In the modern world, there are many different levels of Jewish observance. The pendulum swings from ultra Orthodox on one side, to totally secular on the other, with a little bit of everything else mixed in between. Each of us has our own beliefs and we are all entitled to live how we wish. I don’t claim to have all the answers and I’m certainly not anyone’s judge. That said, there are core principals at the root of our faith that Jewish life must be based around (for those who wish to actively practice). Some folks, while no doubt well meaning, seem to be genuinely confused.
This article, featured on Tablet, is a prime example. (Normally, I just link, but I’m including a few abbreviated snippets because it’s key and not everyone will click over.) Written by a Jewish farmer in Maine, he tries to explain why “My daughters may raise piglets, but they’re living a Jewish life.”
“Until we started using the hashtag #JewishAmericanFarmgirl, our daughters had never heard the expression Jewish American Princess…That said, all three of our daughters have attended Jewish Day School in Portland, so they’ve grown up with Judaism and Jewish culture being an active part of their everyday lives.
“We’re not observant Jews, but we are committed Jews, focusing on ways that Judaism intersects with our rural and agricultural lifestyle. We pick our own apples for Rosh Hashana. We love Sukkot. We grow horseradish for Passover. We don’t keep kosher, but follow our own dietary laws—we schect our own chickens and turkeys—but also eat pork, so long as it comes from a local farm, raised by farmers we know.
“Our middle daughter, Beatrice, is in a 4-H Swiners Club, raising a piglet with which she’ll compete in the pig races. Her plan is to continue to raise her pig after the fair, keeping some of the meat for our family and selling the rest to earn money for saving, spending and tzedakah.”
I don’t doubt that this father is a genuinely nice and caring person, but there are numerous things that strike me as incredibly odd about his ideas. First off, I seriously doubt that anyone, in the year 2017, is unfamiliar with the term “Jewish American Princess,” particularly when these girls attend a Jewish school. His implication is that their rural location causes it, but it’s not reality. I grew up in New Hampshire in the 80’s and 90’s, went to public school, and everyone, even the Christian kids, had heard of JAPs.
Yes, the classic Jewish American Princess can be seen as silly and vapid, but not everyone uses the term in a derogatory way. I don’t think being called a “Jewish American Farmgirl” does anything to counteract the JAP stereotype, either. Whether we live in Montana or Manhattan, we are all Jewish girls, after all, and the majority of Jews live in cities, not farms. I fully support family farms, but it’s just not the Jewish norm.
Secondly, eating and raising pigs for profit is definitely not what most would describe as a Jewish lifestyle. I’m not saying everyone needs to be kosher, but let’s not pretend that the dietary laws don’t exist. Certainly, we can choose or refuse as we want, but the laws don’t change to suit our preferences. And it definitely doesn’t make it better if the pig is raised locally.
By allowing his daughter to raise pigs, sell pigs, and eat pigs, he is leading her astray, yet at the same time, he is obviously committed to Jewish education, so much so that he’s paying private school tuition. This is rather unusual.
I do understand his perspective of living in New England, in a non-Jewish area, and trying to fit in with the community at large while maintaining a Jewish identity. (I’ve lived that way my whole life!) It’s perfectly ok for kids to have friends and interest of other faiths, but we have to be careful. 4-H offers many good activities for youngsters, why must it be pigs? Surely, she could be involved elsewhere.
There is no easy answer, that’s for sure, when it comes to balancing ancient traditions with the difficulties of today. For Jews living in isolated areas, their burden can be even greater. Do I think this particular father is sending the best message? No, not really, but I’m not in charge of his family. Regardless, there is something weird about Jewish pig farmers, and I’ll leave it at that.
Do you think Jewish kids should be allowed to pig farm?