by Lawrence Kadish
November 12, 2014
In an era before antibiotics, blood tests and digital scanning thermometers; In an era before EKG’s, stethoscopes, blood transfusions and even refrigeration; In an era before doctors, science and even a rudimentary understanding of human anatomy, there was the ancient Jewish dietary law of kosher, which continues to offer a lesson for today’s fractured societies of western Africa struggling to contain the Ebola epidemic.
Centuries ago, with an understanding of microbes and hygiene still far in the future, Jews observed that those who ate meat from sick or dead animals would often fall ill and die. Similar woes could result from animals not consumed in a timely way after being slaughtered. While they didn’t know of trichinosis, they also saw that eating pork could be fatal. Shellfish and fish without scales contained a similar lethal threat. The rich and frothy milk of that time could produce gastro illness when served with meat.
While the society was agrarian, life was harsh and painfully short and government was the oppressive rule of hostile royalty, there was an understanding among Jews that certain culinary behavior triggered serious illness. As a result, dietary laws were put into place by an observant community that sought to protect the individual and public health. They were then codified by religious leaders for the purpose of creating a collective societal memory of what the faithful could and could not consume. Rabbis became, in essence, the health department of their time, providing approved animal certification prior to slaughter……