Kibbutz Lahav is a controversial enterprise in Israel, the world’s only predominantly Jewish state.
Eating pork is prohibited under Jewish dietary laws, and to many Jews the pig has a deep cultural symbolism representing all that is unholy. Raising pigs for pork has been banned in Israel since 1963, apart from in a small, traditionally Arab-Christian area in the north of the country.
But the kibbutz maintains vehemently that the primary purpose of its herd is for medical research, which makes the operation legal.
However, it also has a factory, in which it processes excess animals, and those raised to provide organs for research, to be sold for meat. And when the day’s medical trial – testing of equipment for screening for colorectal cancer – is over, some of the researchers tuck in as the institute’s manager doles out plates of sizzling pork chops from a barbecue.
Ofer Doron is passionately secular and a proud pork eater. But he says about a quarter of the Kibbutz’s staff are kippa-wearing, religious Jews, happy to work with the pigs for research, but not to consume their meat. “Saving lives is one of the biggest Jewish commandments,” he says…
His father, Eri Doron, says…in early days…The Kibbutz was strongly socialist, and “very revolutionary”, based on utopian Marxist ideals, he says. And there was no debate at all, he stresses, about keeping pigs – “we are atheists,” he says simply.
Secularism in the Kibbutz movement was strongly linked to the post-holocaust mentality…”It was a shared view that we will never be victims again, we will work our own land, we will be strong, we won’t take part in the superstitions that comprise religion, we’ll see a new clear rationalistic way.”
But over the years, the Kibbutz’s identity has changed. Pork is on the dining room menu less – just Fridays and holidays – these days, as more traditional and religious Jews have moved in. Nevertheless, in Israel as a whole, demand for what is sometimes euphemistically dubbed “white meat” has grown in recent decades…
As pork imports are generally banned, most of the meat on sale is domestically produced – with Kibbutz Lahav providing just under a tenth of the total produce…Animal rights activists object to its research and say the pigs’ conditions are not good enough…and although many religious Jews accept the use of pigs for medical purposes, they accuse the kibbutz of using the research as little more than an excuse for selling pork for profit.
Problems which don’t become mainstream in modern nations rejecting theocracy.