Friday, June 19, 2009

Swine Flu

One of the more poignant aspects of the 'ethnicization' of Jewish Identity, is the substitution of sentiment for substance. I first encountered this, as a child, when my parents explained the difference between 'Kosher' and "kosher style.' The latter simply referred to treyfe food that was prepared according to Eastern European palates. Later I came to understand that satisfying those palates was a mode of Jewish self-identification, and therefore possessed some (limited) value. After all, no one would think of ordering a glass of milk with their treyfe pastrami.

The thing about such, non-substantial modes of affiliation is that they become ever more tenuous as time, and generations, go on. The latest example of this process of attenuation is the rise in pork consumption among Jews. Once this was the ultimate shibboleth. Now, however, savoring pork appears to be quite au courant. Personally, while the mangiatori del carne suina are pleased with the shock value that attends their new-found pleasure, I am far from shocked. In fact, I'm surprised it's taken this long.

The Jewish revulsion from pork is historically remarkable. In ancient times, Jews preferred to be martyred, rather than partake thereof. In post-Expulsion Spain, refraining from pork could be a one-way ticket to the torture chambers of the Inquisition. On the other hand, as Professor Haym Soloveitchik has noted, it is unclear why pork products elicited such a strong reaction when other (equally, or even more serious) forbidden foods did not. In any event, the identification of pork with the ultimately taboo is a long standing Jewish trait. [After all, how does one say absolutely forbidden in Yiddish? Chazer Treyf.]

At the end of the day, however, the emotional response to pork is simply an expression of a deeper commitment to Judaism and Jewry. As with many forms of ethnicity, after the regulae are dispensed with, it may maintain itself for a generation or so. However, in the absence of an axiological commitment (and the willingness to pay the price for that commitment) it will inevitably pass away. This is what happened to the taboo against intermarriage, and this is exactly the case with the taboo against pork.

So the pork-eating Jews may enjoy themselves. [חזיר געגעסען הנאה געהאט.] However, their newly found pleasure only confirms the fact that despite their sophisticated, post-modern, Jewish self-fashioning they (or their children) are on the precipice of Jewish oblivion.

That is the tragedy.


Nachum said...

I think it's worse than that: These hipsters are choosing, as their method of Jewish self-identification, something that perversely is consciously (that's the important word here) contrary to Jewish tradition, thus speeding up the process.

This isn't, say, Reform, that thinks that treif is OK. These people *know* Jewish tradition frowns on it, and thus they do it.

Ben Bayit said...

how far behind can 'moshech orlaso' be?

Y. Ben-David said...

I once came upon a reference to pigs in the Gemara and it referred to it by the euphemism "davar aher" (that other thing). I asked the Rav giving the shiur why this one particular issur merited being considered almost an obcene word. The Rav said that the pig is the symbol of hypocrisy (one kosher siman, the foot, it puts out in front, hiding its non-kosher siman-not chewing its cud) and this was an allusion to the Romans who ruled in Eretz Israel seeing as how they hypocritcally claimed they were civilized and supported the rule of law, while having destroyed the Beit HaMikdash, suppressed Torah learning and observance and countenanced barbaric practices like gladiatorial games. Thus, we see HAZAL was telling us that the pig was uniquely as symbol of hostility of everything that Torah and Judaism stand for.