One of the most characterizing elements of Judaism is the alimentary precept of the kasherut, which describes which foods are and which ones aren’t allowed.
Among these laws is the prohibition of mixing and cooking meat and dairy. The law derives from a recurring verse in the Torah that reads, “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.”
There is also the absolute prohibition of consuming blood of any edible animal and certain fat parts, those parts that were reserved for the high priests of the ancient Jerusalem sanctuary.
In the listing of various animals, birds and fish permitted there is no explanation of the said prohibitions. These are the so-called “divine decrees”, which are incomprehensible to the human mind and must be accepted as they are, without questioning them, even if intellectual speculation is allowed and often encouraged.
Kierkegaard maintained that before such precepts it is necessary to take a “leap of faith”. Individual subjective experience in the fulfillment of these precepts generates significant intellectual, emotional and spiritual dynamics. If for the ban on eating parts of a live animal (and moreover whole live beings, like oysters) is understandable, that which forbids the mixing of meat and milk is not so easy to explain.
Milk is the symbol of life that flows from mother to son. Even though the Torah allows eating meat and the inevitable taking of an animal’s life for this reason, there are limitations that need to be observed.
The restriction of mixing meat and milk considers the incongruent blending of the symbol of life with the meat if a dead animal and mixing them is “offensive” for our sensitivity and our concept of “intellectual coherence”.
Therefore, despite it being a “divine decree”, the symbolism of this rule speaks of our condition as human beings. We don’t ask ourselves what the divine intention is, nor do we focus on the physical or psychological effects of the observance or non-observance: it is the rule in and of itself that obliges us to make a reflection on the world that surrounds us.
It is forbidden to eat carnivore animals even if meat is permitted (shall we linger on this thought?) and the permitted fish have to mandatorily have scales and fins, that which allows the fish to swim with currents and tides.
Then these rules, apparently arbitrary, contain perhaps a simple message: we are what we eat, and we must be careful of what we ingest because it becomes a part of us, not merely physically, but spiritually as well.
If we are allowed to eat meat, this must not be an element that defines us. The permitted fish, beyond its health benefits, can be read as a symbol of the human capacity of fighting against the adverse currents, while still remaining afloat.