Pork Barreling: Shemini 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you keep Kosher? If you do, what about doing so is most difficult? If you don’t, what is the biggest obstacle that prevents you from doing so?

As our portion lists the animals the Israelites are allowed and not allowed to eat, perhaps the most prominent non-Kosher animal is granted a mere sentence in our text:

The Pitch: “And the swine – although it has true hoofs, with the hoofs cleft through, it does not chew the cud: it is impure for you.” – Leviticus 11:7

Swing #1: “Interestingly, in the high country in the eastern part of Canaan, where Israelite population was concentrated toward the end of the second millennium BCE, the percentage of pig bones discovered is only a fraction of what it is in the Canaanite lowlands. This suggests that the taboo [against eating pork] was already generally embraced by the Israelites at an early period (well before the composition of the Torah) and also that some Israelites chose to disregard it.” – Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation With Commentary

Swing #2: “The Torah uses these words as a condition, i.e. as long as the pig has not reverted to chewing the cud it may not be eaten. In the future, when it undergoes evolutionary changes so that it will become a ruminant, it will again be fit to be eaten by Jews. It is not the Torah which will adapt to ‘realities,’ but ‘reality’ which will adapt to Torah; the laws of the Torah are immutable, the nature of the pig is not.” – Or HaHayim

Swing #3: “I maintain that the food which is forbidden by the Law is unwholesome. There is nothing among the forbidden kinds of food whose injurious character is doubted, except pork and fat. But also in these cases the doubt is not justified. For pork contains more moisture than necessary [for human food], and too much of superfluous matter. The principal reason why the Law forbids swine’s flesh is to be found in the circumstance that its habits and its food are very dirty and loathsome. It has already been pointed out how emphatically the Law enjoins the removal of the sight of loathsome objects, even in the field and in the camp; how much more objectionable is such a sight in towns. But if it were allowed to eat swine’s flesh, the streets and houses would be more dirty than any cesspool, as may be seen at present in the country of the Franks.” – Moses Maimonides, Guide For the Perplexed

Late-Inning Questions: Why might our commentators suspect that the pig is, in many circles, the “ultimate” non-Kosher animal? Why is it not unheard-of for some Jews to avoid eating pork but eat other non-Kosher things (such as shellfish and/or cheeseburgers)? Is keeping Kosher an all-or-nothing proposition? Or are there gradations of Kashrut observance that should be recognized?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Please join me as we resume our “Tuesdays with Rabbi” series on April 2nd and 9th, both from 6:00-7:00PM. These classes will exam why the prophet Elijah is invited to our Seders. If you can’t make it in person, look for my feed on Facebook Live!

The Big Inning at the End: The word “pork” is another word for pig, but it’s also a metaphor for things that ought to be unnecessary (such as the “pork” that is added to a governmental bill to satisfy a small number of lawmakers). One might describe the many hidden costs of attending a Major League Baseball game, as detailed today in Deadspin, as an example of big-league pork!

Shabbat Shalom!