Monday, April 27, 2009

The Greatly Unkosher Swine Flu

There is a wonderful scene in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, where Robin Hood slams down a boar on a large dining table in front of Prince John. The unflappable Prince, portrayed by the very Jewish Richard Lewis, mutters to himself, "Treif."
There is an old saying in Jewish tradition of how shellfish is treif, but pork is anti-Semitic. This tradition stems from its use throughout history as a means of humiliating Jews. So it is not surprising Jewish communities are stating how they are not too concerned with the Swine flu because we pray in kosher institutions.
But all kidding aside, the notion of pandemics raises not just a troubling concern for the worldwide community, but for Jews as well. It has not always easy to be a Jew in times of great uncertainty. One of the greatest examples of this was the black plague where an estimated third of all of Europe died. Yet it appeared many Jews were spared this horrendous disease because they bathed frequently and worked hard to keep rats (another non-kosher animal) out of their homes. Sadly many Christian communities took this survival as an indicator of how Jewish communities were poisoning the wells of the local Christians and went on to destroy many of the surrounding Jewish communities. Though we should note there are still some in the world today who are blaming Jews for the swine flu despite our persistent historical aversion to all things pork (See link below).
Blaming the "other" for one's problems appears to be an inherent part of the human condition including the ever-present accusation of orchestrating the financial collapse traumatizing many of the world's economies.
So in an age of pandemics, epidemics, and economic implosions, it would be my fondest hope that the world would learn from its history and focus on actual causes and not so blindly blame those who would prefer pastrami on rye to ham on white.
At least for the swine flu, the doctor says have a bowl of bubbe's chicken soup with knaydelach, which should work even on the un-kosherly named H1N1.

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