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Kosher Pigs

Friday, 29 March, 2019 - 9:22 am

If I were to ask 100 Jews, “What is the most treif food you can think of?” I would probably get 100 similar responses. The pig, of course is the least kosher animal on the planet. Pork is the poster child for nonkosher food.

And, of course, there is ample reason it has earned this status. Perhaps, it’s due to the prevalence of pork as a consumed meat in the civilized world, tempting – but off limits – to Jewish people.

Or, due to the Torah singling it out in this week’s parsha. In Parshat Shemini we learn, “And the pig, because it has a cloven hoof that is completely split, but will not regurgitate its cud; it is unclean for you.” Any animal that does not chew its cud or have split hooves is not kosher. The swine is unique in that it has split hooves but does not chew its cud. Many have speculated that the pig earned this status to teach us that there is no such thing as something that is half kosher. In a sense, something that masquerades as kosher on the outside, but is treif inside, is even worse.

However, the problem with all 100 responses might be that it’s plain wrong.

In a startling statement, attributed to the ancient Midrash, we are told that there will be a time when the pig will indeed be kosher. I’m not sure if ham tickles your fancy, but when Moshiach comes, many Jewish authorities maintain that pigs will be kosher.

Rabbi Chayim ben Attar in his commentary Ohr HaChaim explains that the laws of the Torah will not, G-d Forbid, change. Rather, the nature of the pig will miraculously change and it will begin chewing its cud. (According to Rabbi Attar, who cites the Midrash, the verse is to be read conditionally – the pig is non-Kosher only so long as it does not regurgitate its cud).

Fascinating as it may be, we are left to wonder why G-d would design an animal to be nonkosher now and kosher in the future?

Perhaps the lesson is for us humans.

We too have characteristics that are ‘kosher’ and flaws that can be considered ‘nonkosher.’ It’s human nature to give up if we see an ingrained character flaw that seems stubbornly rooted in our being.

The Torah wants us to see it differently. Yes, character flaws are not to be ignored. We should never whitewash anger, callous indifference or indolence. Nor should we ignore and minimize them simply because we possess far more goodness. The pig, after all, remains treif so long as it doesn’t chew its cud.

But, we shouldn’t write ourselves off either. Giving up on a single character defect can be the death knell of our entire spiritual psyche.

The Jewish attitude ought to be one of sober assessment paired with absolute faith and conviction that even the most corrupt of qualities can be transformed into goodness and holiness.

Today, a pig might be the most treif animal on the planet. But, tomorrow it just might be the biggest rags to riches story.

Realism or optimism? Judaism insists you can – and must – have it both ways.


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