Earlier this week, the German novelist and political activist, Günter Grass, died in Lübeck at the age of 87.
I highly doubt that you have ever waded through his dense prose; he was certainly not a writer for the mass market. Nevertheless, his turgid verbiage and rather pompous air, along with storylines that dissonantly combined moralizing angst and amoral characters, clearly did not deter the decision makers at the Swedish Academy.
In 1999 they awarded him the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature. In their award announcement, the judges fawningly praised him as someone ‘whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history’.
During the decades after the Second World War, Grass was a vocal spokesman for the cause of German atonement and contrition, pushing hard for social democracy, and advocating relentlessly for universal non-violence.
Despite his socialist leanings, he was an outspoken opponent of aggressive left-wing radicalism, and he also opposed the reunification of Germany in 1989 and 1990, asserting that a reconfigured Germany would inevitably reassert itself as a dominant and aggressive nation within the international community.
His own personal history was that of a child born into Nazism, and forced to grow up alongside the belligerent racism of his childhood milieu. He publicly acknowledged his membership of the notorious Hitler Youth, but everyone understood that no child growing up in those years could avoid it.
There was never any mention of him having been a willing Nazi who deliberately took part in the German war effort, or worse.
Then, in 2006, it was shockingly revealed that in 1945, as Nazi Germany was crumbling in defeat, Grass served as a combat soldier, not in the regular army, but in the infamous Waffen SS.
What was particularly stunning about this revelation was that at no time throughout his years of moralizing, and public efforts to help his country deal with its ignominious past, did he ever admit to or face up to his own shameful past.
Thoroughly discredited, Grass descended into crude anti-Semitism and bitter anti-Zionism.
In 2012, in a poem entitled ‘What Must Be Said’, he ludicrously compared Israel to Nazi Germany, with the protagonist of the poem depicted as an Iranian survivor of an imaginary Israeli nuclear attack on Iran.
There is no surprise in any of this. Günter Grass joins a long and terrible list of so-called peace-loving moralists and self-declared friends of the Jewish community, who later turn out to be the greatest antagonists of the Jews.
Grass had made such an effort to repel Germany’s Nazi past, and to somehow make-up for it, that it seemed inconceivable that he was what he actually turned out to be. Sometimes it is this kind of enemy that is the scariest of them all – the friend who is actually your enemy. And it is this exact idea that prompted our Talmudic sages to single out one non-kosher animal as particularly reprehensible.
In the Torah portion of Shemini we are given, for the first time, a definitive list of kosher and non-kosher animals and birds. Mammals, we are informed, are kosher if they are cloven hooved and ruminators.
As an example of a mammal that does not possess both of these features, the Torah identifies the pig. The pig is not a kosher animal, and its meat cannot be eaten, despite the fact that it has cloven hooves, and can be easily domesticated for meat consumption purposes – because it does not ruminate. The absence of this crucial feature means its meat is forbidden.
What is interesting about the pig is that while other non-kosher mammals are not considered ‘bad’, Jewish ritual law is particularly stringent when it comes to pigs, prohibiting not just the consumption of bacon and pork, but also the ownership of a pig farm, for example.
The Talmud even suggests that one should avoid saying the Hebrew word for pig. So why are the rules regarding pigs so draconian?
The Midrash, in a passage discussing Rome and its behavior as a ruling power, explains the hostile Jewish attitude towards pigs, and therefore towards the Romans, as follows:
הַחַזִיר הַזֶה כֶּשֶהוּא שוֹכֵב הוּא פּוֹשֵט טְלָפָיו לוֹמַר שֶאַנִי טָהוֹר כַּךְ אֵלוּ חוֹמְסִים וְגוֹזְלִים וּמַרְאִים עַצְמָם כְּשֵרִים
“When the pig lies down it stretches out its legs, as if to say ‘I am pure’. Similarly, these [descendants of Esav] plunder and steal, and portray themselves as honest.”
Rather than lie down on its legs and hooves while sleeping, as do the majority of mammals, the pig sleeps on its side, leaving its cloven hooves conspicuously visible.
The Midrash is suggesting that this instinctive behavior is a deliberate fraud, hardwired into the pigs’ DNA. By sleeping that way the pig is attempting to mislead us into believing it is actually a kosher animal, when in truth it is not.
In an era when our greatest allies regularly declare their devotion to Israel, and to the survival of the Jewish nation, while vocally condemning those who speak ill of the Jews and of Israel, it might be wise to analyze which of these ‘friends’ could actually be using their cloven hooves to distract us from seeing who they really are.
The Günter Grass example should heighten our awareness, and ensure that we constantly remain on our guard.