Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Re'eh 5762/ August 3, 2002

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat Re'eh 5762/ August 3, 2002

Forbidden Foods

Yaron Seri
Department of Arabic

Among the subjects discussed in this week's reading are the forbidden foods, mentioned first in Parashat Shemini. One of the forbidden animals mentioned is the swine (Deut. 14:8). This animal bears a similar name in Semitic languages: hazir in Hebrew, hazira in Aramaic, and hanzir in Arabic. Sus Scrofa is the current scientific identification of the animal.[1] The Torah specifically mentions the swine because it is the only example in the entire animal kingdom of a creature that has a cloven hoof but does not chew its cud:[2] "He who rules His world knows that there is nothing that has a cloven hoof and is unclean other than the swine; therefore Scripture mentions it explicitly" (Hullin 59a).

The swine is the symbol of things ugly and repulsive: "Like a gold ring in the snout of a pig" (Prov. 11:22). The same impression is given by Saadiah Gaon's translation of Isaiah, which takes references to the pig as metaphors for that which is ugly: "Who eat the flesh of swine" (Is. 65:4) = "Who eat what resembles the flesh of swine"; "Who present as oblation the blood of swine" (Is. 66:3) = "and whose oblations are like the blood of swine." Because of its base image, fastidious Jews refrain from referring to it by name, using instead the euphemism "davar aher = something else."[3]

The Sages, therefore, compared the Roman regime to a swine: "Also the swine - this refers to the wicked kingdom of Edom."[4] Later the swine was used to portray the Jews: the Koran speaks of people whom the Lord cursed, in His wrath turning them into monkeys and swine.[5]

Like the swine, so too, the dog is considered a most despicable creature; sometimes the swine is mentioned along with the dog to express disgust: "who ... immolate dogs, who present as oblation the blood of swine" (Is. 66:3); "He who raises dogs is like he who raises swine" (Bava Kama 83a); "Likewise a proselyte who received dogs and swine in his inheritance" (Bava Kama 80a); "There is nothing poorer than a dog, and nothing more rich than a pig" (Shabbat 155b). The New Testament, as well, makes similar associations: "For them the proverb has proved true: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit', and, ‘The sow after a wash rolls in the mud again'" (II Peter 2:22); "‘Do not give dogs what is holy; do not throw your pearls to the pigs'" (Mathew 7:6).

The pig is the symbol of forbidden foods as whole. This is also true in Islam: the proscription against eating the flesh of swine is mentioned explicitly in the Koran four times.[6] Al-Jahth believes the origins of this proscription to lie in the fact that prior to the spread of Islam many Arabs used to eat swine because of the excellence of its flesh. Therefore it is explicitly mentioned in the Koran, unlike many other animals such as the dog and the monkey, which are not explicitly singled out since presumably they were not eaten because of their nature and repulsiveness.[7] Al-antakhi cites an opinion explaining the proscription on the grounds that in the period preceeding Islam it was customary to sell the flesh of human corpses, passing it off as pork. Maimonides added medical and hygienic reasons for the religious proscription:

Let me say that the foods which the Torah forbade us are, all of them, very bad in terms of nutrition. Do not think that all the forbidden foods are harmful save for the swine and the fatty parts. This is not so, for the swine is overly moist and extremely fatty. Moreover, the Torah found it disgusting because of its excessive filth, feeding itself on garbage. We know full well how strict the Torah was about the sight of filth, even in the encampment in the wilderness, and all the more so in urban places. Were we to raise swine for food, our markets and even our homes would become filthier than a latrine, as can be observed in certain lands even now. As we know, the Sages have said: "The mouth of the swine is like feces on the move" (Berakhot 25a).[8]

According to Maimonides, swine and the fatty parts are the only animals forbidden by the Torah that one could mistakenly think are not harmful to eat, however the contrary is true, since these foods are bad and harmful to the body, even though they are widely eaten and thought to be delicacies.[9] Eating swine is forbidden also for hygienic reasons.[10] Note that pork was widely thought to be the best meat of any animal,[11] as Maimonides mentioned more than once in his medical works. Loewinger noted this seeming contradiction in Maimonides' writings and attempted to resolve it.[12] Al-Antakhi's medical treatise mentions that the finest meat is that of the "black pig" (= wild boar), with its thick, hairy coat, when no more than two years old.[13] He claims that pork has a certain sweetness and that the flesh of swine is preferable to its fat. Unlike Maimonides, Al-Antakhi believed that pork had medicinal value "in that it generates blood and balances the humours, opening blockages and removing leanness; when digested, it is entirely of nutritional value, since it is closest of any animal to the human humour."[14] Nevertheless, Al-Antakhi noted that when pork is eaten without the accompaniment of wine, it can cause chronic headaches, "elephant's disease,"[15] arthritis, exhaustion, or abdominal distress.[16] Medieval medicine made use of most parts of the pig: its liver, gall, fat, heel, blood, and even its feces and urine.

Even though the swine is the most disdained and repulsive of creatures, there is a Midrash about the swine (hazir) that says, "It is destined that the Holy One, blessed be He will restore it to us" (le-hahaziro).[17] There is a Midrash about Roman rule, which appears in several variants, usually containing a phrase about the Holy One, blessed be He, "restoring our former glory" (le-hahazir atarah le-yoshnah).[18] A few of the variants say the Holy One, blessed be He, "will restore it to us" or "will restore it to Israel."

It should be noted that the latter variants do not appear in the Babylonian Talmud, nor in the Jerusalem Talmud. Neither do they appear in earlier Midrashim, nor is there any indication of them in very earlier rabbinic authorities. It is mystifying how these variants entered the works of important exegetes such as Rabbenu Bahya, Ritba, Abarbanel, Recanati, Or Ha-Hayyim and others, and much has been written on this question.[19] Some views were that in the future the flesh of the swine would be permitted only after G-d gave this animal its missing indicator of kashruth - chewing its cud. Others maintained that it would be permitted temporarily, only as an emergency order on the grounds of it being "time to act for the Lord; for Your Torah has been violated," just as it had been permitted in the time of the conquest (Hullin 17a).

Most scholars today tend to doubt the authenticity of this statement, viewing it as a falsification or distortion of the text, reflecting a Christian bias.[20] Despite all we have said above, Steinsaltz believes this remark to be authentic.[21] He bases his opinion on a similar passage from Ecclesiastes Rabbah,[22] where these words are lacking, and without them there is a missing link whose absence detracts from the sense of the text that follows. He surmises that the disappearance of these words from the formulation in other Midrashim was due to internal censorship, in order not to open the way for heretics who denied the eternal validity of the Torah.

May the words of the Midrash come to pass:

In the future the Holy One, blessed be He, will proclaim: Let everyone who has never tasted the flesh of swine come and take his reward... Thus He will handsomely repay those entitled to it.[23]


[1] For further reading on the swine and archaeological findings in Israel from various periods, see A. Bilik and S. Loewenstamm, under Hazir in the Encyclopedia Mikrait, III, 90-94. On pig farming in the land of Israel after the Roman period, see B. Rosen, "Gidul Hazir be-Eretz Israel le-ahar va-Tekufah ha-Romit," Cathedra 78 (1996), pp. 25-42.
[2] Amru ibn al-Bahar al-Jahth, Kitab al-Hayuan, 4, Beirut 1955, p. 52, cites Aristotle as saying that some pigs do not have cloven hooves.
[3] On the origins of this custom, see Berakhot 43b.
[4] Leviticus Rabbah 13.5. Compare Midrash Tanhuma, Shemini 14.
[5] Sura al-Maida, v. 60. The explanation given by commentators is that these person's souls were reincarnated in the bodies of monkeys and pigs.
[6] Sura al-Bikra, v. 173; Sura al-Maida, v. 3; Sura al-Anaam, v. 145; Sura al-Nahal, v. 115.
[7] Al-Jahth, 4, p. 41.
[8] Guide for the Perplexed, III, Kapah edition, Jerusalem 1972, p. 652.
[9] For each thing that was prohibited, the Lord permitted something else instead. Since He prohibited the flesh of the swine, which is considered so fine, a substitute for it was created: "I forbade you the flesh of the swine, but I permitted you the tongue of the fish known as shibuta, which is like pork" (Midrash Tanhuma, Shemini 12).
[10] Cf. the remark made by the Sages: "Ten measures of infliction were brought on the world; nine of them were received by the swine, and the tenth by the entire world" (Kiddushin 49b).
[11] So an Egyptian author, Zekhariah ibn Mahmad al-Kawaini.
[12] Y. Loewinger, "Ha-Ma'akhalot ha-Asurot ve-Ta'ameihem lefi ha-Rambam," Mehkarei Yerushalayim be-Mahshevet Yisrael 2, 4 (1983), pp. 515-528. Loewinger maintains there that Maimonides' praise of the virtues of pork was said with regard to its medicinal value, not its value as a food. As a medication it may be used, for our Sages taught us that a pregnant woman who smells consecrated meat or pork and has a craving to eat it, is to be fed these things until her craving is allayed (Yoma 82a).
[13] Al-Antakhi, p. 132.
[14] Cf. the remark of the Sages, "Swine is different, since its intestines are similar to those of human beings" (Ta'anit 21b).
[15] A disease that causes inflammation of the calf and foot due to abscesses. Medieval Arab medical literature knew of a skin disease called hanazir (meaning "pigs"); apparently characterized by large abscesses that developed around the back of the neck.
[16] Al-Antakhi, p. 132.
[17] Midrash ha-Gadol on Leviticus, A. Steinsaltz ed., Jerusalem 1976, Shemini 11.7, p. 249. [In what seems like an obvious wordplay on the root hazir-Ed.]
[18] Midrash Tanhuma, Shemini 12.
[19] For a comprehensive discussion of all the views on this issue, see H. Karlinski, "He-Hazir ve-‘Hetero' le-Atid Lavo," Shanah be-Shanah (1972), pp. 243-254.
[20] Karlinski explains at length the Christians' argument that, since their Saviour had come, the Law of Moses was no longer valid and the proscription against eating pork no longer applied. As proof of their argument, they cited this remark: "It is destined that the Holy One, blessed be He, will restore it to us."
[21] A. Steinsaltz, "Atid ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu le-Hahaziro," Tarbiz (1967), pp. 297-298.
[22] On the verse, "Only that shall happen which has happened, only that occur which has occurred; there is nothing new beneath the sun!" (Eccles. 1:9).
[23] Midrash Tanhuma, Shemini 12.