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We all hear about pigs being so much more reviled than other forms of non-kosher. This is true in general culture; I believe such a minhag was recorded with regards to using soap rendered from non-kosher animals; we find the Talmud occasionally referring to a pig euphemistically as "something else", rather than having to say the word. What's so special (in a bad way) about pigs?

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It's interpreting that pig is the most popular non kosher animal. That's probably why. –  Jim Thio Jul 23 '13 at 2:16

5 Answers 5

In order to understand why the pig has become synonymous with all that is not Kosher we must consider the history of Neolithic domestication of swine. The diseases that came from this particular animal, actually shaped the human immune system, because of all the animals humans were learning to domesticate, only the pig was able to share germs with our species, and this swapping of germs, while deadly to many of our ancestors, also helped to evolve our own immune system -as well as the pigs’.

The question must arise as to whether the pig’s ability to infect us with disease was the reason that pigs were considered unclean in the Kosher dietary laws recorded in the Tenakh or Old Testament. Because so much of the Jewish law dictating what was and was not actually Kosher, were collected in the writings of the two Talmudic books, the Mishna (written c. 200 CE) and the Gemara (written c. 500 CE), it could be suggested that so much time had passed since the pig was first domesticated that there was probably no correlation between the Kosher laws forbidding contact with swine, and the illnesses that would have ravaged ancient pastoral societies.

In Leviticus, the third book in the Old Testament which was attributed to Moses, but which was more likely written during the Babylonian exile between 538 and 332 BCE, God gives the Hebrews not only the famous Ten Commandments, but also all 613 commandments associated with Jewish life, including the commandments that dictate what is “clean” to eat and what is not.

"Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, "Speak to the children of Israel, saying; 'These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth”

The main factor in determining what herd animals are, and are not, Kosher has to do with whether they have a cloven hoof and chew their cud. Had Leviticus left it at that I might never have written these words. But the text goes on:

“…and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you.'"

So the pig is one of the few animals that were actually ‘called out’ in the Bible as being un-Kosher. This is very significant because when the Bible specifically names a thing it implies that that thing has some power over ancient cultures. For instance, in Genesis as God is creating the world, there is a reference to the creation of “the great sea-monsters”. The actual word used for ‘sea monster’ in Hebrew is tninim, which means crocodile. Many of the religious cults of the time worshipped the symbol of the crocodile as a god, particularly in Egypt, which was a major cultural influence on the Hebrews. By actually naming this animal, the ancient writers are illustrating YAWH’s omnipotence over the whole of creation, even the gods of Egypt. Thus, because the pig is named, it is probable there was a history that needed to be specifically addressed.

Still we have around ten thousand years separating the domestication of the pig and the writing of Jewish law. Many things may have come to pass and been forgotten in ten thousand years, but the Bible was not written whimsically on a sunny day in Dolores park, it was a compilation of oral traditions passed down through the generations from father to son, from mother to daughter. The writings were the sacred laws, stories, and lineage of this Semitic tribe recited by the priests who would retain the knowledge by repeating the words over and over throughout the year, ensuring that nothing was ever forgotten. Because the Jews feared their traditions would be lost following the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem, which had been their center of learning and knowledge since the 9th century BCE, they wrote it all down and committed it to the Old Testament. Much of the Jewish texts were assembled during times of crises and exile. The Talmud was a result of the Romans destruction of the Second Temple at Jerusalem and the subsequent diaspora of the Jewish people across the world. Without a written standard, a manual, communities would have lost their traditions and assimilated into whatever culture dominated their new homes.

The written Bible was a compilation from many different writers in many different periods as they tried to save their laws and culture by documenting the elaborate oral traditions of the Hebrew people. These stories and rules, like the rejection of pork, became icons of Jewish tradition and culture, but as they emerged from the past it was probable that they would carry with them the echo Neolithic drama and wisdom, like the Garden of Eden, the Great Flood and the Tower of Babel. From the ancient clues left behind we may never actually know the whole truth, but I believe that most of the stories and commandments in the Bible probably came from an ancient, practical source, that was passed down from generation to generation.

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SD, welcome to Mi Yodeya! Please note that questions and answers here are from the point-of-view of Judaism, which holds its foundational texts and traditions to be of Divine origin. –  Isaac Moses Sep 1 '13 at 1:43
    
@SDKarlin, camel, hyrax, and hare are also called out in Leviticus, yet they don't seem singled out in our culture the same way as pigs. Furthermore: "it could be suggested that so much time had passed since the pig was first domesticated that there was probably no correlation between the Kosher laws forbidding contact with swine, and the illnesses that would have ravaged ancient pastoral societies." Provably false. The Talmud records (Taanit 21b) that a porcine epidemic is a major threat to humans, as our internal organs are so similar. –  Shalom Sep 1 '13 at 5:39

Something I wrote at Parsha Shemini last year

The 172nd prohibition according to Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos is the prohibition against eating non-kosher. In Volume 3, Chapter 48 of Moreh Nevuchim the Rambam writes ‘if we were allowed to eat pig’s flesh, the streets and house would be dirtier than any cesspool’.

Have you ever wondered why it is that in almost all stereotypes about what a Jew can or cannot eat Pig is more often than not singled out? Beyond that even with Jews that aren’t so strict in keeping dietary law they will proudly say ‘I don’t eat pig’. What is it about the Pig that singles it out amongst all other non-kosher animals?

In Parsha Shemini we are taught that in order for an animal to be kosher it needs two identifying signs, to have cloven hoofs and to chew the cud. The Torah does not list those animals which have both signs and are kosher or those which lack both and are not kosher but rather the only 4 animals that have one of the two signs.

It tells us that the Camel, Hyrax and Hare are not kosher because they chew the cud but do not have a cloven hoof and therefore unclean. The Pig on the other hand is singled out as being the only animal that has cloven hoofs but does not chew the cud. It is worthwhile to note that over the past 2400 years there has never been another animal found that fits into one of these categories.

So we see that the uniqueness of the Pig is that it is the only and will be the only animal to ever have cloven hoofs and not chew the cud. The question is why it is still held with such disregard by Jews, what makes it more unkosher them the next, or more unkosher then the Camel, Hyrax and Hare.The disregard shown for the Pig even finds its way into the Talmud, Midrash and later Rabbinic literature. The Midrash Rabba uses the Pig to refer to the evil national of Rome. The Midrash Tanchuma when describing someone drinking uses the analogy of animals. Drinking one cup a person becomes like a lamb, modest and meek, two cups mighty as a lion and speaks with pride, three to four cups like a money who dances and frolicks around and when he is drunk he becomes a pig, dirtied by mud and wallowing in filth.

Unique to the Pig amongst all other non-kosher animals is the appearance of being Kosher. The Pig is the only animal whose hoofs are split appearing from the outside no different to any other kosher animal but what lies beneath is its non-kosher inside, that it doesn’t chew the cud. For Judaism, nothing could be worse than making a holy facade when your inside is rotten. It is this very attempt to parade itself as kosher which gives it the status amongst all other non-kosher animals.

The midrash asks the question why is the Pig called the Chazir? For in the future it will be lehachazir,returned. i.e. that Pig will be kosher in the Messianic Era. How is it after all that we have seen the Pig will become kosher in the times of Moshiach? Surely that is a time for eradicating animals that masquerade as one thing and are really another. However Kabbalah and Chassidus teach us that the pig does something for us, it forces us to confront our own short comings, and our own masquerades. We are the same on the outside all holy and pure but inside all rotten. We should strive to recognise the pig from what it is a mirror of ourselves.

It is taught that if we perfect ourselves and allow our outside and inside to be aligned that HaShem will do the same for the Pig. So it makes sense in times of Moshiach the pig’s inside will be as pure as the outside, it will chew the cud as well as have split hoofs. We can speed up the process by working on ourselves.

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There is an amazing Ramban in דברים ,פרשת ואתחנן ,פרק ו, פסוק יא. The Ramban comments on the verse that says that when the Jews go to Israel there will be houses filled with every "good thing" (בתים מלאים כל טוב). The Ramban explains that this is referring to "pickled Pig". He explains that the Bnei Yisroel had a permit to eat pig. He quotes those that suggest this permit lasted for seven years. It is worth going through the Ramban. However, it is clear from this that the verse is referring to Pig as a "good thing". Furthermore, if it were as bad as people make it out to be, then how could Hashem permit us to eat it?

It would seem from a Halachick and philosophic standpoint their is absolutely nothing wrong with pig. But, what can we do, Hakodosh Baruch Hu forbid us to eat it. It seems there had to be some class of foods that are prohibited, Why pig? I don't know. But we see from the above Ramban there is absolutely nothing intrinsically wrong with pig per se other than Hashem was גוזר on me not to eat it.

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Thank you for the link WAF! –  RCW Jun 5 '11 at 21:13

The essay brought here discusses why we revile the pig more than any other non-kosher animal, connects it to our own spiritual service, and explains why it will specifically be the pig that our Sages say G-d will make kosher again when Moshiach comes (as discussed there).

In short (but read the essay for all the details). The pig represents the worst kind of evil, evil masquerading as good. That is the hardest kind of evil to fight. However, the fact that the pig can successfully masquerade as good must be because it has some good in it. our severe hatred of the pig serves to cut off the evil and leave the good. On a spiritual level, this represents our fight with our own evil inside of us, the animal soul. The pig reminds us that we too have an evil inclination inside of us and by fighting it, we can leave only the good, eradicate the evil, and prepare ourselves and the world for Moshiach. G-d will reciprocate by making the pig kosher.

As discussed here, that doesn't mean the pig will actually be Kosher when Moshiach comes, depends on who you ask.

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

A few thoughts come to mind; this is a wiki, so please add more:

  • Vs. meat that wasn't kosher slaughtered -- well it's an entirely non-kosher category, whereas beef is beef. The same goes for meat-and-milk. And blood and chelev, forbidden fats (the latter is theoretically a more stringent prohibition -- karet vs lav than pork!).
  • Vs. other non-kosher species: We all know non-Jews who regularly eat pork. And yes, most of them eat non-kosher seafood too, but a.) historically if you lived someplace far from the water, the non-Jews were eating pork not crabs. b.) pig is spelled out in the Torah; so are camel, hyrax, and hare, but those are a lot less commonly consumed.
  • It has the external kosher sign (split hooves) but not internal (chews cud), this is seen as indicative of false piety, something we abhor.
  • They smell bad and can harbor disease. (But from a theological perspective, so what?)
  • They remind us too much of humans, or the basest things we could become. Pigs are used in forensic experiments to simulate human corpses, and it's been known since the Talmud that some of their organs are remarkably similar to ours, thus an additional risk of disease transmission.
  • Is there something kabbalistic I'm missing? Please fill in here.
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I think that the external-sign-only issue is in the traditional sources somewhere. –  Isaac Moses Aug 31 '10 at 16:08
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It's worth noting, too, that this particular abhorrence of pigs (more than any other non-kosher food) is found already in Tanach: see Isaiah 65:4, who specifically condemns "those who eat pork." –  Alex Aug 31 '10 at 16:57
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And the more it's abhorred, the more we associate it with abhorred people, forming a loop. –  Shalom Aug 31 '10 at 18:30
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What about the pig's complicity in frustrating the circum-siege efforts of the חשמונאים, which is what got it banned from being owned by Jews? (Bava Kama 82b) Or am I misunderstanding the question? –  WAF Sep 1 '10 at 2:03
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RE point #5: Cannibals call human meat "long pig" because of the similarity in taste. (I'll just take their word for it.) –  Daniel ben Noach Jun 3 '11 at 22:52

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