Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Re’eh 5769/ August 15, 2009

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. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,



Pig in a Poke


Ashkelon College


You shall not eat anything abhorrent… the camel, the hare, and the daman – is unclean for you . . .also the swine.   You shall not eat of their flesh or touch their carcasses (Deut. 14:3-8).

By Any Other Name

In Jewish consciousness the prohibition against eating pork is taken very seriously and represents the attempt of the Jewish people to separate themselves from their gentile surroundings.  Swine, considered an extremely abhorrent animal, is perceived not only as a religious prohibition but also as the symbol of abomination and furtherance from other peoples.  The sages would not even call a pig by its name, but used the euphemism davar aher, “something else,” comparing it to feces and to “a walking toilet.”

The Rabbis have given several reasons for swine being more abhorrent than any other unclean animal.  Some saw it as a spiritual matter, [1] and others explained that swine are the filthiest of animals.   About 150 years ago several medical studies were published claiming that swine transmit disease [!] [2] and endanger one’s health, but some people denied any connection between these medical findings and the Torah’s proscription against eating pork. [3]   The Sages made the following comment on such notions: [4]

My rules alone shall you observe, and faithfully follow My laws:  I the Lord am your G-d (Lev. 18:4) – this applies to those things to which Satan and the nations of the world retort [saying that there is no reason for the prohibition], and these are they:  eating pork ... and lest you say it is really senseless, to this end Scripture teaches us, “I the Lord” made these laws, and you have no right to ponder them.

Thus we see that the prohibition against eating pork falls into the category of hukkim, or laws that are above human comprehension.  We have not the means to understand the importance or gravity of this proscription, nor are we to wonder why it was decreed. [5]

Throughout the generations enemies of the Jews have deliberately used the swine in order to spite the Jews.   The most ancient version of the story of the mother whose sons died a martyr’s death recounts: [6]   “It also happened that seven brothers and their mother were captured and forced by the king to eat the forbidden flesh of the swine, and were beaten with whips and lashes.” [7]   Three generations later we are told of the civil war among the sons of Yannai and Salome the Hasmoneans: [8]

When the kings of the Hasmonean house fought one another,  Hyrcanus was outside and Aristobulus within. Each day they used to let down denarii (coins) in a basket, and haul up in exchange for them [animals for] the continual offerings. An old man who was learned in Greek wisdom spoke with them in Greek, saying: “As long as they carry on the Temple-service, they will never surrender to you.” On the morrow they let down denarii in a basket, and hauled up a pig.  When it reached half way up the wall, it stuck its claws [into the wall] and the land of Israel was shaken over a distance of four hundred parasangs. At that time they declared:  “Cursed be a man who rears pigs [9] and cursed be a man who teaches his son Greek wisdom!”

Abhorrence of swine led to several decrees, such as the prohibition against passing between two swine and the prohibition against a swine passing between two people, [10] and the prohibition against reciting the Shema while facing a swine’s mouth. [11]   Some rabbis exempted from the commandment of mezuzah the inhabitants of a city in which there were swine, just as they exempted from the commandment of mezuzah any place which was filthy. Others said they were obliged to put up a mezuzah, but they must also cover it. [12]   The rabbis also forbade discussing sacred things if there was a swine standing by the window, and they also advised that during consecration of the new moon they close their eyes so that they not see swine. [13]

Because swine was so abominated and because it was the symbol of despicable nations, the rabbi decreed that it should not be raised anywhere: [14]

One should not raise small livestock in the land of Israel, but one may raise it in Syria and in the wildernesses which are in the land of Israel  Nowhere may swine be raised.   A person should not raise a dog unless it is tied with a chain.


By Law

In 1956 the State of Israel passed the Enablement Law, giving local authorities the power to enact by-laws forbidding or restricting the raising of pigs and marketing of pork products.   Since this law did not require the local authorities to enact such by-laws, in 1962 the State passed the Pig-Raising Prohibition Law, [15] forbidding pigs to be raised or kept in Jewish settlements for the purpose of food.  The law is worded as follows:   “A person shall not raise pigs, nor shall he keep them, nor shall he slaughter them.”  According to the Pig-Raising Prohibition Law one may raise pigs for purposes of research.  Immediately after enactment of the law, Kibbutz Lahav in the Negev established an Institute of Animal Research which is legally licensed to raise pigs. [16]   Rumor has it that the Institute raises pigs in far greater number than is needed for carrying out experiments.   About one third of the pigs of the institute are used for research, and about two-thirds are defined as “surplus” and are transferred to the kibbutz’s meat factory, which thus exploits the loophole in the law. [17]

The Pig-Raising Prohibition Law does not forbid the sale of pork, and on the basis of the earlier Local Authorities (Special Enablement) Law several local authorities passed by-laws forbidding or restricting such sale.  Ever since the establishment of the State these by-laws have been cause for many legal struggles, most of them suits by private bodies and individuals against the local authorities. [18]   In 2004 the Shinui party appealed to the Supreme Court against several local authorities regarding these restrictions.  This appeal was adjudicated by a bench of nine judges, headed by Aharon Barak, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court’s ruling [19] established criteria for enacting by-laws under the Local Authorities (Special Enablement) Law and instructed that the matter be remanded to the municipalities that had been sued in order for them to reconsider the by-laws they enacted in the light of these criteria.  The criteria are based on a “balance between violating religious and national sensibilities, on the one hand, and violating human rights, on the other.”   In explaining the violation of religious and national sensibilities, the Court said: [20]

The primary objective underlying the Local Authorities (Special Enablement) Law is a desire to protect the sensibilities of Jews, who view the pig as the symbol of impurity.  This perception is, of course, fundamentally religious.  The pig has since time immemorial been considered the symbol of abomination and disgust in the eyes of Jewish persons.  At the same time, the Jewish perception is not merely an expression of the laws of kashrut, for these are not restricted to the flesh of the pig.  In the prohibition against eating pork is embedded, in addition to the religious consideration and in relationship to it, also a national consideration, which is apart from the religious consideration associated with the laws of kashrut and which is shared by many who are neither religious nor traditional.   Jewish history is replete with stories of heroism about Jews who preferred to die rather than eat pig.   In the collective memory of the Jewish people there is embedded a deep consciousness of Israel’s enemies throughout the generations making use of the pig in their persecution and humiliation of the Jews.  The repugnance at eating pork is deeply seated in the national consciousness of the Jewish people and in the soul of the nation.

Thus the Supreme Court acknowledged that the prohibition against eating pork is not only of religious significance but also of national significance.   In this context it is interesting to read Nathan Alterman’s Hebrew poem, “Freedom of Opinion and of the Hooves”: [21] Alterman makes the point that this is one of those rare cases where both the secular collective memory and the traditions of the observant are in full agreement, leaving the pig in a tight spot.



[1] Rabbi Isaac Arama, Sha‘ar Shishim:  “She- metam’im u-meshaktzim et ha- nefashot u-ma’atimim ha- koah ha-sikhli u- molidim shibushei de‘ot ve-bulmus ta’avat nokhriyut u- vehemiyut ha-mashkhitot otam ve-hamafsidot kavanat bri’atam.”

[2] Editor's note: This article was written before the outbreak of Swine Flu.

[3] Y. D. Eisenstein, Encyclopedia Otzar Yisrael, Vol. 4, under hazir [pig], New York 1910.   For additional explanations regarding the prohibition against eating pig, see E. Rubin, “Kashrut ba-Olam ha-Moderni – le-Or Izkurei ha-Hayot ha- Tehorot ve-ha-Teme’ot be-Farashat Shemini u- ve-Parashat Re’eh,” Weekly Torah Study on Parashat Shemini, 2007 (no. 699); S. Regev, “Ta‘amei Ma’akhalot Asurot,” Weekly Torah Study on Parashat Shemini, 2003 (no. 489).

[4] Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 67b.

[5] See Rashi on Leviticus 20:26, according to Torah Kohanim, Kedoshim, ch. 12:  Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah said, “Whence do we know that one should not say, ‘My soul loathes swine’s flesh,’ … but one should say, ‘I would, indeed, like them, but what can I do since my Father in heaven has imposed these decrees upon me’?”

[6] In its later versions, this story is known as Hannah and her Seven Sons.   On the evolution of the story and its many translations, see:  Y. Shiloh, “Hannah ve-Shiv‘at Banehah,” Mikra’ei Shabbat u-Mo‘ed 6, Ashkelon College, Hanukkah 2003.

[7] Second Book of Macabbees, ch. 7, a.   According to later versions of the story, they were coerced to engage in idolatry, not eat pig.

[8] Sotah 49b.

[9] See Tosefot Pesahim 23a, on the Sinaitic origins of the prohibition; here, a further restriction against raising pigs, even for non-Jews to eat, was added.

[10] Pesahim 111a, and Rashi, loc. sit.

[11] Berakhot 28a;  Maimonides, Hilkhot Keriat Shema 3.13.

[12] Mordechai (one of the more important posekim in 13th-century Franco-Germany), at the end of Hilkhot Mezuzah.

[13] Mishnah Berurah, par. 79.15.

[14] Mishnah, Bava Kamma 7.7.  Also see Responsa. Mishneh Halakhot (by Rabbi Menashe Klein, the Admor of Ungvár), Part 4, par. 104, who believes this halakhic ruling to be more ancient than the above-mentioned decree which came in the wake of the civil war in the Hasmonean house.   On the halahkah, see Maimonides, Hilkhot Nizkei Mamon 8.9; Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat 409.2, Siftei Cohen, Yoreh De‘ah 117.1.

[15] The full formulation of the law in Hebrew can be seen at


[17] T. Nahari, “Mi marviah me-ha- nissuyim be-hazirim be-Kibbutz Lahav?” on Walla News, February 7, 2002,

[18] Barak- Erez, “Gilgulo shel Hazir:   Mi-Semel Leumi le-Interes Dati,” Mishpatim xxxiii 403, 2003.

[19] HCJ 953/01, 1355/01, 7406/01, 2283/02, MK Marina Solodkin and Shinui v. Minister of Interior and Beit Shemesh, Carmiel and Tiberias Municipalities, 7 December, 2003.

[20] Section 20 of the court ruling, with omissions.

[21] Ha- Tur ha-Shevi‘i, Book II 1978, p. 237. [Davar 20 July, 1956].