Skip to comments.Kosher swine
Posted on 01/04/2004 5:46:25 PM PST by SJackson
Geva Zin, a veteran of the Israeli army's canine unit, drives up to Kibbutz Lahav in a cloud of dust in a van decorated, well, like a pig, complete with fiberglass ears on the roof and a large snout on the hood.
The 26-year-old, dressed in a T-shirt, jeans, and sandals, steps up grinning and I half expect him to say something like "howdy," as he welcomes me to this kibbutz halfway to Beersheba.
"Like your pig van," I say.
His grin disappears.
"It's supposed to be a dog," he says. "You just wait until I get the eyes attached and it'll look more like a dog. I like dogs."
But pigs are on our mind. I've come down to Kibbutz Lahav to have a firsthand look at a group of pigs Geva Zin has trained that have become the focus of world attention. They have even, if you can believe it, won the endorsement of top West Bank rabbis.
"This here is Haziza [Fireworks]. She was the first one I started working with," Zin says as he passes her and leads out a second, smaller shaggy brown pig from the sty.
"This is Soda," he says, scratching her back like a dog and working a leash around her chubby neck.
Working under the auspices of the Israel Institute for Animal Studies that's based on the kibbutz, Zin has been perfecting yet another great Israeli development.
Yes, from the land that gave the world drip irrigation, Uzi sub-machine guns, and the Epilady electrical hand-held leg-hair removing device... come bomb-sniffing pigs.
Zin chose the miniature Sinclair variety of swine since they were considered smart and are also more portable than huge hogs.
"You don't want a quarter-ton pig walking on a mine field do you?" he says with the seriousness of someone who has actually considered the idea.
"The pigs' advantage for clearing mines is their natural desire to root. The mines are usually underground. Dogs have to be forced to root, but it comes naturally to pigs. For Haziza, she's thinking she is doing something she likes and I pay her for it," Zin says.
"Look at their snouts. This animal was made for this mission. God made the pigs to find things underground. What we have done is take something God gave and use it for man's needs," Zin says.
There is something ironic about a secular Jew speaking of God while referring to a furry brown pig called Soda.
In Judaism there is an anti-pig tradition. This is the country where some Orthodox don't let their kids have piggy banks, and where plastic piggies are removed from the bags of farm animals in the toyshops.
According to Jewish law, the pig is no more treif (non-kosher) than a shrimp or a rabbit. But in Jewish awareness, swine draw particular revulsion. The religiously observant have for ages fought to keep pigs out of the Holy Land. There were even laws passed against raising pigs in Israel, something that was never passed against horses, dogs, or camels, which are also treif.
But Kibbutz Lahav, from the staunchly secular Hashomer Hatzair movement, found a loophole in the law. Dr. Dan Ratner, an expert in pig breeding and a geneticist, helped found the Israel Institute for Animal Studies.
"There was a law passed in 1963 banning pig farming in Israel. All the kibbutzim stopped raising pigs. But the law allowed pigs to be raised for research purposes. Any surplus pigs were allowed to be slaughtered," Ratner says.
"Oh we have thousands of surplus pigs every season," he says with a wink, adding that the slaughterhouse is one of the most economically stable kibbutz endeavors.
"But we do indeed conduct medical research. None of that cosmetic testing stuff, mind you. But real research," Ratner says.
He declined to let me have a look at the pigpens to verify the age-old rumor that pigs are kept on wooden slats in order to get around the law that they cannot be raised on the Holy Land.
He says he never really paid attention to pigs' behavior until the energetic Zin showed up nine months ago with his idea to train pigs to find explosives.
"The pig was always seen as a pork chop, as food," Zin says. "But the aim is not to eat the pig, but to use their talents to clear mines.
"Mines are the garbage of war. We are taking this animal to clean up the garbage of war," Zin says.
This is a job that comes naturally to pigs. Besides, there are jobs that even dogs won't do.
"Dogs... prefer to sniff out people and cars and be in a social setting. They don't like to dig up the earth," Zin says.
After completing his military service training dogs in the elite Oketz unit, Zin traveled to Croatia, where he worked privately to locate mine fields with the help of dogs. When he was there he noticed wild boars roaming the area. While pigs excel at finding truffles, he had something else in mind.
"I watched how they behaved and came to the conclusion that they could be more efficient than dogs at sniffing out mines and explosives. I noticed that they constantly sniffed at the ground, their snouts always hovering above the earth. I got the impression that their sense of smell is incredibly well-developed.
"The pigs work and understand very quickly, maybe half of the time of the dogs," Zin says.
So far he has trained four pigs, all female. Calling Soda, he leads her to a "minefield" and starts talking to her in Hebrew. She seems to understand.
"Good. You're so pretty," Zin says. Soda grunts and wiggles her wet nose, opening her mouth for treats.
When they detect a mine or explosives, his pigs quickly sit and point their snouts skyward and wait for their tasty reward, which Zin slips into their mouths.
He says the pigs work particularly well next to railroads, pipelines, or garbage dumps, where there are many other metals that confuse the reading on electronic devices. Right now, they need a trainer next to them, but he hopes to train them so that they can ultimately work on their own.
Eventually, Zin and the rest of the staff at the institute hope to use the pigs in former war zones like Angola, Croatia, and Mozambique to clear mines.
"The idea is to either market these pigs abroad with trainers or to set up a school here where people will come and train on our pigs and then return with them to their countries," Zin says.
Reports of Zin's success have rippled across the hills to Judea and Samaria, where Jewish settlers say they want to use them to stop would-be Palestinian attackers from gaining "martyrdom." The rabbis have already been asked to give their blessing.
Yekutiel Ben-Ya'akov, the director of the Gdud Haivri (Jewish Legion), an organization that supplies guard dogs to settlements in the West Bank, says he believes the trained pigs will be able to help them sniff out terrorists before they attack.
"We want to save Jewish lives in Israel and that includes exploring the possibility of using pigs to detect bombs and explosives. Pigs have superior sniffers to dogs," says Ben-Ya'akov.
Ben-Ya'akov adds that dogs have very limited stamina and can only work for about 90 minutes before they need a rest.
"The dogs are useless without a break, whereas the pigs can work non-stop," Ben-Ya'akov says. "We are extremely serious about launching the first test. The primary obstacle has already been overcome. We received backing from rabbis."
According to Ben-Ya'akov, former chief rabbi Mordehai Eliyahu and Kiryat Arba's Chief Rabbi Dov Lior have already given their endorsement.
Rabbi Daniel Shilo, chairman of the rabbinical committee of Judea and Samaria settlements, says that while the raising of pigs has traditionally been forbidden, the move should be approved in exceptional circumstances.
"Because we are dealing with... the saving of lives, it is permissible to have the animal," Shilo was quoted in Ma'ariv.
Ben-Ya'akov says that the rabbis were also considering the question of purchasing pigs and thereby supporting the pork economy in Israel. And they ruled that this was not their business.
"The question remains, would a kibbutz like Lahav supply the pigs to the settlers?" he says. "Lahav has made it very clear that they would only use the pigs for humanitarian purposes outside of Israel, in places like Angola. But this could be because they don't want to get involved in a legal issue over their license or perhaps they don't want to be seen as helping the settlements."
Moshe Tayar, managing director of Kibbutz Lahav, bypasses the question. He confirms that settlers have visited the pig-training program but have not yet made any formal requests for the pigs.
"We are for anything that saves lives," Tayar says. "But at the moment we are still in the research stage."
This hasn't deterred Ben-Ya'akov, who says they would raise the pigs themselves if need be. They have already proven their determination by setting up their own guard dog center and training operators. They have succeeded in foiling four suicide bombers, Ben-Ya'akov says.
"There are a number of settlements which said they would absorb the project. It won't be simple. A lot of people are calling and are upset, and we lost a chunk of support from the religious community which just doesn't understand the issue," Ben-Ya'akov laments.
He is convinced that the pigs would also serve as a strong deterrent factor to terrorists, since a terrorist who touches a pig, according to Muslim law, is not eligible for the 70 virgins in heaven.
"I know the guard pig is an exotic idea, but we have already implemented other exotic ideas. This past month we placed a gaggle of geese on the community of Adei Ad to act as guards since they start honking when strangers approach."
Even Ben-Ya'akov considers his idea odd, but definitely feasible.
"We live in a horrible reality and it is unfortunate that we have to resort to such mishugas (craziness)," he says. "The use of animals at all for defense joins other ideas such as bypass roads, bulletproof buses, the big security fence, and bullet-proof vests. All of these are sad and the truth is this is a sad reality. We don't know where the next bomb will go off. People don't know if they will come home at night. There are hundreds of parents who send their kids off in the morning never knowing if they will see their kid that night," he says.
Ben-Ya'akov says he envisions using sniffer pigs to pick out bomb-toting terrorists at busy intersections and roadblocks and bus stations, but also for extended duty around settlements.
"We often get alerts four or five times a day. The pig could be brought to the area to search and stay on duty for much longer than dogs," Ben-Ya'akov says. "If the pigs are good enough to use in Angola, then why not here?"
Back on the kibbutz, Tayar says that the IDF has shown interest, but prefers to see the pigs in action abroad first.
"It may be that we will come to the United Nations and tell them we have something that can save lives in Angola, Croatia, and elsewhere," Tayar says. "Our pigs have the potential to save lives around the world. It is a little strange that the Jewish state is the first to develop the mine-finding pig. It proves history has a sense of humor."
Avi Ben-David is a butcher with a secret. Owner of the Ivo Delicatessen in downtown Jerusalem, he knows which former prime minister favors pork, but he won't tell. He also keeps mum the who's who list of VIPs who likewise indulge.
Like the plastic surgeons and psychoanalysts of Hollywood, he knows better than to reveal the private predilections of his clients. In a land where what one puts on a sandwich is possible breaking news, pigs have become an unwitting and subversive sign of the times.
For some, a symbol of freedom from oppression, and for others a taboo subject beyond dietary laws representing subjugation and anti-Semitism, the deeply-layered icon is putting community members at odds. The secret life of pigs and those who love or loathe them reverberates not only around the up-crop of non-kosher delis, but also in legends and shadows across the land.
On a recent breezy afternoon, customers wander in and out of Ivo's Deli, joking around with Ben-David. Since its opening in 1988, the store is thriving, serving all kinds of unexpected clientele, he says. In addition to the regulars: Knesset members, judges, doctors, athletes, journalists, diplomats, and regular folk, he claims some eyebrow-raising requests.
"Sorry, this store is not kosher," he recalls with a wave of his arm, imitating his warning to the haredi man with a black hat and sidecurls, who strolled in with his modestly-clad wife.
But the couple shyly remained, he says - in search of pig bones.
"Their rabbi had told them to make an amulet with pig bones, and if the wife wore it, it would help her have children."
Rabbis do make all kinds of halachic [Jewish legal] exceptions, permitting the use of pig parts in surgery, in some medicines, and on rare occasions in mystic treatments, such as amulets. But more often, religious neighbors pop in to curse Ben-David and his non-kosher wares.
"Still, it's a good thing that pig bones could be found," says Ben-David, twisting his face in disbelief about the wife's atypical prescription. "I wish I knew whatever happened to her, if it worked."
Dozens of other unlikely customers have shown up in the hunt for pig fat, and not just for cooking.
"They say it is recommended for hemorrhoids," Ben-David says.
He got the idea to open what he calls a high-end, pristine, non-kosher butchery when he unwittingly landed a job as a butcher in Germany 15 years ago, while traveling after his army service.
"In Germany everyone eats pork. I said to myself, hey, in Israel there is no butcher with this kind of style. But there were always non-kosher stores - and there were always problems."
In 1997, when Ben-David opened a non-kosher butchery in Ramat Eshkol, police had to circle the entrance, linking arms, after some 10,000 angry haredim showed up to protest. Within two years, the store went under.
It is nothing new that Jews, and especially observant Jews, have historically fought to retain their identity and the identity of their community. Jewish law has always prohibited eating pork, and pork has long been associated as the food of adversaries.
But it wasn't until three years ago that bylaws went into effect giving legal power to local councils to restrict or prohibit pork sales in their communities. Though according to the Interior Ministry there is no central registry of how many local authorities now permit, restrict, or ban pork sales since the bylaws were enacted, municipalities taking a stand make news nowadays as pork businesses and interested parties take the councils to court for what they consider unlawful statutes.
The High Court is currently reviewing petitions against bylaws in Tiberias, where selling pork was banned completely, and in Beit Shemesh and Karmiel, where non-kosher butchers were granted permission to sell in outlying industrial areas.
Since the 1950s, the public and legislators have debated to little avail how to handle the conflict between basic freedoms provided by Israel's democracy and protecting the national character of the Jewish state. The pig - often seen as the symbol for the end of Judaism, or as the freedom to choose - has become a sort of measuring stick for how to handle the inherent conflict of having a Jewish, democratic state.
Pigs and pig legislation are raising hairs all over the place: A law that prohibits the import of non-kosher meat to Israel has upset the Americans in recent years. Trade officials claimed a ban on US imports may even be illegal under trade agreements signed by Israel.
In an analysis of international trade barriers, published by the Office of US Trade Representation in 2001, "the import ban on non-kosher meat appears to be in violation of the 1985 Free Trade Area Agreement."
The FTAA stipulates that religious-based restrictions in import must be in accordance with national restrictions. Therefore, it argues, if Israel permits the production and marketing of pork locally, then according to the agreement, Israel also must permit it internationally. The report includes Israel's denial of any such violations.
For different reasons, Israel's High Court of Justice has also at times worried about the legality of the ban on importing non-kosher meat. In 1993, it ruled that the government policy was in fact a violation of Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation, forbidding any infringement on a person's right to engage in any type of work. But despite the Supreme Court majority opinion, the Rabin government overrode the court's decision by passing Knesset legislation banning non-kosher imports.
In addition to regulating pork trade and marketing, Israel also tries to regulate the vast pig-raising industry.
Though tourists and many Israelis themselves are under the impression that pigs are absent or hard to find in Israel, there are actually thousands of pink porkers across the land.
Some 25 pig farms are deemed legal, according to a 1963 law that holds pigs in Israel can be raised for scientific research or in designated areas, primarily Christian villages.
Kibbutz Lahav in the Negev is the only known and legal pig farm in a Jewish village - it transformed its pens into the Institute of Animal Research the same year as the new legislation. Even though the hogs that don't make it to the laboratories are apparently sold for meat production, Orthodox legislators have been unsuccessful in their quest to close the pens, after they tried and failed to find unethical business practices. (Lahav did not return calls or answer e-mailed questions about its research.)
There is no official data, but it is suspected by industry insiders that at least a couple of owners of pig pens in Christian villages are Jews trying to keep their identities under wraps.
Kibbutz Mizra in the Jezreel Valley stopped raising pigs years ago, but is infamous as the largest pork-product factory in a Jewish-Israeli village.
Though Israel tries to regulate where pigs can thrive, a huge population of wild pigs, known as wild boars, also freely roam the countryside, primarily in the north. These pigs took the IDF for a ride in 1999, when they repeatedly bumped into a new electric fence along the Jordan River, sending the soldiers into a state of alert, thinking the pigs were attempting cross-border infiltrations.
In 2001, Palestinians claimed that Israel was intentionally releasing pigs onto Palestinian farms to cause agricultural damage, saying that the number of wild pigs had suddenly increased "conspicuously and unnaturally."
The wild boar population - which has been growing in number and expanding its range in recent years, according to the Nature and Parks Authority - also causes extensive damage to agriculture in the north, including corn and wheat fields, fruit trees, and other orchards. Though the boar is the largest mammal in the wild in Israel, it is not a danger to humans.
It is legal to hunt wild boars in Israel, with a license. The number of boar hunters is too small, however, to keep the population under control, says Dr. Simon Nemtzov, a Nature and Parks Authority wild life ecologist, who worries about the growing population of boars.
In recent years, domestic pigs have escaped from farms, and become lost in the wilds; they cross-bred with their boar cousins, creating a new hybridization in the Nahal Besor area in the southwest Negev, says Nemtzov. "It is our point of view that hybrids are not good for the wild population. It's our job to maintain nature, so we hunt [the hybrids]."
Unlike pigs raised on pig farms, the wild boar is indigenous to the Land of Israel, and has been around since the Second Temple period. However, says Nemtzov, back then there were only wild - not domesticated - pigs.
"They [the local population] weren't raising them."
The hunting of wild boars today has led to some serious medical problems caused by hunters who do not obey authority regulations, which stipulates they take their bounty to veterinarians for inspection before eating. Vet visits are likely skirted by hunters to avoid fees, Nemtzov speculates, which results in hunters putting themselves at risk for Trichinosis, a parasitic disease found in undercooked pork which has infected a few Israeli hunters.
While hunters in Israel may eat boar meat for economic reasons, in other countries it is considered a high-end delicacy. In the US, igourmet.com, for example, sells wild boar tenderloin at $89.99 per 1.25 kilo.
The media recently reported that a local nursery school in Yorkshire, England decided independently to ban children's stories like Charlotte's Web, with pig characters in them. Though the pig characters in Charlotte's Web and Winnie the Pooh are lovable and kind, the logic was simply to be sensitive to the many Muslim students, since Muslims are forbidden from eating pig meat.
The courtesy ban, however, ended up irritating rather than pleasing local Muslims and others. The Yorkshire Post reported that Muslims condemned the move as "nonsense," saying that the Koran permits speaking of or reading about pigs, just not eating their flesh.
An Israeli toy importer and seller used the same logic. After a Jewish customer complained last year he didn't want his kids playing with toy pigs, the storeowner reorganized an imported toy farm set. Instead of piglets, customers were later surprised to find geese in their place. Haredi customers were pleased, but dozens of other customers reportedly complained and some asked for their money back.
Some Jews in Israel and abroad do believe that all pig things are forbidden, even the word itself. This may be in part a result of an expression in European-Jewish literature that referred to the pig as "something else," rather than by name.
One Jewish viewer wrote to Fox News regarding the recent pig censorship.
"Having gone to elementary school in Brooklyn, NY, in the 1950s, I find it absolutely hilarious that a present-day teacher chooses to ban a book concerning pigs. The student population of P.S. 135 in 1957 was about 90 percent Jewish, 5% Italian, 3% Black, and 2% other.
"Keeping this in mind, I do remember Mrs. Plutzer (one of my teachers) reading the Three Little Pigs to us. And guess what? All the Jewish kids survived 'the ordeal' - in fact, I still have a storybook from the period with the Three Little Pigs included in it. The book was written in Yiddish!"
The Orthodox Union must also have sanctioned the reading of the fairy tale, since the Purim edition of its magazine, Jewish Action, spoofed The Three Little Pigs as a Jewish allegory; the piglets as a metaphor for the people of Israel that defiled itself and faced two sets of exile.
But in order to create their spoof, they must have read the original in an English-language version - finding fairy tales and children's stories with pig characters in them in Hebrew translation is notoriously difficult.
"Usually translations will substitute a different animal in the Hebrew versions," says Prof. Menahem Friedman, a Bar-Ilan University expert on the sociology of religion.
Though he says there is no prohibition in Judaism on talking about or even touching pigs - "a pig is no less kosher than a dog; an animal is kosher or not" - it is a matter of cultural sensitivity.
"It makes [Jewish] Israelis uncomfortable."
It's not only Jews and Muslims who have tried to edit pig tales.
Over the last decade or two, since the onslaught of the politically-correct revolution, the child's tale of Three Little Pigs is one of many that has been revised and rewritten in a number of politically correct forms.
In one version, the pigs challenge the wolf's stereotypes and engage in non-violent conflict resolution.
Since its creation, Three Little Pigs has always garnered attention. Walt Disney's animated version released in 1933 was only eight minutes long but is considered one of its most popular films in its time, and won the Academy Award for a cartoon short in 1932-33. As the nation was sunk in a depression, makers believed it was uplifted by the story of the little guy (or the little pig) surviving the odds.
The original release had the wolf disguised as a poor, Jewish peddler, with a huge hook nose and bushy beard. In the next decade, Disney re-animated the short film to be more culturally sensitive.
Anti-Semitism comes in many pig forms. One of the most famous and early anti-Jewish pig legends, says Friedman, is found in the Talmud.
"When the Romans seized Jerusalem, it says, the Jews sacrificed an animal every day. As part of an ancient war agreement, the Romans would give the Jews a pure animal every day to be part of this sacrifice. Then one day suddenly the Romans offered a pig. Eretz Israel was shocked, it understood the act was an effort to humiliate. The Talmud is full of [such] pig legends."
All periods of Jewish persecution, from the Roman Era to the Crusades and World War II, he says, are full of stories where pig names or actual pigs were used to humiliate Jews.
"It is fascinating how the pig [as opposed to another non-kosher animal] became a symbol for being anti-Jewish," says Friedman.
As the only mammal to have cloven hoofs without chewing its cud, a midrash argues that this puts the pig in a special category beyond treif, where the pig serves as a metaphor for deception and manipulation, as it sticks its foot out and masquerades as "part kosher" when there is no such concept in Judaism.
According to an old Yiddish proverb, a pig remains a pig. But even beyond Jewish tradition, in modern slang it is not always clear what the word really means. Dictionaries contain such meanings as: Messy, dirty, smelly, vulgar, slovenly, slutty, selfish, sexist, greedy, cheeky, fat, obstinate, coarse.
But who knows exactly which insult is being lodged. When someone shouts "pig," are they chastising a bad cop? Or telling a woman she is too available? Or is it just another day in the Israeli parliament?
While it's not unusual for Israeli legislators to shout slurs at each other on the Knesset floor, it didn't go over well when United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush last month called Supreme Court Justice Michael Cheshin a pig and a "pig judge" as the justice was speaking, citing the recent cases against municipalities limiting or banning pork sales. Porush was removed from the session, and The Courts Administration admonished the Knesset to "show respect for itself."
Though calling someone a pig is commonly associated with being insatiably greedy, pigs, despite their reputation, it seems, are not the most gluttonous mammals, after all. According to Animal Planet, Tiger sharks and Tasmanian Devils are much worse.
"It seems that the pig is not such a pig after all," they wrote in their November 2002 on-line magazine.
Despite its persistently ugly connotations, the pig has been reworked over the years into many endearing expressions. What child can resist a piggyback ride or wearing her hair in pigtails? And what Yiddishe-mama won't offer up chazerei - junkfood, based on the root word for pig - to her loved ones?
Pig experts even say that pigs are among the most intelligent mammals in the animal kingdom - and that they are relatively clean, instinctively making their toilet far from living areas, according to Potbelliedpig.com. Animal experts across the board argue that pig intelligence is above that of dogs and not far behind monkeys and dolphins. Pig smarts, their keen sense of smell, and their ability to be trained, has made them the perfect choice as the newest team members on Israeli bomb-sniffing and security patrols.
When the American television show Green Acres launched in the mid-1960s, audiences thought it was hysterical that a family kept a wise pet pig. Arnold, the family's notorious pet, not only helped the family get in and out of capers, but retrieved the mail, flipped the TV dials, drank from a straw, and played the piano.
Though a novelty, and seemingly a far-fetched one at the time, it has become a popular notion in recent years (though not in Israel) that pigs aren't all bad. Especially following the release of the movie Babe in 1995, with its protagonist pig hero, increased numbers of Westerners started taking potbellied pigs as house pets.
No legislation in Israel has been proposed to ban potbellied pigs as domestic pets, but with the widespread hostility to pigs, they are not likely to become a household favorite anytime soon.
Even pig dolls and stuffed animals are hard to come by in the Holy Land.
At Ivo's Deli, though, regular customers are changing the landscape.
"You can't get pig dolls in Israel, so my customers bring me them from all over the world," he says, showing off his collection of more than 1,000 items, including a pig pen, calendar, clock, stuffed animals, and figurines, which make up the largest collection of pig memorabilia in Israel. An "I love pig" sign hangs proudly over head.
Secular Israelis, Russians, Christians, and foreigners make their way in and out, returning to the Jerusalem streets, where they take their place alongside all those who see their patronage as hostile, ugly, or just downright wrong.
For now, their habit is still controversial, and their secret still guarded.
When Jewish law says yes
It's a confusing subject, causing many Jews to avoid all things piggy. But when it comes down to Jewish law, not all things pig are actually forbidden, says Rabbi Ya'akov Weiner, dean of the Jerusalem Center for Research, Medicine, and Halacha.
Jewish law, in fact, has no problem with transplanting pig organs or grafting pig skin to humans, doing medical experiments on pigs that can improve or save human life, wearing shoes or using products made from pig leather, touching the animals, reading about them in fiction or nonfiction, playing with fake ones as toys, using the word in relation to the animal, or even with using pig bones in amulets, he says.
"The issue with pig being nonkosher is eating - if you are not eating the pig then there is no problem," says Weiner.
And even to that, there is an exception.
"In life-threatening situations, there are compromises to every [Jewish prohibition], except idolatry, illicit relations, like incest and adultery, and murder. In a life-threatening situation you can eat pig - you can even eat dead humans."
Like Judaism, Islam also permits the eating of pork flesh in life-threatening situations.
The only fuzzy pig circumstances in Jewish law regards medications, Weiner says. Injections and other products that are not taken orally are fine. But when it comes to pills and tablets, and products taken by mouth, Weiner suggests consulting with one's own rabbi to discuss the details, like how will it advance one's health and recovery, and what other options are available.
Indeed, says Weiner, there is nothing strange about using pigs in Jewish medicine.
"The Talmud was even aware of the similarity of pig physiology to humans. In Tractate Ta'anit 21b regarding if there was a plague in the animal world, the fear was that there would be a plague in pigs - not because they might transfer the plague to humans, but because of the similarity of the organs, that whatever attacked the pigs might also attack the humans."
Though there is a biblical prohibition against touching a pig's carcass, Weiner says that it refers only to priests and the Temple: "You [priests] couldn't enter [the Temple] without a mikveh [ritual bath]."
As for modern Jews, he says, it's even okay halachicly to touch a pig's carcass.
Far from hog heaven
It might be a mixed metaphor to say something smells fishy when talking about pigs, but something in the pigpen is definitely afoul, according to a new animal welfare committee.
Set up this year, after criticism that the Ministry of Agriculture had not enforced the 1994 Animal Protection Act, a committee to examine the condition of pigs on Israeli farms - one of dozens of committees to propose regulations for humane animal treatment - says Israeli pigs are downright downtrodden. While conditions vary from farm to farm, and some pigs are kept in fair conditions, a good number, it seems, are "abused."
The June 2003 ministerial report found that many pigs have teeth and tails unnecessarily clipped without painkillers, and that they are castrated, by workers, not veterinarians, without anesthesia.
"They cut with no pain killers, they just hold the hind legs and... I saw the pigs right afterwards, they were bleeding heavily, the back of their bodies covered in blood, and small testicles hung [by workers] on the wall of the pens," says lawyer Yossi Klein, a committee member and volunteer for the Israeli animal rights group Anonymous.
The report also found that many pregnant sows and new mothers are kept in tiny stalls that prevent them from standing (even to feed their newborns), walking, laying on their sides, turning around, developing leg muscles, playing, and "any natural behaviors."
Shortly after birth, piglets are usually separated from their mothers and layered one on top of another into an overcrowded pen. All are allegedly left hungry.
The reasons for the mutilations and confinements are largely to control the pigs' behaviors so that they do not act out toward one another or workers. But, argues Klein, pigs allowed to stay with their herds and fulfill their natural playful, exploring behavior would not become aggressive in the first place.
"It is a system that is absolutely unnecessary even from the point of view of people who breed them, not just animal rights," he says.
The practices recommended by the committee to avoid brutal treatment are similar to those already proposed in the EU and in some US states. The EU, for example, has already passed an amendment ruling that in the coming years the construction and use of pregnancy and birth stalls for sows will become illegal in every European state.
In Israel's pig slaughterhouses the conditions are said to be even worse than those in Europe.
"A worker puts electric clips around the pig to shock him. [The pig] is terrorized, in shocking pain, falls down unable to fight back, still conscious, in front of the other pigs, who are screaming, also terrorized and understanding something bad is going to happen and trying to escape," says Klein.
The pig, he says, is killed only on the second zap, and in front of the others.
"The committee recommended many reforms, but even if they are all implemented, [factories will still be] taking a sentient, intelligent animal [and putting it] in a barren environment," says Klein.
Beyond Israeli law, he also argues that the ways in which pigs are treated are simply "not kosher."
"The Ministry of Religion usually has very positive input on cruelty of animals and Israel is very progressive on this issue," he says.
Whether this will be the case with the taboo pig will soon be tested. After the minister of agriculture passes the recommendations to the Knesset's education committee, one of three approaches may be taken, says Klein.
"They might say that pigs are non-kosher and unclean and we don't want to mention them in legislation; that regulations don't say pigs can be raised, but if they are raised you [must] treat the animals according to the [tzar balei haim] mitzva; that any regulations that restrict the growing of pigs is good for us."
Jewish tradition does set a precedent for the good treatment of non-kosher animals. Deuteronomy 22:10 says that a donkey and bull must not plow together because they have different strengths and the weaker donkey will suffer.
"The Torah also says that if you see the donkey of your enemy under a weight, take the weight off his back," says Klein.
"It is even permitted to desecrate Shabbat for tzar balei haim," says Prof. Menahem Friedman, a Bar-Ilan University expert on the sociology of religion. "For example if you have a cow and she needs to be milked, it is permitted to do so on Shabbat so she won't have a lot of pain. It is not only permitted to ease the conditions of [animals, kosher or not], it is even commanded."
Says Rabbi Ya'akov Weiner, dean of the Jerusalem Center for Research, Medicine and Halacha: Even when pig-rearing is illegal, "one hundred percent, we are prohibited from torturing pigs and yes, we have to protect them."
Opines on selling swine
Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, as he debates pork bylaw disputes before the High Court, told parties on both sides recently that the issue under consideration was where to draw the line between the Jewish and the democratic character of the state. The fact that the line is not readily apparent makes it easy to sue.
Local courts come to their own conclusions on the selling of pig products. In a recent criminal prosecution case in Ashkelon, the judge dismissed the plaintiff's defense that the bylaws were religious coercion, arguing that the Freedom of Occupation and Human Dignity law does not shield him, since he upheld the belief that the bylaws were created on national identity grounds.
Law professor and former minister of religion Shimon Shetreet came to the same conclusion that the bylaws don't conflict with freedom of religion because the decision to legislate issues surrounding the raising of pigs and sale of pork was not based on religious but cultural and national identity concerns - an argument that he admits has much opposition.
"The pig was always a symbol of hating Jews and not only seen as meat. Therefore it is not unequivocal," he says. "You can argue that this [pig symbolism] is part of culture rather than religion."
The same arguments were on the table when in 1963, after years of debate, Israel passed a law that the raising of pigs is legal only at research institutes, zoos, and in designated areas, mostly where there were large populations of Christians. Sharia, or Muslim religious law, like Jewish law, also forbids the eating of pork, so the exception of the law was created in part to protect the Christian minority communities.
The Shinui party, among others, has taken up opposition to the councils being permitted so much influence on private businesses, under the argument that it violates the 1992 Freedom of Occupation law.
"It is forbidden to import pork, [but legal to raise pigs in designated areas] so in Israel's pork industry there are 100,000 workers - growers, sellers, factory workers - and if you include their families, we are talking about some 300,000-500,000 legal people in business," says MK Igal Yasinov.
"We are not saying that they have to be able to sell in every place, but they have to let them sell in a place where they can make a living. Sometimes they tell people to move to sell in an Arab village or a place where there are no buses - that is nonsense," says Yasinov.
In Tiberias, where they are now forbidding the sale of pork anywhere, Yasinov says it is downright illegal.
"Tiberias is a center of Christian tourism and this ruling is hurting tourism. We are fighting to build another commercial area in a quiet place where it won't bother anyone."
The cases are still pending.
Since the influx of Russian emigration to Israel, pork demand, and illicit pork sales, continue to rise.
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Beautiful pictures of hero dogs!
Now I guess they will add "hero hogs."
Jews are forbidden to eat pork but there is no prohibition on using pork products for other purposes. I think that every IDF soldier should be issued a can of lard to wipe his bullets with.
Is that correct? A Tanakh bound in pig leather would be OK?
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