The suggestion that a kosher pig had been found to permit religiously observant Jews and Muslims to eat pork was punctured recently.
A U.S. government publication issued last November had cited the hopeful comments of an Indonesian professor about a pig-like animal called the babirusa.
The only babirusas in North America live at the Los Angeles Zoo. But they are in no danger of winding up on anyone's kosher menu.
"It is a pig," said Warren Thomas, the zoo's director, reiterating what some rabbis had learned after the initial report about the babirusa. "The scientific community has known that for a long time."
The zoo last summer acquired the unusual-looking animals. (The male's back "tusks" grow through his snout.) Because of a law passed to guard against foreign swine disease, it was the first time in 50 years that wild swine were allowed into the United States, Thomas said.
Hogs are considered forbidden food in Jewish law because the animal does not chew a cud. The cud-chewing animals are distinguished by a second stomach--and that was where the confusion arose over the babirusa. "It has a modified stomach shaped like an hourglass but it does not have two stomachs and it does not chew its cud," Thomas said.
Speculation about the pig being kosher was stirred after the Agency for International Development said in its quarterly publication, Horizons, that the babirusa has two stomachs and eats leaves as well as roots, berries and grubs.
Might Be Acceptable
"That may make the babirusa a more efficient meat producer than the pig in some environments," the publication said. "In addition, cultures that do not eat swine might accept the babirusa," citing the dietetic suggestion of an Indonesian professor.
That suggestion drew the immediate concern of conservationists in the San Francisco Bay Area who noted that the creature is listed as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. They also challenged the notion that the babirusa, which is native to the East Indies, would qualify as kosher.
Islamic law prohibits the eating of pork. Muzammil Siddiqi, head of the Islamic Society of Orange County, said most Muslims would avoid eating the meat of any animal of doubtful status in religious law.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein of Yeshiva University of Los Angeles said the curious story about the prospects of "kosher ham" was printed widely in the American Jewish press late last year. "The Talmud says that whatever it is that God has forbidden to eat he has provided something that tastes similar to it in the world," Adlerstein said.
Dr. Moshe Tendler of New York, a rabbi and a leading cancer researcher, was quoted as saying at the time that if it turned out that the babirusa was kosher, "I'll serve it at my daughter's wedding."
However, Tendler told a recent gathering in Malibu that his conversations with the director of the Los Angeles Zoo convinced him that such was not the case. A Yeshiva University colleague of Tendler's recalled a Yiddish expression, ah chazer bleipt ah chazer (a pig remains a pig).