Clean food vs unclean food

Posted by on Apr 30, 2021

The terms “clean food” and “unclean food” are very common terms, even though they cannot be found anywhere in the Scripture; they are invented terms.

Moreover, if we think about it, “unclean food” is a contradiction in terms. If something is “unclean”, it is unacceptable for eating, and therefore not food at all.

By the same token the opposite is also true: there is no such thing in the Scripture as “clean food”. If the Creator has called something food, it is already accepted for eating, and the term “clean food” becomes redundant.

However, once the [Christian] theologians invented the idea of “unclean food”, they invented another idea that the “unclean food” can be made clean, namely, through prayers. Hence, one may say that indeed if the food has become unclean, it may be made clean again.

These contradictions will be explained below.

Clean and unclean “food” explained

We should notice how often the terms “clean food” and “unclean food” appear in the theologies, Rabbinic and Christian alike, creating the notion of that food can be clean or unclean.

But the only place where we can find the words “unclean” and “food” is in Hos 9:3 of Jewish Publication Society:

They shall not dwell in the LORD’S land; but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria. (Hos 9:3 JPS)

We should note here that the word “food” is not in the Hebrew text. It was the JPS translators’ decision to insert the word “food” after “unclean”, thus creating the misleading term “unclean food”.

Surprisingly, the KJV translators have better rendered Hos 9:3 by inserting the word “things” in italics meaning that it is not in the original text but assumed. The term “unclean food” does not appear in KJV, nor does the term “clean food”.

The second word we need to address, in order to better understand whether the Creator speaks of “unclean food”, is the word טָמֵא tamei, which means to be foul, defile, or something defiled, incorrectly but commonly translated “unclean”.

The literal and correct meaning of  טָמֵא tamei can be best seen in the context of moral defilement, for instance, the rape of Dinah the daughter of Ya’akov in Gen 34:5, Gen 34:13, and Gen 34:27.

In contrast of the word טָמֵא tamei is the word טָהוֹר tahor, “clean”. It is derived from טָהֵר taher, to be bright; that is, by implication to be pure, sound, clear, unadulterated, morally innocent.

So, if the word “food” is not in Hos 9:3, what is the Hebrew word for “food”?

The word מַאֲכָל ma’achal, is the Hebrew word for “food”. It comes from the primitive verb אָכַל achal, which means to eat, consume, devour.

Another Hebrew word that is derived from אָכַל achal and often translated “food” is אֹכֶל ochel. Since, אֹכֶל ochel, is a derivative of אָכַל achal, it should be properly translated “eating”, not “food”. What is the difference?

What is food is explicitly defined as such by the One who created the food in the first place. The explicit list of what is food and what is not food can be found in Leviticus 11.

But what is difference between food and eating? Simply put, one may eat something, but that does not make it food. The Creator is the one who has defined the term food.

Also, there is a cultural element in the term “food”. For instance, ochel is often wrongly rendered in some English translations as “meat”. But, the difference between “food” and “meat” appears to be cultural rather than lingual.

For the western culture the meat has been a dominant food, as the bread for the eastern culture. And what is dominant in a certain culture, has become a content word: thus “meat” has become a content word to which the meaning “food” is assigned.

In the culture of the Middle East, however, the bread is the dominant food and thus it has become a content word for food. For instance, Ya’akov sent his sons to Egypt to buy food, i.e. grain.

This diametrical difference between the western and eastern cultures is better seen in Our Father’s Prayer, in which Yeshua uses the word “bread” as a content word for food: “Give us today our daily bread (Mat 6:11).

With that being said, we can render Hos 9:3, thus,

They shall not dwell in the land of Yehovah; but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat what is defiled in Assyria. (Hos 9:3)

The context in Hos 9:3 speaks of Ephraimites who would eat defiled things in exile and become defiled. Thus Hos 9:3 correctly translated, we find no allusion to “clean” or “unclean” food. 

However, what is declared as food can indeed be defiled but not be the other way around. We read in Leviticus,

Any of the food therein which may be eaten, on which water comes, becomes defiled (Lev 11:34 JPS) See also Lev 11:39.

When prayer becomes an abomination

He who turns away his ear from hearing the Torah, even his prayer is an abomination. (Pro 28:9)

A prayer does not change the Creator. If He has already defined what is not food, a prayer will not His mind. On the contrary, a prayer should change us. The Creator does not change.

Moreover, the Splendor of Israel does not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent. (1Sa 15:29)

The Creator will not relent from Leviticus 11. He will not turn pork into lamb no matter how many prayers have been said. But for more insight into the meaning of the Hebrew for prayer, refer to the article A Prayer to the Father in Hebraic View – Time of Reckoning Ministry.

In other words, what the Creator calls food, as defined in Leviticus 11, is for eating, and what He did not call food but eaten is an abomination.

They are an abomination to you; you shall not eat of their flesh, and their carcasses you abominate. (Lev 11:11)

Eating abdominal things defiles the body and the Breath of the Creator in it, because He created both the body and the breath in the body, which are of Elohim,

Or do you not know that your body is the Dwelling Place of the Set-apart Ruach who is in you, which you have from Elohim, and you are not your own? For you were bought with a price, therefore glorify Elohim in your body and in your breath, which are of Elohim. (1Co 6:19-20)

In conclusion, knowing what we have learned so far, it should not come as a surprise that the statement, “You shall be set-apart, for I am set-apart” first appears in Leviticus 11. The Creator does not make vague statements.

Do not make yourselves abominable with any moving (creature) that moves, and do not defile yourselves with them, lest you be defiled by them. For I am Yehovah your Elohim, and you shall set yourselves apart. And be set-apart, for I am set-apart. (Lev 11:43-44)

Hence, wherever this statement is repeated in the Scripture, it always refers to Leviticus 11,

As the One who called you is set-apart, so you also should become set-apart in all behavior, because it has been written, “Be set-apart, for I am set-apart”. (1Pe 1:15-16)


May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.