27-5770 Mitzvah N-88

Torat Emet
27-5770 Mitzvah N-88

Negative Mitzvah 88– This is a negative commandment: do not eat forbidden fat.

Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “You shall not eat ‘helev’ (forbidden fat) of ox, sheep or goats.” (Lev. 7:23). If someone ate an olive’s amount of helev from one of these three animals, if it was deliberate he would deserve Karet (Divine severance of existence); and if he did it unintentionally, he would be required to offer up a sin offering. The helev of the fat tail (of a ram) is permissible; because not all that is connected with an offering is called helev, only such as the fat on the entrails, the kidneys and the loins. Sinews in helev are forbidden; the helev of untamed species of kosher animals is permissible.
This applies everywhere and always, for both men and women.

This Mitzvah is not about cholesterol reduction or weight loss. This is about a special kind of fat called “helev” which is never permitted for use as food. It was only used as part of a sacrifice when the animal would be shared, some of it being burned on the alter, some given to the officiating priest and some returned to the family to be eaten as a symbolic way of joining God for a ritual dinner. In most instances, the animal was killed, cut apart and divided into sections; parts no suitable for food were sent to the scrap heap. The blood was poured out at the base of the alter. The rest was “cooked” on the alter; some of the cooked meat would be given to the priests, some given to the family who donated the animal to share as a sacred meal and the helev and some organs were burned to ashes on the alter. Helev was never to be eaten by anyone, it was always burned on the alter. The Hafetz Hayim notes that anything in the helev was also forbidden but the fat tail of rams, while that fat was also called helev, it was not forbidden to be eaten.

Let me use this time to comment on some of the other technical terms that we have not discussed in a while. To violate a food law, the usual measure is an olive’s bulk. Less than that was considered too small to bother with. An olive’s bulk, according to Phillip Blackman, in his Mishna commentary, is equivalent to 91.6 cubic cm or 5.59 cubic inches. That is a pretty good bite of food.

Karet is a rather difficult punishment to define. We define it above as “Divine severance of existence”. As usual, when we are talking about divine punishments, we really don’t understand what God has in mind. Most Rabbis take this punishment to mean that one does not merit heaven (Gan Eden) after death, but that person’s soul is exterminated and for that soul there is only oblivion. What exactly does that mean? That the punishment of karet is in God’s hands and we human beings do not get involved.

The punishment of bringing a sin offering is usual for violating the Torah unintentionally. Since we no longer offer sacrifices, the punishment would only apply if the Messiah comes and rebuilds the Temple. Until that happens, we don’t worry anymore about sin offerings.

I actually hesitated before including this negative Mitzvah because it really is a Mitzvah only for those involved in ritual slaughter. I don’t include information here for the training of a “Shochet,” one who performs ritual slaughter. We have included some details about “Shechita,” the kosher method of slaughter for large animals, but I have refrained from getting too much into detail. Anyone who is reading these lessons and wants to learn how to train as a Schochet, should train under a qualified Rabbi or Schochet, and be reading more technical writings. My expertise in Jewish law would not be sufficient to train for a career in ritual slaughter.

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