Surprisingly, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister and a staunch secularist, opposed pork consumption. He viewed eating pork as a recent Jewish diasporic cultural development that Israelis needed to shed in order to forge a united Israeli identity. In 1962 the Knesset officially outlawed the breeding and selling of pigs, except for in Arab-Christian areas, such as the villages around Nazareth. In 1994 the import of non-kosher meat was also banned. That action, ironically, fortified what was once a black-market system of smuggling pork from the Arab-Christian pig farms into Jewish areas. Today that market is a legal, flourishing industry reliant almost exclusively on those few original farms.
While the consumption of pork is becoming more mainstream, the production of it by Jews is still rare and sometimes still requires some justifying loopholes. Kibbutz Lahav in southern Israel, which, like many kibbutzim, started as a radically secular project, is the only one of its kind to contribute to Israel’s pork industry, albeit as a byproduct of a program to breed lab animals. Because pigs are physiologically similar to humans, they are the best animals for medical research, explains Moshe Tayar, a kibbutznik and spokesman for the kibbutz’s research institute, where they work to advance treatments for ailments ranging from diabetes to various types of cancer. Excess pigs are processed at the kibbutz factory, which sells to shops and hotels around the country.
Their workers include observant Muslims and Jews who don’t eat pork themselves, explains Tayar. (In a rare example of Muslim-Jewish agreement among Israelis, Islam also views “swine” as a particularly unhygienic and thus spiritually toxic animal, and its consumption is explicitly deemed “haram,” or forbidden, in the Quran.)