Probably the most famous – or infamous – non-kosher item is the pig. In Yiddish, if you wanted to call something completely non-kosher you would say it is chazer-treif – “as non-kosher as a pig!”
On the list of the kosher and non-kosher animals in this week’s parasha, the pig is mentioned as having cloven hoofs but not chewing the cud. Both signs are needed for an animal to be kosher.
The camel does it the other way round. It chews the cud but doesn’t have a cloven hoof. It is just as non-kosher as the pig. Why does porky get such a bad press?
Moses Maimonides (d. 1204, Egypt) suggests that this is because both the pig and its food are very dirty. In his time, filthy living conditions were associated with the breeding and eating of pigs.
The pig is seen in Jewish teaching as a symbol of hypocrisy. Rashi (d. 1105, France) explains that the pig crouches with its legs forward, displaying its split hooves, as if to say: ‘See, I am a kosher animal.’ In contrast to the English language where a pig is associated with greed and slovenliness (piggish) or obstinacy (pigheaded), the Talmud associates the pig with misrepresentation. The pig is the only animal having an external sign in common with the kosher animals. Picture a pig. It is not immediately obvious whether or not it is chewing the cud. The split hoofs of the pig, exactly like the split hoofs of a cow or sheep, represent the notion of pretending to be what you are not.
Yet, all is not lost for Peppa Pig! It is only her meat which is forbidden. Her heart-valves are fine. Many people today have had their quality of life improved from receiving pig-valve implants. Even more dramatically, two weeks ago, an American with terminal heart disease, David Bennet, survived for two months with a pig-heart transplant. Although there is a lot more work to be done, the longer-term prospects seem good for such procedures.
The Spanish commentator, Rabbenu Bachya (d. 1340,) goes further. He writes that the Hebrew for pig, chazir, ironically means ‘return.’ He quotes Midrashic sources that say that in the Messianic Age, G-d will return the pig to purity.
Does that mean that Jewish law will change?
The Or Hachayim (Chayim ben Attar, d. Jerusalem 1743) explains that in the Messianic age, it is not that the Torah law prohibiting pig will be revoked. Instead, he suggests that the pig may undergo an organic change and start to chew the cud. Such a scenario is possible to envisage even today, using the techniques of genetic engineering.
However, the broader meaning of the Midrash may well be that even those nations that are symbolized by the pig, that have demonstrated hypocrisy and immorality, particularly in their treatment of Israel, will become pure in the time of the Messiah. May we witness this time speedily in our day.