Why is eating pork so repugnant to Jews?…ask the rabbi

December 28, 2015 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Q. Why is eating pork so repugnant to Jews?
A. Though the pig is not the only animal which the Torah forbids us to eat, it has come to be the ultimate symbol of what Jews don’t do. Historically, a Jew who threw off Jewish restraints would show his defiance of tradition by eating pork and advertising the fact.

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Rabbi Raymond Apple

In Marrano history Jews who maintained a secret loyalty to Judaism found pork-eating the hardest thing to contemplate; indeed the word “Marrano” itself means “swine”. Christian depictions of their dominance over the scorned and hated Jews showed Jews suckling the teats of a pig.

To tell me how assimilated his family had been in prewar Europe, someone once said to me, “Already a hundred years ago in Germany my ancestors were eating chazzir!” Even people who are not so particular about eating kosher food tend to draw the line at chazzir. There is even a folk saying, “Don’t be a chazzir!”

The implication is that the pig is objectionable – and also mean. The cow and lamb both give during their lives and after their death, but the pig gives only after its death.

Applying this to human philanthropy, some people are generous while they are alive and do not merely leave money in their will; others give nothing in their lifetime but only when they are dead.


Q. What is done with an unusable Torah Scroll?

A. Some shules keep such scrolls in the Ark and carry them around on Simchat Torah. It is often not practicable to try to repair them as even if a scribe rewrites the faded or missing letters it is a long and laborious process with a risk that more letters will flake off.

The only solution is generally to bury the unusable scroll in an earthenware vessel (Sh. Ar. Hil. Bet HaK’nesset 154:5). The vessel is used in order to delay the decomposition of the scroll.

Rav Moshe Feinstein points out a difference between this situation and that of a human body, where delay in decomposition is not permissible (Ig’rot Moshe YD III, 143:411). The burial of the human remains allows “kapparah”, the atonement of the soul.


Q. Why does the bensching (Grace After Meals) at weddings and Bar-Mitzvahs take so long?

A. What do you mean – it “takes so long”? Doesn’t the dancing take a long time, and the eating, and the speechmaking?

If the religious part of the celebration, which after all gives the occasion its Jewish flavour, takes a few minutes, why should anyone object? After all, is it not precisely at a simchahthat family and friends should want to voice their thankfulness for all the blessings God has given them? Indeed, there might even be an argument for extending the bensching, not curtailing it!

Yes, there is a short form of grace found in the Siddur, but this should only be used when time is genuinely short. As a general rule the full version should be said, with everyone paying attention and joining in wherever they can. On rare occasions the leader of the bensching drags it out and makes it an operatic performance, but most officiants have more common sense.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles.


16 Responses to “Why is eating pork so repugnant to Jews?…ask the rabbi”
  1. Rabbi Chaim Ingram says:

    Gabrielle, in answer to your question, ״Orthodox” Judaism accepts as Jewish anyone born of a Jewish mother or converted according to halacha – regardless of level of observance.

  2. Gillian Miller says:

    I was told that it was cruel to keep pigs because they were only kept for slaughter whereas other food animals were kept for whatever they provided, a slightly different spin on the rabbi’s suggestion. Of course, that does no take into account horses which work for us but does not provide meat. Of course then there is also the concern about the food pigs eat, we do not eat scavengers or predators and pigs do eat whatever is given including meat.

    I have found that things that we do or do not do are also health related and pigs have worms inside them that can be passed onto to us if not properly cooked. So a double reason.

    Personally, I believe that we should return to being vegetarian or vegan as we were meant to be and stop the cruelty of animal farming and the appalling slaughter of a living animal. We only had sacrifices because the world around us did.

    • Lynne Newington says:

      Without degradation of pigs, I was told the same as with some birds scavengers, unless pets hand fed and we never eat our pets, crows and pigs from experience both very intelligent creations having them myself living in the bush.
      As far as returning to vegetarians; the fatted calf is well recorded in Scripture and would usually be a personal preference including religious as with the Seventh Day Adventists.

      • Gillian Miller says:

        If you read the Torah, you will know that animals were given into our care, we were supposed to be vegetarian or vegan. Nowhere did it say that we were allowed to abuse animals nor that we could eat them.

        In fact, if you go through the Torah you will seen many statements telling us that animals must be treated well ie a religion with animal welfare built in. A previous rabbi told me during a lesson on the understanding of Torah that the statement, “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk,” has 3 reasons, 1. against idolatry 2. kosher 3. cruelty to animals and that is how important it is. I have heard disagreements to this third meaning. However, we know that “It was a custom of the ancient heathens, when they had gathered in all their fruits, to take a kid and boil it in the milk of its dam; and then, in a magical way, to go about and besprinkle with it all their trees and fields, gardens and orchards; thinking by these means to make them fruitful, that they might bring forth more abundantly in the following year.” We also know that kashrut comes from these statements so cruelty to animals, mentioned many times, is an acceptable explanation for the third usage.

        As for birds, my mother told me that we cannot eat a bird that puts its foot upon its food ie a predator or scavenger. I am aware that chickens do scratch for small insects but they are regarded as seed eaters and do not fall into a predator category.

        The bottom line is that all animals are sentient beings and can feel pain, even single celled animals such as amoebae. They also feel fear and suffering such as when we take their calves, the mothers cry tears. We are also aware of the food pyramid and that we can feed more people more healthily as vegans. We should always remember that, when we follow Jewish law, science has shown that we are healthier and avoid certain illnesses including cancer. Being vegan protects us from many modern illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease etc.

        It is time that the rabbis came out of the world as it was in the time of Maimonides and updated our religion to reflect a different understanding of the laws and current way of life. I do not suggest that the pig is made kosher but that our understanding of why it isn’t should be taken on board.

  3. Cody Flecker says:

    Jewish people can eat pork only under one condition. If there is a war and the eating of meat, ( any kind of meat) is needed to sustain ones self as to protein intake, then the eating of pork is allowed. There is only one condition…and that is that you cannot suck the bones. The reason for this is to not show enjoyment in eating the meat.

    This was told to me by an Orthodox Rabbi before I went to Vietnam.

    • Lynne Newington says:

      Our God is a God of commonsense even in war…….although many would’ve found him missing during the Holocaust……

      • George Baumann says:

        I do appreciate and fully agree with the common sense in the permission to eat pork to stave off starvation.
        Your point about many (Jews) having found “our” God missing during the Holocaust is probably an even much larger issue with the broadest possible implications.
        I am aware that many people who have lost loved ones, sometimes their whole families in that obscene orgy of hate and violence have subsequently lost their faith as well, for the reason you mention.
        As someone who have recently lost my dearest and closest person, I can understand a little bit of how they feel, though I fully acknowledge that surviving Holocaust victims (of which I’m also one, in Hungary, though I was only a baby at the time) have an even much stronger reason to be embittered, because their loved ones were murdered, whereas mine had everything possible done for her to save her.
        So in a way I’m luckier. From that vantage point, all I can offer is that my belief in God, though tested, is still unshakeable, because to my best understanding it is based on a rational belief, unhindered by religious dogma of any kind. Unfortunately, it would take too long to fully explain it here, so I can only hope and pray that those suffering an even bigger pain than mine can come to some sort of inner peace through understanding that what was a monstrously and senselessly unfair and cruel period in our history, the culmination of centuries of persecution, can and must be used to grow spiritually, and our task is to find the way to do that within ourselves, while doing everything possible to ensure that genocide on this scale cannot happen again.

        • Lynne Newington says:

          @George. May the memory of your loved bring you a blessing.
          I found it astounding any retained their faith at all with mothers trying to cope, dealing with everyday life rearing their children in a new world……and with the recent documments released revealing the full extent of the betrayal of the Jewish community by the Vichy regime will bring back many more memories. [Marius Benson this morning ABC NewsRadio].
          One comfort is, regardless how we feel God know the heart and your faith appears to be sustaining you.
          All power to you.

          • George Baumann says:

            Thank you, Lynne. Even with faith it’s still very hard. I know many are going through the same pain but it feels unique, like I suspect it does to each sufferer.
            I wish you all the best, and a happy and healthy New Year.

            • Lynne Newington says:

              Thank you George and your best wishes are reciprocated.
              It does get easier with time believe it or not, the same moon and stars…the birdsongs….it doesn’t make it appear so does it.
              But take heart.

  4. Gworge Baumann says:

    I am ethnically Jewish, though I wasn’t brought up in religion. I don’t eat pork, but for a completely different reason. Pigs are now known to be intelligent and affectionate animals, and it is the way they are treated which is disgusting, not the animals themselves. Animal farming in general is cruel and environmentally unsustainable. With all due respect, I find the Rabbi’s answer childishly and ridiculously antropocentric.

  5. Lynne Newington says:

    This subject came up for discussion at Chanukah celebrations recently amongst Progressives.
    As a non Jew, I was surprised to have Scripture quoted to me that made an allowance when in Gentile company so as not to offend, my Old Testament reference revoked.
    I’m still pondering upon it.
    What other compromise is there to accomodate an Interfaith dialogue.
    There will be no stumbling block found under my roof with pork definately not on the menu.

  6. gabrielle gouch says:

    No problem with pork. I have been eating it since refrigeration was invented and believe me I don’t feel less of a Jew.

    • Rami Reed says:

      I didnt think that you are that old since refrigeration has been around for a long time. Do you keep any Jewish heitage and rituals?

      • gabrielle gouch says:

        Rami, you are right of course. I referred to the refrigeration sort of tongue in cheek.But the argument stands. With refrigeration eating pork should be as safe as eating any other meat.

        Religion is not for me. I don’t need to follow ancient rules and rituals to feel Jewish. Those rules have been invented by people who thought that the Earth is flat as a pancake and every natural disaster was a punishment from God.

        I am a secular Jew and I spring from the secular European Jewish tradition, but I lived in Israel for seven years and I speak Hebrew.

        I am not what I eat, I am what I think and feel.

        Even Herzel was secular. Einstein was also secular and I hazard a guess that while he lived in Europe he must have been partial to a knackwurst. Would the Orthodox accept them as real Jews?

        • Lynne Newington says:

          Maybe you heard how Galileo was treated…..but not by Jews who had more brains.

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