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the Talmud. Insights Into the Jewish Abomination of Pork

jan peczkis|Friday, July 31, 2015

This book, authored by Talmudic scholar Adin Steinsaltz, provides a useful general overview of Jewish beliefs and customs, notably those of the Talmud. However, I agree with those reviewers who feel that the book is too shallow, that it provides insufficient concrete examples to illustrate its main points, and that one of its chief shortcomings is an absence of specific reference to Talmudic verses.

Unfortunately, author Adin Steinsaltz repeats the misconception that the Christian view of marriage is that of a necessary evil. (p. 141). This is far from the truth. In fact, in Roman Catholicism, marriage is a sacred act before God (The Sacrament of Matrimony).

I now focus on a number of notable themes:


The oral law, which eventually became the Talmud, is commonly believed to date back to the time of Moses and the written law (Torah). However, Talmudic scholar Adin Steinsaltz points out that evidence for the existence of a formal Oral Law, for at least the first several centuries after Moses, is tenuous. He comments, (quote) We know very little of the origins and early development of the oral law, since information on cultural and spiritual life in the First Temple era is generally sparse. But from various hints in the Bible, we can ascertain how the oral law evolved to interpret and complement written legislation. (unquote). (pp. 10-11).

What about Jews who reject the oral law? Steinsaltz notes that the Sadducees, and—much later—the Karaites, ended up creating their own oral tradition. (p. 21).


By way of introduction, Steinsaltz comments, (quote) In many ways the Talmud is the most important book in Jewish culture, the backbone of creativity and of national life. (unquote). (p. 3).

The author also shows the relevance of ongoing Talmudic scholarship in the revitalizing of Jewish communities. Steinsaltz writes, (quote) Some communities did not produce scholars from their midst because of material poverty, lack of suitable candidates (as the result of the decrees of authorities), or indifference. Whatever the reason, however, the fact is they did not survive for long. In the course of Jewish history, various ethnic communities have tried to maintain their Judaism, sometimes even on a strictly traditional basis, without Talmudic scholarship. The same process occurred in all of them, the components of their Judaism were weakened and began to disintegrate, the deeper significance of issues was no longer fully understood, and inappropriate interpretations were evolved, so that despite sincere efforts to maintain traditions, such communities lost their vitality and died out. Sometimes the process was protracted, with tradition gradually becoming more and more a matter of outward show for lack of sages capable of endowing it with new life, and assimilation inevitably followed. (unquote). (p. 267).

The foregoing, of course, has implications for other religions. Much the same revitalizing principles can very much apply to Christian communities—to keep them from drifting into dead orthodoxy, dead formalism, indifferentism, and decline.


We are commonly told that the Talmudic terms for pagans, and other unsavory peoples, do not apply to Christians. In contrast, Steinsaltz points out that, at least sometimes, the word MIN does in fact apply to Christians. He writes, (quote) Wherever the text used the word MIN (heretic, originally applied to Gnostic sects and rarely to Christians), he [the censor] changed it to read Sadducee or Epicurean. (unquote). (p. 84). The next question is, “How rarely?”


Although there are many different TREYF (non-kosher) foods in existence, the pig is especially repulsive to Jews. Steinsaltz suggests some possible reasons for this, (quote) The particular emotional attitude toward the eating of the pig is noted in Talmudic sources. The ban is no stricter than that against the consumption of horse or camel flesh, yet the Talmud says: “Cursed is he who grows pigs.” There was apparently some historical source for this particular interdict, which is not clear to us. It is possible that the peculiarly intense reaction was the result of the Seleucid attempt to force the Jews to eat and sacrifice pigs, and it may be the consequence of the fact that one of the accepted symbols of the Roman legions (especially those that fought in Palestine) was the pig. (unquote). (p. 187).

[The foregoing has implications beyond the Laws of Kashrus. In his widely-read Holocaust classic, MAUS, Jewish author Art Spiegelman portrays Poles as pigs. He would have us believe that it is innocuous because, after all, in MAUS, all the characters are animals. Germans are cats and Jews are mice. The status of the pig, in Jewish ideation, is unambiguous. Clearly, Polonophobe Art Spiegelman is being very disingenuous.]
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