For a Pig, It’s Kosher – Re’eh 5782

D'var Torah | Deuteronomy

One of the most influential authorities at the end of the nineteenth century was Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (1816-1893), known by his acronym, NeTziV. As a prominent Lithuanian religious authority, people came to him with all kinds of questions, from ritual practice to attitudes towards others. Living at a time of considerable assimilation, it was not unexpected that he was asked about the publication of a book written by a yeshiva-trained but apostate Jew. The book did include passages that were not only inoffensive but actually helpful. Could religious Jews read this book? Rabbi Berlin responded with a story.


Once there was a wealthy man of status who had but one daughter. She was learned and pious. Suddenly, she took sick with a virile, life-threatening disease. The doctors who were consulted came to the consensus that the only remedy that would improve her condition would be eating pork. The concerned father was willing to go along with the prescription but his daughter was horrified. The Torah specifically declares pork to be impure (Deuteronomy 14:8). She would rather die than eat pork. Time passed and her condition deteriorated. Ultimately, the father was able to convince his daughter to eat the pork since the Torah commands us to live.  She reluctantly agreed but on one condition: the pig from which the pork would come had to be slaughtered according to the Jewish laws of proper slaughter.


Accepting her requirement, the pig was slaughtered according to the laws of shehitah. However, in checking the lungs of the slaughtered pig, the Jewish overseer found an adhesion in the lung that required consultation with a rabbi expert in these matters. The daughter refused to eat the pork until the consulted expert would approve. The rabbi examined the meat for more than an hour but refused to offer a judgment. They implored him over and over again until the rabbi finally said: “I do not know how to answer you. I could say that had this animal been a permitted one I would rule it kosher. But when dealing with a pig, how can I approve?” Likewise, Rabbi Berlin could not sanction such a book.


There is, however, an alternative version of this story that I heard from my esteemed teacher Rabbi Professor Moshe Zucker, of sainted memory. In the alternative version the rabbi who checked the meat concluded that: “For a pig, it is kosher.”  When the standards of judgment change, the results can be quite different.




Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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