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.)