A pig-headed verdict that undermines our heritage

It was a decision as predictable as it was disheartening.

The Monday, June 14, ruling by the High Court of Justice in favor of allowing the sale of pork in Israel is nothing less than a slap in the face to Jewish history, tradition and culture.

It marks yet another milestone in the campaign by certain sectors of society to de-Judaize the Jewish state and strip away any remaining vestiges of our collective heritage.

Only a jurist with the most tenuous of attachments to our past could possibly countenance such a decree. Indeed, there is something distasteful, even distressing, about the sight of nine Jewish justices sitting in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and issuing such a ruling. Sure, at first glance the court’s decision might appear eminently reasonable.

After all, from a purely free-market perspective, why should the state interfere in the marketplace? Proponents will argue that those opposed to the sale of pork can use all the tools available to them in a free society to persuade consumers of pig flesh to change their ways.

And yet, deep down, we know that while this approach may suit your average Western democracy, it just doesn’t cut it when it comes to Israel. For goodness sake, this is supposed to be a Jewish state. If we eliminate all our unique national customs and beliefs, we run the risk of diluting, and possibly even undermining, our collective sense of identity as a people.

Every society has its norms, its conventions and its habits, and the Jewish people are no different. Strictly speaking, there is no difference as far as Jewish law is concerned between eating a ham sandwich, dining on steamed lobster or downing a plate of shrimp. All are prohibited.

But, as we all know, refraining from pork has become a symbol — not just of fidelity to Jewish law, but of maintaining an attachment, however fragile or precarious, to the Jewish people.

More than 2,000 years ago, when the wicked Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus Epiphanes of the Chanukah story ruled over the land of Israel, it was decreed that eating pig would serve as a test of the Jews’ loyalty. Indeed, according to the Second Book of Maccabees (6:18-31), there were Jews who chose death rather than be forced to eat “the food which it is unlawful to taste even for love of life.”

In the Middle Ages, Spanish inquisitorial courts would often find people guilty of being “secret Jews” on the grounds that they refused to eat pork, thus suggesting that they covertly remained faithful to the ways of their forefathers. In the eyes of the Inquisition, declining to eat pig was considered sufficient reason to condemn a person to burn at the stake.

And so, by overturning regulations in three Israeli municipalities against the sale of pork, the High Court is essentially assaulting one of the most emotive symbols of Jewish faith and martyrdom.

Don’t be fooled by assertions that this is all about individual rights or personal freedoms. That is just a convenient cover for what is really at work here, which is nothing less than an all-out assault on the Jewish character of the state. Across the board, a concerted effort has been made in recent years to tear away the Jewish symbols of public life. Whether it is proposals to change the national anthem or abolish the chief rabbinate, the goal is the same: to transform Israel into “just another country” cut off from its distinctive past and oblivious to its eternal heritage.

The High Court’s pig-headed ruling, whether by intent or not, will help to bring this dubious goal one step closer to fruition.

Needless to say, the court sees little problem with the fact that restrictions are commonly imposed on the sale of various products for a variety of reasons ranging from firearms to alcohol to prescription drugs to certain kinds of pets. Nor does it seem troubled that the Communications Ministry limits the sale in Israel of particular models of fax machines it deems unacceptable.

But when it comes to outlawing pig and showing a modicum of respect for Jewish tradition, the justices suddenly insist on invoking the principle of individual autonomy. How convenient.

Ironically enough, on the very same day that Israel’s High Court was declaring war on the Divine, the U.S. Supreme Court was reaffirming respect for it. In a unanimous ruling, eight justices overturned a lower court’s decision, thereby preserving the phrase “one nation, under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The case involved a California atheist who had sued the government, seeking to ban the recitation of the pledge in his daughter’s school because it made reference to God.

While the Supreme Court’s decision was based on a technicality and did not address the underlying constitutional issues at stake, the result nonetheless was the same: America decided not to turn its back on its religious and cultural heritage, which it proudly and unabashedly embraces.

If only our esteemed judges in Jerusalem would learn from their example and no longer be ashamed to assert a little Jewish pride.

Pork has no place in Israel’s supermarkets or on its shelves, nor on the High Court’s agenda. This is, after all, a Jewish country, and that is what it must remain.

Michael Freund served as deputy director of communications and policy planning in the Prime Minister’s Office under Benjamin Netanyahu.