Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sound Off 02-05-09

So, speaking of rabbinical laws, please answer today's question. If you know of a serious answer to this, I'd like to hear it. If you don't, feel free to let your imagination run wild.

Why does God hate ham?


  1. Pigs require water and shady woods with seeds, but those conditions are scarce in the areas represented in the Old Testement. They cannot forage grass like cattle, goats, and sheep so they compete with humans for grain. Also pigs are omnivorous scavengers that eat anything they come across including dead animals and refuse. So in the context of Leviticus and Deuteronomy it was in the Israelites best intrest not to keep pigs.

    I think I'll get up early so that I have time to get a sausage egg McMuffin tomorrow.

  2. Out of curiousity... do you choose to have any dietary restrictions?

  3. Hello Zee,

    Though pigs were not consumed by the Israelites (per the Pentateuch), there was no prohibition against keeping them as domestic animals anymore than there was a prohibition against keeping dogs. From what I understand about return-on-investment from swine, the pig will produce a significant caloric return in a very short time. A piglet born in May will be ready for slaughter in November, and here meat is easy to salt and smoke for preservation (unlike bovine meat which does not keep as long).

    Yes, pigs are not foragers nor are they ruminants; hence, they would eat grain. Yet, they did not need to compete with the agriculturalist as grain production generally out-paced local human consumption. The grain component of swine diet would be sustainable. Also, pigs are good at breaking up fallow soil and preparing it for planting. They eat out the roots and tubers while breaking up the earth.

    Jews in the Middle Ages often kept swine on their farms for some of the functions mentioned above but also for waste consumption. I do not have any immediate documentation to present, but I have read that the ancient Israelites likely kept swine for similar reasons yet they had to restrict their reproduction because they can be prolific.

    Why restrict ham? As a non-ham-eating Christian, I used to explain to my ham-eating Christian brethren that the reason God forbade ham was for health reasons. I used to argue that pig was unhealthy, even now, for consumption. Later, as a non-ham-eating Jew, I found that argument to be shallow. Ham today is just fine to eat. There is no more risk today to eat pig than to eat any other commercially-produced meat. I then came to the conclusion that eschewing the pig was a matter of faith. Even though I did not understand why pig was forbidden, I obeyed as a matter of faith. The Rabbis consider obedience to a commandment in the absence of a rational explanation is more meritorious than the same observance with an explanation.

    Pig was eschewed by many in the the Ancient Middle East. The Babylonians, for example, considered it unclean for mythical reasons. The upper-class Egyptians also avoided pig for reasons that tie into their mythology. I think that the reasons pig avoidance legislation are grounded in the same socio-cultural fabric of the Babylonian and Egyptian avoidance of pig. God does not hate ham, God is just bound by the socio-cultural horizons of the chosen people.

  4. one more note...

    Biggums and I still generally avoid pig. After years of not eating pig, it is disgusting to us. I often feel the same about shellfish and other "unkosher" foods. Yet, I will not hide it, I do eat pig bacon a few times a is too much like turkey bacon so it does not feel as gross. I also have eaten shellfish, and, to my surprise, I was not struck down by lighting.

  5. I understand your points but it still seems logical to me that keeping a number of pigs for consumption in the desert may not be in the best interest of the people there.

    I don't have any dietary restrictions but I prefer to eat cruelty-free meat. Personally I think that pig has the most tasteful flesh of any animal.

    People all over the United States and Europe are trying to stop some Asian countries from eating dog. Dog tastes better then goat in my opinion. Why do so many people hate dogs?

  6. Hello Zee,

    Consider that Israel-Palestine 2500 years ago was not desert. Forests covered much of the area (Lebanon and Samaria), and the soil was well sustained by extensive grasses peppered with trees in the South. Modern conditions in Israel-Palestine would make it difficult to keep even bovines.

    I generally gravitate toward cruelty-free meats and/or organics. However, we can't always afford the premium attached to them. I agree that pig is extremely tasty. I love bacon.

    Yesterday in Biggums class, her Muslim Libyan students were mocking the Korean students for eating dog. Many of the Korean students replied stating that they have never eaten dog. And, the Korean students mocked the Muslim Libyans for eating camel. Really, the choice of flesh is cultural. Koreans and many Asians do keep dogs as pets. Many Westerners often question how a person could eat dog since they are such nice pets. But, many Westerners become fond of live pigs (e.g. pot belly pigs) or chickens which we eat.

  7. Ahhh, sounds like they know about the American way. Mock anyone that does something different then you even if it is just based on a stereotype and not the truth.

  8. question to consider...

    If you are a biblical theist and believe that God stated that ham is abominable in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, why do you eat ham?

  9. I think the application was intended for a paticular context and I don't think that it applies to me.

  10. so do you think that God changes his mind?

  11. No. I think it served a purpose when He commanded it but other things change. There is a lot of evidence of that in the Bible. The first example that comes to mind is divorce.

  12. I have contributed commentary at my blog in response to your posts here.

  13. Tandi said, "you may want to disallow referring to them as “typical ignorant Christians who do not think for themselves.” You may also want to suggest that contributors refrain from using the f word and other obscenities."

    Philosobot, Scriptulicious, Biggums: Would you rather I censor myself?

  14. I also have contributed commentary at my blog in response.

  15. Hello Zee,

    You will probably get three different answers to your question about that word from us. I would probably give a "no," though I might be convinced otherwise. Philo would probably "why not?" and Biggums would respond with her typical contemplative silence.

    At this point, Zee, we'll let you know if it gets out of hand.

  16. Why does God hate ham?

    Because the aroma of steak makes a superior burnt offering.

    Ask any steak lover, and they'll tell you so.


    The Bible Unearthed is an archeological survey of the holy land. But the implications of the excavations revel that the Israelites emerged out of Canaan as opposed to sacking Canaan after the alleged Exodus from Egypt.

    A revolt occurred in Canaan and many of the lower class people moved up to the hills and started a group of settlements. These settlements were crude compared to lower Canaan.

    These were the first archeological signs of the Israelites according to the Bible Unearthed. And the first thing that made the Israelis stand out besides their new settlements was the diminishing amount of pig bone findings in excavations. As excavations moved through the strata of earth, pig bones eventually vanished from their findings.

    Perhaps the custom came first, then the Biblical law later.

    Why did pork lose it's importance? I can't say. Maybe this was a sign of their revolt. A believer would say it was just part of the dietary law.

    I'll perhaps try to review that chapter in more detail and report what it's perspective is.

    I like ham. I eat ham. But if I were a deity, I'd want steak for my offerings.

    As for my people -- why, they can eat whatever they want!

  17. I looked up nutritional data for beef, chicken and pork. I tried to compare 1 oz. servings that were prepared similarly (all roasted)


    Among these three cuts, pork scored highest in protein and nutrients. It's fat, calories from fat, total calories, and cholesterol were similar to the other two.

    And its taste? Awesome!

  18. Hello Uruk,

    The Bible Unearthed is a good read. I also enjoyed David and Solomon for the same reasons. I noticed in your profile that you have read The Secret Book by Richard Elliot Friedman. Having just recently finished his Hidden Face of God, I would like to read this as well. Though I suspect that it will be a reiteration of what I generally know about and from higher criticism. Knowing his writing style, I expect it to yet be quite insightful.

  19. Scriptulicious:

    Hi again.

    I got both the The Bible with Sources Reveled and The Hidden Book of the Bible at the same time. Reading one or the other is probably all you'd want to read between those two books.

    However, I cannot compare the Hidden Face of God with the Hidden Book of the Bible. But, I think you'll enjoy it.

    Yes, it will reiterate what you probably know about higher criticism. But, what you may get out of it is his argument for the "base" narrative of the Old Testament. Friedman claims that criticism can revel what the "original" Biblical narrative might have been, before all the extra editorial sources were added like the J, P, E, and D sources. I might not the source names exactly right, but I think you know what I mean.

    I think The Bible Unearthed touches on the various sources in it's first chapters. But not as deeply as Friedman goes with it. Unearthed has another whole direction to take.

    As for pork-- well, the Bible Unearthed doesn't say why they stopped eating it. The authors only speculate that as the Israelites emerged as their own clan, they may have decided to adopt dietary laws and other various customs to separate themselves from the Canaanites. Pork was clearly eaten among the Canaanites. Pork consumption stopped among the emerging Israelites, however. The whole deal about God commanding this of them probably came along later. Or at least, didn't get written into any sort of text until much later.

    Or maybe it's like I said earlier-- God is a steak lovin' kind of God.