IVP - Strangely Dim - Donkeys, Rabbits and Leaps of Faith

October 2, 2008

Donkeys, Rabbits and Leaps of Faith

Today's entry in the Fortnight of Donkey Tales follows up on our ongoing competition, "Rabbit."

Earlier in our Fortnight of Donkey Tales, Lisa established that, according to the Levitical law, eating donkeys is a no-no. Today we find that eating rabbits is likewise unacceptable.

You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud. . . . The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is unclean for you. (Leviticus 11:3, 6)

The donkey, though not explicitly present in Leviticus 11, is implicitly included. Like rabbits, donkeys don't have split hooves, and so observant Jews don't eat them. So be it.

It's interesting to me that Leviticus articulates all kinds of unacceptable foods with only the barest of rationales. Followers of kosher laws are left to wonder what makes an unsplit hoof so unacceptable, or what makes chewing the cud so appealing. Some cite health reasons, while others argue that modern food storage and preparation makes any health concerns obsolete. Some cite utilitarian reasons, such as the relative cost of feeding pigs versus their provision of human food, for example, or the better use of camels as beasts of burden rather than lunch and dinner. But these folks are countered once again by the question of obsolescence: if I don't need a donkey to get me from point A to point B anymore, why can't I just eat it?

The short answer, say observant Jews, is "because the Torah says so. . . . We show our obedience to G-d by following these laws even though we do not know the reason." That argument itself sounds anachronistic; we live in the age of reason and in a world of democracy, in which laws are changed whenever it becomes expedient or presumably profitable to do so. But it's possible that, among its many other cultural benefits, such defiance of convenience or comfort or even "enlightenment" is one of the more important offerings of a religion that is bound by its holy book. We are invited by God into a world made up not of mechanistic rules and cause-effect logic but of faith and trust and dynamic leaps of faith.

Leaps of faith bring to mind snake handling and job quitting and other such blind acts of radical and even absurd behavior in the name of God. But Soren Kierkegaard describes the leap of faith primarily as a check against the hubris of human rationalism. To Abraham--who assumes first that God can't override the conventions of nature regarding childbirth and then that this one child must be protected at all costs from all harm so that he can deliver on God's promise--God says, "Sacrifice your son." And so Abraham must chasten his enlightenment by practicing obedience. Even then he assumes, according to the letter to the Hebrews, "that God could raise the dead"--a logic that God once again defies in favor of relationship, to Abraham's great relief.

The axiom "Laws are meant to be broken" is often a helpful check against the ritualistic assumption that laws are meant to be slavishly followed. But in an age in which people rationalize whatever decisions seem right in their own eyes, such self-serving impulses can be indulged to the point that laws are enacted that are clearly unjust and so clearly in defiance of the will of God. Such an age is divided, by the rules of cold logic, between the eaters and the eaten. God looks down on such an age and tells us instead to trust him, to obey him--to look where he leaps, and to go and do likewise.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at October 2, 2008 7:11 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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