Vayz a khazer a finger vil er di gantse hant.
I guess it’s fair to say that we Jews have a serious beef with the pig. Even the most sheltered gentile is aware that the pig serves as the poster-animal for all things trayf. But why? The Torah states in Leviticus (11:3):
“Whatsoever parts the hoof, and is clovenfooted [and] chews the cud, among the beasts, that shall you eat.”
The case against pork is laid out not once, but twice in the Torah, in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy. (Presumably to eliminate the possibility of this facet of Kashrut being dismissed as a typo. I mean, come on! First circumcision and now this?!) I can hear you now: “But wait! Pigs do have cloven feet! That must count for something! Next stop Hormel Headquarters!” Nice try but no such luck. Evidently the tasty goodness of pork was already common knowledge in Biblical times and so poor Piglet was singled out just a few lines later in Leviticus (11:7):
“And the chazer though he divide the hoof, and be cloven hoofed, yet he chews not the cud; he [is] tamei to you.”
So alas, at Kosher breakfast tables everywhere Jews are choking down matte morsels of turkey bacon while the rest of the world wallows in porcine paradise. (Well, except Muslims. Speaking of which, couldn’t our shared hog-deprivation unite us? I guess that’s another conversation entirely. ...) Kosher Jews living in the USA especially have to muster a level of willpower that warrants kudos from Gandhi himself. Just turn on the Food Network and you’ll find evidence that Americans are currently in the midst of a serious love affair with the pig, from roasting it whole to sprinkling its rendered bits on cupcakes to—oh yes—battering and deep frying it. …
Is that freedom I smell?
Not to launch into a full-on kvetch session, but our suffering doesn’t stop at porcine privation. Several of what are considered to be America’s tastiest treats are also off-limits to Kosher Jews. For instance, Kosher New Englanders must go a lifetime without lobster, and Kosher southerners (there must be some, right?) have to order their grits sans shrimp. That’s not to say that we don’t give in to temptation (imitation crab meat can’t possibly sustain all of us forever!) Sheer curiosity alone, not to mention the resurgence of the mystical McRib (although the Jury’s still out on its actual pork content), has sent many of us tumbling off the wagon to sample our first taste of the taboo. With all this said, it’s no wonder that so few modern American Jews like myself keep a Kosher house these days (15% of us to be exact—I feel so special!).
Temptation aside however, for many Jews the question of how relevant these dated dicta are to our modern lives is enough to put the kibosh on Kosher completely. But for those of us who fall somewhere in the middle of the Kosher spectrum, the question of relevance is eclipsed by a desire, a choice, to honor tradition in an effort to ground ourselves by achieving a greater connection with G-d, our ancestors, our culture, or a mishmash of all three. Our love of symbolism and respect for knowledge allows those of us who choose to do so to carry on traditions while embracing science and modern knowledge. In fact, new and challenging information doesn’t threaten our connection with these rituals, but, rather, it strengthens it by enriching our understanding of the past. Historians have helped us to grasp how these seemingly arbitrary rules about hooves and cud, along with most other Biblical directives, were born more from the sensible than the sacred. For instance, when it comes to the pig, many modern secular sources propose that our distaste of the animal is rooted in the fact that, though not stipulated as such in Kashrut, the animal consumes far more than it provides as a food source. But what else should we expect from a pig? (A reputation that dates back to Biblical times must be hard to shake!)
Accurate or not, this hypothesis hints at the reasons behind the cautionary quip in question. While the Torah only proclaims we must pass on the pork, this proverb warns that the pig’s impropriety prevails well beyond the bounds of the dinner plate. While most modern Jews wouldn’t balk at bingeing on boar, it’s the animal’s own insatiable appetite that makes this proverb still relevant today. Kosher or not, one would be ill-advised to hobnob with a hungry hog. If only poor Kermit would have gotten the message in time. ...
Rona is 20 minutes late to meet her husband David for supper and the traffic is terrible. By the time she arrives, David has eaten his way through two-and-a-half complementary bread baskets. …
Rona: “Oh Darling! I’m so sorry I’m so very late! You must be starving to death!”
David: “I would be if it weren’t for this damn bread! They just keep bringing it. ... I feel like the Hindenburg. What happened to you?”
Rona: “Oh David, you know all that starch is going to bind you up. We’ll have to stop for—”
David: “Rona, dear. Enough with the prunes. All they do is give me gas and I can’t bear the cliché! I’m old. I get it. But I have to draw the line somewhere! It’s enough that we’ll consider this a ‘late’ supper when it’s still well before 6 o’clock. Meanwhile, you never answered my question—nu, zog shoyn, my tuchus is asleep and I’m not long behind it!”
Rona: “Ugh! Vos zol ikh makhen? I spent the afternoon with that chaleria, Roberta Liebovitz!”
David: “Do I have pumpernickel in my ears or are you meshugga?”
Rona: “Ugh, I can be such a shnook sometimes—”
David: [reaches for a piece of rye] “You said it, I didn’t.”
Rona: [slaps his hand away, gives him a look] “I had no choice! She cornered me after our last Hadassah meeting and gave me the usual guilt trip. She’s ‘an old widow with no children and a bum leg.’ Boy, that’s one magic injury! I’ve never seen a limp alternate legs depending on the day! She said it would just take 15 minutes.” [shakes her head] “She just needed a ride to the chiropodist. I should have known! Next thing I know, I’m carrying her dry cleaning through the grocery store (because G-d forbid it gets a fold hanging in the back seat!) while she pushes a cart up and down every… single… one… of those aisles at a snail’s pace! I thought my arm was going to fall off! The only reason I got out of going into her Bermuda Triangle of an apartment to hang some fakata picture was because I told her you were deathly allergic to cats and so I couldn’t risk getting hair on me ... which, by the way, means you’ll have to work on your fake sneezes before Saturday services. You know her seat is right behind ours. Oy, what was I thinking? A master thespian, you are not … she’ll never buy it! Here, hand me some of those pepper packets, I’ll keep them in my purse just in case.”
David: “I can’t believe you’re involving me in this! Next you’ll have me fake a heart attack, G-d forbid! What, are we gonna rent a hospital room for the sake of authenticity? Rona, how many times do I have to say it? Show a pig a finger and he'll want the whole hand.”
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