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I know I have asked this question before, but that was on a general level. Now, since I couldn't get a good answer there, I'm forced to ask on a specific instance.

Why isn't there a taxonomic distinction between clean and unclean birds?

At what point does a question moves past the line from interpretation into doctrine?

My gut is telling me that this has crossed that line, but I can't really identify the line, so I can't do much more than raise the question to you, the community.

Is asking whether something is kosher a question about application (ie doctrine) or a question about interpretation? Since we have no good guidelines, is this too far into the area of doctrine?

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  • The actual title of the question is probably off-topic here and on-topic a J.SE. It's not my favorite question, so I won't make an attempt to rescue it. Basically I read the Deuteronomy passage and it struck me as strange. If the question helps us see the line better, it's fine with me if it gets closed. (I think it's on the right side of the line, but just.) – Jon Ericson Dec 1 '11 at 23:01
  • Ideally, I'd like to maybe use this question to help us find the line. I really have no idea where it is, myself. I, myself, have been asking and answering questions that I feel are over the line, but I just don't know. – Richard Dec 1 '11 at 23:04
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I feel it and anything like it is (or should be) off-topic on the site, because it is bringing a question from outside the text, to the text - in this case a question about Turkeys.

So for me, an on topic question could be one about the interpretation of lists - whether they can/should be extended in a natural way via underlying principles that can be gleaned from the text (eg the fruits of the spirit in Galatians or the list of non-kosher birds here) - in that case the question would be about a principle of interpretation and would probably refer to more than one Biblical text.

Another on-topic question might be specifically about what principles (if any) were on the authors mind when a list or lists were compiled (comically summed up by Philip Yancey as "No Oddballs Allowed")

But for me any question that starts in the OPs mind as a topical question rather than a question about interpretation will probably be off-topic and probably wont be able to be made to fit by 'tweaking' that doesn't change the whole premise of the question.

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  • For what it's worth, my question was supposed to be about the principles behind the list. The other lists have definite taxonomic distinctions between clean and unclean, but not the birds. The question got off on the wrong foot when it brought up turkeys (which as you point out) aren't really part of the text. – Jon Ericson Dec 2 '11 at 0:14
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    In that case I'd suggest reworking the title and changing the last paragraph from "Since turkeys are a New World creature, they couldn't have been listed at the time of Moses. So would they be counted as clean or unclean? More importantly, what criteria would one use to decide?" to something like "What is the authors intent with this list - is there an underlying principle in his mind that he intends us to understand so we can categorise unlisted birds as 'clean' or 'unclean' in a similar way to the adjacent lists" – Jack Douglas Dec 2 '11 at 0:31
  • What do you think of my updated question? – Jon Ericson Dec 2 '11 at 0:59
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    I think it is a big improvement because it focuses on "the principles behind the list" which I now understand is what you wanted from the beginning :) – Jack Douglas Dec 2 '11 at 1:23
  • I think you're on to something here: Asking about the original intention of the author is straight on target (no doubt). Asking about the application of the passage should be considered off-topic. Another example that would, by this guideline, be on topic. +1 I really like this. – Richard Dec 2 '11 at 14:32
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I think it's on topic. The question could be understood from a doctrinal point of view and the article linked in the comments deals with turkey from within the context of Jewish legal thought as it has evolved over the ages.

However:

  • From within Leviticus and Tanakh as a whole, what methods are available for determining the purity or impurity of an animal?
  • Are the lists in Leviticus intended as guidelines that can be applied to resolving the status of new animals when encountered or are the lists intended to be exhaustive?

These are really deep and difficult questions. They get to the heart of what is purity and impurity in Leviticus is all about.

Unfortunately, I haven't read his whole book yet (and I don't own it either), but I'm pretty sure Milgrom would have something to say about this.

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