Go Ahead and Chew that Fat

Speak to the people of Israel, saying, You shall eat no fat, of ox or sheep or goat.
Leviticus 7:23

Occasionally, skeptics like to pick this verse to show how ridiculous the Torah is. How can anyone eat meat without eating fat? Are you supposed to trim every bit of fat from every cut of meat? What could possibly be immoral about eating a well-marbled steak?

However, these arguments only betray an ignorance of the Scriptures and the Commandments. Only two verses later, YHVH added this:

For every person who eats of the fat of an animal of which a burnt offering (Heb: ishshah) may be made to YHVH shall be cut off from his people.
Leviticus 7:25

So the fat that is forbidden is specifically “the fat of an animal of which a burnt offering may be made to YHVH”, which are “ox or sheep or goat”, so it doesn’t apply to all clean animals, but only to those animals which are eligible to be burned on the altar. Furthermore, it doesn’t apply to all of the fat even of an animal that could be offered.

Not all fat is equal

Earlier in this same chapter, in vs 3-4, God gave a short list of specific fats that must be burned on the altar in the case of a guilt offering and not eaten:

  • The fat tail
  • The fat that covers the entrails
  • The fat that is on the kidneys

I take from this that when it says not to eat the fat of any animal that may be sacrificed, that it is talking about these specific fats and not subcutaneous and intramuscular fats, but there are other passages that take the guessing out.

Leviticus 7:6 says that the meat of the guilt offering “shall be eaten” by the priests in a set apart place. No specific priest is required to eat it, but some priest must. This is a command.

Leviticus 11:3 permits eating land animals that chew their cud and have split hooves by any Israelite.

The people to whom God gave these instructions were herdsmen. Your average atheist skeptic today might not know very much about the anatomy of a goat, but I assure you that the average Israelite in the wilderness did. They observed and participated in the slaughtering and butchering of animals on a regular basis. They knew from intimate, personal experience that it is completely impossible to remove all the fat from every cut of meat of any animal.

Torah requires some common sense

If God meant for his instructions to be followed, and he expected the priests to eat the guilt offerings and the people of Israel to eat oxen, sheep, and goats, then it is logically absurd to interpret Leviticus 7:23 to be a total prohibition on the eating of fat.

The Torah isn’t complicated, but it wasn’t written for morons either. It doesn’t explicitly provide for every possible congtingency. It was written for people who live in a real dirt and blood world and who are capable of drawing necessary logical inferences from incomplete data.

I would avoid all organ fat below the heart, but the fat under the skin and around the muscles is fine to eat. It’s even good for you in moderation and if the animal was pastured and cared for naturally.

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