What Could the Israelites Eat?


Growing up, we had the annual “clean vs. unclean” Sunday school lesson. It wasn’t until reading it in context that I realized the Israelites had a sudden restrictive diet. Up until this point, the Israelites had been in Egypt eating whatever they wanted. Once they left Egypt, the Israelites were in the desert. Now, I’ve never been to the desert, but I have heard food and water are not in abundance. So, the Israelites were kind of restricted to what animals they had and what they could grow. Then, BAM! Yahweh says you can’t eat or touch some of the animals you have with you. So, what can the Israelites eat?

The Israelites ate a diet that consisted mainly of bread. While in the wilderness, Yahweh provided manna daily. Once in the Promise Land, bread made from wheat was expensive; so, poor people ate bread made from barley.

In addition to bread, the Israelites grew vegetables and fruits. Beans, cucumbers, garlic, leeks, onions and lentils were the main crops the Israelites grew.  They also ate fruit such as figs, grapes, and olives were also eaten.

Everybody drank wine and well water.

But what about meat?? This is where we get into the “clean” and “unclean” animals.

Domesticated Animals:

“..These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth.  Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you.”  – Leviticus 11:3-7

Basically, antelope, cattle, buffalo, deer, goat, lamb, and sheep are all okay to eat. Pigs, camels, rabbits, and anything in the feline or canine families were not fit to eat.

Sea Food:

 “These you may eat, of all that are in the waters. Everything in the waters that has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat.  But anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you.” – Leviticus 11: 9-10

All fish that had fins and scales were allowed to eat. However, fish without scales, shellfish, soft bodied animals (e.g. squid, jellyfish, etc.), and sea mammals were all forbidden.


 “And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.”  –Leviticus 11:13-19

Chicken, dove, partridge, quail, and turkey were all “clean” to eat. “Unclean” animals included albatross, bat, owl, ostrich, hawk, and stork.


“All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you. Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground. Of them you may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind. But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you.”  –Leviticus 11:20-23

 All insects are unclean except for crickets and grasshoppers.



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