The Jewish dietary laws prohibit Jews from eating any food products derived from animals that do not have both split hooves and chew their cud. It is a not uncommon assumption that Jews are forbidden, as well, to touch objects made from non-kosher animals. However, the fact of the matter is that if a Jewish football fan came upon an actual pigskin football (originally the game was played with an inflated pig bladder) that Jew would have no issue picking it up and taking a toss. Here’s why:
In Leviticus 11, after stating the qualifications of kosher animals and listing a number of animals who have only one such qualification, it is stated: "and their carcasses you shall not touch, they are unclean to you" (Leviticus 11:8).
The sages questioned the meaning of Leviticus 11:8, noting: "Seeing that in the case of a serious uncleanness [a human body], the priests are cautioned while the Israelites are not cautioned how much less [are they likely to be cautioned] in the case of a light uncleanness!" (Rosh Hashana 16b).
While priests are prohibited from touching dead bodies with the exception of the bodies of immediate family members, there is no such prohibition for other Jews. This fact led the sages to their question: If it is not a problem for most Israelites to touch a dead human body, why is it forbidden for a Jew to touch a dead animal body?
A priest would be prohibited from coming in contact with a dead body because his resultant state of impurity would prevent him from entering the holy space to perform the Temple service. Since the rest of the Jewish population generally only entered the Temple on the festival days, the sages deduced that on the days of the festival one would cleanse himself (in the mikveh) and avoid touching the carcass of an unclean animal.
Being that the prohibition was related to celebrating the festivals in the Temple, one need not have any hesitation today about purchasing a non-food item made from the leather of a non-kosher animal.
Written in honor of American Football Day, November 5th.
Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.