Jewish Journal


December 8, 2010

A kosher pig?



Toward the end of summer, my friend Laurel Snyder, the editor of “Half/Life” and a handful of children’s books, published a new picture book, “Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher.” It was my kind of book. And not simply because of the pictures.

“Half/LIfe” was a book about Jewish identity for the children of intermarriage. “Baxter” is about being a true outsider and learning to be Jewish.

Here’s how Heeb describes the kosher-to-be pig in its Chanukah gift guide:

One day, your kid may pass by a Subway and catch the seductive scent of frying treif and he may really, really be tempted. But then he’ll remember that when he was a child, his mother read to him a book about a Jewish pig that wanted to keep Shabbos. And he’ll remember how cute that pig was and how that adorable pig just wanted to be Jewish and bake Challahs and go to shul and be adorable all the time…and then your kid will remember that he keeps kosher.

The basic premise of “Baxter” is that the pig meets an observant Jew, who tells him all about celebrating Shabbat. Baxter likes the idea, and later asks someone how he can participate. “You can’t!” Of course he can’t. He’s not kosher.

The Revealer explains how defining the scope of “kosher” serves as the foundation for the book:

At the heart of this story is how the term “kosher” has entered common parlance to mean “alright” or “okay,” to mean something that fits or feels right. The subtext of this usage is that, for Jews, the most important characteristic of Jewish identity is keeping kosher. And while this may be true on some level in terms of daily observance, it’s really just cultural laziness that reduces a people to the single most obvious aspect of what makes them unique. ...

Snyder’s successful conflation of kosher law with commandments regarding the stranger is nothing short of a small miracle.

Those are some pretty kind words. You can read other praise-filled reviews at “Baxter’s” Facebook page.

At the risk of being self-indulgent, I in many ways identify with Baxter. (No, I’m not a pig.) I understand his interest in being Jewish, even when others tell him he can’t be. The difference between us, besides the curly little tail, is that Baxter is drawn to Judaism whereas I am attracted to Yiddishkeit (though I’m no stranger to Shabbat).

I’d also probably face a lot less resistance than Baxter if I just quit the whole Christian thing. No one is going to confuse me with not being kosher.

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