Q&A: Are Jewish men forbidden to farm pigs?

Many years ago, I was working for a while as ‘Deputy Food Manager’ (i.e., ‘the guy who schlepps the big boxes from the delivery platform at the back to the walk-in fridge’) at a kibbutz in southern Israel.

The kibbutz members frequently complained about the lack of variety of our meat offerings (basically, chicken, turkey, or beef)—so one day the Food Manager took me for a ‘research trip’ to another kibbutz in the southern Negev—Lahav, some forty km to the east, where, it was rumoured, members were very happy with their food.

The ‘research trip’ was a sham—he and I, and everyone else already knew why the Lahav members were happy with their food: they had pork alternatives almost every day, thanks to their pig farm.

When we got there, the local Food Manager took us for a tour of their pig farm and pork processing factory. He explained to us that the Talmudic prohibition says ‘one must not raise pigs on the land’—so what they (and Kibbutz Mizra up in the Galilee, which was the other authorised pig farm in the country) did is pour a concrete foundation throughout the pig sty. Concrete foundation = not on the land = problem solved.*

This interested me, so I subsequently looked it up. The actual wording (in Mishnah Bava Kama), says, interestingly, that the prohibition of pig-raising was specific to the Land of Israel— ‘in Syria and in the deserts of the Land of Israel’, it was OK:

אין מגדלין בהמה דקה בארץ ישראל אבל מגדלין בסוריא ובמדברות שבארץ ישראל…
ain mgdlin bhmh dqh barx iwral, abl mgdlin bSuria ubmdbrot wbarx iwral…**

The interpretation that the kibbutzniks of Lahav and Mizra gave this may be disingenuous—but no more so than the use of Orthodox Jewish workarounds such as eruv, or automatic switches to avoid turning on electric devices on the Sabbath—and certainly no less plausible than the galaxy of medieval rabbinical rulings on separation of dairy and meat products based on the commandment (Exodus 23:19, 34:26 and Deut. 14:21):

לא תבשל גדי בחלב אימו

(‘Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’ milk’)

Bottom line: there is virtually no rule in Judaic law that cannot be circumvented, given sufficient ingenuity. It’s how Jews have sharpened their minds for over two millennia, and the reason why Jews are over-represented among Nobel Prize winners, and Israel is the world’s second biggest high-tech centre in the world.

Gentiles who wish to convert to Judaism think that it’s a matter of keeping kosher, religiously attending synagogue services, devoutly observing rituals such as shaking the lulav in the Festival of Succot.

They miss the point. Being Jewish is not a set of religious rituals, but a mindset—a training in how to think.

*There was also a civil law—the Pig Law—passed in 1962 (at the insistence of the Religions National Party) that prohibited the commercial raising of pigs in any Jewish community throughout the country (non-Jews were allowed). Lahav got around this by referring to their pig farm as a ‘research facility’—with some inevitable surplus meat from time to time…

**SimHebrew simulates the Hebrew spelling in Roman characters, for the benefit of those who cannot read traditional Square Hebrew.

2 thoughts on “Q&A: Are Jewish men forbidden to farm pigs?

  1. I applaud your sardonic wit here; having myself gone through a brief early spell where I wrongly thought that being a yehudi tov meant maximum mitzvot… and ‘by the book’.
    Yesterday I watched as hundreds of Russians loaded shopping carts with pig-parts, bread, and beer. “Obviously a major anomaly, Houston” Amd yet my fellow shoppers were, to a man or woman, courteous, respectful, amd obediemt. (I’d expected trichenosis-scarred rough beasts?)
    My system is always to find the initial impetus for prohibitions, and if no longer relevant, to ignore them in 2018.
    I’m cool with a one-day yeast-free memorial to the hazards of last-minute exodus, followed by ‘But now we are free’ engorgement -competition for 7 days.
    Enjoyed your memories of kibbutz life. You remember the right parts of the experiemce.


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