Smell Test

After a lifelong curiosity about the prohibition against pork, one writer finds a satisfying answer—in the writings of the late Christopher Hitchens

Shmarya Rosenberg

In case you don’t know, pigs aren’t kosher. It is a statement so axiomatic that for most Jews, making it is akin to saying the sky is blue or snow is cold. But why is it that pigs are taboo? Pigs have cloven hoofs, a sign an animal is kosher to eat. But pigs are not ruminant animals and therefore do not chew their cud, which means pigs lack the other mandatory sign designating a kosher animal. And unlike the rabbit or the camel, which also lack one sign—or even shellfish, which is called an “abomination” by the Torah—the pig has become (and most likely always was) the paradigm of trayf. Why?

… In God is not Great, Hitchens notes uneasy similarities between humans and pigs: Porcine DNA and human DNA are very similar, so much so that porcine heart valves can be transplanted into humans; pigs are noticeably smarter than other farm animals; and pig skin looks almost human, so much so that the smell and look of suckling pig and roasting human infants is, according to those who have had the misfortune of smelling and seeing both, disconcertingly similar. And make no mistake about it—many ancient Israelites had that misfortune. Hitchens thought this was the basis for the Jewish taboo against eating pork.

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