Leviticus 11

Notes (NET Translation)

1 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, 2 “Tell the Israelites: ‘This is the kind of creature you may eat from among all the animals that are on the land.

Aaron the priest is addressed with Moses because the priests were to make a distinction between the clean and the unclean (10:10).

The Hebrew word chay (“creature”) is a generic term for animals, while the Hebrew word bĕhemah (“animals”) refers to quadrupeds. The phrase “on the land” is added to contrast these quadrupeds (vv. 2-8) from those in the water (vv. 9-12) and in the air (vv. 13-23).

3 You may eat any among the animals that has a divided hoof (the hooves are completely split in two) and that also chews the cud.

According to Jacob Milgrom, the Hebrew phrase mapreset parsa (“that has a divided hoof”) literally means “that grows a hoof”.1 The word parsa cannot mean “divided hoof” because animals that do not have a divided hoof still possess a parsa.2 Verse 26 reads mapreset parsa wesesa enenna sosaat (“that divide the hoof but it is not completely split in two”) and does not make good sense if parsa itself means divided hoof. Rather a parsa can be qualified as being with or without a cleft. The word parsa should simply be translated as “hoof”.

The phrase wesosaat sesa perasot (“the hooves are completely split in two”) refers to a cleft in the hoof. “Because this entire verse is expressed in the singular, where the sing. parsa stands for the pl. ‘hoofs,’ the pl. perasot can only refer to the result of splitting the parsa into two hoofs.”3 Milgrom translates this portion of v. 3 as “any quadruped that has hoofs, with clefts through the hoofs”.4

The Hebrew word maalat (“chews”) literally means “bring up” and refers to the regurgitation of food from the stomach to the mouth and back again. The term gera (“cud”) is probably from the root grr, meaning “drag”, and referring to the cud being dragged back and forth from the stomach to the mouth. Animals that chew the cud are known as ruminants.

It seems clear that this technical definition of chewing the cud is not quite what Hebrew means by the phrase, since various animals which do not technically “chew the cud,” e.g., the camel, coney, and hare, are said to “chew the cud” in vv. 4-6. These animals do appear to chew their food very thoroughly like true ruminants, and this is what the law is insisting on. Clean animals are those which have cloven hoofs and chew their food thoroughly. They may be eaten.5

Animals that meet these two criteria and could be eaten include: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the ibex, the gazelle, the deer, the wild goat, the antelope, the wild oryx, and the mountain sheep.6

4 However, you must not eat these from among those that chew the cud and have divided hooves: The camel is unclean to you because it chews the cud even though its hoof is not divided.

The “and” in v. 4a could be translated as “or”: “those that chew the cud or have hooves”.

The Hebrew word tame’ means “unclean, impure”. Contact with unclean animals can result in various forms of ritual impurity (hygienic cleanliness is not the issue).

The biblical camel (gamal) is probably the dromedary camel. “The feet have cushionlike soles enveloped in hardened skin. Each foot is cleft into two toes, but it has no hoof”.7

5 The rock badger is unclean to you because it chews the cud even though its hoof is not divided.

The Hebrew term shaphan designates the rock badger, coney, or hyrax. It does not actually chew the cud but merely appears to do so when it moves its jaws from side to side. Rock badgers do not have hooves, but have broad nails.

6 The hare is unclean to you because it chews the cud even though its hoof is not divided.

The two varieties of hares (arnebeth) in Israel are Lepus syriacus and Lepus judea. Hares should not be confused with rabbits. “Like the rock badger, it is not a true ruminant, but the sideward movement of its jaws gives it the appearance of one. Its habit of regurgitating the food it eats and returning to it later also creates the impression that it is incessantly chewing its food”.8 Hares do not have hooves.

7 The pig is unclean to you because its hoof is divided (the hoof is completely split in two), even though it does not chew the cud.

No distinction is made between domesticated and wild species of pig. “It is the only domesticated animal used as food in biblical times that has a truly split hoof but does not chew its cud”.9

8 You must not eat from their meat and you must not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.

This verse refers back to the four animals mentioned in vv. 4-7. Touching or raising such animals (when alive) did not cause a person to become unclean.

9 “‘These you can eat from all creatures that are in the water: Any creatures in the water that have both fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the streams, you may eat.

The phrase “whether in the seas or in the streams” means that the body of water the creature is found in does not matter.

10 But any creatures that do not have both fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the streams, from all the swarming things of the water and from all the living creatures that are in the water, are detestable to you.

11 Since they are detestable to you, you must not eat their meat and their carcass you must detest.

12 Any creature in the water that does not have both fins and scales is detestable to you.

13 “‘These you are to detest from among the birds – they must not be eaten, because they are detestable: the griffon vulture, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, 14 the kite, the buzzard of any kind, 15 every kind of crow, 16 the eagle owl, the short-eared owl, the long-eared owl, the hawk of any kind, 17 the little owl, the cormorant, the screech owl, 18 the white owl, the scops owl, the osprey, 19 the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.

No criteria for birds is specified but birds of prey and birds who feed on carrion may be in view. In many cases, the identification of the birds is an educated guess.

  1. The griffon vulture (nesher) feeds on carrion (Prov. 30:17; Job 39:30), and is bald-headed (Mic. 1:16).
  2. Bearded vulture (perec)
  3. Black vulture (ozniyah)
  4. The red kite and black kite (da’ah) live in Palestine.
  5. Buzzard of any kind (ayah)
  6. Every kind of crow (oreb) literally means “the black ones” and includes all kinds of ravens and crows (Gen. 8:7; 1 Kgs. 17:4; Ps. 147:9; Prov. 30:17).
  7. The eagle owl (ya`anah) cannot refer to the ostrich, as was once maintained, since ostriches do not haunt ruins (Isa. 13:21; 34:13; Jer. 50:39).
  8. Short-eared owl (tachmac)
  9. Long-eared owl (shachaph)
  10. Hawk of any kind (nets)
  11. Little owl (kowc)
  12. Cormorant (shalak)
  13. Screech owl (yanshuwph)
  14. White owl (tanshemeth)
  15. Scops owl (qa’ath)
  16. Osprey (racham)
  17. Stork (chaciydah)
  18. Heron of any kind (‘anaphah)
  19. Hoopoe (duwkiyphath)
  20. The bat (atalleph) is a mammal with wings. The word owph (“birds”) can refer to flying creatures in general.

20 “‘Every winged swarming thing that walks on all fours is detestable to you.

Winged swarming things includes, but is not restricted to, insects. Presumably four is the minimum number of legs for such creatures (v. 42). John Hartley takes the phrase “walks on all fours” to be an expression for darting about.

21 However, this you may eat from all the winged swarming things that walk on all fours, which have jointed legs to hop with on the land.

22 These you may eat from them: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, the grasshopper of any kind.

The precise identification for these animals is not known. The locust (‘arbeh) was responsible for the eighth plague against Egypt (Ex. 10:12-19).

23 But any other winged swarming thing that has four legs is detestable to you.

24 “‘By these you defile yourselves; anyone who touches their carcass will be unclean until the evening, 25 and anyone who carries their carcass must wash his clothes and will be unclean until the evening.

The phrase “by these” refers to what follows in vv.24-28. Defilement consists in being ritually unclean/impure. An unclean person must undergo ablutions (17:15; 22:6) to become clean again.

26 “‘All animals that divide the hoof but it is not completely split in two and do not chew the cud are unclean to you; anyone who touches them becomes unclean.

Examples would include the horse, donkey, and mule. The context indicates that the touching of a carcass, not a live animal, is in view.

27 All that walk on their paws among all the creatures that walk on all fours are unclean to you. Anyone who touches their carcass will be unclean until the evening, 28 and the one who carries their carcass must wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening; they are unclean to you.

In v. 27 the Hebrew term kaph refers to paws/palms as opposed to toes or hooves.

29 “‘Now this is what is unclean to you among the swarming things that swarm on the land: the rat, the mouse, the large lizard of any kind, 30 the Mediterranean gecko, the spotted lizard, the wall gecko, the skink, and the chameleon.

These eight animals, whose exact identification is not always clear, might be found in the kitchen:

  1. Rat (choled)
  2. Mouse (`akbar)
  3. The large lizard of any kind (tsab) refers to a wide range of lizards and should not be identified with a particular one.
  4. Mediterranean gecko (‘anaqah)
  5. Spotted lizard (koach)
  6. Wall gecko (lĕta’ah)
  7. Skink (chomet)
  8. Chameleon (tanshemeth)

31 These are the ones that are unclean to you among all the swarming things. Anyone who touches them when they die will be unclean until evening.

Only these eight swarming things of the land are unclean. Again, the necessity of an ablution is implied.

32 Also, anything they fall on when they die will become unclean – any wood vessel or garment or article of leather or sackcloth. Any such vessel with which work is done must be immersed in water and will be unclean until the evening. Then it will become clean.

It is implicit that any food contained in such vessels would also become unclean. A vessel is only made clean once it is immersed in water and evening has come.

33 As for any clay vessel they fall into, everything in it will become unclean and you must break it.

A clay vessel becomes impure when a carcass enters the vessel, not merely when it touches the vessel.10 Clays vessels were cheap and plentiful.

34 Any food that may be eaten which becomes soaked with water will become unclean. Anything drinkable in any such vessel will become unclean.

35 Anything their carcass may fall on will become unclean. An oven or small stove must be smashed to pieces; they are unclean, and they will stay unclean to you.

The word tanur is defined as a large, covered ceramic oven, whereas kirayim designates a grate or stove top in which fire is kindled and upon which two pots could be placed for cooking. Often such appliances were installed in the floor of a room, set in a corner flush with the walls.11

Although the oven and stove are also made of earthenware their destruction must be specified lest one reason that because they are embedded in the ground they are not susceptible to impurity or that because they might not be easily replaceable, they have been conceded as an exception to the rule that contaminated earthenware must be broken.12

36 However, a spring or a cistern which collects water will be clean, but one who touches their carcass will be unclean.

37 Now, if such a carcass falls on any sowing seed which is to be sown, it is clean, 38 but if water is put on the seed and such a carcass falls on it, it is unclean to you.

Dampened seed, but not dry seed, becomes unclean when it comes in contact with a carcass.

39 “‘Now if an animal that you may eat dies, whoever touches its carcass will be unclean until the evening.

A natural death is in view, not an animal slaughtered for sacrifice (17:3-7) or hunted as game (17:13-14).

40 One who eats from its carcass must wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening, and whoever carries its carcass must wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening.

The possibility for an Israelite to eat such meat is striking; this instruction may address the community’s need for food under trying conditions, like a time of famine, or the need to provide food for the poor (cf. 17:15–16; but cf. Exod 22:30[31]; Deut 14:21).13

41 Every swarming thing that swarms on the land is detestable; it must not be eaten.

42 You must not eat anything that crawls on its belly or anything that walks on all fours or on any number of legs of all the swarming things that swarm on the land, because they are detestable.

43 Do not make yourselves detestable by any of the swarming things. You must not defile yourselves by them and become unclean by them, 44 for I am the Lord your God and you are to sanctify yourselves and be holy because I am holy. You must not defile yourselves by any of the swarming things that creep on the ground, 45 for I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God, and you are to be holy because I am holy.

The Israelites should aspire to be holy because the God they worship is holy. The dietary laws are a means for the Israelites to separate themselves from the nations and to draw closer to God (Ex. 19:5-6; Num. 15:40; Deut. 7:6). That is, it is a means of sanctification.

In following these dietary laws, the Israelites obeyed God’s instructions several times each day, developing deep in their consciousness an attitude of obedience to God. That all the people observed these laws at every meal was a mighty force of solidarity, uniting the people as God’s special treasure (Exod 19:5). It separated the Israelites from their polytheistic neighbors and became a distinguishing mark of their national identity. The importance of these dietary laws increased when the Jews became dispersed among the nations. They have become a significant force in preserving Jewish identity. They erect a high barrier against assimilation and amalgamation of the Jewish people, which would lead to the loss of their racial identity. Today, keeping kosher is a distinguishing mark of a very devout Jew and communicates the understanding that that person belongs to the chosen people of God.14

46 This is the law of the land animals, the birds, all the living creatures that move in the water, and all the creatures that swarm on the land, 47 to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between the living creatures that may be eaten and the living creatures that must not be eaten.’”

Bibliography

Hartley, John E. Leviticus. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1992.

Levine, Baruch A. Leviticus. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 1-16. New York: Doubleday, 1991.

Rooker, Mark, and Dennis R. Cole. Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Holman Reference, 2000.

Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.


  1. Milgrom 1991, p. 646 
  2. Isa. 5:28; Jer. 47:3; Ezek. 26:11; 32:13; Zech. 11:16 
  3. Milgrom 1991, p. 646 
  4. Milgrom 1991, p. 643 
  5. Wenham 1979, loc. 2261-2264 
  6. Deut. 14:4-5 
  7. Milgrom 1991, p. 648 
  8. Milgrom 1991, p. 648-649 
  9. Levine 1989, p. 67 
  10. m. Kelim 2:1; b. Hul. 24b; Sipra, Shemini 7:6 
  11. Levine 1989, p. 70–71 
  12. Milgrom 1991, p. 679-680 
  13. Hartley 1998, p. 162–163 
  14. Hartley, 1998, p. 163 
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