One of the most interesting and special of the subjects dealt with in the Torah’s mitzvot is kashrut. In this week’s Torah portion, we get a long list that details the various species of animals we are forbidden to eat, and the text notes signs that indicate an animal we are permitted to eat.
For thousands of years, the Torah’s commentators tried to find reasons for these instructions. Indeed, when reading the words of the various commentators, we discover a wealth of various ideas regarding the significance of eating in general, and of eating animals in particular, and regarding the complex relationships of man with his surroundings – animal, vegetable or mineral.
Among the animals we are not allowed to eat, one sticks out – the pig – which has become a negative symbol from which every Jew keeps his distance.
Even many Jews who do not observe mitzvot, including eating kosher, refrain from eating pork. For some reason, the pig became much more of a negative symbol than other animals we are not allowed to eat.
Our attitude toward dogs, cats, horses, rabbits – all animals we are forbidden to eat – is absolutely positive.
The pig, however, is different.
Why is this so? How did the pig become such a negative symbol? If we want to answer this question, we must look at what the Torah says in this week’s parsha. When the Torah gives us signs so we know which animal is permitted and which is forbidden, it mentions two signs – one internal and one external. The internal sign is that a permitted animal must be one which “chews its cud.” Meaning, it is an animal capable of eating large amounts of food and of completing the digestive process over a long period. The external sign is that the permitted animal must have split hooves; meaning, it has a split in its hoof that divides it into two parts.
Some animals only have one sign; for example, the camel, the rabbit and the hare are animals that chew their cud to a certain extent, but their hooves are not completely split. We note that these animals have the internal sign, but the one they lack is the external one. Indeed, it is because they lack this external sign that we are forbidden to eat them.
But the animal that has the external sign but does not have the internal sign is the pig. It has a split hoof, but does not chew its cud, so it is forbidden.
This phenomenon made the pig a being whose external appearance does not reflect its internal nature. It looks permissible from the outside, but is actually forbidden.
Undoubtedly, the pig does not intend this to be the case, but the reality is that its outer appearance conflicts with its inner essence, and over the years, this has come to symbolize the negative quality of hypocrisy.
People who behave hypocritically project innocence and righteousness when they are not really this way. People who are outwardly positive but internally negative are compared to that same pig that looks to be kosher outwardly, but when it is looked at internally, we discover it is forbidden to eat.
Our sages quote a sentence in the Talmud which King Yanai said to his wife, Shlomzion. It was uttered against the backdrop of the dispute between the Pharisees – observers of Halacha, and the Sadducees – men of the Hellenistic elite: “Do not fear the Pharisees or those who are not Pharisees, but from the hypocrites who resemble Pharisees.” (Talmud Bavli, Tractate Sota, page 22) A person whose wickedness is visible to those around him is not so dangerous, since everyone knows to beware him and deal with him. But the hypocrite – says King Yanai – is the most dangerous person since whoever does not know him well is convinced that he is a kosher person, perhaps even a righteous one, and will not know to beware him.
This characteristic of hypocrisy made the pig such a negative symbol, perhaps the most negative. Eating pork expresses the acceptance of hypocrisy as a legitimate quality. This undermines the foundations of human society which are based on integrity and brotherhood.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.