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A case for eating bacon, for Jews

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Summer is upon us. Hence, it’s time to start cleaning out your barbecues and smokers in preparation for the warm nights and patio dinners.

I follow the United States Postal Service’s unofficial creed (“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”), and have been at it year-round.

What do I make? A bit of this and that. Steak, hamburgers, lamb, chicken, the occasional piece of fish, plus a fair amount of pulled pork, ribs, chops, sausages and, of course, bacon.

Please don’t feign an expression of shock and horror at the previous statement.

I’ve been eating pork (and shellfish) since I was a child, and have been agnostic for more than 30 years. While it’s obviously easy for me to ignore Jewish dietary laws, there are many practising Jews who eat the same things I do.

And you know it’s true.

Remember China House? It was a popular restaurant in Toronto’s Bathurst and Eglinton area that closed its doors in 2011, after 53 years in business. On a few occasions, my father and I went there and saw people we knew eating pork and shellfish dishes with great gusto after having attended synagogue that very day.


Some of them were embarrassed to admit this. We never understood why. It’s not like we were going to do anything different.

I’ve heard similar tales about this restaurant, and other restaurants in different cities and countries. Jews want to experience unique culinary dishes, but often feel restricted by religious teachings and customs. Hence, these private quests for forbidden food have become a guilty pleasure, and getting “caught” seems to be the proverbial cherry on the sundae (with a piece of chocolate-covered bacon to boot).

‘Some biblical scholars argue the Book of Leviticus was not originally meant to apply to the general public: its laws were meant for the priests of the Temple’

Well, I have some good news for all you bacon-eating Jews. Your dark days of eating delicious pig in a cloak-and-dagger fashion are finally over (maybe).

Elizabeth Sloane noted in a May 13 piece for Ha’aretz that Leviticus deals with “ritual, legal and moral practices” and “lays down the laws by which the Jewish People are supposed to live.” She highlights Chapter 11’s passage, when God says to Moses and Aaron, “Speak to the Children of Israel, saying, ‘These are the creatures that you may eat from all the animals that are on the earth.’”

This, in theory, explains why Jews are forbidden to eat pork. Or does it?

“Some biblical scholars,” wrote Sloane, “argue that the Book of Leviticus was not originally meant to apply to the general public: its laws were meant for the priests of the Temple.”

One of those scholars is Robert Gnuse, a professor in Loyola University’s religious studies department. He pointed out that “Historically, the rules on food and clothing found in the Book of Leviticus were meant exclusively for priests, just like the laws in the Hindu Code of Manu Smriti for Brahmin priests.”

This apparently changed during the period of captivity in Babylonia. Gnuse’s theory is that, “Someone from the priestly class in Babylon found a way to encourage the Jewish people living in exile to take on these laws in order to keep them together as a community.”

Hmm. Last I checked, Jews were free from their historical shackles – and community members have minds of their own.

You know what this means, don’t you? Bacon for everyone!

OK, let’s not jump too far ahead. The bacon-for-Jews analysis requires further discussion, interpretation and study from talmudic scholars to laypeople. We also have to respect the fact that some Jews won’t change their minds, for religious and/or personal reasons.

But it is nice to know that an intellectual counterpoint to Leviticus exists, and some of you can – and should – stop feeling guilty about eating bacon in public.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist, Washington Times contributor and TV/radio pundit, previously worked as a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.