Kosher laws and the Word of Wisdom

My last post detailed a theory of mine that maybe commandments like the Word of Wisdom can create a healthy effect on our very strict, orderly religious society by scandalizing substances that are, for the most part, inherently harmless, in order to diffuse very strong feelings of rebellion and revenge towards an institution. This had me thinking, of course, why I follow the Word of Wisdom personally. I fully admit that I don’t usually subscribe to the same program used by the orthodox establishment, but I feel my story has some merit nonetheless and so I share it with you.

I couldn’t tell you where I picked up this story, but I remember hearing about a rabbi asked why God forbade the eating of pigs and prawns when they don’t really pose that much of a threat to your health. The rabbi responded that kosher laws (or any of the commandments for that matter) did not really have much a practical, worldly value.  The purpose of kosher laws, he taught, was that it forced us to think of God in everything we do.

Dang it, even the Jews get to have more fun than us?! I'd gladly give up bacon for wine and coffee.

Dang it, even the Jews get to have more fun than us?! I'd gladly give up bacon for wine and coffee.

Kosher laws are erroneously thought of as just prohibitions on what to eat. However, kosher laws deal with everything from how to prepare food to how it is grown/raised. In other words, from the time you plant your wheat to harvesting it to using it for food is laced with commandments to help us remember God. In this way, every action in your life helps you remember who it is that provides everything we have.

I like that interpretation. Some Mormons I know try to make the Word of Wisdom into a super-huge prophesy given by Joseph Smith to prove he was indeed a prophet. They say that during his time people drank alcohol like crazy and smoked like chimneys. They drank coffee and tea by the gallon, and because of this, health in those days sucked. However, we know this isn’t necessarily true – people then knew about (and belonged to) temperance movements long before Joseph Smith’s utterance of the Word of Wisdom. People also knew that tobacco wasn’t exactly the best thing for you. Joseph Smith even drank wine before his martyrdom while Joseph Smith Sr. had developed several beer brewing recipes (this, I think, we need to re-discover and capitalize). And as time has marched on, science has shown that coffee and tea, when consumed in moderate, reasonable amounts, can actually help improve health.

Like I mentioned in the comments on my previous thread, I don’t like basing my testimony on physical evidence anyhow, because it can so easily be yanked out from underneath you as new information comes along. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord. So the Word of Wisdom bothered me for a long time – what was it really? A cultural practice enforced to create a sense of community? Misinterpreted scripture? A wresting of the original intent of Joseph Smith’s suggestion?

Nowadays, it’s turned into a full-blown important commandment (admitting to drinking a cup of Earl Grey every morning, for example, can keep you out of the temple). And so, I think I’m going to follow the Jewish interpretation of our own kosher laws. Perhaps the Word of Wisdom is more for us to remember God in a world where it’s so easy to forget Him. Every time we take pause to eat, we think of Him. When we plan our meals and walk through the supermarket, we think of Him.  And when we live our entire lives following the Word of Wisdom but still get afflicted by some kind of health problem while our friend who smokes a pack a day and drinks like an unemployed Russian mafia hitman can outrun us on the racetrack, well, then we don’t feel so bad anyway because it really never was about that, right? After all, our health (like everything else in life) comes from the Lord, and the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Kosher laws and the Word of Wisdom

  1. I do so enjoy your blog, Ted. I’m glad we’re friends.

    Islam has a similar code of dietary restrictions, called Halal. I’ve found that Halal meat tastes better; I think it’s the way they slaughter the animals. I just thought I’d mention it.

  2. Ted

    You know, I am so very little versed in Islam that it’s really, really embarrassing. Do you have any sources that I could go to for a basic rundown?

  3. My very favorite source would be “Understanding Islam,” a series of lectures by Daniel C Petersen, who works for FARMS. He gives a great LDS perspective. Unfortunately, it’s out of print. He also wrote a book “Muhammad, Prophet of God,” but I haven’t read it so can’t fully recommend it.

    Wikipedia’s article is pretty good, although I don’t completely agree with their definition of jihad.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam

    Mormons and Muslims have a lot in common, theologically speaking. Even the biographies of Muhammad and Joseph Smith are similar. It’s eerie. It’s actually quite a beautiful religion.

    • Ted

      Yeah, a member tried to tell me Islam was of the devil because Muhammed was deceived by an angel of light and I’m like, really buddy? Our origin stories are so similar if you try to slander one, you can’t help but slander the other. Ridiculous, really.

      I don’t know a whole lot about it, but from what I remember in my comparative religion class, I liked it a lot.

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