Which is more “treif” (generic term used for non-kosher foods): a McDonalds’ burger or a ham sandwich from the corner deli?

The answer is neither. Non-kosher food is non-kosher food. A burger prepared with the meat of an improperly slaughtered cow is as much of a problem from the perspective of Jewish dietary law as is the meat of a pig. Why then does the world so strongly identify keeping kosher with abstaining from pork products?

On a sociological level, perhaps it is because pigs are a common and cheap food, being adaptable to many climates and having an extremely versatile diet, and so, Jewish abstinence from pork was extremely noticeable.

Theologically, however, the pig also stands out. It is different from other non-kosher animals. Having forbidden the Israelites to eat any animal that does not have split hooves and does not chew its cud, the Torah lists the animals that might confuse a person because they chew their cud but do not have split hooves (camel, rabbit). Only one animal, however, is described as having split hooves but not chewing its cud–the pig (Leviticus 11:1-8). No other animal has such attributes. According to Rabbi Ishmael who taught in the Talmud (Chullin 59a) that “The Ruler of the universe knows that there is no other beast that splits the hoof and is unclean except the swine…”

Beyond being unique in its non-kosher status, however, the sages noted that the behavior of pigs was like one who wished to be deceptive. “…When the swine is lying down, it puts out its hooves, as if to say, ‘[See my split hooves,] I am clean’…” (Midrash Rabbah – Genesis 65:1). This species is therefore psychologically identified with all those who wish to harm the Jewish people, while pretending to be its friends and supporters.

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