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Pigs & Judaism

Pigs & Judaism

Deep revulsion, but a promising future


There is probably no animal as disgusting to Jewish sensitivities as the pig. It’s not just because it may not be eaten: there are plenty of other animals that aren’t kosher either, but none of them arouse as much disgust as the pig. Colloquially, the pig is the ultimate symbol of loathing; when you say that someone “acted like a chazir [pig],” it suggests that he or she did something unusually abominable. Indeed, many people think of pork, ham, bacon, etc., as the most unkosher foods there are.

Let’s explore the reasons for this. We will also discover that as bad as the pig’s past is, it has a bright future ahead of it.

Why not eat pork? Because!

The Torah gives two physical signs that mark kosher land animals: they ruminate (chew their cud) and have fully split hooves. It then The pig is the ultimate symbol of loathinggoes on to list several creatures that have just one or the other of these, and are therefore unkosher. One of these is

the pig, since it has hooves which are split, but it does not chew its cud—it is therefore unclean for you.1

Many of the commentaries offer reasons for the mitzvah of keeping kosher. However the Talmud asserts that the kosher laws fall under the category of chok, mitzvahs without any rationale, and makes the following observation regarding pork:

Our rabbis taught: . . . ‘Keep My chukim2—this refers to those mitzvot against which the Satan and the gentile nations argue, [considering them illogical and deserving of mockery,] such as [not] eating pork . . .3

So, this mitzvah is a supra-rational one, not something that we can understand logically.

In a similar vein, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says4 that one shouldn’t say, “I abstain from pork because I don’t like it,” but rather that we do so because of G‑d’s commandment.

Attitudes toward the pig

It’s not the only animal on the unkosher list, but it gets the worst treatment of any of them. Some examples:

Avoiding its name: Many call the animal davar acher, “another thing,” rather than by its proper name. This practice goes back to the Talmud.5

Prohibition against raising pigs: “The sages forbade raising pigs anywhere [whether in the Land of Israel or elsewhere] . . . The sages pronounced a curse on one who raises dogs or pigs, because they cause frequent and serious damage.”6

The Talmud7 traces this ruling to the civil war between the Hasmonean brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus (67 BCE). Aristobulus and his forces had barricaded themselves in One day the besiegers sent up a pigthe Temple Mount, where they were besieged by Hyrcanus’s army. Each day Aristobulus’s men would send down a basketful of coins, and receive in return lambs for the daily Temple offerings. Until one day the besiegers sent up a pig instead:

When it was halfway up, it stuck its hooves into the wall, and the entire Land of Israel, 400 parsahs (about 1000 miles) square, trembled. At that time [the sages] declared: Cursed be one who raises pigs . . . !

Read also: May a Jew Raise Swine?

Martyrdom rather than eat pork: The Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus IV, as part of his campaign to outlaw Judaism, sent his soldiers to the Land of Israel with orders to force the Jews to offer pigs as sacrifices to the Hellenistic gods and consume the meat. A Jew 90 years old, named Elazar, defied the order and endured a savage beating—even when he was offered the chance to just pretend to eat it while really he would be given kosher meat. Eventually the Greek soldiers met their match in the town of Modiin, where Matityahu the Hasmonean began the revolt that eventually saw the country freed from Hellenistic rule.

So, what did it do wrong?

Why indeed does Judaism so abhor the pig?

It carries diseases: “Ten measures of plagues descended to the world; pigs took nine of them.”8 Such diseases are also easily transmittable from pigs to humans,9 as indeed is still the case with flu and other viruses.

It spreads filth: Maimonides10 notes that pigs wallow in the muck and eat revolting things. Were Jews allowed to eat pork, they would raise pigs and thereby introduce filth into their homes.

It is a symbol of hypocrisy: It pretends to be a kosher animal. The Midrash11 draws a comparison between the Roman empire and the pig:12 Just as the pig sticks out its hooves when it is resting, as if to say “I am kosher,” so did the Romans put on a show of justice to mask their avarice and corruption.

A chassidic story

The following tale shows another facet of the pig’s lifestyle and its relevance to us:

There were two brothers, one a wealthy magnate, the other a pauper but a G‑d-fearing person. When the poor brother’s daughter was of marriageable age, he wended his way to his rich brother to ask him for assistance with the wedding expenses. The rich fellow was happy to see his brother again, and invited him to a lengthy tour of his palatial home.

After a while, though, the poor brother got tired of it, and asked his brother to cut it short.

The latter couldn’t understand: In the future we will be allowed to eat it“Don’t you enjoy the exquisite beauty of every corner of my house?”

“There is a creature,” replied the other, “that wallows in the mud all day. If you ask it what it wants, all it can think of is, ‘More mud!’

“You, too, are sunk in the ‘mud’ of material pleasures, and all you want is more ‘mud’ and more possessions, instead of focusing on the truly important things in life.”

Future prospects

Today, then, the pig represents the bad side of life. It turns out, though, that in the future we will be allowed to eat it:

Why is the pig called [in Hebrew] chazir? Because in the future, G‑d will return [le-hachazir] it to Israel.13

In the era of Moshiach the world at large will be purified and achieve a higher spiritual level, so that the pig will become permissible for food. (How does this square with one of the basic beliefs of Judaism, that the laws of the Torah will never change? Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar suggests14 that G‑d will alter the pig’s physiology so that indeed it chews its cud and therefore bears both kosher signs.)

Talmud, Yoma 67b.
Sifra, Kedoshim 9.
Talmud, Shabbat 129a, Pesachim 3b, et al.
Mishneh Torah, Laws of Property Damages 5:9.
Talmud, Bava Kamma 82b.
Talmud, Kiddushin 49b.
Ibid., Taanit 21b.
Guide for the Perplexed 3:48.
Bereishit Rabbah 65:1.
Interestingly, one Roman legion (X Fretensis) used the boar as one of its ensigns. Additionally, one of the prominent Roman families was that of the Porcii (“pigs”), whose male and female members bore the respective names of Porcius and Porcia.
This idea appears in various medieval biblical and Talmudic commentaries, but is not found anywhere in any Talmudic-era source. See Likkutei Sichot 29:128, where several versions of this adage are cited.
Ohr ha-Chaim, Leviticus 11:7.
Rabbi Mendy Kaminker is the editor of Beit Chabad, the Hebrew edition of
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Donald Weinshank 48823 October 1, 2017

Pigs and sterile maggots extensive surgical use sterile maggots in Japan and elsewhere to debride dead tissue

NOTE: medical not food but pikuach nefesh Reply

David Rankin New Zealand September 29, 2017

M. Diane, At the close of WW2 some of the men who had been PoW's told us that when they had no medicines or medical supplies maggots were about the only thing they had for cleaning wounds. The local hospital experimented with maggots for cleaning and found them efficient and more accurate in their selection between living and dead flesh than the surgeons were. The maggots they used were 'farmed' and sterilised, not just eggs from any old fly that happened to pass. Reply

M. Diane Queens, NYC April 13, 2017

Flies are pretty nasty creatures. Wouldn't want one anywhere near my food or in my home.When i was a kid, 5 or 6 years old, while in North Carolina riding on the back of my cousin's bike, I got my ankle caught in the spokes.I wouldn't let anyone touch the injury. until i got back to my maternal grandmother in NYC some days later. By then there were maggots in there. I almost passed out but my courageous grandma cleaned it out and dressed it. She wouldn't stop gently cleaning it until she got every last one and disinfected it. Today? The medical profession would probably recommend putting some maggots on the wound and binding them up in there until the little critters ate the dead flesh on my ankle, encouraging healing. Amazing! Reply

David Rankin New Zeaand April 7, 2017

Elaine P. It seems that no-one has an answer to your query, but here is a further twist to the story. Genesis says that G-d looked on all that He had made, and it was very good. Everything which is non-kosher to eat was included in that 'very good'. I can only surmise that they were created fit for some purpose which did not involve becoming a part of the food chain. One example of something which seems to have little real purpose for existing is the mosquito. Reply

Elaine P April 16, 2017
in response to David Rankin:

No animal was initially created to be part of the food chain. Meat was a concession from G-d due to the flood. But, of course from then onward animals became an accepted part of our diet and a form of atonement to G-d. Reply

joy November 3, 2017
in response to David Rankin:

The purpose of the unclean animals in this world are to be elevated by the compassion we show them. Reply

Elaine P March 27, 2017

Is it disrespectful to G-d to hate His ceation? The blog at the top of the page written by Mendy states: ''There is probably no animal as disgusting to Jewish sensitivities as the pig.'' However, this causes us a theological problem. If it is so 'disgusting' then why was it created? Secondly, theoretically should we disrespect any living being that G-d created? Also we are informed that even animals are answerable to G-d too. Reply Staff via March 26, 2017

Re recent comments Dear Barbara we are happy to provide a forum for respectful debate/disagreement. At this point we feel that further comments on this subject would be repetitive as you've already stated your opinion several times. Reply

Timothy Nevada July 21, 2017
in response to Staff:

Dang! Thank you Reply

David Rankin New Zealand March 23, 2017

Dale Hurley. I think you might be right, but sometimes a seed lies long in the ground until one day something triggers the memory and the seed sprouts. While there is life there is hope. Reply

Dale Hurley March 23, 2017

Passover David Rankin, you might as well give it a rest as you seem to be just wasting your time. Reply

David Rankin New Zealand March 23, 2017

Barbara Ellison. The plain command is "they are to eat the meat...." It is somewhat difficult to claim that such a statement 'in no way is a command to "eat flesh".'. Reply

Barbara Ellison Oklahoma March 22, 2017

Lame.. David Rankin..The command is to "roast it" "Eat not of it raw". It in no way is a command to "eat flesh". Reply

David Rankin New Zealand March 22, 2017

Barbara Ellison. Exodus 12 verse 8 is fairly explicit. G-d said to Moses, "That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs." There is no record in scripture of any dispensation for those who wished to be vegetarian or vegan. The wording is 'are to' that is a command, not a suggestion. Reply

Hanna Greece March 22, 2017

G-d's commandment was for man to rule over the fish, the birds and every living thing that moved on earth.
To "rule" does not necessarily mean that one must hunt, kill and eat the animals.
Especially when there is more evidence to verify this in Gen.1:29-30.
Also, there seems to be no proof that Abel killed or sacrificed his firstlings on an altar.

I believe that Noah was the first to build an altar and offer his burnt-sacrifices to G-d. It was only after this incident that G-d allowed man to eat meat.

We are promised a time when man and beast will live together in an age of peace and without fear. May that day be soon upon us during our life time. Reply

Elaine P Scotland March 22, 2017

Meat Apologies for not having read all this thread properly, but I believe that possibly G-d allowed meat temporarily as a concession due to the flood, but I don't think we were supposed to eat flesh. But due to our nature or needs it came about, so rules were introduced about meat eating in order to protect us as much as possible. This is one of the reasons we don't need our appendix these days, as we were initially designed to be vegetarians. (Although, in the Middle Ages they didn't consider fowl to be meat). Pigs are highly intelligent and we have used their organs for transplants due to them having some sort of match with us, so maybe the ban is not only some obscure religious purpose, or even due to the dangers of pork in hot climates, but more do with the DNA. Remember G-d said the blood was His. Of course we have the Jehovah Witnesses who argue that is their reason for not having transfusions and Jews who have transfusions but kosher their meat, which one is correct, if either? Reply

Barbara Ellison Oklahoma March 19, 2017

By the Way... David Rankin..Please show me where G-d "actually commanded" that anyone eat animal flesh. Reply

Barbara Ellison Oklahoma March 19, 2017

David Rankin...I have read Exodus.
I said, all animals were to use vegetation for food as humans were.
I'm just pointing out the original "rules" for humans and animals...No idea who broke the rules first, human or animal.
But humans don't eat animals without paying a price..Science has shown that consuming flesh (and flesh products) is harmful to humans. Experiential evidence of better health by "going vegan" is easy to find, and easy to experience. Of course you will find nay sayers, but the flesh business has a great deal to do with a great deal of that.
I'm not interested in arguing..But as a human, I also am not interested in "chalking off" G-d's original rules about it as if they were meaningless jabber. Reply

Yacob David USA September 27, 2017
in response to Barbara Ellison:

I am a vegetarian--a Lacto-Ovo-Beefo-Lambo-Chicko Vegetarian!
Exodus 12.8: "Then they SHALL EAT THE FLESH (of the lamb) on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they SHALL EAT IT. Reply

Susan Levitsky March 18, 2017

God gave no real reason The laws of Kashrut have been expanded by humans from only a few sentences in the Torah about what is forbidden. We don't have to malign a pig to not eat it nor give it mystical powers. What I find objectionable is seeing that Bac-Os have a hechsher. If we are not supposed to eat pigs and the article is so vehemently opposed to even being near them, why imitate the taste?
Some of the sages lived at times when dogs were also hated but by modern standards that seems very strange considering their place in our society. Sages today would not have the same prohibitions about raising dogs.
The prohibition about pigs is just about eating them. We may wear pigskin shoes and carry a pigskin bag. Last but not least a pig heart valve may be used even though there are artificial valves available. Anything humans make up to malign pigs is specious when God said not to eat them because you are holy to Me. He didn't give any other reason. Reply

David Rankin New Zealand March 18, 2017

Barbara Ellison. I am not trying to 'promote the eating of flesh', rather I am trying to find why you claim that eating of flesh is wrong when G-d himself seems to not only tolerate it, but actually commands it. Read the books of Exodus and Leviticus and see the commands that G-d gave Moses re the eating of meat. I am interested in authenticating your claim that all animals were originally vegetarian. Could you please tell me where you obtained this information. This theory runs counter to all the evidence from palaeontology - including things like tooth marks in dinosaur bones - and is also contrary to the living evidence of animals today where predators are a vital part of maintaining the control and health of animals in the wild. In Yosemite National Park (USA)
the wolves were wiped out and the health of the herbivores deteriorated. The wolves were reintroduced and the herbivores have recovered. An interesting story, but not enough room to tell it here. Look it up on Google Reply

Jo&n California March 18, 2017

Disease and sickness passed from swine to humans...Why? The diseases and sickness passed from pigs to humans is certainly not a clever plot cooked up by pigs to kill humans it is the stupidity of humans who do not keep pig pens clean. Clean the pens, as you clean the pens of your other animals and poultry and the disease rate amongst the pigs would drop dramatically. I fear improperly prepared poultry far more than pig because it can so easily sicken and kill. That is but one example as we are all aware of the dangers of improperly prepared/stored food. Reply

Barbara Ellison Oklahoma March 16, 2017

David Rankin..First, I am not asking G-d for an explanation..I point out that there is none in Torah for the allowance of eating any of his creatures when originally no creatures were to eat each other. Humans eat humans from time to time too..I am opposed to that as well...I am not inventing any explanations when I say that eating flesh makes humans ill. Nor am I trying to create G-d in our image.
In Hebrew bible, read Genesis chapter 6 in general, verses 11, 12 and 13 specifically, and you will see why I think as I do...Killing animals to consume is violent, no matter the method.
I think that you, maybe unintentionally, are trying to invent reasons for promoting the eating of flesh. A good human parent can instruct a child to not smoke cigarettes, but if the child is willful and goes out and smokes anyway, and the parent gives up on trying to keep the child in line with his instructions and allows the child to smoke in the parent's house..does that mean the parent changed his rule? Reply

David Rankin New Zealand March 16, 2017

Barbara Ellison. Torah gives zero explanation as to why G-d created us. He does not owe us any explanation about anything, but we need to be very wary of inventing explanations trying to create G-d in our image. He will provide us with all the explanations we need and if He does not give an explanation it is because we don't need one.
I would be interested to know where in Torah you found a basis for your claim 'G-d's original rule about it that was broken.' That G-d gave permission for the eating of meat does not show that He had changed his mind. In scripture G-d gave new instructions on many occasions. Perhaps allowing the eating of meat was simply a sign that man had reached a stage in his development at which G-d had previously determined that permission would be given, just as a good parent prepares to give their child permission to indulge in different activities at different stages of their development.

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