Noshin': Israeli Jew Stirs Up Controversy with Pork Cookbook

Picture Cookbook, Editors of Life Magazine, 1961

Noshin’ columnist Sara Rice is in Israel for the month of January, enjoying the country’s sights, sounds and tastes (we hope she brings back some recipes!). This week’s Noshin’ column is a guest post by Leora Maccabee.
This week, Israeli Jew and retired cardiologist Dr. Eli Landau is launching Israel’s first ever cookbook for pork. You’ve got to admit that an Israeli willing to publish a cookbook on pork has guts.  Many Jews eat pork, but few would dare write a cookbook for the meat. What a shanda!
And really, if you’re going to be crazy and write about a food so treyf, in a country so Jewish, why not pick something  tasty, like shrimp or oysters?
Israelis don’t even call the meat “pork” in restaurants. It’s referred to in code as Basar Lavan, or ‘white meat.’ Thus the reason for the name for Dr. Landau’s book, “The White Book for the New Year.” Dr. Landau had to publish the book himself – no Israeli publisher would touch it. When asked by a reporter what he thought of Jews (and Muslims) in Israel who would be offended by his book, Dr. Landau said, “I don’t bother them, they shouldn’t bother me. Live and let live.”
Good luck on that book tour, Dr. Laundau.
So what’s the big deal? Why not eat pork? And is eating pork worse than eating shrimp?
According to the Rabbis, eating pork was worse than eating the meat of another unkosher animal. Some say that it was a spiritual issue, or a cleanliness of the animal issue, but whatever the original rationale, with certain laws, we’re told a rule is a rule. The prohibition against eating pork actually falls into the category of hukkim, or laws that are above human comprehension.
It doesn’t help that throughout the generations our enemies have deliberately used pigs to shame and defile our people and our Jewish institutions.
Whether you’re a big fan of bacon cheeseburgers, or never touch the stuff, you’re probably wondering, if the meat is so prohibited by Jews, what’s it doing in the Jewish state?
In his article “How the Holy Land Got a Pork Habit,” Jeff Yoskowitz blames the slow creep of pork onto the plates of more and more Israelis as a product of Russian immigration to the country in the 1990s, and the exposure of Israelis to prosciutto, chorizo and sausage on their post-Army trips to Europe and other destinations. In 2007, Yoskowitz wrote that there were 30 operational pig-breeding farms in Israel which annually breed around 150,000 new pigs.
But pig raising (and eating) in Israel is not new. In fact, since the 1950s, Israeli laws have severely restricted the raising and sale of pigs. In their article “Pig in a Poke,” faculty at Bar Ilan University summarized the history of Israel’s laws on the subject, and the legal battles that resulted.
In 1956 Israel passed a law giving town and city governments the power to forbid or restrict the raising of pigs and marketing of pork products. In 1962 Israel passed another law banning pigs from being raised or kept in Jewish communities for the purpose of food (zoos and research are okay). Since then, several Israeli towns and cities have passed laws forbidding or restricting the sale of pork.
So what do you think of an Israeli Jew writing about how to cook pork?  Add your thoughts to the comments.
Want more information on this subject? Check out Outlawed Pigs: Law, Religion, and Culture in Israel by Daphne Barak-Erez.
(Photo: larry&flo)