Torah. But when we look closely, he is not asked to eat something unclean, but rather defile himself with unsanitary food. Ezekiel represents an even more advanced idea of clean and unclean, the concept of sanitary behavior. 

This concept of sanitary behavior becomes a standard in some of the second temple practices such as keeping public restrooms a distance from the city (and expansion of Duet 23:13-15. See also Josephus ANTQ 2.8.9:147-49, DSS 11Q19 46:13-16),  and not having a graveyard downwind from a city(Mishna Baba Batra 2:9). 

The overall message in Vayiqra is for Israel to be as close as possible to the temple standard in our everyday life under the rule of being holy. It is clear that we do not have full control over these things, but we are expected to try as much as humanly possible to live up to this standard.


Sarah Yocheved

July 7, 2021 at 4:13 am

What I have never been able to get an answer to is whether a hairbrush, which contains boar bristles, is permissible. (It is part from a dead pig.) I decided it’s better to err on the side of righteousness, than to possibly violate Torah. I threw out the hairbrush. It would still be good to know if my decision was correct.

    Yoel Halevi

    July 13, 2021 at 1:54 pm

    I would say that you are correct in doing so. I have the same problem with beard brushes which are made from boar hair.

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