Kashrut is one of the central concepts in observant Judaism. Characterized by its complex laws and associated rituals, it requires extraordinary vigilance in and out of our homes regarding choices of food and its preparation as well as the separation of meat and dairy products. Underlying these laws is the basic understanding of the concepts of sacred and profane in relation to our spiritual development. Parashah Shemini, read this past Shabbos categorizes all animals known to us as either kosher or unkosher (trayf) so that we may choose the components of our diet with care and prepare them for consumption accordingly. As I began to illustrate this parashah, I was as delighted as a child at the extraordinary artistic challenge of depicting the diverse array of life forms on our planet. Digging further into the laws of keeping kosher however, I found the restrictions way too complex to be arbitrary. I wondered about their true meaning for us beyond straightforward obedience. Though I understand and observe the basic tenets of kashrut, my imagination is attracted to the esoteric. So if the animals I have drawn seem, upon closer examination, to have unique personalities, they do, indeed. Their ‘personalities’ were suggested by the Hasidic idea that each creature deemed kosher contains ‘nitzotz’ or sparks of holiness and that, when properly blessed and eaten, those sparks are released, inviting the Divine Presence into our material world. The creatures that appear fully colored underscore this idea. Those bearing an amethyst tint are considered inappropriate for the performance of blessings and commandments. As an ironic postscript to this entry, I should add that for reasons of health and social consciousness such as the prevalence of heart disease and animal rights issues, vegetarianism is experiencing growth among Jews. Perhaps that was the Plan after all, hmm?
Illustration from: Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) http://www.pomegranate.com/a166.html