Religious restrictions on the consumption of pork

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Religious restrictions on the consumption of pork are a common food taboo, particularly in the Middle East among Jews and Muslims. 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] Concerning Abrahamic religions, clear restrictions exist in Jewish dietary laws (Kashrut) and in Islamic dietary laws (Halal).

Although Christianity is also an Abrahamic religion, most of its adherents do not follow these aspects of Mosaic law and are permitted to consume pork. However, Seventh-day Adventists consider pork taboo, along with other foods forbidden by Jewish law. The Eritrean Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church[5] do not permit pork consumption, while in the Balkans lard is considered impure. Hebrew Roots Movement adherents also do not consume pork.

Many Yazidis in Iraq regard pork as forbidden.[6]

Prohibitions in Jewish law[edit]

The Torah (Pentateuch) contains passages in Leviticus that lists the animals people are permitted to eat. It first qualifies that animals that have divided hooves and chew their cud may be consumed (Leviticus 11:3). Animals that have cloven hooves and chew their cud are ruminants such as cows, sheep, and deer. The text goes on to describe specific animals that are known and meet one, but not both, of those qualifications, thereby prohibiting their consumption. It does not elaborate on the exact reason for prohibition other than physical characteristics. Pigs are described in this section (Lev. 11:7-8) as prohibited because they have a cloven hoof but don't chew their cud. The ban on the consumption of pork is repeated in Deuteronomy 14:8.

During the Roman period, Jewish abstinence from pork consumption became one of the most identifiable features of Jewish religion to outsiders of the faith. One example appears in Tacitus' Histories 5.4.1-2. Because Jewish dietary restrictions on pork were well-known to non-Jews, foreign attempts of oppression and assimilation of Jewish populations into Hellenistic and Roman custom often involved attempting to force Jewish populations into consuming pork. According to 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:48, the Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes attempted to force Jews in his realm to consuming pork as a part of his attempted restrictions on the practice of Judaism. In addition, Philo of Alexandria records that during the Alexandrian riots (38) against Jewish communities in the city of Alexandria, some Alexandrian mobs also attempted to force Jews into consuming pork.[7] Some forms of Jewish Christianity also adopted these restrictions on the consumption of pork, as is noted in the Didascalia Apostolorum.[8]

Prohibitions in Islamic law[edit]

One example of verses from the Quran on pig consumption:

He (Allah -God- ) has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah . But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit], there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. -- Quran, Al-Baqarah 2:173[9]

The only things which are made unlawful for you are the flesh of dead animals, blood, pork and that which is not consecrated with the Name of God. But in an emergency, without the intention of transgression and rebellion, (it is not an offense for one to consume such things). God is certainly All-forgiving and All-merciful.[10] (16:115)

I do not find in what has been revealed to me anything forbidden for anyone who wants to eat unless it is carrion, outpoured blood and the flesh of swine, all of which is unclean (Quran Al An'am 6:145)

The prohibition of a certain food is also linked to Islamic Cosmology. Accordingly good and evil qualities are transferred by eating an object carrying a certain quality, that also affects the soul of human, the pig rendered with evil qualities.[11]

There are different schools of thought in Islam that offer different opinions on eating meat, other than pig which is unanimously forbidden, which includes cow, goat, chicken, and lamb. Some schools such as Shafi'e, teach that unless there is a clear prohibition in Quraan, one can eat the meat. The meat served in western countries, which are mostly governed by the people of the Book (Christians and Jews) is considered Halal by those schools of thought. Most Arabs follow this rule. Other schools of thought require that the meat be certified as Halal by ensuring Islamic slaughtering of the animals. Most South Asian Muslims follow that.

According to Sozomen, some Arabs in pre-Islamic Arabia had already traced their ancestry to Ishmael and had began to abstain from consumption of pork.[12]


According to Herodotus, the Scythians had a taboo against the pig, which was never offered in sacrifice, and apparently the Scythians loathed so much as to even keep swine within their lands.[13]

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.

Interpretations of restrictions[edit]

The cultural materialistic anthropologist Marvin Harris thinks that the main reason for prohibiting consumption of pork was ecological-economical.[14] Pigs require water and shady woods with seeds,[citation needed] but those conditions are scarce in the Middle East. Unlike many other forms of livestock, pigs are omnivorous scavengers, eating virtually anything they come across, including carrion and refuse, which was deemed unclean. Furthermore, a Middle Eastern society keeping large stocks of pigs could destroy their ecosystem.

It is speculated that chickens supplanted pigs as a more portable and efficient source of meat, and these practical concerns led to the religious restrictions.[15]

Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher, legal codifier, and court physician to the Muslim sultan Saladin in the 12th century, understood 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.[16]

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.[17]

The Chinuch Sefer HaChinuch[18] (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."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lucian of Samosata notes that they do indeed eat 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. ^ Charles Kong Soo Ethiopian Holy Week clashes with Christians' 21 April 2011 Trinidad and Tobago Guardian Retrieved 11 March 2012
  6. ^ Halil Savucu: Yeziden in Deutschland: Eine Religionsgemeinschaft zwischen Tradition, Integration und Assimilation Tectum Wissenschaftsverlag, Marburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-828-86547-1, Section 16 (German)
  7. ^ Jordan Rosenblum. "‘‘Why Do You Refuse to Eat Pork?’’ Jews, Food, and Identity in Roman Palestine". JQR 2010.
  8. ^ Holger Zellentin, The Qur'ans Legal Culture, pp. 82-89.
  9. ^ Quran, Al-Baqara 2:173
  10. ^ "The Quranic Arabic Corpus - Translation". Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  11. ^ Seyyed Hossein Nasr Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, An SUNY Press 1993 ISBN 978-1-438-41419-5 p. 70
  12. ^ Patricia Crone, "Pagan Arabs as God Fearers" in Islam and its Past, Oxford 2017, pg. 152
  13. ^ Macaulay (1904:315).
  14. ^ Harris, Marvin (1987). The Abominable Pig (PDF). The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig: Riddles of Food and Culture. Touchstone Books. ISBN 978-0671633080.
  15. ^ Redding, Richard W. (13 March 2015). "The Pig and the Chicken in the Middle East: Modeling Human Subsistence Behavior in the Archaeological Record Using Historical and Animal Husbandry Data". Journal of Archaeological Research. 23 (4): 325–368. doi:10.1007/s10814-015-9083-2. S2CID 144388956.
  16. ^ Maimonides, A Guide for the Perplexed III:48
  17. ^ Rashi on Leviticus 18:4
  18. ^ Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 73

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