Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

Smell Test

After a lifelong curiosity about the prohibition against pork, one writer finds a satisfying answer—in the writings of the late Christopher Hitchens

Print Email

I was, for many years, an imperfect atheist.

After decades in Chabad and other haredi and Orthodox communities, I concluded that logic dictated that God—at least as Jews have usually defined Him—does not exist. But at the same time, I still had a personal belief in that God, something rooted deep inside of me, a belief that transcended logic.

Then I bought a copy of God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, who died last month at the age of 62. When the book arrived I nervously leafed through it, read the first few pages, and placed God is Not Great on a table next to my reading chair, where it sat for years untouched, on the bottom of what became a very large pile. In other words, I chickened out.

So, there I was, a cowardly atheist and a blind believer—a paradox that remained tenuously in place until Hitchens died in December.

In the wake of Hitchens’ death, I read comments from Orthodox Jews rejoicing over the news. One even wrote that Jewish law mandates that Jews should make a “festive meal” to rejoice that Hitchens had suffered and died from the same type of painful death some of them had openly wished for me. I could be a coward no longer. I dug Hitchens’ book out of that pile. I flipped it open to a random chapter and began to read about Hitchens’ view of … pigs.

***
In case you don’t know, pigs aren’t kosher. It is a statement so axiomatic that for most Jews, making it is akin to saying the sky is blue or snow is cold. But why is it that pigs are taboo? Pigs have cloven hoofs, a sign an animal is kosher to eat. But pigs are not ruminant animals and therefore do not chew their cud, which means pigs lack the other mandatory sign designating a kosher animal. And unlike the rabbit or the camel, which also lack one sign—or even shellfish, which is called an “abomination” by the Torah—the pig has become (and most likely always was) the paradigm of trayf. Why?

Midrashic literature composed long after the Torah was written sees the pig as deceptive; its cloven hoofs beckon the unsuspecting Jew and encourage him to eat the pig’s flesh, when in reality the pig is, well, chazzer trayf—an object of disgust and revulsion.

Years ago, just before my leap into ultra-Orthodoxy, I was at a friend’s parents’ house for the first time. We were in the kitchen looking for something to eat. My friend stopped his search to point out which cabinets and drawers had the meat dishes and which had the dairy dishes. I noticed one cabinet and one drawer had been overlooked. “What’s in those?” I asked. “Oh, they’re trayf. We use them when we bring home Chinese food,” he said without a trace of guilt. “You mean like pork fried rice?” I asked, not sure that I really understood him. “No,” he said with distain, “we would never eat pork.” “Shrimp?” I asked, perplexed. “Sure,” he answered. “But never pork. We would never eat pork.”

Archaeological digs in Israel have uncovered ancient biblical-era Israelite settlements where remains of shellfish are plentiful, but pig bones were not found. And even today there are many Jews like my friend’s family who eat shrimp and crab without a trace of guilt but would never eat pork. What could be so bad about pigs?

Anthropologist Marvin Harris believed Judaism’s pork taboo had practical origins. Pigs need lots of water to cool off in. They also need shade and a large amount of farmer-raised grain in order to survive—all things goats, sheep, and cattle don’t require. Pigs, Harris noted, compete with humans for grain and water, which man desperately needs in order to survive and which are scarce resources in much of the Middle East, including Israel. I would add that goats, sheep, and cattle can all be easily milked. Pigs cannot. That means the only way ancient humans could benefit from pigs was to slaughter them, and this made pigs even less cost effective to raise.

Other anthropologists, like the late Mary Douglas, see the pork taboo and other Jewish food taboos as separations between the “normal” and the “abnormal.” The ban on shellfish would be to separate the “normal” fish with fins and scales Israelites knew from the “abnormal” fish without them. The ban on pork would be to separate “normal” farm animals like sheep, goats, and cattle the Israelites were used to from the “abnormal” pig. This would have been an attempt to bring order to what ancient Israelites saw as a disorderly world, and an attempt to effect order on high.

Both Harris and Douglas touched on points that are, I think, reasons behind the taboo, but they don’t explain the venom with which Israelites and later Jews have viewed pigs for millennia. For that, dear readers, you have to turn to, of all people, Hitchens.

In God is not Great, Hitchens notes uneasy similarities between humans and pigs: Porcine DNA and human DNA are very similar, so much so that porcine heart valves can be transplanted into humans; pigs are noticeably smarter than other farm animals; and pig skin looks almost human, so much so that the smell and look of suckling pig and roasting human infants is, according to those who have had the misfortune of smelling and seeing both, disconcertingly similar. And make no mistake about it—many ancient Israelites had that misfortune. Hitchens thought this was the basis for the Jewish taboo against eating pork.

Hitchens’ understanding makes complete sense—especially if you extend the argument even further.

All meat consumption by Israelites originally required the animal be sacrificed to God. The choice parts were burned to soothe God—a necessary precaution in a world where natural disasters, disease, rampant infant mortality, death of an alarming number of women in childbirth, and famine had no other explanation than an angry or distracted god—or given to the priests to eat, and the remnants were eaten by the Israelite offering the sacrifice and those joining with him for that meal. Generations later, long after the taboo against eating pork had already been in place, non-sacrificial meat was allowed to be consumed. That means if pigs were kosher, Israelite worshippers would have smelled something eerily similar to the smell that emanated from pagan places of worship—if, as the Hebrew Bible claims, human child sacrifice was indeed practiced by the Israelites’ neighbors—and the Israelite priests would also have been seen consuming meat that bore a disturbing resemblance to those horrific pagan sacrifices. Would Israelites, who were then mostly illiterate, think that the Torah allowed human sacrifice? Would pig sacrifice cause Israelites to sacrifice their infants the way Torah claimed Israel’s neighbors did? Or could it be that the similarities alone were thought to be displeasing to God, regardless of how Israelites would or would not react to them? When understood in this context, and when we take into account the alarming frequency with which the Hebrew Bible says our ancient ancestors reverted to pagan worship, the taboo against eating pork takes on new meaning.

Hitchens dismissed Judaism’s anti-pork taboo as a Bronze Age superstition. But was it? Or was the Torah—divine, divinely inspired, or simply man-made—trying to do whatever it could to wean humans away from the perceived need to murder their own children? We may never know for sure—although Hitchens’ contribution has arguably done more to explain the reason behind our pork taboo than the 2,000 years of rabbinic commentary that preceded it.

I still irrationally believe there might be something—some being, some force, some deity—who is greater than us and who is there, watching, waiting for us to become just and good and kind. I don’t think this god has any real anger for Christopher Hitchens. On the contrary, I think this god must find it deliciously amusing that a half-Jewish atheist was able to decipher the basis of a religious mystery thousands of years old. Over the two millennia of Rabbinic Judaism, many of its leaders told their followers to accept truth from wherever and whomever it comes. That idea has fallen out of favor as the fundamentalism Hitchens so hated has grown to become the ultra-Orthodox (and even Modern Orthodox) norm. And that’s a shame, because in this case the truth—the Torah—comes from Christopher Hitchens, and the people who would truly cherish it the most will likely never allow themselves to read it.

Print Email
mark klampert says:

I have an unusual point of view after having raised pigs a few years ago.Pigs know they are gong to die.They understand the concept of death. This is why we are not allowed to eat them.Of course my Rabbi said clams are not kosher also do they know about death. Perhaps that is all they know consciously!

Ruth Gutmann says:

I would neither serve nor eat pork myself despite the fact that I am no longer observant.
If for no other reason, I shun pork because I am honoring my parents, esp. my father, whose last two concerns in Birkenau: were his 16 yr old twin daughters, and the unlikely accident of finding meat in his water and rutabaga soup.

philip mann says:

All animals sense the jig is up when they get herded into slaughter pens,but they don`t have valid passports,no cash,nowhere to go.

The earlier reason,about pigs being high maintenance doesn`t wash. Cattlemen could figure out for themselves that pigs needed grains,water and such,and make their own choices. No taboo was needed.

The reason for not mixing milk and meat was because the pagans would boil a calf in its own mother`s milk,,and this was considered a sign of cruelty. The taboo on pig meat is very strong,and I don`t think rav Hitchens found the reason for it either.

What a thoughtful piece! In these times when we are not dependent on slaughtered animals for our own survival, burnt flesh, whether it smells like a human or not, should be trayf.

Christopher Orev says:

Thank you for the thoughtful piece. I enjoy mulling over anthropological explanations of various religious taboos (especially Jewish taboos). That said, I think many of our negative commandments, especially those in the Oral Law, are informed by essentially irrational thought (i.e., that no reasonable impetus can be found for their addition to the long list). The centuries of rabbinic commentary support this, in their way, by arguing that the reason we can’t eat pork is that, well, G-d said we can’t eat pork – end of story.

As with most things, the “truth” likely lies on a middle path, as yet undiscovered.

Dr. Harold Goldmeier says:

Hitchens was one of the most prolific and insightful–even entertaining–writers of my generation. He could also be just plain mean and dismissive letting his animus for religion become an obsessiveness that made his wirings most difficult. Rosenberg is nothing like Hitches; his article is just hoary and mean spirited. So one supposedly Orthodox Jew wrote or said something stupid hearing of Hitchen’s death; that does not mean he speaks for or embodies the spirit of all Orthodox Jews. Despite Hitchen’s views on religion and Israel, I am one Orthodox Jew who said Barouch Dyan Emes–a commonly uttered phrase of repect said one one learns of the death of a person–upon learning of Hitchen’s passing. Rosenberg’s other slam at Jews who keep kosher but eat shellfish has little to do with Hitchens, but reveals more about Rosenberg’s unceasing rejection of his past and own character flaws. By the way, Jews who do not eat pork do so for one reason alone: it is an expressly prohibited food in the Torah–no other reason, historical or scientific, adds anything to the understanding of the law.
Dr. Harold Goldmeier is a writer and business consultant living in Chicago. He often writes for the blog Life In Israel, and has published dozens of articles.

Lynne T says:

The explanation about the prohibition against partaking of swine that I recall from my youth relates to the fact that swine are not ruminators and, consequently were more likely to harbour intestinal worms that might endangered human health. It might be helpful to know why Halal also bans the consumption of pork, but not shellfish, but then again it may have no bearing.

Jeremiah Unterman says:

This article is full of nonsense. If the author truly wants to discover the origins of the Torah’s prohibition against the pig, he should read Jacob Milgrom’s magisterial commentary on Leviticus in the Anchor Bible series.

Brian Kaye says:

Yes, I believe Christopher Hitchens was on to something; the laws of kashrut divide the animal world into three groups, those with high levels of intelligence, those with a modicum of intelligence and those with base levels of intelligence. We, as Jews, are prohibited from eating animals with high and base levels of intelligence, possibly to keep us conscious of the lives we take to satisfy our hunger. Likewise, we are prohibited from mixing meat and milk to remoind us that milk sustains life and flesh has come from taking a life. Thank you Ms Rosenberg for your thoughts.

david ben ari says:

Unfortunately I’m less shocked by the fact that Tablet published this drivel given what your editors have chosen to run in recent months. It puts a real dent in your reputation as a source of thoughtful insight into modern Jewish life.

Deborah Morris says:

Interesting to note that the Polynesian/Maori term for human flesh consumed by cannibals is “long pig.”

Spinoza says:

Just say no to pork. Haven’t you people seen Babe?

howard says:

It is quite possible that before there was Torah there were people who “religiously” didn’t eat pork for health reasons and anti-child sacrifice reasons and semiotic reasons and what not. But after there is Torah, and after centuries of rabbinic tradition, we don’t do or not do something because of the originating reason for its emergence in human culture in the middle east. We do and don’t do stuff because we are modern day adherents of a religious national community that includes these various cultural oddities in a framework of “mitzvot”… voices of God… emanations of God as perceived in the present. Their value isn’t in their meaning or origin in themselves but in the aligning of our lives with them in all their randomness and in the aligning of our lives with the community that listens and aligns itself with them. To miss that is to miss everything. To imagine that refrigeration or hygiene or preventing child sacrifice are somehow relevant to the discussion that I would argue we should care about around this issue is just silly.

It’s not that these speculations aren’t interesting (I loves me some anthro), but it seems really boring, and really… well… goyish. To the extent that we are Jews asking Jewish questions, we do in order to understand… and it is the understanding that comes through action that our culture validates above all. There ARE other kinds of understandings, such as offered by “Rabbi Hitchens” and the author, but by peering back into deep history, they miss the point that we are creatures of the 20th and 21st centuries of the common era. It’s eating or not eating pork now that matters. It’s not why it originally existed and got reified in law, but why and how it functions today, that matters from a Jewish perspective. But then, this article isn’t really written from a Jewish perspective is it?

An interesting theory but just a theory nonetheless.

I appreciate this genuine question and exploration, and all compelling points. However, many of the same sources that say the ancient pagans sacrificed children also claim that the ancient Israelites themselves, in violation of God, condemned their children to the fire. This might explain the prohibition against eating pork found in the Torah, but does not explain why pork has become more culturally detestable than, say, shellfish or rabbit.

Ephraim says:

Pigs aren’t kosher becasue the Torah says they aren’t. End of story. Hitchens may have provided some interesting, if idle speculation (I loves me some anthro too), but to think that he “provides the answer” is just, well, silly.

So some Jews eat all kinds of trayf except pork. So what? How is this relevant to what it says in the Torah? The fact that some Jews can sort of convince themselves that they keep kosher when they actually don’t by holding the pig in a special kind of detestation that they don’t apply to other things that are just as trayf is hardly relevant. There is, perhaps, an historical explanation for this: the Syrian Greeks and Romans supposedly forced Jews to sacrifice pigs in their attempts to force them to abandon Judaism, and after the Reconquista in Spain, one of the methods the authorities used to attempt to flush out “Judaizers” among the forced conversos was to force them to eat pork publicly. Therefore, since eating pork was once the public sign that a person was not Jewish, a counter-reaction may have set in so that Jews can convice themselves they are still really Jewish by ostentatiously refraining from pork even as they eat other trayf things. All that, however, has nothing to with with why pork isn’t kosher. (This is one reason why the cocido, one of Spain’s national dishes, a kind of long-simmered one-pot stew of meat, beans and vegetables probaly descended from the cholent, is chock-full of pork products such as pork, hambones, and blood sausage. If a Jew wanted to make sure not to blow his cover, he would make sure that anyone visiting his house would see all the trayf in his cocido.)

Anyway, the laws of kashrut and taharat mishpacha (family purity) exist to regulate the two most basic human drives: food and sex, and thereby raise the indulgence of these desires to a level of holiness. This is just Judaism 101.

philip mann says:

Howard,

What you say is very interesting, but I cannot at all figure out what you`re going on about.

Louis Linden says:

There are numerous stories about cannibals who have described the taste of human to be similar to the taste of pork. I read such a story in a travelogue from the 1800s written by a European who traveled to New Guinea. There, the cannibals were invited to a feast in a local village, where pork was served. They observed how similar pork flesh was to human flesh.
I agree that there is deep mystery as to our historic revulsion to pork, and I believe it does have to do with cannibalism. Besides the taste similarity, I can add that pigs are considered to have intelligence equal to cetaceans. And, as we written above, we use porcine valves and other blood vessels because of the lower incidence of organ rejection.
Interesting stuff to chew on. …

Two things

1) Where did the author of this article read that archaeologists found remains of shellfish in Israelite settlements??
According to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology: “Seafood was rare for the Israelites as they lacked access to the Mediterranean for part of their history.”
http://www.penn.museum/sites/Canaan/Animals.html
So, I would like to see the author’s sources.
2) Even if remains of shellfish were found during excavations of Israelite settlements, it does not mean they ate shell fish. Tyrian purple, which was highly desirable in biblical time is made from the murex shellfish which was at the time plentiful in the Mediterranean (which as pointed out above, was under Phoenician rule). The word “Canaan” is believed to mean “Land of Purple” and the Phoenicians who settled along the coast exported this throughout the world. So, if an Israelite settlement was found to have remains of shellfish it would not be surprising. The Israelites could have been using the murex for its purple. Also there are those who believe that the murex is the source of “techelet” which was a religious requirement.
Come to think of it, the fact that the murex could be a source of income, and because the murex was used to make the “techelet,” could very well explain why shellfish was not as taboo as pork, which as the author points out that outside of consumption was of little use for an agrarian society such as the ancient Israelites.

howard says:

Well Phillip, I’m glad it was interesting, even if it didn’t make sense.

All I mean is that the reasons for Torah aren’t in the distant past (whether in anthropological explanations OR in God’s original intentions in giving them.) The reasons for doing mitzvot are rooted in present day authority, present day practice, present day community. It’s the “lo b’shamaim he “. The authority and the practice of the present determines the meaning… not God’s original idea, or some middle eastern culture’s idea, or even some ancient grafting of divine will onto the existing practices of middle eastern cultures.

If God commanded us to read the telephone book each day, and more importantly if modern rabbinic opinion held that this was the normative practice of Israel, then of course we would read the telephone book each day, because the meaning of mitzvot is the doing first, and the hearing (understanding) second. The understanding come from the doing, and the doing is always in the present, not in the ancient past.

Who knows why people started not eating pork? And would it really matter for modern religious practice? I don’t see how it would, do you?

Aaah, what a sweet little piggy in the picture… I feel like petting it, not eating it…

Moshe Gresser says:

A much more sophisticated and comprehensive review of the questions about kashrut may be found in Meir Soloveitchik’s essay, “Locusts, Giraffes, and the Meaning of Kashrut,” in Azure – Winter 5766 / 2006, No. 23.

Ben Birnbaum says:

Imaginative and romantic thesis that can, unfortunately, be refuted by any human being who’s inhaled the cooking smoke of beef, pork, and human flesh. Years ago, coughing my way through a mass cremation ceremony/festival in a roadside field in Indonesia, I was put in precise mind of nothing else but burgers, spare ribs, and sausage (but mostly burgers, for some reason). Flesh is flesh. Taste, of course, is another matter. I’ve read that Australian cannibals of the 19th century, when given the choice, preferred dining on Chinese workers—fed on rice (who’d been imported as virtual slaves to build railroads, clear forests, and drain swamps)over the tang presented by their English masters—fed on salt beef.

I have read that Sumatran tribes which practiced cannibalism referred to human flesh as “long pig” based on its strong resemblance to pork. Human sacrifice and cannibalism were practiced among non-Jews in the biblical era, and the rejection of this was fundamental to the creation of Jewish laws separating clean from unclean. There may be something to what Hitchens said.

One other point: among the animals commonly domesticated for use as meat, pigs are the only ones which will eat human flesh. The strong taboo against eating pork derives in part from the view that any animal which would consume human flesh is unclean. While this motive for considering animals unclean also applies to carrion-eating birds and to fish such as eels, neither of these were domesticated for food, so the taboo would not have been considered as fundamental as that against pigs. (Dogs, the other domesticated animal known to eat human flesh, are also considered to be particularly unclean among traditional cultures in the Middle East, but since dog flesh was not commonly eaten, the taboo was not as important as that against pork.)

irene mauri says:

You should check Serbian sites for comments,
Rejoicing -hahahaha.

J. C. Marrero says:

Even before Hitchens, I had read that the “innards” of pigs look disconcertingly like human anatomy. It seemed to close to canabalism to the wise ancient Hebrews. Thousands of years ago, they were already thinking in terms of ethics even in how they ate. I also think that there is a proctical reason for “waiting for the Messiah” (who never quite arrives). It has helped the Jews ward off the possibility of a dictatorship–no one ever meets the exacting standards of the one yet to come.

barrygoodlife says:

Long before Hitchens, the Talmud (Taanit 21b)already noted the anatomical similarity between humans and pigs, with liturgical ramifications.

Menachem Mendel lll says:

Excellent article!

BTW, could you get be back on.

astorian says:

Another angle to this: the Jewish Bible (as a Catholic, I always have to stop myself from reflexively saying “The Old Testament”) idealized the life of the nomadic herdsman and positively FROWNED on city life and on farming.

Thin about it- God angrily rejects the offerings of farmer Cain but happily receives the offering of shepherd Abel. And when God called Abraham, what was the first thing he made Abraham do? He made Abraham leave his urban home and become a nomadic herdsman!

Today, of course, Jews are the most urban and urbane people in the world. But Jewish Scripture is built on the assumption that cities are evil, because they’re hotbeds of sin and idolatry. But wait… farming itself leads to an abundance of food which leads to specialization of labor, which leads to… CITIES! Hence, farming itelf is evil.

The nomadic herdsman is utterly dependent on God to help him find water and grass for his flocks, which means that ONLY the nomadic herdsman is truly living a godly life.

If yo uaccept that premise, then it becomes obvious: ONLY animals that are compatible with the life of a nomad can be kosher! Sheep, cows and goat s can travel about and live on whatever grass they find. Pigs must be fed grain, which means they can only be raised by farmers who live in one place full-time.

philip mann says:

No,it wouldn`t make a difference. If you call yourself,observant-even if you don`t ,really-you don`t eat pork,because that`s what the Torah requires. Still,we`re always curious, always looking to understand. No single reason offered fits well enough to account for why G-d made such a point of it,and nothing accounts for why we have such a revulsion for it.

I know, some things are beyond our understanding. But this reason seems to be the first resort of any odd circumstance,any contradiction. At some level , it should make sense.

mike flynn says:

my take on trayf has been much more practical. pigs, not only don’t chew their cud, they root and plow the earth and eat fecal matter, as do bottom-dwelling shellfish\crustaceans. dietary laws were ways to stay alive in the post-stone age world of noamdic tribes. the economic comaprison to other meat on the hoof is good too. while the mosaic laws are extreme, our western culture owes much to them for food safety and cleanliness. i still don’t get separating dairy and meat?

Rabbi Fred Davidow says:

The idea that the taboo on pork is partly related to the proposition that pork and human flesh smell and taste similarly is not the brainchild of Christopher Hitchens, yimach sh’mo. Natural History magazine in the 1970’s ran an article on this reason for the taboo and one reader wrote in that some peoples living on Pacific Islands called a human body roasting on a spit above a fire “long pig.”

Fred Davidow

Joel Weintraub says:

The article is ridiculous. The animus against pork is related to its popularity among Christians. Also, because it wallows in filth.

There is no evidence that meat was only offered to God and/or the priests and was not permissible to Jews in general. The Passover lamb, the earliest “sacrifice” was entirely consumed by the household.

The Biblical account of the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah and the commandment “thou shall not kill” would seem to a clear statement on the prohibition of child sacrifice. If this direct method was not enough to convince the children of Israel, then how in the world would prohibiting pork because it looks like child skin convince?

I find it amazing how brilliant individuals can make such stupid statements.

Deutch says:

Yay, Shmarya read a book!

Ephraim says:

“Christopher Hitchens, yimach sh’mo”? That seems a bit extreme. Hitler he wasn’t and I wouldn’t go so far as to wish his name to be erased. For all of his protestations against anti-Semitism he certainly did have an animus against Torah and Israel, but he did a good job of standing up to the Islamofascists, so his life wasn’t a total waste. In any case, he hated all organized monotheistic religion with equal passion, so one cannot really say he was a classical anti-Semite. He hated Christianity and Islam at least as much, if not more, than Judaism. An equal-opportunity hater it seems to me.

The commandment is not “Thou shalt not kill”, it is “Thou shall not commit murder”. Different thing. In any case, the Ten Commandments were given long after the abortive sacrifice of Isaac, so I don’t see how it applies, unless you subscribe to the view that the Patriarchs observed the Torah before it was given. But it is clear that it wouldn’t have applied here in any case, since the story makes it quite clear that it was a direct command from G-d and that Abraham was going to go through with it until G-d stopped him.

Ephraim says:

Joel:

Sorry, misunerstood your comment on the Akeidah. Consider my comments withdrawn.

However, the commandment is against murder, not killing. One is permitted to kill in self-defense, and to execute murderers, so the commandment is not a blanket prohibition against the taking of human life.

mark epstein says:

In terms of a belief in a higher being, I believe the author is taking that modern Woody Allenesque approach and hedging his bets. There may not be a G-d but if there is, at least he’s betting with the house because betting against the house gets you nothing even if you are right but betting with the house gets you everything if you are right and nothing if you are wrong.

Hershl says:

You wrote:
Dr. Harold Goldmeier is a writer and business consultant living in Chicago. He often writes for the blog Life In Israel, and has published dozens of articles.
====

It is not nice to write and post the identical comments on multiple sites as you are doing ( here, failedmessiah.com, etc.). However, your modesty obviously precludes you from mentioning such transgressions.

Why quote anyone else when you obviously are too narcissistic and just write to let us all know how famous ( not!) and beloved you are.

What an excuse for a human being.

Rakiba says:

The “long pig” and otheR variants has been what humans are called in various human eating societies.

M. Burgh says:

Cows, sheep, and goat are herd animals that can be taken on journeys by nomadic peoples, as we were. Pigs are not so mobile. A possible reason?

Scott, you are neither a gentleman nor a scholar, but the piece was interesting and provocative.

BTW, how does pork taste without the guilt?

JCarpenter says:

Claudine Fabre-Vassas wrote an intriguing book “That Singular Beast”, a cultural study of the pig and Jews in medieval Europe

Beautifully written, fascinating piece.

Abbushuki says:

Only 2 points of view on this: Either orders were given by the Divinity with no reasons, or it was all man-made. If Divine: we have no reasons, only unlimited and entertaining speculation. If by man, one can count angels on a pin head forever and write unlimited interesting articles for selling car ads. Equally interesting: How many heads on a Martian? or What’s beyond infinity? 6-D chess anyone?

philip mann says:

Ben;

` Given a choice , they preferred to dine on rice-fed Chinese..` Did the British..well,did they oblige them ?

So before reading the book you were, in the words of Dave Coverly (“Speed Bump”) a non-practicing atheist?

Occam's Tool says:

Let us go with a more spiritual reason why pigs are trayf. Improperly cooked pigs may carry trichinosis—this prohibition, therefore, was one of G-d’s ways of protecting his chosen people.

Note that this explanation is simple and easy to understand. Hence, it fulfills my name.

You see, if you assume G-d is benevolent and that the Torah is G-d, not man made, things naturally make sense and are simple to explain. Assume otherwise and you must twist and turn for explanations.

    God is never an explanation, it is the admittance that you aren’t intelligent enough to find a rational explanation. Isn’t it just as likely the Tooth Fairy and Santa had in hand in this?

Occam's Tool says:

By the way, yes, I am an MD.

Robert says:

Lost in all this is the simple decree of g-d that one will only eat the meat of animals that chew cud and have cloven hooves. The rabbit along with the horse and pig are forbidden for eating. There is no reason given. Your guess is as good as mine.

Mike G. says:

This article does not mention the most commonly cited reason for why Jews don’t eat pork: trichinosis (the parasitic disease borne from uncooked pork) was rampant in Biblical times, thus leading to a Judaic ban on pork consumption

All cultures have food taboos. They are, by their very nature, not rational. Judaism’s taboos got written into law over time. When observed, they make a culture distinctive and cohesive. Shmarya Rosenberg follows a long line of Jews seeking reasons for the laws of kashrut. Maimonides said that they promoted health. My father postulated that pork was prohibited because it was the sweetest meat and eating it would thus encourage a practice that was only reluctantly given to humans in the first place (meat being permitted only to Noah, after the flood, and not to Adam). But there are no more reasons Jews don’t eat pork than there are reasons that Americans don’t eat cats and dogs while other cultures do.

Marilyn Taub says:

I guess that trichinosis and tapeworms, once a deterrent to eating pork, is not familiar to you. Even my biology teacher, some 53 years ago had a tapeworm in a jar to show us what we weren’t missing.

Ephraim says:

If we accept the proposition that the prohibition against eating pork is a health measure to protect the Jews from getting trichinosis (dubious, at best, IMNSHO), we have to assume two things:

1) The Jews were smarter than everyone else in the ancient world and realized that eating pig made you sick; or

2) G-d actually did speak to the Jews and give them a heavenly-ordained law that he decided not to give anyone else.

That is: a) we ARE smarter than everybody else, and/or b) we ARE the Chosen People. It has to be one or the other, it seems to me.

Everybody in the ancient world ate pigs except the Jews. Do you really think that the Jews were smarter than the Greeks and Romans?

In any case, neither proposition would seem to fit with the modern politically correct frame of mind, implying, as they do, Jewish superiority and/or chosen-ness.

Mighr be safer to go with the rabbi’s comments about food taboos and just go with “every culture has its own mishegoss”.

As an English deist, I feel for you – for having gone so long without having ever sampled the deliciously mouth-watering taste of a side of roast pork. Best oven-cooked long and slow until crackling appears from the glaze, and of course with fresh apple sauce, veggies and carbo of your choice. Best with a robust red. Even better, force-fed to the rabbi of your choice.

A propos, Hitchens and I were contemporaries at university.

disqus_ytWWEWctZk says:

The feeling you feel is about a god being out there somewhere is because all men were born with an innate inclination of oness (to god). Read it up

Dorothy Hanna says:

Thank you for this article. I have personally thought, for some time now, that originally the law against eating pork, or pig was actually a law against cannibalsim (long pig). I think, maybe the ancient laws thought of cannibalism as an abomination, and eventually through corruption of understand the “abomination” was tranferred onto the pig, itself, as opposed to the act of eating it, ie…”long pig”, human beings/cannibalism.

Sheila Vives says:

God gave the Jewish people the command to abstain from consuming certain creatures to teach them them the difference between clean and unclean, the difference between living a righteous life and one that isn’t. This is explained in the New Testament. If you have noted, all creatures that were to be abstained from were creatures who were “scavengers”. From a scientific point of view there were health risks in consuming pigs. But we must get back to the real lessen, learning what is clean from unclean, right from wrong, good from wicked.

2000

Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Smell Test

After a lifelong curiosity about the prohibition against pork, one writer finds a satisfying answer—in the writings of the late Christopher Hitchens

More on Tablet:

Why the Teenage Girls of Europe Are Joining ISIS

By Lee Smith — Because they want the same things that teenage boys want: a strong sense of meaning and purpose