The Kosher Pig

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ESSAY: The Kosher Pig?
Why the epitome of “treif” will one day be pure.

INSIGHTS: Ambition
How do you prepare your daily fare—boiled, baked, stewed or grilled? Fervid with desire or sodden with contentment? Whichever way you ingest  your life, on Passover, there’s only one dish on the menu

The Kosher Pig?
by Chaya Shuchat

Why is the word “pig” an almost universal symbol of insult? This much-maligned animal has been slapped with the most perverse of labels, from Nazi to sexist. We ascribe to it the worst of human failings, including greed, gluttony, and sloppiness. It is also the most quintessentially “treif” of animals, with its name being nearly synonymous with non-kosher of the most decadent sort. Let’s face it: for an innocent creature, the pig evokes some pretty strong emotions.

Although far from alone in the litany of non-kosher animals, the pig seems to stand in a class of its own. True, bear or lion meat are far less common menu items than pork or ham. But our feelings towards the pig seem to run far deeper than mere culinary distaste. What makes the pig distinct?

In general, when describing the kosher status of beast, fowl, or fish, the Torah lists those which are in the minority. Kosher birds are more numerous than those that are non-kosher, so the Torah mentions all impure species by name. On the other hand, there are far fewer kosher than non-kosher animals, so only the kosher ones are specified in the verse. There are four animals that are an exception to this rule: the camel, the rabbit, the hare and the pig. They are specifically singled out due to an ambiguity surrounding their status. Kosher animals must possess two characteristics: They must chew their cud and have split hooves. The camel, the hare and the rabbit are all ruminating creatures, but their hooves are not split. The pig, on the other hand, has a cleft hoof, but does not chew its cud.

This may account for the pig’s special “notoriety” within the class of non-kosher species. Most animals are fairly straightforward: their status is certain, and they are fairly easy to identify and classify as kosher or non-kosher. The four enumerated above, however, pose a problem. They possess one kosher sign, but not the other. They might be considered “semi-kosher” in our eyes, although they are no less impure than the other animals. Yet it is not the camel, the hare or the rabbit that bears the full brunt of our aversion, but the pig. For the pig stands out even within the class of “imposters.” The other three chew their cud, a not necessarily obvious phenomenon, but do not have split hooves, which are more readily apparent. The pig is different. It brazenly flaunts its foreleg, boasting of its split hoof, while its lack of cud chewing, which would give it away as a non-kosher animal, remains obscured. It is this very attempt to parade and masquerade itself as a kosher creature which earns for the pig its unique status among animals.

The laws regarding the pure and impure species are placed towards the end of the Torah portion of Shemini, literally, “the eighth.” It is a reference to the eighth day of consecration of the Tabernacle, which consummated the seven preparatory days which preceded it. Seven represents the parameters of existence--the seven-day cycle of time, seven colors on the spectrum. Eight symbolizes a transcendent dimension that rises above and sheds divine light upon the cycle of seven. Our task is to attempt to create a fusion of the physical and transcendent aspects of the universe, through utilizing all physical objects for a more sublime purpose. The Holy Temple is the quintessential example of physicality being transformed into G-dliness. Yet the conclusion of the Torah portion of Shemini, which discusses pure and impure animals, signifies a higher level still. It portrays holiness being drawn into the corporeality of the animal kingdom, a far more challenging task of refinement and elevation.[1]

Within the task of elevating the animal kingdom, there are two distinct modes. Certain animals are elevated through slaughtering them in a proscribed manner, and consuming them as food, with the intention of strengthening our bodies and utilizing that strength to continue our Divine service. Other animals are consecrated precisely by our rejection of them. Their very nature conceals the Divine spark which vivifies them, and only through categorizing them as “impure,” and avoiding their consumption, can we tear off the mask of unholiness and reveal the Divine light hidden within.

Yet even within this class, the pig defies and resists our efforts. It enclothes itself in a garb of purity, and seeks to deceive us regarding its true nature. The pig represents the type of evil in the world which is hardest to resist and combat. It encompasses all forms of flattery and deception, the suave and smooth-talking villains who worm their way into our confidence and take root in our hearts, before we become wise to their true intentions. Our greatest challenge is not fighting the blatant evil of the world, but its more subtle and deceptive forms, which come packaged in a guise of goodness and truth.

Yet the pig’s ability to assume the semblance, however superficially, of a kosher animal reflects on a level of holiness embedded deep within it. For only if it contained within it a hidden good,[2] would it be able to pull off its clever charade. No falsehood can long be maintained without some basis of truth. Our strong antipathy towards the pig, and our solid rejection of it, serve to “cut off” the part of it which is negative and evil, and leave only its pure essence. Only regarding the pig does the Midrash state: “Why is the pig called ‘chazir’? For in the future, it will be returned (‘lehachazir’) to us.[3]“ In the Messianic Era, when the true Divine nature of every creature will be openly revealed, the pig will stand vindicated as a kosher animal. Because with all its posing and prancing, the pig does one thing for us. It forces us to confront our own insidious evil nature, combat it, and ultimately rise above it. So the choice is ours. We can mask our deficiencies by verbally maligning the innocent pig, or we can recognize the pig for what it is: a mirror to our own animal selves. We must concentrate on perfecting and purifying our own animal souls, and G-d will reciprocate by "koshering" the pig.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Shabbos Parshat Shemini, vol. 17, pp. 92-99; Parshas Toldos, vol. 35 pp. 117-118


by Yanki Tauber

They shall eat the flesh [of the Passover offering] on that night, roasted on the fire, with matzot and bitter herbs. Do not eat of it half-done, or cooked, or boiled in water; only roasted on the fire

Exodus 12:8-9

The firstborn, tithe and Passover offerings are kodashim kallim; they can be slaughtered anywhere in the Temple courtyard, and their blood requires only one sprinkling, as long as it is directed toward the foundation of the altar. They differ, however, in how they are to be eaten. The firstborn offering is eaten by the priests, the tithe offering by anyone; both can be eaten throughout the city [of Jerusalem], in any form of food preparation, for two days and one night. The Passover offering can be eaten only at night, and only up to midnight, and only by those registered for it, and only roasted by fire.

Talmud, Zevachim 56b

We experience life as an endless chain of urges and strivings. We desire something, agonize over our lack of it, and expend our energies and resources in pursuit of it. And when our goal is actually attained, our pleasure and satisfaction are short-lived: already the next striving is forming in our hearts, already the fire of desire is consuming our lives.

We might, at times, envy the tranquillity of those who are free of ambition, but it is the relentless seekers whom we admire and emulate. In our own experience, we look upon our periods of agitated quest as the high points of our lives. For we sense that while the tranquil person is at peace with himself, the striving person is relating to something greater than the self, something more than the here and now.

Three Offerings

In the twelfth chapter of Exodus (which is read from the Torah on Shabbat HaChodesh, approximately two weeks before Passover), G-d communicates to Moses the laws of the korban pesach, the Passover offering. When the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) stood in Jerusalem, every Jewish household (or group of smaller households) would bring a lamb or kid to the Beit HaMikdash on the fourteenth of Nissan, the day preceding the festival of Passover. The lamb would be slaughtered in the Temple courtyard, its blood would be sprinkled on the altar, and certain portions of it would be burned atop the altar. It would then be roasted on a spit over a fire. That night—the first night of Passover—its meat would be eaten with matzah and marror (bitter herbs), together constituting the three staples of the seder. [4]

Various types of korbanot were offered in the Holy Temple, but the Passover offering was unique in many ways, for it was governed by a set of laws that applied to no other offering. Some of these differences are specified in the fifth chapter of the Talmudic tractate of Zevachim, where the Talmud compares the Passover offering with two other korbanot—the “firstborn offering” (korban bechor) and the “tithe offering” (korban maaser).

The Torah commands the Jew to bring the firstborn of his cattle or sheep as an offering to G-d.[5] Also to be offered is a tithe of the animals born in the herd or flock (once a year, the year’s yield were herded into a pen and let out one at a time; every tenth animal to emerge was marked and pronounced holy to G-d, and brought as an offering).[6] The firstborn, tithe, and Passover offerings all belong to a class of korbanot called kodashim kallim, and they resemble each other in the procedure of their offering upon the altar; but the rules pertaining to the eating of the Passover offering differ from those relating to the first two.

The firstborn and the tithe offerings can be eaten for “two days and a night” (on the day it was offered, on the following night, and on the following day until sunset), while the Passover offering can be eaten only on the night following its offering, and only until midnight. Another difference is that the firstborn and the tithe offerings can be prepared in any way the eater desires—boiled, stewed, baked, roasted, etc.—while the Passover offering has to be roasted on a spit over the fire, and cannot be prepared in any other way (not even as a “pot roast” cooked in its own juices with no other liquid added[7]).

For the most part, the Torah speaks of physical objects and actions; but its every word also refers to the spiritual dynamics of our lives. Each law of Torah—each organ and limb of its “body”—has its corresponding element in the “soul” of Torah. The same is true of the above-mentioned laws: the firstborn, tithe and Passover offerings, and the differences between them, all have their counterpart in the inner life of the soul.

First, Last and Over

The teachings of Kabbalah describe our world as founded upon ten divine attributes (sefirot) from which derive the spiritual form and substance of reality. Thus, the number “ten” represents the seder hishtalshelut (literally, the “order of evolution”)—the spiritual order of things that G-d instituted in His creation. “Firstborn” represents chochmah, the first and loftiest phase of the seder hishtalshelut; “tithe” refers to malchut, the last and lowest of the order.[8]  Together, the first and the tenth embrace the totality of the created reality.

“Passover,” as its name indicates, relates to that which transcends seder hishtalshelut, that which overleaps the standard processes of creation. The Passover offering is so named in attestation to the fact that G-d “leaped over” the homes of the Jewish firstborn when He killed all Egyptian firstborn on the night of the Exodus,[9] despite the fact that, by all standard criteria, the Jews were no more deserving of life than the Egyptians.[10] Passover is G-d’s disregarding of the very rules by which He ordered His world, and our reciprocation of His deed by rising above the dictates of nature and normalcy in our devotion to Him.

This explains the difference in how the Passover offering is eaten, as opposed to the “firstborn” and “tithe” offerings.

As has already been remarked, life can be viewed as a cycle of striving and realization, yearning and gratification. The common metaphors for these two states are “fire” and “water.” Fire connotes thirst and upward striving; water suggests “settling down” and satiation.

A “normal” life—life as defined by the “order of evolution” from chochmah to malchut—is nourished by both fire and water. Some meals are cooked steeped in the water of contentment; others have lesser degrees of liquid to temper the fire of life; occasionally, one even partakes of a “roast”—a spurt of utter striving, of desire unsated by a single drop of gratification.

The Passover offering, however, can be experienced only one way—roasted on the fire. When a soul reaches for G-d—not for the glimmers of divinity to be found within creation and experienced by conventional spiritual endeavor, but for G-d Himself, as He transcends existence and reality—it is utterly consumed by an unceasing desire. For man can never capture anything of the divine essence. He can only strive for it, his soul a pure fire, with nary a drop of water to slake his thirst, without even a “pot” to contain his fervor.

Nighttime Meal

The firstborn and tithe offerings were eaten for “two days and a night.” The Passover offering was eaten only at night.

In the course of our history, we have experienced days of divine light, as well as nights of spiritual darkness. Generally speaking, there were two “daytime” eras—the periods in which the first, and then the second, Beit HaMikdash manifested the divine presence in our world.[11] Between these two days was a brief night—the seventy-year Babylonian galut, when the Holy Temple lay in ruins and the people of Israel were exiled from the Holy Land. Following the sunset of the second day,  we were plunged into the blackest of nights—into our current centuries-long galut, rife with suffering and persecution, confounded by doubt and spiritual dissonance and marked by the near-total concealment of the face of G-d.

A “normal” relationship with G-d could be had only on the “two days and a night” that preceded our present galut. These were times in which G-d showed Himself to man—even in Babylon we had prophets and other expressions of divine immanence. But when the sun set on the second day, the flesh of the “firstborn” and “tithe” offerings could no longer be eaten. No longer could the divine truth be experienced within the workings of nature or accessed by the conventional processes of spiritual endeavor. No longer could man experience gratification in his spiritual life, for a glimpse of the Divine had become an elusive dream.

In this night of nights,[12] man’s striving for the Divine is an unquenchable fire, an unrealizable yearning, an unconsummatable love. But for that very reason, it is deeper and truer than the fire-and-water concoctions of the past. In this night of nights, our yearning for G-d is not focused upon first or tenth attributes or filtered through “orders of evolution.” In this night of nights, our yearning for G-d is not mitigated by plateaus of gratification. It passes over all systems and processes to strive for the very essence of G-d—an endless striving for the most endless of objectives.

Based on an (undated) entry in the Rebbe’s journal[13]

[1]. Fundamental to Jewish thought is the concept of uniting the diversity of the universe toward one higher end. Initially, each of the four kingdoms which comprise the universe -- mineral, vegetable, animal and human -- stand alone. Only the human being, through his or her actions, has the unique power to unite and transform all the kingdoms. When a person utilizes or consumes mineral, vegetable or animal, and harnesses its energy toward constructive ends, he elevates it to a level that it could never have attained on its own.

[2]. All phenomena, every personality, has a so-called "subconscious," a beneath the surface root that is the underlying cause for a particular behavior. The Kabbalah calls it the "spiritual spark" within each fiber of existence. This spark is the energy which, after evolving and manifesting itself in physical form, informs and shapes the entire spectrum of personality types in existence.

[3]. See Shaloh Chayei Sarah, also Likkutei Sichos, vol. 12, p. 175.

[4]. Today, the meat of the Passover offering is represented at the seder by the afikoman, a piece of matzah eaten at the end of the meal.

[5]. Exodus 13:2, 12; Deuteronomy 15:19.

[6]. Leviticus 27:32.

[7]. Tosafot on Talmud, Pesachim 41a, s.v. ikka; Rashi, ibid., s.v. tzli kadar.

[8]. Thus the firstborn offering was eaten by the kohanim, who represent the higher, more spiritual callings of life (see Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shemittah and Yovel, 13:13), while the tithe offering was eaten by the farmer who brought it, representing the “lowest,” or most material, stratum of creation.

[9]. Exodus 12:27; Passover Haggadah, s.v. pesach zu.

[10]. Zohar Chadash, beginning of Yitro; Yalkut Reuveni, Shemot 14:27; Zohar, part II, 36; ibid., 170b (see Midnight, WIR, vol. VI, no. 19).

[11]. The first Beit HaMikdash stood for 410 years, from the year 2928 from creation (833 bce) to 3338 (423 bce). The Second Temple stood for 420 years, from 3408 (353 bce) dates to 3829 (69 ce).

[12]. The Passover offering can be eaten “only until midnight.” In Kabbalistic teaching, the first half of the night is its harsher part, in which the attribute of gevurah (“severity”) dominates (see Midnight, WIR vol. VI, no. 19).

[13]. Reshimot #37.

Barefoot Beasts
The Human Biosphere
The Kosher Pig

Visitor Comments
jeff gunn, 09/14/2012
rationale for not eating pork
If you examine all the treif animals you have listed you will see that they all eat their own feces and have a predatory nature - they kill each other or other animals - none of the kosher animals (mammals) do this. The pig is spiritually impure because it kills and also because it eats dead things - it is a scavenger and eats carrion. It will even kill and consume humans. Kosher - not likely.
Yvette Jones, 06/01/2012
will read again enjoyed the time to read the article want to get the book
Really enjoyed this time want to get the book. Some things just take time to digest. The more I know makes me realize I don't know much. : )
Kosher-Pig, 11/30/2009
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