Friday, May 1, 2009

The Dignity of Pigs

In light of swine flu being in the news, and the much-reported position of MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman that the virus should be named Mexian Flu instead, I thought that the following story would be pertinent:

A number of years ago the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America was concerned about new attempts within the State of Israel to divest the State of any Jewish identity. There were some secularists who argued that Israel should not be a “Jewish” state, but a “state of its citizens,” and the United States was seen as a model. They wanted to abolish all laws that enacted public respect for Shabbos, the Festivals, Kashrus, and other “symbols” of our spiritual heritage. One of the new laws that they wanted to enact would have the government encourage the importation of pig meat. This law was opposed by Orthodox and traditional Jews, including most of the Sephardic population. It was also opposed by some secular-oriented Jews who felt that Israel should publicly honor basic Jewish traditions in order that Israeli culture not become a “carbon copy” of American culture.

The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah decided to issue a public statement expressing its concern about these developments. A text was drafted and circulated among the members for their consideration and comment. As is usually the case when the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah issues a public statement, each member of the body of Torah sages reviewed the proposed text with a fine-tooth comb, one suggesting the deletion of a sentence here, another suggesting the addition of a paragraph there, yet another suggesting a different way to structure the statement.

Then Rabbi Pam got on the phone: “It’s very good, except for one problem. The sentence about the importation of pigs is written in a way that could be seen as demeaning to the pigs. Vos iz er chazir shuldig az er iz a chazir? Der Eibishter hut em azoi bashafen! (Why should the pig be faulted for being a pig? The Almighty created him that way!)”

Rabbi Pam added: “A statement from the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah must be extremely careful not to undermine kavod habriyos — the inherent dignity of all God’s creatures. Let’s reword it this way...”

(Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, Hamodia English Edition, Ellul 5, 5661 /August 24, 2001). Reproduced in David Sears, The Vision of Eden pp. 222-224)

(more posts on pigs to come)


Baruch Horowitz said...

I thought of this anecdote as well(although I personally have no opinion on what to call the flu!)

Perhaps the kal vachomer made in context of the ramp of the mizbeach(Rashi in Yisro)is also relevant here: if one must show kavod habriyos to pigs, certainly to people!

smoo said...

Archaeologists note that the emerging Israelite in highland Canaan did not eat pig. So one of the EARLIEST ETHNIC MARKERS for what was to become the Jewish people was a revulsion of pig.
Perhaps the proto-Israelites subjectively identified pigs as ethnic markers for Philistines and to mark their distinctiveness, the Israelites avoided being like the Philistines and avoided pig.

So an integral part of our ethnic identity and heritage is one of pig avoidance. Later conceptual ideas get tacked on to the tradition. For religion to be viable it must make itself relevant (Joseph Campbell). Give meaning and thus preserve tradition.