“And for these ye shall be unclean: whosoever toucheth the carcase of them shall be unclean until the even. And whosoever beareth ought of the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.” (Leviticus 11:24-25)
Unclean animals were those that were likely to carry diseases dangerous to people. Dead animals were an especial problem as their bodies might well have to be disposed of, and it was difficult to tell if they were healthy or not. Anyone involved in disposing of a dead carcase was to wash his clothes and avoid contact with other people until evening in an effort to minimize the risk to others.
“The carcases of every beast which divideth the hoof, and is not clovenfooted, nor cheweth the cud, are unclean unto you: every one that toucheth them shall be unclean.
And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four, those are unclean unto you: whoso toucheth their carcase shall be unclean until the even. And he that beareth the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: they are unclean unto you. “ (Leviticus 11:26)
The dead body of any animal considered unsafe to eat was to be treated as hazardous waste, and anyone who came incontact with it was to wash their clothing to remove any pathogens which might might have gotten on them. The person was to avoid others until even to minimize spreading of possible diseases.
“These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind, And the ferret, and the chameleon, and the lizard, and the snail, and the mole. These are unclean to you among all that creep: whosoever doth touch them, when they be dead, shall be unclean until the even.” (Leviticus 11:29-31)
Rats, mice and certain insects regularly invade people’s homes, and often eat diseased animals bodies. In addition, rats and mice often carry fleas and ticks, and other parasites. The ticks and fleas in turn may carry diseases such as Bubonic plague, Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Lyme disease. When the host animal dies, they move to whatever touches them.
Ferrets and weasels prey on the mice and rats, while moles, lizards, chamelions and tortoises live on the insects. Because of the way their bodies are made, snails may absorb the pathogens simply by coming in contact with them. All these animals were likely to be found in homes in their effort to obtain food, posing a special risk.
“And upon whatsoever any of them, when they are dead, doth fall, it shall be unclean; whether it be any vessel of wood, or raiment, or skin, or sack, whatsoever vessel it be, wherein any work is done, it must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the even; so it shall be cleansed. And every earthen vessel, whereinto any of them falleth, whatsoever is in it shall be unclean; and ye shall break it.
Of all meat which may be eaten, that on which such water cometh shall be unclean: and all drink that may be drunk in every such vessel shall be unclean. And every thing whereupon any part of their carcase falleth shall be unclean; whether it be oven, or ranges for pots, they shall be broken down: for they are unclean, and shall be unclean unto you.” (Leviticus 11:32-35)
Anything which these animal’s dead bodies touched was to be considered unclean. It was to be washed and allowed to dry until evening to eliminate danger of infection. Earthenware pots and clay ovens are porous, affording protection for pathogens and were to be destroyed and disposed of to eliminate the danger, since they could not be effectively cleaned. The water used to clean them was to be considered contaminated and disposed of as well, and any container it was in was to be washed thoroughly as well.
During the middle Ages, plagues such as the Black plague killed hundreds of thousands of people because sanitation was so poor and rats, mice and insects were everywhere, spreading the plagues. Because the Jews observed these sanitary precautions, the plagues were rare in Jewish communities. Corrupt leaders often accused the Jews of casting spells and causing the plagues, claiming the fact they weren’t dying from them proved they were causing it. As a result, Jews were hated and numerous efforts were made to wipe them out.
Things haven’t really changed. People still blame others for their problems, rather than seeing what they do differently that enables them to avoid the problems.
“Nevertheless a fountain or pit, wherein there is plenty of water, shall be clean: but that which toucheth their carcase shall be unclean. And if any part of their carcase fall upon any sowing seed which is to be sown, it shall be clean. But if any water be put upon the seed, and any part of their carcase fall thereon, it shall be unclean unto you.” (Leviticus 11:36-38)
Large volumes of water were unlikely to be contaminated although that next to the body might be. Rats, mice and insects were likely to be found in grain storage facilities. As long as the grain had not gotten wet, the shell would keep out pathogens and the grain was safe to use. Wetting the grain softened the outer shell making it possible for the pathogens to get into the seed, so if a dead animal was found where the grain was wet, they were not to use it.
“And if any beast, of which ye may eat, die; he that toucheth the carcase thereof shall be unclean until the even. And he that eateth of the carcase of it shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: he also that beareth the carcase of it shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.” (Leviticus 11;39-40)
Even clean animals that died naturally posed serious risks. They were to be treated as potentially contaminated, and while a person might consider them safe and eat them, he was not to expose others to potential danger. He was to was his clothing and avoid contact for the rest of the day.
“And every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth shall be an abomination; it shall not be eaten. Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination.
Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby. For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:41-45)
Animals and insects without legs, or with more than six legs were not to be eaten, but held as an abomination. The Jews were not to in anyway contaminate themselves with theses things because God would provide so they didn’t need to eat things that might cause them to get sick. By not eating them they would demonstrate their trust and obedience toward God. Just as God had no evil in him, they should have no evil in them.
“This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that creepeth upon the earth: To make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten.” (Leviticus 11:46-47)
These laws were given so they could know what posed a threat and how to eliminate the danger, an what was safe to eat or wasn’t. While the guidelines might not address every situation, they were simple enough to be readily applied.