A Facebook friend, Angela Lewis, had a wonderful Torah question for us. She wrote:
Please can you help us with a question. We noticed during our Parashah study that in Leviticus 11:40 it says that he who eats of the carcass (that dies) will be unclean till evening - but in Deuteronomy 14:21 it says that you are not to eat anything that dies of itself. So, our question is how do these two verses tie up? Have we missed something or is there a context we didn't see? After much discussion, we thought the only answer was to ''ask Carmen' ha ha. Thank you both, Angela xx
Thanks, Angela! Sure. Happy to answer. The problem is in the English. English only has the word "die" and it unfortunately conveys only a narrow meaning, i.e., "to die". The word does not convey the manner of death. But in the scripture, different words are used which do convey meaning in the original Hebrew.
In the verse in Leviticus, the Hebrew word is "yaMut" which means "die or died causatively", that is, the animal was intentionally killed for food. So the animal died, yes, but in the original Hebrew it is clear that the animal died because it was killed for the purpose of being eaten. The word in Deuteronomy however is "ne'vah'la" which is also translated into English as "died" or "died naturally" and in Hebrew actually means "died of itself" (this can be a natural death or an unknown cause including another animal or even a pagan or occult slaughter.)
The point is you did not kill the animal for food, so you don't know if it is still kosher! So you see there is no contradiction, it is, indeed, only a language problem! In Leviticus 11, it is basically saying that when you kill an animal at home (of the type permitted for food), you have touched the carcass of something that has been rendered unclean. (Not "unclean" in the sense of not kosher, rather, unclean because it was not a Tabernacle/Temple sacrifice.) That is, it was not likely slain in a manner prescribed for Temple sacrifices nor is it likely the animal itself was unblemished.
So verses 39-40 are only saying that the people become unclean at that time they have eaten meat killed and prepared at home and thus they would not be permitted to come before YHWH at the Tabernacle or Temple until they are clean again. (You see this evident in Leviticus 7:21 "Anyone who touches something unclean — whether the uncleanness be from a person, from an unclean animal or from some other unclean detestable thing — and then eats the meat from the sacrifice of peace offerings for Adonai, that person will be cut off from his people.")
A person in an "unclean" state is not to come before YHWH! The verse in Deuteronomy 14 clarifies that an animal which is found dead cannot be eaten by people who belong to YHWH because the manner of death is unknown and that lack of knowledge renders the animal "unclean" for people who are supposed to be remaining holy.
While on this topic, let me add this: When a sacrificial animal is offered at the Tabernacle or the Temple it remains "clean"! Take a look at all the sacrifices described in Leviticus chapters 6-10. These sacrifices are done at the Tabernacle/Temple, and the blood and body parts are presented to YHWH, and in many cases, the meat is consumed right there as it is considered holy, not rendering the person unclean! This is the difference of a sacrifice in the prescribed manner, by the cohen at the Temple in YHWH's presence!