With the midterm elections approaching almost as quickly as the Days of Awe, politicians are making promises about their behavior for the next four years while Jews prepare to offer the Lord a convincing account of their own recent actions.

Performed honestly, these are noble pursuits, but self-interest can often cause them to be corrupted by the less-than-strictly-kosher activity called aroysshteln a kosher khazer-fisl, “sticking out a kosher little pig’s foot.” The pig’s foot, of course, is the legitimate-seeming come-on to something that isn’t quite what it seems and might even be illegitimate or unkosher, as when the leg of veal offered to the sweet young heroine of a Yiddish-language silent movie is shown to be connected to a suspiciously curly tail or a concern for animal welfare turns out to mask a campaign against kosher slaughtering.

More usefully for Rosh Hashanah and the elections alike, the phrase can also mean to show only the good parts: when your blind date is described as having “a real personality,” that’s the kosher khazer-fisl. (“He’s very good to his mother” is already a whole suckling pig.) The image goes back to Leviticus 11:

And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed, but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you (Lev. 11:7).

Because it fulfils the most visible prerequisite of kashres, a pig can look kosher from certain angles. A popular medresh (Bereyshis Rabbo, 68) describes how that swine of a pig lies on its back, waving its cloven hooves in the air while crying, “Eat me, I’m kosher.”

I know that God cannot be fooled, but let’s hope that the American electorate takes a look at the whole hog before it decides what to bite in November.

This article originally appeared in The Jewish Week. Below are some items for sale from eBay for those of you with an interest in Yiddish.

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