As the realities of the spread of influenza from hog to human have come to light, and questions are raised about the integrity of agricultural practices at Smithfield Foods in Mexico and other factory farms throughout the world, the ultra-Orthodox Israeli Deputy Health Minister seems to be foolishly fixated on the fact that Jews should not eat pork.
After two potential cases of swine flu were discovered in Israel, and two Israelis who had just returned from Mexico with flu-like symptoms were quarantined, the Deputy Health Minister, Yakov Litzman, took the next logical step: he renamed the virus. "We will call it Mexican flu. We won't call it swine flu," Litzman declared. He chose to identify the virus with its alleged country of origin instead of pigs because pigs are not religiously permissible to eat, reports the Associated Press.
The fact that swine flu is a respiratory virus and that the consumption of pork is not linked to transmission of the flu is beside the point for the Health Ministry. Pork is a negative Jewish symbol, and no matter the form it takes, whether juicy pork chop or deadly virus, certain ultra-Orthodox leaders don't even want to hear of it in their country.
Litzman's renaming of the new flu virus would just seem out of place and random if it had been in any other country, but in Israel--where pigs are raised on Arab lands and pork shops are firebombed out of certain neighborhoods--pork is highly politicized. Even the word for "pork" in Hebrew, chazir, is so reviled that it goes by many euphemisms: "white meat," "other meat," and "white steak."