"What is this kosher thing? Why do Jews do it? What does God want?" Crass questions that have led to two millennia of speculation. Let us add ours.
There seems to be a single and consistent principle that is operative throughout the history of Jews, contemplating food: "You are what you eat." It's that simple.
It starts in the Garden of Delight when the aim is perfection. The Holy One orders a diet of nuts and fruits. No killing. It's the ideal. Eat like this and you will be purely perfect. Only problem is we humans are not meant to be "purely perfect." We have foibles. We end up being purists, and not being "purely perfect." And then our children get really confused.
We learn, as the Holy One discovered, that a diet that's too stringent leads to the anarchy of first violating things on the sly, and then becoming addicted to violating laws of all sorts. Hence, the reformulation that occurs around the time of Noah and his family.
Then the lesson becomes: all right, you're not going to be perfect; well, then, eating can be a compromise. "Eat meat, go ahead. Have a hamburger. Just don't eat the blood." Why? Because then you might become "bloodthirsty." Logical? Kind of. "Another thing: eat animals whose behavior you want to emulate." If you eat wild, then you will be wild. So the scavengers of the world are left out. It is the same principle: "you are what you eat."
Turns out that one way of getting to domesticated animals is by checking for a cloven hoof and a cud chewer. Why these criteria? God knows! Well, consider the possibility that the ancients might have observed animals a little more closely than
we do, and might have observed these common physical attributes in animals that are more docile, and might have concluded that most share these criteria.
But there are exceptions. Like the pig. The pig has a cloven hoof, but doesn't chew its cud. It happens to be one of those barnyard animals that can be selectively quite smart! Just ask Wilbur in Charolette's Web. Unclean? Causes disease? Well, sorry, our theory is that the ancients didn't know about trichinosis--takes too long to observe for them to make the connection. So, why is the pig highlighted, you ask? Because exceptions are highlighted in law, in general, and the pig is the exception.
So much for Maimonides's theory that it's because it tastes so good that it was forbidden.
There is one other general principle of "you are what you eat." If you want to be "Jewish" then eat "Jewish." And what is Jewish? First, it's not Canaanite. It turns out there was an ancient Canaanite practice (according to many Biblical crtiics) of seething a kid in its mother's milk. Go and figure: a veritable delicacy. Like stuffed veal. And the Israelites wanted to distinguish themselves from Canannites. So, what did they do? They said, "Don't eat like the Canaanites!" You are what you eat.
Now then, in the hands of the rabbis this system was refined. Seething a kid in its mother's milk is repeated three times. Must have meaning. The first time is for the kid. The second is for all meat in milk, and the third is for all milk in meat. Until Talmudic times there were some who said that it only pertained to "seething," i.e., cooking. There were even some rabbis who ate cheese and meat together, but it's clear the system was to narrow the contact between meat and milk to a greater and greater extent.
There is one other general principle of "you are what you eat." If you want to be "Jewish" then eat "Jewish."
Some would say that this isolates meat and cordons off the act of eating meat, so that one may partake at least some of the time in eating morally. It also sought to restrict the responsibility for killing the animal to the hands of a few who really knew the system and were spiritually prepared to do it right (i.e., without causing too much suffering--without allowing the general populus to kill.) They assigned blessings to prepare the few assigned to perform the acts of killing, and to spiritually prepare them for this huge responsibility.
Now, there are some who would contend that the Talmud could not have anticipated the racket that certification of what food is kosher (i.e., fit to eat). But there are others who would say, "You want to be Jewish, then eat Jewish." You are what you eat.
Sounds simple doesn't it. Thing is, what Jewish food is really moves around. For example, a man died about eight years ago, who claimed that during his lifetime that he invented pastrami, and his family had an article in the New Haven register to prove it. That would make the advent of pastrami into the diet of the Jewish people roughly one hundred years ago. Imagine the Jewish people without pastrami?!? Can it be?
Like life, diets change. Being Jewish moves around. Wandering Jews, they call us. So, you want to be Jewish? Eat Jewish. But we have this sneaky suspiscion that today's Jewish is going to lead to a different diet. So, if diets change, what stays the same? The principles: you are what you eat.
Vegetarians come to the same conclusion: you are what you eat. Weight watchers. Cholesterol checkers. You want to be healthy; eat healthy.
But being Jewish isn't only the food you eat. It's how you eat it. One thing is clear: fast food is not Jewish. It doesn't last. Twenty-minute family meals are not Jewish: they can't be nourishing, warm, connecting. Candle light, melody, and meaningful conversation as condiments to delicious food, now THAT'S Jewish.
Around this time of year, kosher for Passover comes into play. You want to remember being a slave? You want to really cleanse yourself of the vestiges of slavery in your life? You are what you eat. Eat like a recent ex-slave. Take away any of the vestiges of delay from leaving. That's what chametz (leavened products) symbolized: the delay from leaving. That it has extended beyond bread to everything in the house is a reflection of the Jewish people's propensity for being thorough.
So, nu, you want to be more spiritually aligned with the Jewish people? We've got one thing to suggest: you are what you eat. Kind of.