By Peter Bebergal
In April 2009, at the peak of the Swine Flu scare, Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman of Israel urged people to refer to the virus as the Mexican Flu, because, as we all know, pigs aren’t kosher. While both insulting and at its face absurd, Litzman’s request brings to the surface what might only be a bit of Talmudic minutiae for those whose daily religious lives depend on such things. Does something deemed not kosher to eat also render its very nature somehow unclean? An idea like this might make sense within the insularity of the ultra-orthodox, but for a Judaism that is worldly, the idea that we must avoid even the mere recognition of things we are forbidden to eat is troubling, to say the least.
Underlying the laws of kashrut (dietery law) is the very essence of much of halakhah (Jewish law): separation. Halakhah is filled with commandments regarding what is pure and what is impure; who is of the community and who is a stranger. Litzman’s wish conflates all of these by suggesting that even dietary laws speak to the heart of what it means to be Jewish, and by extension, what it means to be separate.
As a progressive Jew I find this heartbreaking, but as a father, I am confronted with how to teach Jewish values to my child while explaining Jewish law. Why do these things often seem mutually opposed? As Rabbi Arthur Green once wrote when discussing his relationsip to the Sabbath and the story of a six-day creation, “How can I affirm that which I deny?” Laurel Snyder’s new children’s book, Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to be Kosher playfully finds it’s way around this tension by illuminating both laws and values as reflections of the other. Continue Reading →