Make a distinction between the clean and the unclean!
Before taking a look at the Hebrew root words that are translated as clean and unclean, in terms of that which is considered to be clean for us to eat and that which is unclean and is not permissible for us to eat, I would like to expand on the true Scriptural meaning of a term that has been understood, today by most, as that which assumedly refers to the dietary laws contained in Scripture, and that is, the modern Hebrew word ‘kosher’.
When one hears the term ‘kosher’, the most common thought is that of the ‘dietary laws’ of Scripture or even the idea of what has been approved, as being kosher, by various modern-day Jewish authorities, that have given their approval on various products that have met their strict requirements, that they have set-forth, for various products to be deemed/labelled as kosher.
But is that what ‘kosher’ actually means?
Firstly, it is worth mentioning, that the term ‘kosher’ is not actually found anywhere in the 2 chapters regarding the clear dietary laws that are prescribed for us, which are Deḇarim/Deuteronomy 14 and Wayyiqra/Leviticus 11.
In fact, the Hebrew word ‘kosher’ is not mentioned anywhere in the Torah of Mosheh, at all!
What, is that true? Yes, that is what I am saying – because it is true!!!
So then, where do we get the concept of ‘kosher’, as most would consider it to mean today, and what does it actually mean, from a Scriptural perspective.
To begin with, the root word that is understood as that which is transliterated as ‘kosher’, is the primitive root verb כָּשֵׁר kasher – Strong’s H3787 which means, ‘to be advantageous, proper, or suitable, to succeed, be right, make a right application’.
This root verb is only used three times in Scripture, and is found in the following texts:
Ester/Esther 8:5 “and said, “If it pleases the sovereign, and if I have found favour in his sight and the matter is right before the sovereign and I am pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to bring back the letters, the plot by Haman, son of Hammeḏatha the Aḡaḡite, which he wrote to destroy the Yehuḏim who are in all the sovereign’s provinces.”
In this verse, this root verb כָּשֵׁר kasher – Strong’s H3787 is written, in the Hebrew text, as וְכָשֵׁ֤ר veḵasher, which is translated as ‘is right’.
These were the words of Esther, in her appeal to the Sovereign, seeking His favour, if the matter was ‘kosher’ in his eyes.
The other 2 places where we find this root word כָּשֵׁר kasher – Strong’s H3787 being used, is in the book of Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes, where we also find the noun that is derived from this root verb, being used 3 times too, which we will take a look at as well, but first, let us look at the 2 verses where we do find the root verb כָּשֵׁר kasher – Strong’s H3787:
Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes 10:10 “If an iron tool is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, then he needs more strength, and wisdom is advantageous to make right.”
Here, the root word כָּשֵׁר kasher – Strong’s H3787 is translated as ‘to make right’ and is written in the Hebrew text as הַכְשֵׁ֖יר haḵ’sheyr and is written in the ‘hiphil’ verb tense, which is the causative tense, teaching us a vital lesson here, on how wisdom is advantageous in causing us to be right, or perhaps better understood as:
WISDOM IS ADVANTAGEOUS IN MAKING US “KOSHER”
Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes 11:6 “Sow your seed in the morning, and until evening do not let your hand rest; since you do not know which prosper, this or that, or whether both alike are good.”
In this verse, the Hebrew root verb כָּשֵׁר kasher – Strong’s H3787 is translated as ‘prosper’ and is written in the Hebrew text as יִכְשָׁר֙ yiḵshar and highlights the valuable lesson, on the importance of working properly and not being lazy.
When we work as we should, according to the clear standards of righteousness, which is to guard to do all Elohim commands, then we will be “kosher”.
Ok, so now I have just listed the 3 occurrences, where we find the root verb כָּשֵׁר kasher – Strong’s H3787, which has been understood, by most today, as being pronounced as ‘kosher’, which is the pronunciation that was derived from Ashkenazi and Yiddish influence.
With this primitive root verb כָּשֵׁר kasher – Strong’s H3787, we have different 3 nouns that are derived from it, which, we see being used collectively, five times, in Scripture
The first noun, which we will look at, is the root word כּוֹשָׁרָה kosharah – Strong’s H3574 which means, ‘prosperity, i.e. a state of sufficiency and have enough and be in a good state’.
It is only used once, in the following verse, and is translated as ‘into prosperity’:
Tehillah/Psalm 68:6 “Elohim makes a home for the lonely; He brings out into prosperity those who are bound with chains; only the rebellious shall dwell in a dry land.”
Here it is written in the Hebrew text as בַּכּוֹשָׁר֑וֹת bakosharoth
In this Tehillah/Psalm of Dawiḏ, he is rejoicing in the wonderful deliverance that our Master brings and this psalm is believed, by many, to be a psalm/song that was sung at the return of the Ark of Elohim, from Qiryath Yeʽarim and therefore, it highlights the lesson, on how we are to bring the proper praise unto our Master, who gives us all we need for life and reverence. And, in Him, we have complete sufficiency, and recognise the joy of our deliverance, as we celebrate and praise Him for bringing us out of the dark captivity to lawlessness and sin, into His marvellous light.
Proper rejoicing and praise unto our Master is a “kosher” thing to do!
The second noun that is derived from the root word כָּשֵׁר kasher – Strong’s H3787 is the noun כִּישׁוֹרkishor – Strong’s H3601 which means, ‘distaff’.
It is only used once, in Scripture, and is written in the Hebrew text, in the following verse, as בַכִּישׁ֑וֹר bakiyshor and translated as ‘to the distaff’:
Mishlĕ/Proverbs 31:19 “She shall stretch out her hands to the distaff, and her hand shall hold the spindle.”
A ‘distaff’ is a spindle or short staff, that is used to hold the material that is then spun, or it can be a pulley-like device at the bottom of a distaff, for turning momentum.
The Hebrew word that is translated as ‘spindle’ comes from the root word פֶּלֶךְ peleḵ – Strong’s H6418 which means, ‘spindle, distaff, whirl of a spindle’, and is a stick about 36 inches long, fashioned (usually with weighted bottom) as a device to form and spin yarn, taken off the distaff and spun at high speeds.
The imagery that is given here, is clearly of a capable wife (which is what the whole of Mishlĕ/Proverbs 31 presents for us in many parables), who is skilled in spinning yarn and in order to control these ancient machines, it took great skill and effort, that comes from proper training and discipline that is learned and the experience gained through the continued practice of what has been learned.
Once again, we are able to learn from this, that as we do our utmost to present ourselves as workman approved and skilled, in the talents and gifts our Master has given us, we are caused to prosper and therefore, are “kosher”.
The third noun that is derived from the root word כָּשֵׁר kasher – Strong’s H3787 is the noun כִּשְׁרוֹן kishron – Strong’s H3788 which means, ‘skill, success, advantage’ and can be understood as describing a ‘specialised knowledge in one’s craft or line of work’ as well as describing that which is ‘advantageous and of valued use to someone’.
This noun כִּשְׁרוֹן kishron – Strong’s H3788 is used 3 times in Scripture, all of which are found in the book of Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes!
Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes 2:21 “For a man might labour with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; yet he leaves his heritage to a man who has not laboured for it. That too is futile and a great evil.”
Here, it is translated as ‘and skill’ and written in the Hebrew text as וּבְכִשְׁר֑וֹן uḇeḵishron
Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes 4:4 “And I saw that all the toil and skill of the work bring envy between man and his neighbour. That too is futile and feeding on wind.”
Here, it is translated as ‘skill’ and written in the Hebrew text as כִּשְׁרוֹן kishron
Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes 5:11 “With the increase of goods, there is an increase of those consuming them. What advantage then is there to their owners, but to look on? ”
Here it is translated as ‘and skill’ and written in the Hebrew text as כִּשְׁרוֹן kishron
There you have it!
That is the full extent of the Scriptural use of the primitive root verb כָּשֵׁר kasher – Strong’s H3787 and the nouns, כּוֹשָׁרָה kosharah – Strong’s H3574, כִּישׁוֹרkishor – Strong’s H3601 and כִּשְׁרוֹן kishron – Strong’s H3788, all of which relate to us the idea, and concept, of what it means to be “kosher”.
And when we consider these words and their individual uses, as contained in Scripture, we are able to glean greater insight into the concept of what “kosher” actually means, from a true Hebraic Scriptural perspective!
Therefore, upon closer inspection of these root words, it is safe to say, that the term ‘kosher’, could better be described as:
THAT WHICH IS ADVANTAGEOUS AND RIGHT, TO MAKE YOU SKILLED AND PROSPER!
We can therefore recognise that “kosher”, from a Scriptural understanding, refers to show much more than dietary laws alone and it is in no way limited to a formalised Jewish system of food laws, as it clearly describes, as a noun, that which is advantageous and right to do, and, as a verb, the actions that cause us to be right, if we actually hold fast to the True plumb-line of the Word of Elohim, by guarding to keep His Torah and commands and laws, of which the dietary laws are an integral part of!
The Word of יהוה is, in many ways, “kosher” for us, as it equips us to be “kosher”, in a manner of speaking!
We do not need to look to man-made religious bodies, that have devised an entire process of additional laws to abide by, in order to fit in to what they predetermine as being acceptable as “kosher”, nor do we need their stamp of approval, as we have the Word of Elohim to teach us, and are equipped in His Word and teaching, by those that He has appointed to teach and instruct, unto maturity, according to His Word.
The reason for me highlighting the use of these words, especially in regards to the study of the Torah portions that present very clear dietary parameters, is to simply bear witness of the fact that our Master has clearly set before us, what is clean and what is unclean, and therefore we not need to be bound to an institutionalised system of determining whether food is kosher or not.
Scripture has set forth, the clear instructions on what is clean to eat and what is not!
And in abiding in these clear dietary laws, we do indeed ‘do what is right’ and it is ‘advantageous’ for us, in helping us be skilled and succeed, in our walk of set-apartness.
We can also, from a Scriptural perspective, describe our obedience as being “kosher”, without the need for a man-made stamp of approval to be given, under the supervision and requirements of extra man-made laws that have been established under a banner of Rabbinic customs.
Being kosher, or Scripturally understood as כָּשֵׁר kasher – Strong’s H3787, is not limited to dietary requirements alone, but encompasses so much more, with the dietary requirements that are set forth for us, forming a clear part of what it does mean, along with the entire Torah and Word of Elohim, being that which makes us right and is advantageous for us to be skilled and in the Truth and succeed in our pursuing of set-apartness !
Having made clear what “kosher” is, Scripturally, let us now take a look at the Hebrew root words that are translated as clean and unclean:
The Hebrew word that is translated as ‘clean’ in Deḇarim/Deuteronomy 14, is טָהוֹר tahor – Strong’s H2889 which means, ‘clean, pure, purity, who is clean’ and comes from the root verb טָהֵר taher – Strong’s H2891 and means the following: “to be clean; to cleanse; purify’ made clean”, “properly to be bright; to be pure – that is physically sound, clear, unadulterated, morally innocent”, “to be purged, purify, to declare something or someone clean.”
It is His word that makes us clean, as we cleanse ourselves daily through the washing of His Word.
It is He who makes us clean – really clean – by His Blood!
This root word טָהֵר taher – Strong’s H2891 is also used in Wayyiqra/Leviticus 16:19, where the high priest would sprinkle the blood of the sin offering on the horns of the slaughter-place and all around, seven times! And, the number 7, as we know, signifies perfection and so, there is a perfect cleansing, and our perfect reconciliation, by the Blood of יהושע!
In Tehillah/Psalm 19 Dawiḏ proclaims that the fear of יהוה is ‘clean’:
Mishlĕ/Proverbs 19:9-10 “The fear of יהוה is clean, standing forever; the right-rulings of יהוה are true, they are righteous altogether, 10 more desirable than gold, than much fine gold; and sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.”
The Hebrew word for ‘clean’ here, is written in the feminine, as טְהוֹרָה – t’horah.
When we look at this word in the ancient script, we are able to recognise the wonderful aspect of what pure and clean fear of יהוה entails for us as a cleansed Bride:
The original pictograph of these letters (from right to left):
Tet – טְ:
The original pictograph for this letter is , ‘a container made of wicker or clay’. Containers were a very important item among the nomadic Hebrews. They were used for storing grains and other items. Wicker baskets were used as nets for catching fish. The meanings of this letter are ‘basket, contain, store and clay’.
The original pictograph for this letter is , a man standing with his arms raised out. The meaning of the letter is ‘behold, look, breath, sigh and reveal or revelation’ from the idea of revealing a great sight by pointing it out. It also carries for us the meaning of surrender as we lift up our hands and submit to יהוה as we lift our hands in praise, declaring His authority under which we humbly submit!
Waw – וֹ:
This is the letter ‘waw’ or ‘vav’ and the ancient pictographic form of this letter is , a peg or ‘tent peg’, which was used for securing or tying the tent or other items. The possibility of it having a Y-shape is to show that it prevents the rope from slipping off. The root meaning of this letter is ‘to add, secure or hook’.
Resh – ר:
The Ancient picture for this letter is , ‘the head of a man’. This letter has the meanings of ‘head or man’ as well as ‘chief, top, beginning or first’.
Now, in terms of the cleansing process, we see the following message, through this pictograph lettering of טְהוֹרָה – t’horah:
We, as ‘clay baskets’ come and surrender and ‘raise our hands’ in acknowledgement and confess our sins/lawlessness before the One who has secured for us His Covenants of Promise in His own Blood – our ‘head’ and High Priest, יהושע Messiah, and we put our lives in the hands of Him who ‘lifts us up’ from the miry clay and makes us clean and purifies us from all unrighteousness!
Qorintiyim Bět/2 Corinthians 4:7 “And we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the excellence of the power might be of Elohim, and not of us”
Mishlĕ/Proverbs 15:26 “Evil thoughts are an abomination to יהוה, but pleasant words are clean”
What we recognise here, in this parable of Shelomoh, is that by saying that pleasant words are clean, we are able to clearly identify how clean and pure the Torah of Elohim is.
His Word is clean and therefore, the words that we ought to meditate upon, and bring forth on our lips, are His clean Words!!!
Mattithyahu/Matthew 12:35 “The good man brings forth what is good from the good treasures of his heart, and the wicked man brings forth what is wicked from the wicked treasure.”
When the Torah is truly upon our hearts, we will think and speak that which is clean, yet when one neglects to meditate, day and night on the Torah of Elohim, they inevitably will begin to think their own thoughts and bring out the wicked treasure that is abominable to יהוה.
After declaring that the fear of יהוה is clean, Dawiḏ then asks the following:
Tehillah/Psalm 19:14 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing before You, O יהוה, my rock and my redeemer.”
Our words and thoughts (the meditation of our hearts) are to be pleasing to יהוה, as they are to be in line with His clean, pure and true Word, lest we find that our thoughts and words are wicked and abominable in His sight!
The Hebrew word that is translated as ‘unclean’ is טָמֵא tamey – Strong’s H2931 which means, ‘unclean, defiled’ and comes from the root verb טָמֵא tamey – Strong’s H2930 which means, ‘to be or become unclean, defiled, become impure’ and when written in the ‘piel form’, which expresses an “intensive” or “intentional” action, it can render the following meaning, ‘to defile: sexually, religiously, or ceremonially; to pronounce or declare unclean; profane the Name of Elohim’.
The Greek word that is used in the LXX (Septuagint) for ‘unclean’ is ἀκάθαρτος akathartos – Strong’s G169 which means, ‘unclean, impure’, and we are told to not ‘touch’ that which is unclean but come out and be separate:
Qorintiyim Bět/2 Corinthians 6:17 “Therefore, “Come out from among them and be separate, says יהוה, and do not touch what is unclean, and I shall receive you.”
An adjective derived from this word is the Greek word ἀκαθαρσία akatharsia – Strong’s G167 which means, ‘uncleanness, impurity – physically and in the moral sense: the impurity of lustful, luxurious, extravagant and self-indulgent living’; which we are told should not even be named among us:
Eph’siyim/Ephesians 5:3 “But whoring and all uncleanness, or greed of gain, let it not even be named among you, as is proper among set-apart ones”
Tas’loniqim Aleph/1 Thessalonians 4:7 “For Elohim did not call us to uncleanness, but in set-apartness.”
The reason for me highlighting these various Hebrew and Greek words, for ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’, is to further help us understand just how important this chapter in Deḇarim/Deuteronomy 14 is, along with Wayyiqra/Leviticus 11, on prescribing for us what is permitted for us to eat and what is not.
For, in learning to make a distinction between the clean and the unclean, when it comes to what is food and what is not, we are further equipped to discern and make a clear distinction, between that which pleases יהוה and that which does not, between that which sets us apart and that which defiles, between the set-apart and the profane, between the clean and the unclean – in order that we can be sure, in our ability to be “kosher” – כָּשֵׁר kasher – Strong’s H3787!!!
I do hope that this short Scriptural study on what is clean and unclean, and of course, what is kosher, will assist you in your continued pursuit of set-apartness, in the Master, and be equipped in the skill of the wisdom of the Word of our Elohim.
For more on what is food for us and what is not, please see the Torah commentaries on Wayyiqra/Leviticus 11 and Deḇarim/Deuteronomy 14.
יהוה bless you and guard you; יהוה make His face shine upon you and show favour to you; יהוה lift up His face to and give you shalom!