Religious restrictions on the consumption of pork

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Religious restrictions on the consumption of pork are a tradition in the Ancient Near East. Swine were prohibited in ancient Syria[1] and Phoenicia,[2] and the pig and its flesh represented a taboo observed, Strabo noted, at Comana in Pontus[3] A lost poem of Hermesianax, reported centuries later by the traveller Pausanias, reported an etiological myth of Attis destroyed by a supernatural boar to account for the fact that "in consequence of these events the Galatians who inhabit Pessinous do not touch pork".[4] It is speculated that chickens supplanted pigs as a more portable and efficient source of protein leading to the religious restrictions.[5]

Such restrictions exist in Jewish dietary laws (Kashrut) and in Islamic dietary laws (Halal). They are mandated by the Hebrew Bible, and the Muslim Quran, respectively. Among many Christian sects, the restrictions were interpreted to be lifted by Peter's vision of a sheet with animals. However, Seventh-day Adventists consider pork taboo, along with other foods forbidden by Jewish law. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church[6] does not permit pork consumption, while the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is divided on the subject.[7]

Prohibitions in the Hebrew Bible

And the pig, because it has a cloven hoof that is completely split, but will not regurgitate its cud; it is unclean for you. You shall not eat of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.

And the pig, because it has a split hoof, but does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You shall neither eat of their flesh nor touch their carcass.

Prohibition of pork consumption in Jewish law

According to Jewish law, pork is one of a number of foods forbidden to Jews. These foods are known as "non-kosher" foods. In order for a meat to be kosher, it must first come from a kosher animal. A kosher animal must be a ruminant and have split hooves; therefore, cows, sheep, goats and deer are all kosher, whereas pigs (having only one sign of kashrut) are not kosher.[8]

During the persecutions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Greeks forced the Jews to slaughter pigs in the Temple in Jerusalem, which did not improve the image of pork. There is, however, no aversion to the pig as an animal, that it is commonly cited as an example of what is not kosher is largely due to its prevalence.

Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher and legal codifier, who was also court physician to the Muslim sultan Saladin in the 12th century, understands the dietary laws chiefly as a means of keeping the body healthy. He argued that the meat of the forbidden animals, birds, and fish is unwholesome and indigestible. According to Maimonides, at first glance, this does not apply to pork, which does not appear to be harmful. Yet, Maimonides observes, the pig is a filthy animal and if swine were used for food, marketplaces and even houses would be dirtier than latrines.[9]

Rashi (the primary Jewish commentator on the Bible and Talmud) lists the prohibition of pig as a law whose reason is not known, and may therefore be derided by others as making no sense.[10]

The Chinuch Sefer HaChinuch [11] (an early work of Halachah) gives a general overview of the Jewish dietary laws. He writes 'And if there are any reasons for the dietary laws which are unknown to us or those knowledgeable in the health field, do not wonder about them, for the true Healer that warns us against them is smarter than us, and smarter than the doctors'.

The cultural materialistic anthropologist Marvin Harris thinks that the main reason for prohibiting consumption of pork was ecological-economical. Pigs require water and shady woods with seeds, but those conditions are scarce in Israel and the Middle East. Unlike many other forms of livestock, pigs are omnivorous scavengers, eating virtually anything they come across, including carrion and refuse. This was deemed unclean, hence a Middle Eastern society keeping large stocks of pigs would destroy their ecosystem.

Prohibition of pork consumption in Islamic law

One example of verses from the Quran on pig consumption:

He has made unlawful for you that which dies of itself and blood and the flesh of swine and that on which the name of any other than Allah has been invoked. But he who is driven by necessity, being neither disobedient nor exceeding the limit, then surely, God is Most Forgiving, Merciful.[12]

Unlike Judaism, followers are only told they cannot consume the flesh of swine.


Scottish pork taboo was Donald Alexander Mackenzie's phrase for discussing an aversion to pork among Scots, particularly Highlanders, which he believed stemmed from an ancient taboo. Several writers who confirm that there was a prejudice against pork, or a superstitious attitude toward pigs, do not see it in terms of a taboo related to an ancient cult. Any prejudice is generally agreed to have disappeared by 1800.

See also


  1. Lucian of Samosata notes the prohibition of pork for followers of the Dea Syria (Atargatis, the 'Syrian goddess') in De dea Syria, noted in Jan N. Bremmer, "Attis: A Greek God in Anatolian Pessinous and Catullan Rome", Mnemosyne, Fourth Series, 57.5, (2004:534–573) p. 538.
  2. As the pagan Porphyry of Tyre noted in De abstinentia ab esu animalium, late third century CE.
  3. Strabo, xii.8.9.
  4. Noted in Bremmer 2004:538 and notes. Bremmer notes that the taboo regarding pork for followers of Attis is reported in Julian, Orationes v.17.
  5. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  6. Charles Kong Soo Ethiopian Holy Week clashes with Christians' 21 April 2011 Trinidad and Tobago Guardian Retrieved 11 March 2012
  7. "Egypt Copts Divided Over Pork". 25 August 2007. Retrieved 8 March 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Soul Food The Jewish Dietary Laws". 1999-02-06. Retrieved 2012-09-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Maimonides, A Guide for the Perplexed III:48
  10. Rashi on Leviticus 18:4
  11. Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 73
  12. Quran, Al-Baqara 2:173

External links