There are lots of animals that kosher omnivores don’t eat but the most famous of them all is the pig. Most people assume that pigs aren’t kosher because of health and hygienic reasons but chicken, a famously kosher creature, causes much more sickness to humans than pork,* so what’s the real reason behind this practice? Well..... that is a question you’ll need to save for God, because nobody knows the ultimate answer to it, but I can at least tell you what reasons I find most appealing.
I grew up being extremely jealous of American Indians, the feathers, the war paint, all those cool and mysterious rituals. It wasn’t till my late teens that I realized I come from one of the coolest and oldest tribes on earth. We have our own “feathers” and “war paint” in the form of tzit tzit and teffilin. We also have many ancient, proud and mysterious rituals and traditions, one of them being watching what we eat. So even if there was no logical reason for not eating pork I still wouldn’t do it, because it’s a part of my people’s ancient and lasting heritage, and everybody needs a little mystery in their lives
What truly sets a pig apart from other kosher mammals is their digestion. For a mammal to be kosher it must have split hooves, which a pig does, and it must chew its cud, which a pig doesn’t. Animals which chew their cud are herbivores and will regurgitate and re-chew the grass they eat in order to extract the hard to digest protein in it. Pigs and other mammals such as humans, chimpanzees and bears are omnivores which do not have this ability and so must rely on more protein rich sources of nourishment. This is why a pig will eat pretty much anything, including slop, while a cow will shun away pretty much anything but grass. According to the Torah digestion seems to be a key component for understanding an animal’s fitness for human consumption, but why is this bodily function so important? I truly believe in the saying that you are what you eat, so looking at what an animal eats can tell us allot about that animal’s nature. Consequently if we eat an animal we make them a part of us and we become more like them. Not only that, the act of raising and killing an animal brings us into relationship with them in ever more personal and intimate ways. As I’ve begun to raise and kill the animals I eat, it’s become clear to me that I wouldn’t want to undergo this process with a pig. It could just be because that is what my tradition tells me but I feel that there is a deeper underlying truth that I am tapping into when I don’t eat pork, a truth whose calling card is held within digestion.
1. Pigs are too Similar to Humans
As I said before, pigs are omnivorous mammals and another omnivorous mammal that shares many of its traits is the human. We actually share %98 of our DNA with pigs,* this is as opposed to only sharing about %80 of our genes with cows and other ruminant mammals.* When compared side by side our skin looks eerily similar to theirs and we are in fact so similar that many body parts including a pig’s heart can be transplanted into a human body.* In Jewish thought it is said that we all originate from one God that created everything in the universe. As God split up creation into endless pieces we each came to embody different aspects of the divine. When one eats another animal he is committing a sacred act wherein he consumes another aspect of God and this act of consumption as well as all that surrounds it, i.e. the raising and slaughtering of animals has a deep and profound effect on one's physical, psychological and spiritual well being. It seems to me that a pig’s divine origin is too close to my own and that eating pork borders on the cusp of a kind of cannibalism. Jewish tradition does not teach that everyone needs to follow our path and I'm very accepting of others eating pork, but having bacon with my eggs is for me just a bit too close for comfort.
About the blog:
Welcome to The Kosher Omnivore's Quest! My old blog on kosher slaughter, kosher meat, and animal welfare. For new content check out my new website, The Kosher Cut™. There you'll find: blog posts about shechita and related topics, educational slaughter presentations, kosher slaughter training, and a selection of high quality professional kosher slaughter equipment.