Jews don’t eat pork. Well, a lot of Jews do, but observant Jews don’t. At least, not the Jews who observe the rule that prohibits them from eating pork.
The thing is, except for the ultra-Orthodox hardliners, the Jewish religion allows for a considerable amount of behavioral flexibility.
For example, growing up, I became aware of the “fifty-fifty” Jews, Jews who ate pork in restaurants, but would not allow pork in their homes. Then unaware of the “flexibility” arragement, this used to confuse me. Is the proscription about the forbidden food, or is is about where you eat it? For example:
“Can you eat it in the park?
Can you eat it in the dark?
Can you eat it sur la plage (on the beach)
Can you eat it in your garage?”
As Dr. Seuss might have rhymed, if the subject had caught his fancy, and he thought it had commercial possibilities, which it hasn’t, so he didn’t.
In any case, Jews are forbidden from eating pork, though not everyone adheres to that. The interesting question, at least to me, as a seeker after truth, or even better, a good story, is how this proscription against eating pork originated?
Over the years, I’ve heard many illuminating explanations, but I generally, almost deliberately it appears, forget them. Sometimes, I like questions to remain unanswered. Why? I believe I will leave that one unanswered as well. But it may simply have to do with my enjoying making stuff up.
Which I will now attempt to do.
It appears to me that, sometimes, religious, as well as other affiliatory rules, are entirely arbitrary, beyond the fact that they exist. A group of people are starting a new religion. And they know instinctively that you can’t establish a religion where you do exactly the same things that everyone else is doing; otherwise, no one will be aware you established a new religion.
“What exactly is involved in this new religion?”
“You know the things you do now?”
“You just keep doing them. You wanna join?”
“I think I’m already in it.”
“Except now you pay dues.”
“Oh. Then, no.”
To stand out, the founders of the new religion have to accumulate, and codify – “Written in stone” is the most authoritative codification, so when people say, “Well, it’s not written in stone”, you can say, “I’m afraid it is.” – in order to establish a unique set of distinguishing beliefs. That way, you can come up to people and say,
“We’re starting a new religion.”
And when they ask,
“What’s it in?”
You can tell them.
“We are commanded to eat a lot of ice cream.”
“I like ice cream. I’m in.”
Of course, the “can” rules are invariably more appealing than the “can’ts.”
“You can’t covet your neighbor’s wife.”
“Oh, man! Have you seen her? And they never close their drapes.”
Some proscriptions are admittedly difficult. The trick is come up with a list of them that are onerous enough to make you feel virtuous when you adhere to them – therefore making the religion appear respectably demanding – but not so rigorous that you don’t want to join.
And for that, you need a committee. To come up with a provisional list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” that you then present to the “Executive Board” for their final adjudication, to keep you from going off the deep end.
“In our religion, we dance with big snakes.”
“Yeah, that’s out.”
Imagine then, a gathering of start-up co-religionists, called “The Committee In Charge Of What Jews Don’t Eat.” Two of the committee members are Bernie and Sol. They are waiting for the third member to arrive.
BERNIE, ANXIOUSLY CHECKING HIS HOURGLASS.
BERNIE: “I don’t know. Should we wait for Murray? Or should we just start?”
SOL: “He’s always late.”
“It’s a habit. The man would be late for his own funeral. Which, by the way, is a saying I have never understood.”
“As you’ve informed me. Many times.”
“How can a person be late for their own funeral? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Mourners are sitting around at the funeral, and you’re not there. But that’s got nothing to do with you. You’re dead. Somebody else has to bring you to “your own” funeral. If you’re late, it’s their fault. Of course, if the funeral were held at the place where you died…but then, you wouldn’t be late. You’d be the first one there.”
“If you don’t mind…”
“Fine. I’ve been considering this assignment of ours. I think it’s a good idea that we have rules about foods our people don’t eat.”
“I’m delighted that you agree.”
“I mean, it’s classy, you know? ‘We’re sacrificing for our beliefs.’ People respect that in a religion.”
“And what do you propose we sacrifice?”
“Okay, how’s this? ‘We don’t eat worms.’”
“I beg your pardon?”
“We never touch ‘em. They offer you worms, you say, ‘Sorry. I’m Jewish.’”
“That’s a terrible suggestion.”
“Why? You like worms?”
“Nobody likes worms.”
“True, but we’re not trying to recruit fish into our religion. If we were, however, I would be entirely on board.”
“Then you like it.”
“Only in the context of attracting fish to the religion, which we have absolutely no interest in doing.”
“But, in that context, it does have merit.”
“Minimal. How about this one? ‘No bread.’”
“Our religion is against bread?”
“We’re not against bread. We just don’t eat it.”
“I like bread.”
“Is it your favorite food in the world?”
“No, that’s lamb chops. But I eat bread all the time.”
“So it’s a hardship, but not a terrible hardship. Which is exactly what we’re looking for.”
“No bread. “
“It seems like it could be anything. ‘No potatoes.’ Shouldn’t there be some rationale behind the rule? ‘We don’t eat bread because…?’”
“Have you ever heard the saying, ‘Not by bread alone’?”00000000000000
“Yeah. It means there’s more to life than nourishing your body. There’s, like, a spiritual element as well.”
“Well, we’ll underscore that distinction by eating no bread at all.”
“Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, you know, Passover, we don’t eat bread for eight days. I could barely handle that. By the fifth day, I’m going, ‘I could really use some bread.’ Now you’re saying no bread at all? Forgive me, but it’s…almost punitive.“
“It’s better than your stupid ‘No worms.’”
“Hey, let’s not get personal, okay?”
“Sorry. Have you got anything else?”
“’We don’t eat marzipan.’”
“It’s a candy. We deprive ourselves of a treat.”
“A lot of people don’t like marzipan.”
“Then they lucked out.”
“What about this: ‘No liquids on alternate days.’”
“In the summer?”
“The year round.”
“Liquids every second day. Oh, that’s perfect. Everyone else is walking around, sipping water out of their gourds, and our people are falling down in the street. Yeah, that’ll attract people to our fold. ‘Join the Jews, and drop dead from dehydration.’ I mean, that is just cruel!”
“Look, I can see where this is going. I’m going to hate all your ideas…”
“Wait! ‘We don’t eat raw halibut.’”
“As I was saying…I am going to find fault with your suggestions. And you’ll be unhappy with mine.”
“If there’s more like that ‘water torture’ thing. No, you’re right. That’s probably why they put three of us on this committee – so somebody could break the tie. And then stupid Murray doesn’t show up.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“I think he’s got a girl in Be’er Sheba. You know, this isn't the first time he's let us down. The guy really needs to be taught a lesson.”
SUDDENLY, THE PROVERBIAL LIGHTBULB BEGINS TO GLOW ABOVE SOL’S HEAD.
“Bernie, I think we’ve got it!”
THE TIME: THE FOLLOWING MORNING
THE PLACE: MURRAY’S FARM
THE TWO MEMBERS OF “THE COMMITTEE IN CHARGE OF WHAT JEWS DON’T EAT” ARRIVE TO INFORM THE THIRD COMMITTEE MEMBER OF THEIR PREVIOUS NIGHT’S DECISION. MURRAY IS TENDING TO HIS PIGS.