Genesis 7 orders Noah to take "clean" and "unclean" animals with him into the Ark, but this is way before people received kosher laws on what animals could be eaten. So what is meant here by clean and unclean animals, especially since people were still vegetarian before the flood? God only gave permission to eat animals after the flood.

4 Answers 4


It is the generally accepted view in Midrashic literature that God communicated to the Patriarchs which animals were clean (Heb.טָהוֹר) and which were unclean (Heb.טָמֵא) for the purpose of sacrifice.

Evidence to support this is that the Patriarchs only sacrificed clean animals before (and after) the time of Noah. For example, in Genesis 4:4 Abel brings a sacrifice from the firstborn of his flock, which is usually considered to be sheep. In Genesis 22:13 Abraham sacrifices a ram from the thicket in place of his son Isaac.

When sacrifices began being consumed, the rule for consumption was the same for sacrifice. Specifically, if it were permissible to sacrifice the animal then it were permissible to eat it.


Those same phrases of clean and unclean (in Hebrew, טהור and טמא, Vulgate: mundus and inmundus) appear in Leviticus chapter 11, with lists and guidelines regarding certain animals. For example, "Every animal that parts the hoof but is not cloven-footed or does not chew the cud is unclean" (Lev. 11:26 ESV). The camel, hyrax (or rock badger), hare, and pig are all "unlcean" (11:4-8). "And these are unclean to you among the swarming things that swarm on the ground: the mole rat, the mouse, the great lizard of any kind, 30 the gecko, the monitor lizard, the lizard, the sand lizard, and the chameleon (11:29-30).

The context is a list of animals that may or may not be eaten, as well as what "should be detestable to you", i.e. not to be touched (See Leviticus beginning of chapter 5 and chapter 7:19-21). However, these phrases are never used in the context of what may or may not be offered to God as a sacrifice.

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    You are correct, however the Cohanim (priests) and laymen Israelites ate most of the species which were sacrificed. This would only be possible if these animals were kosher. Commented May 11, 2014 at 14:55
  • @TimBiegeleisen It's true that the sacrificial animals are also 'kosher', but the question asked what the terms mean in the Noah story. The only animals discussed in Leviticus are sheep, cattle, goats, doves, and pigeons, but never are these animals specifically referred to as 'clean' as opposed to other 'unclean' animals.
    – That Guy
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 3:22

The laws written in the book of Leviticus pertaining to clean/unclean came later. There were certain ones for specific sacrifices and some for eating. The clean vs unclean animals in Genesis 7 are not mentioned and/or specific.


The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the LORD said, "I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created —and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground —for I regret that I have made them." But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence.

Gênesis 6:5-11

Pure animals compares to tranquility, subtlety and dignity, and non-pure is a sign of rudeness, perversity, and an aggressive attitude.

"the death industry", based on violence and corruption, was the parameter of choice for "pure" and "impure".

Did I express myself well in English?

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    Welcome, Betho, from another fairly new user. Although your phrasing in English IS a bit clumsy, I believe I got the gist of it. However, unless you can give citations to support your answer, I don't find relevance. Also, note that responses to CURRENT questions are more likely to get attention. This question was originally posed five years ago. The only reason I saw your response is because it was flagged as "new user's answer to old question."
    – Papa Pat
    Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 3:49
  • 1
    Though not supported by citation I'll lend some unsupported support to this answer. Perhaps such qualities as tranquility and dignity pertain to the righteous (clean) angels while rudeness, perversity and aggressiveness refer to the unclean spirits (angels who sinned).
    – moron
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 23:21
  • All this is important...
    – Betho's
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 22:55

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