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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
Artwork by Sefira Ross, 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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Discussion (93)
February 10, 2017
The idea seems to be that G_d does not want us to eat the flesh of scavengers. I don't think that anyone [even 'Bear' Grylls] could stomach the flesh of a buzzard, knowing that it probably, at some point, had eaten the innards of a road-killed skunk. Pigs are about the same - they were designed to clean up the environment. Same category as hyenas, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, lobsters and crabs.
Remember, there is also an element of honoring the One True Living G_d in keeping kosher. Dani'el, Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah refused to eat from the table of King Nevuhadretzar. And even the non-canonical Book of Tobit says: "When I was carried away captive to Ninevah, all my brethren and relatives ate the food of the gentiles: but I kept myself from eating it, because I remembered G_d with all my heart."
Bobby Hooks
February 7, 2017
Beware that the commenter quoting from Nehemiah made some very specious arguments.
a. Nehemia is talking only about those wishing to serve as priests. In order to be a priest in the Temple, one needed to display genealogical records. However, membership in any of the tribes or in the Jewish nation as a whole, was not contingent on such records.

b. Even if one would not supply records, that is still not reason for them to begin eating pork or transgressing on any of the Torah laws.
February 1, 2017
It seems that genetically the pig is closer to us than the chimpanzee which is often quoted as our 'closest relative' in the animal kingdom. In the Bikini Atoll atomic tests just after WW2 pigs were placed on some of the target ships to check the effect on them. It was quoted at the time that the reaction of pig skin to radiation is closer to the reaction of human skin than that of any other animal. I had a friend who lived for at least 10 years with a heart valve from a pig.
David Rankin
New Zealand
January 28, 2017
future pigs
I didn't realize it was the laws of Torah that couldn't be changed. I thought that Torah itself was unchangeable. If God changed the pig to chew its cud then Torah would be wrong about the pig. If Torah is wrong, God is wrong and we really do come from nothing.
fancy gap va usa
January 27, 2017
The Pig doesn't arouse any disgust in me.If fact they are highly intelligent animals.I simply don't eat them.
January 27, 2017
Using pig genetics to create possible transplants.
The Washington Post just published this;

Scientists create a part-human, part-pig embryo — raising the possibility of interspecies organ transplants

There is no kashrut issue here because one does not "eat" the transplants. Years of work lie ahead, but maybe cloned hearts will save lives and cloned pancreases would save diabetics.

We would not celebrate with a spiral ham, because the pig is still treif.
Donald Weinshank
January 27, 2017
Pigs are not not herbivores. They eat like cannibals.
James More
Seasaw City
January 26, 2017
Don Weinshank, 7 Sept 2016. You may be interested to know that here in New Zealand one of our Animal Research Laboratories performed intelligence tests on every type of animal they could get hold of. One of the scientists told me that their biggest problem was creating a test of intelligence, not teachability. The top placing was clearly taken by the dairy goat with the top individual animal being one of my Saanen does. Second place was the pig - well ahead of the highly teachable dog. The same scientist said, "Humans forced to live in the conditions pigs are often forced into have trouble demonstrating their intelligence, too."
However, intelligence and kosher edibility are two different matters.
It has been suggested that there are two other marks against the pig. One is that it cannot raise its head to look upwards, so it cannot look to G-d. The other is that it is very stubborn, hence the term 'pig headed' for those who will not obey.
David Rankin
New Zealand
January 26, 2017
Under Moshiach
Pigs will be appreciated. They are smarter than man's best friend. They have sweet dispositions. If given a concrete slab and a pool (or air conditioning), when its hot, they wouldn't roll in mud to get cool. If they weren't so huge they'd live in our homes. If fed healthy food, they wouldn't get trichinosis. Unlike man, they do not possess guile. The bit about how they sit with their cloven hoofs out to fool anyone is the product of a man, who anthropomorphizes; but because they are forbidden, it made good sense, before. After Moshiach, pigs will not be eaten; they be ridden and taught to help people exercise. Jews will view them tenderly.
January 26, 2017
Pigs ...
I don't eat pork, but I must speak for the animal. Pigs wallow in mud because they have no sweat glands and the mud keeps them from overheating and expiring. They will always choose clean water over mud, if clean water is provided for them. When placed in an enclosure, the group will divide it into 3 sections: One for food, another for toilet purposes, and the remainder for gathering, socializing, and sleeping. They are extremely clean, affectionate, and more easily trained than dogs. When kept as pets, they have on occasion saved their owner's life.