Kosher laws outline which foods a Jewish person may or may not eat, and how it is prepared, served, and eaten. While there are many speculations as to the reasons for the laws, the primary one is that God instructed the Jewish people to eat this way, and when God instructs one to do something, a reason isn’t needed.
Mormons also have a health code, and while today, science has demonstrated that these laws are indeed healthy, when they were given, much of the instruction was contrary to common dietary habits. Like the Jewish people, Mormon belief states that God gave these laws, and a reason is not needed, although the text of the commandment does promise health and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, as well as an increase in knowledge.
However, Mormon laws are not similar to kosher laws. The Mormon health code is commonly known as the Word of Wisdom and is contained in a book of modern prophetic revelations called The Doctrine and Covenants. The revelation says it is “Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.”
The law contains specific items to avoid, and others to consume. In addition, some general guidelines are given to help church members decide for themselves about foods that aren’t listed.
Forbidden items include: alcohol, tobacco, hot drinks, defined by church leaders as coffee or tea, which was the meaning of the term at the time of the revelation. Herbal teas, which are not really tea, are allowed. Many believe the coffee and tea are forbidden because of caffeine, but this is not true. However, many Mormons avoid all or most caffeine anyway, in part because it is addictive. Why those two specific hot drinks are forbidden has not been revealed. It is taken as a matter of faith.
The eating of meat is permitted, but is to be eaten sparingly. There is counsel not to waste flesh, which means to use wisely the flesh of animals killed for human consumption. Conservation was an unusual concept among European immigrants to America in the 1800’s. This commandment does hearken to the laws of kashrut in Judaism. Jewish dietary law also warns against wasting animal flesh, and it demands humane slaughter and treatment of animals. The wise use of meat, however, is not a prerequisite for temple attendance among Mormons, while staying away from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea is necessary for temple attendance.
Other items are encouraged for consumption, including: fruits, vegetables, and grains. Mormons are rather well-known for their storage of wheat to use in emergencies, as well as in everyday life. Mormons are constantly working to adapt Word of Wisdom counsel into their every day eating habits, with various levels of success.
The Word of Wisdom — A Principle with a Promise
The principle includes a promise, as mentioned earlier. The promise is this:
“All saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;
“And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;
“And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.
“And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them” (D&C 89:18-21).
As you can see, the revelation does explain the law is for the purpose of health, but it does not specify why only these foods are mentioned. In general, Mormons are counseled to take this as a starting point and then to continue making wise choices in the way they eat.
Just as the Jewish people received their law from prophets, Mormons today also receive prophetic revelation. Often, these revelations are given without a specific reason. In these cases, we are counseled to trust God and to do as we’re asked. This teaches self-discipline, sacrifice, and obedience.
The prophet Samuel taught: “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” Of course, for some, the Word of Wisdom requires both sacrifice and obedience, and the blessings will be given accordingly. Obedience, whether the reasons are understood or not, is a critical part of our mortal lives and our eternal progression.
Howard W. Hunter, a past prophet of the Mormons, taught:
Surely the Lord loves, more than anything else, an unwavering determination to obey His counsel. Surely the experiences of the great prophets of the Old Testament have been recorded to help us understand the importance of choosing the path of strict obedience. How pleased the Lord must have been when Abraham, after receiving direction to sacrifice his son Isaac, did as he was instructed, without question and without wavering. The record states that God said unto Abraham: “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of” (Genesis 22:2).
The next verse simply states: “And Abraham rose up early in the morning … and took … Isaac his son … and went unto the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3). Years later, when Rebekah was asked if she would go with the servant of Abraham to become Isaac’s wife, and no doubt knowing that the servant’s mission had the blessing of the Lord, she simply said, “I will go” (Genesis 24:58).
A generation after that, when Jacob was instructed to return to the land of Canaan, which meant leaving all for which he had worked many years, he called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was and explained what the Lord had said. The reply of Rachel was simple and straightforward and indicative of her commitment: “Whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do” (Genesis 31:16).
We have, then, examples from the scriptures of how we should consider and evaluate the commandments of the Lord. If we choose to react like Joshua and Abraham and Rebekah and Rachel, our response will be simply to go and do the thing that the Lord has command.