Unclean animals

Unclean animals
The pig is considered an unclean animal as food in Judaism and Islam and some Christian denominations.

Unclean animals, in some religions, are animals whose consumption or handling is labeled a taboo. According to these religion's dogmas, persons who handle such animals may need to purify themselves to get rid of their uncleanness.



In Judaism, the concept of "unclean animals", or more accurately "impure animals", plays a prominent role in the Kashrut, the part of Jewish law that specifies which foods are allowed (kosher) or forbidden to Jews. These laws are based upon the Leviticus[1] and Deuteronomy[2] books of the Jewish Bible (the Torah) and in the extensive body of rabbinical commentaries (the Talmud).[3][4][5] The concept of unclean animals is also mentioned in the Book of Genesis, when Noah is instructed to bring into the Ark all sorts "of pure beasts, and of beasts that are impure, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the earth".[6]

In the Torah, some animals are explicitly named as pure or impure, while others are classified by anatomical characteristics or other criteria. In some cases, there is some doubt as to the precise meaning of Biblical Hebrew animal name.

According to Jewish dietary laws, to be "pure" an animal must also be free from certain defects, and must be slaughtered and cleaned according to specific regulations (Shechita). Any product of an impure or improperly slaughtered animal is also non-kosher. Animal gelatin, for example, has been avoided, although recently kosher gelatin (from cows or from fish prepared according to kosher regulations) has become available.[2] (The status of shellac is controversial.) The prohibitions also extend to certain parts of pure animals, such as blood, certain fat tissues, and the sciatic nerves. Finally, it is forbidden to cook milk or dairy product with meat, or even use the same kitchen utensils for both.[7]



Other mammals forbidden by the Torah are "crawling creatures", such as mice,[8] and flying bats.[9] According to the Torah, mammals that both chew their cud (ruminate) and have cloven hooves, such as cattle, goats and sheep, are kosher; while those that have only one of the two characteristics are impure and cannot be consumed. Leviticus cites explicitly the camel, because it ruminates but does not have a cloven hoof;[10] the hyrax and the hare are excluded on the same grounds. It also explicitly declares the pig unclean, because it has cloven hooves but does not ruminate.

The domesticated mammals that are forbidden as food may still be kept as pets or for other purposes.[citation needed]


Blue crab for sale in Piraeus.

According to the Torah, fish that have neither fins nor scales are impure. This rule is understood to forbid the consumption of crabs and shellfish.

To clarify: according to Leviticus 11:9-10, anything that comes from the water, in order for it to be clean, it must have a combination of fins and scales. This rules out catfish, shark, sturgeon, etc., which have fins but no scales, as well as crabs and shellfish.


With respect to birds, the Torah only names a few that may not be eaten; those not in the list are presumed to be kosher. However, the precise identity of the unclean birds is a matter of contention in traditional Jewish texts. It is, therefore, common to eat only birds with a clear tradition of being kosher, such as domestic fowl.


Desert locust

The Torah allows eating certain kinds of "winged swarming things" (i.e. insects) while prohibiting others;.[11] However, due to uncertainty about the Hebrew insect names, rabbis today recommend that all insects be considered unclean.[3] An exception is made for certain locusts (Schistocerca gregaria), which are traditionally considered kosher by some Yemenite Jewish communities. Leviticus 11:20-23 details which insects are not to be eaten, and due to the wording all insects are considered impure to avoid mistaken consumption.

Bees' honey is considered kosher[12] because the honey is not a product made of bees.

Explicit list

These are the animals considered to be impure according to Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14:

Implicit list

Many additional animals are not mentioned specifically by name, but from the characteristics mentioned in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, may also be considered to be impure. Examples of animals often considered to be unclean by their characteristics:


Some scholars, especially secular ones, have conjectured that the Jewish concept of "unclean animals" arose out of public health concerns by community leaders, since, in the conditions of the times, some of those animals are indeed more likely to cause food poisoning or transmit diseases to people who consume them.[13][citation needed]. Other scholars viewed the Levitic prescriptions as somewhat arbitrary handicaps that were established to test the Jews' commitment to God and their community.[citation needed]

British anthropologist Mary Douglas proposed that the "unclean" label had philosophical grounds, namely it was cast on foods that did not seem to fall neatly into any symbolic category. The pig, for example, was seen as an 'ambiguous' creature, because it had cloven hoof like cattle, but did not chew cud.[14]


In the Bible, the books Leviticus and Deuteronomy contain lists of unclean animals but the idea can also be found in the Book of Genesis in the story of Noah and the Ark.

Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the earth

Wikisource:Bible (King James)/Genesis#Chapter_7

In the very early days of Christianity it was debated if converts ought to follow Jewish customs (including circumcision and dietary laws) or not. A decision was reached at the Council of Jerusalem, though the extent and application of this decision has been a matter of some debate. (Some see a parallel with the Noahide Laws - See also: Genesis 7:2). In the Acts of the Apostles the "apostles and elders" promulgated the decision in a letter "to the Gentile believers":

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats[6] offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled ..." – Acts 15:28-29

Additional texts regarding food are found in First Epistle to Timothy where it states:

...commanding to abstain from meats[7], which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature[8] of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." – 1 Timothy 4:3-5

Paul affirms that any created thing in the food line is acceptable as long as it meets two tests -it must be sanctified (or set apart as holy) by the Bible, and it should be prayed over with thanksgiving.[15] There is debate over this text as the Bible never directly declares pork as holy, but rather God refers to as an abomination and therefore not sanctified. (Leviticus 11:7,Deuteronomy 14:8)

"Those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves, To go to the gardens after an idol in the midst, Eating swine’s flesh and the abomination and the mouse, Shall be consumed together," says the LORD.

Isaiah 66:17 NKJV

Another text that is written by Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians, it:

...Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ....Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; 15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. 16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days." – Colossians 2:8-16

Yet Paul himself later delivered the following message to the Gentile churches..

Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. Acts 15:19-20

Here Paul is stating that the dietary restrictions forbidding the eating of fat and blood are still enforced for God stated "this shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you shall eat neither fat nor blood."(Leviticus 3:17) The majority of Christians agree that the sacrificial system was done away with at the cross. However the dietary restrictions pre-date Leviticus (see Genesis 7:1-2 quoted above and the Noahide Laws). Some scholars therefore conclude that Colossians 2 was referencing the ceremonial feast days such as the Feast of Unleavened Bread and not clean and unclean foods.[16] Others note that to say that everything is now clean means alcohol, tobacco, rats, roaches, and possum are now fit for food.[17] And that God never declares something an abomination and then changes His mind.[18]

There are Torah-submissive Christians who believe that the dietary restrictions continue under the new covenant. Such groups point to verses such as Daniel 1:8, which states

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

Daniel 1:8 NKJV


Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NKJV

Peter's vision of a sheet with animals. Illustration from Treasures of the Bible, 1894.

Others state, in Acts 11:8 Peter was convinced that it would be out of character for the Lord to recommend an unclean diet. (See also Acts 10:10-17 for context.) Acts 11:11,18 clarifies Peter's vision. These verses indicate that God was instructing him not to refer to gentiles as "unclean" as it was common in Israel, indicating that salvation had been extended to the gentiles. One modern example of a Torah-submissive group is the Seventh-day Adventist Church whose co-founder Ellen G. White was a proponent of vegetarianism. Many Seventh-day Adventists avoid meat for health reasons, though vegetarianism is not a requirement. Members of the United Church of God as well as other Sabbath-keeping Christian Churches also believe in abstaining from unclean meats. In their publication on the subject, they state that:

The Bible teaches that the distinction between clean and unclean has never been rescinded and that the distinction continues to exist for a good reason. http://www.gnmagazine.org/booklets/CU/

Some claim Jesus stated that consumption of unclean food did not cause impurity citing texts such as:

And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man."Matthew 15:10-11


And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. "Mark 7:14-23

However, the aforementioned scriptures are in regards to the Pharisees question of hand washing and not clean and unclean foods for it is written...

Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread."

Matthew 15:1-2

And Jesus concluded the matter stating...

"For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man."

Matthew 15:19-20

Therefore Jesus was addressing the tradition of hand washing and not unclean foods.[19] This is also why Peter three times stated "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean."(Acts 10:14). Such a statement "proves that the dietary law was still in effect after the resurrection".[20] Lastly Jesus also rebuked the Pharisees for placing their man-made traditions over the direct commandments of God stating

Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

Matthew 15:3-9

Roman Catholic traditions

In the Roman Catholic Church, it was forbidden to eat meat (defined as the flesh of any warm-blooded animal) on Friday, but as a penance to commemorate Christ's death rather than for meat's being regarded as "unclean" (exceptions are few, such as when Christmas falls on a Friday, in which case Thursday is the day of abstinence)[citation needed]. After the Second Vatican Council, the mandatory Friday abstinence from meat was limited to Lent, although some traditionalist Catholics still maintain the abstinence year-round. In Eastern Orthodoxy, both Friday and Wednesday were similarly considered off-limits[citation needed]. Many Protestants on the other hand have never observed the tradition.

Seventh-day Adventist health emphasis

Since the 1860s when the Seventh-day Adventist church began, wholeness and health have been an emphasis of the Adventist church.[21] Adventists are known for presenting a "health message" that recommends vegetarianism and expects adherence to the kosher laws in Leviticus 11. Obedience to these laws means abstinence from pork, shellfish, and other foods proscribed as "unclean".

Research funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has shown that the average Adventist in California lives 4 to 10 years longer than the average Californian. The research, as cited by the cover story of the November 2005 issue of National Geographic, asserts that Adventists live longer because they maintain a healthy, low-fat vegetarian diet that is rich in nuts and beans, they do not drink alcohol or smoke, and they have a day of rest every week.[22][23]


Many Rastafarians believe that pigs are unclean and hold to a diet known as Ital.



In Islamic dietary laws several animals are considered unclean and their consumption is forbidden (haraam), except in case of necessity; while others are permitted (halaal), as long as slaughtered in the proper manner and with blessings given to God.

The Qur'an itself expressely forbids consumption of "the flesh of swine"[24] For other animals, great importance is given to the manner of its death: forbidden are blood and carrion ("dead meat"), and any animal that has been "killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death".[24] Forbidden is also any animal that has been eaten by a wild animal, unless the person is able to slaughter it before it dies.[24] Finally, the Qur'an forbids food on which has been invoked the name of other than Allah, which has been sacrificed on stone altars, or has subjected to the pagan practice of raffling with arrows.[24] Food slaughtered by an idolater is forbidden, but food that is acceptable to Jews and Christians is allowed to Muslims as well.[25]

There are no other "impure animals" explicitly named in the Qur'an. If someone converts to Islam, Allah "allows them as lawful what is good and prohibits them from what is bad; he releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that were upon them".[26]


On the other hand, in Islamic tradition there are many animals that are not considered good for eating, and therefore haraam. These include lions, tigers, eagles, crows, vultures, kites and scorpions.[citation needed] Fish, seafood and locusts are allowed (even if not properly slaughtered),[27] as are camel and rabbit meat.[citation needed]


Saluki dog.

The dog is mentioned in the Qur'an several times, for instance as a companion of the Dwellers of the Cave.[28] According to the majority of Sunni scholars, dogs can be owned by farmers, hunters, and shepherds, for the purpose of hunting and guarding; the Qur'an states that it is permissible to eat what trained dogs catch.[25] Among the Bedouin, the saluki dogs are cherished as companions and allowed in the tents.

Nevertheless, many Islamic teachers state dogs should be considered unclean and that Muslims licked by them must perform ritual purification. According to a Sunni Islam Hadith, a plate that a dog has used for feeding must be washed seven times, including once with clean sand mixed with the water, before a person may eat from it.

Hinduism , Sikhism and Jainism

Hinduism , Sikhism and Jainism do not have the concept of "unclean animals". On the contrary, they hold that all living beings have a soul and shall be respected. As a consequence, when the eating of animals is forbidden, it is out of respect, rather than for being unclean.These 3 religons teach respect for Nature to a maintain harmony.

Cultural animal taboos

In many societies there are strong cultural (but non-religious) taboos about eating or having contact with certain animals. For example, in most Western countries there is a strong cultural taboo against eating insects and dog, cat, or monkey meat.[citation needed]. Horse meat is commonly consumed in some countries while it is considered unappealing in others.


  1. ^ http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01517a.htm Retrieved October 21, 2005.
  2. ^ ibid.
  3. ^ ibid.
  4. ^ ibid.
  5. ^ http://ohr.edu/ask/ask210.htm#Q5 Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem Website "Ask the Rabbi - Swan Vs. Giraffe," which itself references Mazon Kasher Min Hachai, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Levinger pp. 19,22 for its answer. Retrieved October 21, 2005.
  6. ^ Support for "swan" in Sept., Vulg., and Targum Onkelos(?).
  7. ^ http://www.jewfaq.org/kashrut.htm#Details Retrieved October 25, 2005.
  8. ^ http://ohr.edu/yhiy/article.php/993#Kosher Retrieved October 22, 2005.
  9. ^ http://ohr.edu/ask_db/ask_main.php/127/Q1/ Retrieved October 31, 2005.


  1. ^ Leviticus 11
  2. ^ Deuteronomy 14
  3. ^ Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 79
  4. ^ Glover, Alfred Kingsley (1900). Jewish Laws and Customs: Some of the Laws and Usages of the Children of the Ghetto. Original from Harvard University: W.A. Hammond. p. 157. http://books.google.com/books?id=N25Whg_QfeUC&pg=PA157&dq=kosher+cloven&ie=ISO-8859-1#PPA157,M1. 
  5. ^ Eisenberg, Ronald L. (2005). The 613 Mitzvot: A Contemporary Guide to the Commandments of Judaism. Schreiber. p. 251. ISBN 0-88400-303-5. http://books.google.com/books?id=maeV2EG_eZMC&pg=PA251&dq=kosher+camel+cloven&ie=ISO-8859-1. 
  6. ^ Genesis 7
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Leviticus 11:29
  9. ^ Leviticus 11:19
  10. ^ Leviticus 11:3-8
  11. ^ 11:20–23&src=! Leviticus 11:20–23
  12. ^ http://ohr.edu/ask_db/ask_main.php/18/Q1/
  13. ^ Nanji AA, French SW (March 1985). "Relationship between pork consumption and cirrhosis". Lancet 1 (8430): 681–3. PMID 2858627. 
  14. ^ Mary Douglas (1966) Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo.
  15. ^ Hogs & Other Hazards
  16. ^ Feast Days and Sabbaths
  17. ^ Death In The Kitchen
  18. ^ Clean and Unclean Meats
  19. ^ God's Free Health Plan Thought Question # 2
  20. ^ Bible Answers Live - Was the law about clean and unclean meat ended with the Old Covenant?
  21. ^ Health. Archived from the original on October 3, 2006. http://web.archive.org/web/00000000000000/http://www.adventist.org/mission_and_service/health.html.en. Retrieved 2006-10-06. 
  22. ^ Buettner, Dan (November 16, 2005). "The Secrets of Long Life". National Geographic 208 (5): 2–27. ISSN 0027-9358. http://search.epnet.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=anh&an=18574682. Retrieved 2006-06-06.  Excerpt. See also National Geographic, "Sights & Sounds of Longevity"
  23. ^ Anderson Cooper, Gary Tuchman (November 16, 2005). CNN Transcripts on Living Longer. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0511/16/acd.01.html. Retrieved 2006-08-25.  See CNN excerpt on YouTube.
  24. ^ a b c d The Quran 5:3
  25. ^ a b The Quran 5:4
  26. ^ The Quran {{{3}}}
  27. ^ Ibn Majah 2314
  28. ^ Sura 8

External links




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