By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
I’ve often wondered, if there are many animals which are forbidden by Jewish dietary laws, such as horses, dogs, cats and many others, then why is pork considered the classic symbol of traif? Is there something more traif about pork than all the others?
— Shawn P.
Sorry, I can’t resist! There was once a rabbi and a priest having breakfast together; the rabbi was having scrambled eggs and the priest, bacon and eggs. The priest suddenly exclaimed, ‘you know rabbi, this bacon is so delicious! The Lord gave us the pleasures of this world to enjoy them, not refrain from them. When are you finally going to taste some bacon?!’ The rabbi replied, ‘at your wedding, Father!’
The Torah gives two signs that signify if an animal is kosher: that they chew their cud and have split hooves. All animals lacking these two signs are traif. The Torah further cites four examples of animals which present only one of these two signs: The camel, hyrax and hare all chew their cud but do not have split hooves, and are therefore not kosher. The pig is the opposite, it has split hooves but does not chew its cud, and therefore also not kosher (see Lev. 11:1-8).
The early Sages noticed this distinction between the pig and the first three animals; what does this teach us about these animals?
They explain that the “kosher sign” of the first three, chewing their cud, is internal. Internally, they are kosher but externally they are not, and therefore cannot be consumed as we need both. The pig, however, is internally not kosher; its very essence is traif; it is only on the outside that it presents itself with the appearance of being kosher.
The rabbis cite a verse which compares Esau to the “pig of the forest.” Esau presents himself as being righteous, excelling in honoring his father, tithing foods that don’t require tithing such as salt, but inside he harbors a hatred toward true holiness and to Jacob who represents holiness and sanctity in every aspect of life. The Sages remark that Esau, like the pig, holds out its paw and proclaims: “look at me, I’m kosher!” In reality, however, he’s rotten to the core. The Amalekite nation, which the Talmud places as the forefathers of the Germans, trace back to the lineage of Esau. It was the most cultured of nations, the most polite and polished on the outside that gave birth to the Nazi fascists who committed the most heinous of crimes ever known to mankind as a result of their hatred for us deep inside.
The rabbis further explain that the Jews were destined, from the time of creation, to suffer four exiles among the nations. The first three — the Babylonian, Persian-Median and Greek exiles — correspond to the first three animals mentioned above. These three were clearly and obviously idolatrous nations. They are linked to the state of the Jews of that time. The three cardinal sins — idolatry, murder and illicit relations — were at the root of the Temple’s destruction and subsequent exiles. These were clear and open sins, and they were subjugated to nations which were openly sinful.
The reason for the second Temple destruction and subsequent exile was far less clear; the true reason was hidden, since on the surface the Jews seemed to be very observant. Only through prophecy did we learn that their deep-down hatred for one another was the reason for the destruction. That’s why the fourth destruction was by the hand of the Edomites, the great grandchildren of Esau, the pig. They claimed to be righteous, and gave birth to Western civilization, of which many claim to be the “real Jews,” extending their “kosher hoofs,” but with something rotten to the core; the core which has brought pogroms, crusades, inquisitions and the unspeakable holocaust.
Your question comes at a great time. March in Dallas is “Kosher Month” where you can join the entire Dallas Jewish community to learn more about kashrut! Just check out dallaskoshermonth.com and join the fun!!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.