"Beis Midrash" by Boris Dubrov. Click for source.
“Hey, did you know giraffes are kosher?”
This made worldwide news in 2008, when a rabbi certified that giraffe milk was indeed kosher. The giraffe chews its cud and has split hooves, and its milk curdles.
Thus: kosher! How wacky of those Jews!
But this wasn’t news to me: I learned this in the third grade, along with the other rules of kashrut and shechita. We don’t eat giraffes, of course, not just because they’re endangered, but because according to Jewish law, you need to slice the arteries at a certain point, so that the blood drains most quickly and the animal dies without prolonged suffering. We know where that place is on a cow, but we’re not sure where that would be on a giraffe. So giraffes are off the menu – but they’re on the approved list.
To me, this story exemplifies much of Jewish law and modern Judaism. With a few basic axioms – just like Euclid’s – you can build a logical framework that supports any question you might have. Accept that G-d exists, and that He gave the Torah to us, and then hundreds of logical implications follow. This is the logical Judaism, the way we make sense of four thousand years of heritage and dense books and missing links. And it does make sense, one law leading to another, one interpretation and one rabbi at a time.
One of the main sources of the interpretation is the Midrash, a collection of interpretations, stories, and parables that explain the text of the Torah.