There is a common misunderstanding that the Jewish dietary laws are associated with ancient Israelite health concerns. Therefore, since contemporary health standards have solved these ancient health issues, the laws of kashrut are no longer necessary. From the beginning, this idea is simply not true. The kosher laws are not premised on bodily health at all.

Health would not explain why an animal must be ritually slaughtered, why fish with fins and scales would be specified, or why milk from a non-kosher animal would be unfit for consumption. Furthermore, there is no proof that kosher animals avoid health concerns. Sheep and fresh water fish could transmit tape worm, and there is also risk of mad-cow disease. Conversely, many non-kosher animals are not harmful to health at all. Arabs have enjoyed camel products for centuries, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has praised rabbit meat as one of the most nutritious meats known to man.1 Neither camel nor rabbit is kosher.2

Additionally, many Jews assume that the ancient Israelites avoided pig because they were concerned about deadly trichinosis3 or other ill effects of pork. How do these people account for the Torah having the foresight to avoid pig for these reasons several thousand years before doctors discovered the connection between them?4 This claim ironically seems to imply that the Torah is either divine or written with wisdom far beyond its time. If it is the former, and the laws of kosher are divinely ordained, then how can human beings decide to change divine instruction? If the latter and it was merely a brilliant author with prophetic foresight, surely this insightful sage would have also realized that much of the danger in pig consumption can also be avoided if the meat is cooked more thoroughly. So it can be safely concluded that the laws of kashrut are not rooted in the physical health of the Jew.

This is not to say, however, that there are no peripheral benefits to physical health when keeping a kosher diet.5 Historically, Jews have been protected from several devastating epidemics that were adversely affecting their neighbors. One needs look no further than the Black Plague that stormed through Europe in the Middle Ages. The plight that the Jews suffered was significantly less than their gentile neighbors. This may be because they did not eat diseased animals. The requirement to salt meat to purge it from blood may also have been a factor in preserving the meat and destroying bacteria.6 Additionally, ritual hand washing instituted by King Solomon before meals may have also helped contain the spread of disease in the Jewish community.7

Even throughout the twentieth century, many prominent doctors have recommended kosher diets as being healthier than other diets. Waldemar Haffkine, a renowned Russian bacteriologist, who laid the foundations of modern medicine by his development of certain vaccines, wrote, “Since the advance of research in microbiology, it has become well known that all the procedures which in the Jewish laws of kashrut, constitute a remarkable provision for preserving health.”8 Sir James CantIie, a well known Scottish physician, and author of 13 medical volumes, once stated, “When I order a meat diet, it must be kosher meat.”9 Famous cardiologist and heart doctor to President Eisenhower, Paul Dudley White, said that kosher food is “easiest on the heart.”10 The contemporary and popular Dr. Myles Bader, internationally recognized leader in preventive care and wellness, says, “If you want healthy, clean tasting chicken, buy kosher.”11, 12

Some of the sages over time have mentioned that non-kosher food is detrimental to the body and health. These statements, however, were not given as primary reasons for the commandment, rather as secondary matter-of-fact benefits that the Jewish dietary laws provide. In other words, all Torah authorities explain that non-kosher foods are harmful to the soul, and that is the primary reason for their prohibition. Some, however, say that the body is also adversely affected.13 This means that nowadays, where many physical health concerns could be eliminated through modern breeding techniques and refrigeration, non-kosher food is still forbidden because of its spiritual effects.