Shabbat Shemini 5772

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What did a pig ever do to you to earn your wrath and disdain?

Few other creatures symbolize what it means for us to be Jewish and other than does the pig. The Torah’s prohibition aside, we know of stories of Jews suffering martyrdom instead of eating its forbidden flesh. But this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, lists other forbidden animals, and the camel and rabbit aren’t seen as anathema to our entire People!

Previous generations of Jews explained our tradition’s revulsion to swine by pointing out that it’s a dirty animal that eats dirty food, and so we, as a people concerned with priest-like purity, stayed away from the filthy pig. But through the centuries, we’ve witnessed millions of rather healthy pork-consumers. And if you’ve ever stood in a barn, you know that cows aren’t the neatest housekeepers either, yet we are allowed to eat them anyway. So what’s so bad about the pig?

The rabbis saw in the pig everything that they saw in their worst enemy, namely Edom. Edom was Biblical Israel’s neighborhood rival, descended from Esav–in other words, the cousins we don’t talk to anymore. And to the Rabbis, Edom was code for Rome, the oppressive foreign interlopers in the Land of Israel. Why, asks the midrash rhetorically, is contemporary Edom compared to the swine?

“To teach you that just as this swine, when it wallows [in the mud] on its back, it lifts its hooves and says, ‘See, I’m fit,’ so too this evil empire acts arrogantly, raiding and pillaging, while presenting itself as if it is setting the stage [for an honest judicial system]” (Vayikra Rabbah 13:5).

With this midrash in mind, and given that the Roman Empire is long gone, what is the evil that the pig symbolizes in our tradition? And can that evil ever be corrected? [Kosher] food for thought…

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi David Wise