Hebrew Word: Swine, Pig

Posted by on Jul 7, 2024

The Creator of the universe knows that there is no other animal that chews the cud and is unclean except three, and that there is no other animal that has split hoofs and is unclean except the swine. For whatever reason, the Eternal has listed swine last in the list of the four animals that are not food. But this animal is no less unkosher, than any other prohibited animals listed in Leviticus 11. Yet, this animal has come to typify everything that is repugnant for the Eternal when meant for food (see Lev 11:11). Traditionally, the term “swine” or “pig” has come to mean a person who is deemed to be despicable or contemptible on account of animal’s filthiness. But a radical approach suggested by some rabbis is that in the Messianic Age swine will once again return to its kosher status. Since it already has split hoofs, they say, the only thing the Creator has to do is to make swine chew the cud. Can we rethink this?

A washed sow returns to her rolling in the mud

“A washed sow returns to her rolling in the mud”.

The names of the creatures that the Creator considers food and those forbidden to eat are in Leviticus 11 (the list is also in Deu 14:4-20). Although many of the names in the list of prohibited animals are only guessed, for their meanings are lost in time, there is no doubt what pig is, whether wild or domesticated.

Torah is very specific as to what the Creator has ruled as food and how to recognize them. The meaning of what follows in Leviticus 11 is that every animal which has the two signs–“a split hoof completely divided” and “chewing the cud”–is food. But the animal that has only one sign is not food. Then the Torah singles out the camel, the rock badger or rock rabbit, and the hare as having only one of the signs, namely, chewing the cud, and the swine as having only the other sign: a divided hoof. Torah has listed these four animals because each one has one sign (they either chew the cud or have split hoofs) as opposed to the permitted animals that have both signs and are permitted for food. Therefore, Torah explicitly negates the possibility that there may exist some other animal that chews the cud but has non-cloven hoofs or animal that has cloven hoofs but does not chew the cud. Thus, by recognizing these four animals, an animal may be declared kosher even without examination for the presence of both split hoofs and the chewing of the cud. There are no other animals discovered in the world, since Leviticus 11 has been written, that have only one sign. Only these four: the camel, the rock-badger, the rabbit, and the swine.

Furthermore, Torah goes on to say,

Their flesh you do not eat, and their carcasses you do not touch. They are unclean to you. (Lev 11:8)

In his commentary to verse 8, Ramban writes that this is not a prohibition that we are not to touch these carcasses at all. Rather, it is meant that if you touch them, you become unclean until the evening (Lev 11:39) and ritual purification is required. The same rules apply to any animal that is forbidden for consumption. The meaning therefore is to state that all those who have to touch them should be aware that they have become unclean and should be careful not to enter the Sanctuary at a time of festivals when they want to be clean. But the mere act of touching them is not forbidden. Therefore, touching a carcass of a forbidden animal is optional as long as one understands the ramifications of doing so. But eating such a flesh is forbidden.

Going down the list in Leviticus 11, the Torah did not bother itself with listing the animals, which do not possess even one of the above distinguishing features, as forbidden. Most of them are not even considered for eating by the heathens, because they are either predators or scavengers and as such their flesh is not seen tasty, or simply they are repugnant to eat; consider vultures as an example.

A careful reader should notice that the phrase in Lev 11:39, “the animals which are yours for food”, defines what food is, and the prohibition not to touch carcasses applies even to those animals which are otherwise kosher. We read,

And when any of the beasts which are yours for food dies, he who touches its carcass becomes unclean until evening.  (Lev 11:39)

And after the Eternal has instructed what food is and what is not, He concludes by saying in His Name, “For I am the Eternal, your Elohim, and you shall set yourselves apart”. For indeed, as He is set apart so shall His people be in not eating what is not food. Thus, this commandment makes all who are called in His Name liable.

Both Leviticus 11:7 and Deuteronomy 14:8 name only one animal, which has split hoofs but does not chew its cud: the swine. The Hebrew word for swine, pig, hog, or wild boar, or its flesh, is חֲזִיר chazir. The etymology of this word is obscure. According to Brown-Driver-Briggs Dictionary, the word חֲזִיר chazir has come in Hebrew language from an unused root in the Scripture which probably means to enclose (perhaps as pigs are usually kept enclosed in a pen due to the filthiness they make). It is quite impossible to suppose that the meaning of this word therefore as “full circle” is implied by its application, i.e., something that is subject to reversal. Hence, the Sages has interpreted the unused root of חֲזִיר chazir to mean “to return”. Based on this conclusion, they teach that the pig would return to become permitted as food in the future, as a kosher pig.

Another source for this notion is found in the Book of Job, wherein we read in Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation,

Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.  (Job 14:4 JPS)

Rabbis offer an opposite translation from this verse. It is remarkable that they read the last words in the verse lo echad!, “No one!” not as a statement but as a question as if it said lo echad?, “Not One?”. The Hebrew language allows an alternative translation, indeed from a purely grammar point of view, but this turns the meaning of the whole verse to the opposite. What sense is there in their saying, lo echad?, “Not One?” This translation is well grounded in the Hebrew grammar but not in the context of Leviticus 11. In such a reading, it appears that the Creator can make the prohibited flesh permitted to eat and He “return” swine to the list of kosher animals. But we wonder: Where in the Scripture can such a list be found prior to the giving the Torah at Sinai? And similarly: Where does the Scripture say that the patriarchs, Avraham, Yitschak, and Ya’akov-Israel, ate flesh of swine, for they were shepherds not swine herders? This translation is therefore not binding and cannot be offered as proof that in the Messianic Age pig will become kosher.

To what return the Hebrew word חֲזִיר chazir alludes in our verse in Leviticus? Perhaps the following verse can serve as an illustration to what we intend to say. The answer to these questions has been spelled out in a proverb. In Proverbs, we read verse 11,

As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.  (Pro 26:11)

The apostle quoting this proverb has added the pig to the metaphor in order to strengthen his point against the false prophets who presumptuously speak in the Name of the Eternal. We read from the second epistle of Shimon,

For them the proverb has proved true, “A dog returns to his own vomit” and, “A washed sow* returns to her rolling in the mud”.  (2Pe 2:22) *”Sow” is an adult female hog.

“Swine returns to her rolling in the mud”! This is the return the proverb alludes to: a return to the mud where swine belongs to.

Therefore, the interpretation of the rabbis that in the Messianic Age, the Creator would make the pigs chew the cud does not seem to be correct, for why would Scripture have made the notion in Leviticus, and not stated clearly what it will be, as it does in all other places when speaking of the end of times? The correct interpretation appears to be that as swine is unclean creature by nature on account of its filthiness, it will always return to the mud even if it is washed clean.

One final thought. Eating kosher is a matter of character, not just consumption. How one stands before the Eternal is a matter of free will embedded deeply as an integral part of the soul. The Supernal One, who brought His people up from Egypt, did not do it just to impose these restrictions on them. In fact, if He had taken them out of Egypt solely in order to forbid them to eat these creatures, which the Egyptians ate, it would have been good enough for them to comply with. But by declaring “For I am the Eternal, your Elohim, and you shall set yourselves apart, for I am set-apart”, He wanted His people to be prepared for the World to Come and not defile themselves by eating any creature which He created to serve other purposes.

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May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days! 


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