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Of Hare and Hyrax, of Torah and Science

By David Goldstein

Posted March 5, 2006

Thoughts about
The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax: A Study of the Laws of Animals with One Kosher Sign in Light of Modern Zoology
(Southfield, Mich.: Targum/Feldheim, 2004)
by Rabbi Nosson Slifkin

In Orthodox Jewish circles it is a common custom for the author of a book to preface his publication with a number of haskamot, letters of endorsement issued by prominent rabbis and testifying that the book answers to religious standards and promotes the religious cause. Those who value knowledge for its own sake may well abhor this custom, as it implies that what validates a book is not the veracity of its content but rather its adherence to the "party line," but sometimes these letters of endorsement are no less telling than the book which they preface.

The book by Rabbi Nosson Slifkin is a case in point. It deals with a subject that may appear obscure to many people: the characteristics of kashrut in animals, that is, those anatomical and physiological features which render them fit for consumption (kosher). Yet, despite the seeming obscurity of the book's subject, the issue of  the characteristics of kashrut presents a potential difficulty for the very foundations of traditional Jewish belief.

This belief holds that the whole of the Pentateuch (also called the Written Torah) [1] was authored directly by God, who dictated its text to Moses. Now, the Pentateuch specifies that in order to qualify as kosher, a land animal must possess split hooves (mafreset parsah we-shosa'at shesa perasot) [2] and "bring up the cud" (ma'alat gerah, or in masculine, ma'aleh gerah). Both of these characteristics are necessary conditions for defining an animal as kosher, and to drive this point home, the Pentateuch explicitly prohibits eating those animals which are said to possess only one of the two characteristics of kashrut. Two of those animals are termed in the Pentateuch shafan and arnevet, and it is said that they "bring up the cud" but do not possess split hooves (Leviticus 11:2-7, Deuteronomy 14:5-8). Now, on the one hand "bringing up the cud" is most plainly understood as rumination (which Slifkin admits) [3] and shafan and arnevet are to be identified with the hyrax and the hare, respectively (as Slifkin clearly shows), [4] but on the other hand, present-day zoology holds that neither hares nor hyraxes ruminate. Thus, there appears to be an error in the Pentateuch, which may be understood to undermine the concept of its divine authorship.

And yet, the simplest solution to this problem appears in Slifkin's book even before the problem is raised -- or actually, not in the book per se, but in one of the letters of endorsement prefacing the book, authored by Rabbi Mordechai Kornfeld of the Talmudic study center Kollel Iyun Hadaf in Jerusalem:

...the renowned Gaon ha'Rav Dovid Zvi Hoffmann (dean of Berlin's Beis ha'Midrash l'Rabbanim some 100 years ago) exposed for us the tip of a great iceberg by suggesting, in his Bi'ur for the verses under discussion... that the Torah chooses its terms such that they will be best understood by those who practice the Torah's laws, rather than in the precise and well-defined manner of science. Thus, [ma'aleh gerah] may simply refer to an act that people interpret as chewing the cud. At least one contemporary author has condemned Rav Hoffmann for prompting the ridicule of the scoffers of the Torah by presenting such a seemingly forced interpretation of the verse. Yet, far from being forced, his answer is intuitive. Does anyone seriously consider the many prayers and verses which discuss "the heavens above and the earth below" proof of a geocentric universe? Or those which describe how the Creator "opens the windows of the heavens to withdraw the sun from its place," and causes it to "run its route through the heavens" proof of rotating heavens? The Torah repeatedly describes things from the perspective of its practitioners. [5]

Of course, things are not as simple as Rabbi Kornfeld presented them. The choice of words to express a certain idea usually reflects the comprehension of this idea by the person who uses those words. Thus, it is likely that the author of the fragment of the Sabbath morning prayer, which speaks of God "opening the windows of the firmament" (boqe'a chaloney raqi'a) and "bringing the sun out of its place" (motzi' chama mi-meqomah), thought in terms of windows cutting through an otherwise impenetrable firmament and the sun making its way through these windows each morning in order to light the world -- especially as this picture is presented as a statement of fact in the Talmudic commentary of Rabbenu Chananel, a 10th century rabbi from al-Qairouan, Tunisia, active at about the same period in which the prayer in question was compiled. [6] On the other hand, when we moderns speak of the rising or setting of the sun, we know perfectly well that the phenomena we refer to are not results of the sun's movement but rather of the earth's rotation around its axis. Still, from the point of view of an ordinary person inhabiting the planet Earth, sunrise and sunset appear as phenomena reflecting the sun's movement through the sky, and for this reason the terms "sunrise" and "sunset" may well be used as conventional shorthand designations.

What, then, does differentiate the "windows in the firmament" from "sunrise" and "sunset"? The difference lies in the fact that the terms "sunrise" and "sunset" result from immediate intuitive observation by humans of everyday reality, whereas the concept of "windows in the firmament" is not so immediately intuitive -- so that this concept can hardly be a conventional shorthand but rather must have resulted from a specific way of thinking about the universe, which is of course incorrect (from the viewpoint of our present knowledge). [7] But the fact that language, as a tool of human communication, allows for a good deal of ambiguity is self-evident. And even if one supposes that on a certain occasion God Himself made use of a human language -- in which, after all, the Pentateuch is written -- a measure of ambiguity in His use of language cannot be ruled out. The situation can be likened to a mother telling her child, who goes out to play in the yard, to be home by sunset. She may be perfectly aware of the fact that the disappearance of the sun from the sky is due to the earth's rotation around its axis, as well as of the fact that her child does not realize this -- and yet she would hardly feel it necessary to hold an astronomy lecture for her child before telling him when to be back home.

This understanding is actually enough to solve the theological difficulty posed by "the hare-hyrax problem." The chewing movements of the jaws of the hare and the hyrax do indeed appear similar to those of ruminants, and it may well be that the author of the Pentateuch -- whoever he might have been -- adopted, in speaking of the hare and the hyrax as "bringing up the cud," the perspective of a common observer, who approaches these animals without knowledge of the findings of modern zoology (findings which were, after all, not available in the ancient world in which the Pentateuch was written).

However, if the answer is so simple, why did Slifkin bother to write a book of more than 200 pages on this question? Part of the reason lies in the fact that Slifkin's book deals not only with "the hare-hyrax problem" as raised by the Pentateuch, but also with an extension of this problem raised by later rabbinic literature -- and we shall return to this issue below. But more interesting is Slifkin's own treatment of the answer proposed by Rabbi Kornfeld in the wake of Rabbi Hoffmann:

There are two ways of explaining how this [the chewing movements of the jaws of the hare and the hyrax -- D.G.] could be a reason as to why the hyrax is described as ma'aleh gerah. One possibility is that since people might mistakenly think that the hyrax ruminates, the term was used in reference to it, even though it is inaccurate.

But this explanation is difficult. Would the Torah use an inaccurate expression just to take into account the impression that some people may mistakenly receive? It is not as though people would think it [the hyrax] is kosher, as it lacks hooves. Additionally, it would seem to make far more sense (and a greater proof of its wisdom) for the Torah to state that the hyrax is non-kosher because it is not actually ma'aleh gerah! Still, one can argue that since, simply speaking, the Torah listed animals with one kosher sign to warn people against eating them, the warning was necessary in this case too.

A variation on this answer is that since most animals that chew in this way are cud-chewers, the term ma'aleh gerah is used idiomatically to refer to all animals that chew in such a way. This may be preferable, and it is somewhat comparable to pandas being termed "Carnivores" in contemporary zoology. [8] The chewing manner has the advantage... that it is an external, very noticeable feature...

Still, to say that an animal is described as bringing up the cud just because of its chewing habits is somewhat difficult. As noted earlier, it is difficult to posit that this phrase suddenly becomes an idiom. We noted earlier the legitimacy of such explanations, but applying it in this case is not straightforward. [9]

In this passage, both Slifkin's expectations of the Pentateuch and the limitations inherent in these expectations come to the fore. First, he expects the Pentateuch to be as unambiguous as possible in its use of language. Second, he expects it to include manifest wisdom in its statements about nature. In short, he expects the Pentateuch to be a kind of science book.

But what basis is there for such expectations? The Pentateuch, as it stands, includes stories and laws, and the verses speaking of the characteristics of kashrut appear in the context of a commandment prohibiting the consumption of such animals. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the characteristics of kashrut had to be intelligible to the audience for which this commandment was intended. This consideration favors the expectation of unambiguous use of language, since directives tend to be as clear-cut as possible, [10] but does not favor the expectation of scientific correctness. After all, if the original readers of the Pentateuch thought that the hare and the hyrax ruminate because of the chewing movements of these animals, there would be no reason to persuade them that this perception is wrong, if changing this perception would neither add anything to nor subtract anything from the prohibition against consuming the hare and the hyrax.

Moreover, in the ancient world in which the Pentateuch was written, the study of the animal kingdom had not yet reached a level of observation and conceptualization which would enable one to conclude that the hare and the hyrax do not ruminate. Even Aristotle thought that hares were ruminants; [11] and while he knew nothing about hyraxes, until the 20th century some zoologists still claimed that hyraxes may occasionally ruminate. [12] Thus, for the original audience of the Pentateuch the idea that the hare and the hyrax "bring up the cud" would be only natural. And it is not difficult to suppose that the author of the Pentateuch, instead of negating this idea (even if he knew better), took care to specify that this idea does not render the hare or the hyrax kosher -- which is the main concern of the relevant Pentateuchal passages.

Of course, such supposition denies the very possibility of verifying the zoological knowledge which the author of the Pentateuch possessed, since what we understand now to be wrong in the zoological information included in the Pentateuch may always be ascribed to the author's intent to play to the tune of his audience's knowledge. Moreover, such intent on the author's part would not even be conceived, if one assumed human authorship of the Pentateuch as an axiom. Rational thinking, expressed by the rule known as Occam's Razor, always demands the simplest answer to any given question, provided that the answer is logically consistent with what the person in question perceives as fact.

It takes time, however, to discover that different people have different perceptions of what constitutes a fact and that is often there is no agreement on whether a given proposition is a fact or not. To claim that the idea of a human author mistakenly mentioning the hare and the hyrax as ruminant is simpler than the idea of a divine author making the same mention so as to accommodate His commandments to the level of knowledge of His audience would be no more effective than to claim that a worldview lacking the supposition of the existence of God altogether is simpler than a worldview including such a supposition. This is a valid philosophical argument, but it has nothing particular to do with "the hare-hyrax problem."

Indeed, it is Occam's Razor -- the refuse to multiply assumptions beyond necessity -- that makes science pursue its course without assuming the existence of God, or His responsibility for any given natural phenomenon or textual source. In this regard, Slifkin's book, which includes the possibility of an a priori acceptance of the divine authorship of the Torah, [13] is certainly not a scientific work as such. It does contain a good amount of interesting scientific information on the anatomy and physiology of different animals, as well as a reasonable philological treatment of the identification of the animals mentioned in the Pentateuch and of the physiological process termed "bringing up the cud." But the book's main frame of reference is neither science nor philology but theology. And here, unfortunately, he has nothing important to say, since he makes every effort to stick to the notion that divine authorship is to be measured by scientific correctness of Pentateuchal passages -- a notion which cannot illuminate the issue of the hare and the hyrax in any favorable light.

All that Slifkin is able to do to salvage the relevant Pentateuchal passages from being judged as scientifically incorrect is to stretch the category of "bringing up the cud" in such a way as to deprive it of any consistency. On the one hand, he proposes including in this category the phenomenon of merycism -- occasional re-ejection of pieces of food swallowed by an animal back into its oral cavity, where these pieces may be re-chewed and are further re-swallowed [14] -- in order to enable the classification of the hyrax, who may practice merycism, as "bringing up the cud." [15] On the other hand, Slifkin proposes including in the same category the phenomenon of cecotrophy, whereby an animal's digestive system produces (besides the regular fecal pellets) pellets of a special kind, which are subsequently consumed and digested again by the animal, supplying necessary components of the animal's nutrition. This proposal is made in order to enable the classification of the hare, who practices cecotrophy, as "bringing up the cud." [16]

Now, the point in common between cecotrophy and true rumination (as practiced, e.g., by cattle, sheep or camels) is the re-processing of food which had once been swallowed (but which could not be fully utilized for its nutritional elements) in a way that includes passing the food once again through the oral cavity. On the other hand, merycism, by its very nature of being an occasional phenomenon, does not contribute anything essential to an animal's diet. Merycism is similar to rumination in form: re-ejection of swallowed food from the stomach to the mouth via the throat. Cecotrophy is similar to rumination in function: consumption and re-digestion of food which could not be properly utilized after the initial swallowing.

Moreover, the Hebrew term for "bringing up the cud" is ma'aleh gerah. The second word in this term has probably an etymological connection to the noun garon, "throat" [17] -- and in Rabbinic Hebrew the term gerah itself means "throat." [18] Therefore, -- it is evidently the formal aspect that is expressed by the Hebrew term. This may fit merycism, but does not fit cecotrophy.

In any event, the points of similarity between merycism and cecotrophy, on the one hand, and the points of similarity between merycism and true rumination, on the other hand, are so different that it is hard to define a category which would cover all these phenomena. [19] And if such definition were to be given, it would only baffle the initial audience of the Pentateuch (which hardly had a detailed understanding of animals' digestive processes -- sometimes not clear enough even to modern zoologists [20]) and would not possess any specific value for the purposes of the laws of kashrut, since the scope of animal species to be judged as kosher would not change in the least if such a definition were substituted for the understanding of ma'aleh gerah as normal rumination. Importantly, prior to the 19th century, when the non-rumination of the hare and the hyrax were first realized by Jewish rabbis, the rabbinic tradition unanimously understood the term ma'aleh gerah as referring to normal rumination, even though the etymology of the word gerah was disputed. [21]

The limitations of Slifkin's approach to the Pentateuch become especially clear when compared with the second thread running through his book. This thread is concerned with a claim, often made by authors and lecturers whose aim is to draw secular Jews to an Orthodox Jewish worldview and way of life, [22] that the Pentateuchal list of animals possessing only one characteristic of kashrut provides not a theological problem but rather a proof of the divine authorship of the Pentateuch. This "proof" is based on the claim that aside from the camel, the hare and the hyrax, mentioned in the Pentateuch as "bringing up the cud" but lacking split hooves, and aside from the pig, mentioned in the Pentateuch as possessing split hooves but not "bringing up the cud," there is no other kind of animal in the world which possesses only one of the two necessary characteristics of kashrut. Now, the "proof" goes, in the conditions of the ancient world, when most forms of animal life on earth were not known to the dwellers of the Near East and the surrounding areas, only the omniscient God would be able to produce such an accurate and exclusive list of animals possessing only one characteristic of kashrut. [23]

Slifkin has shown that this "proof" is entirely bogus, even aside from the question of "bringing up the cud" in hare and hyrax. First, the Pentateuch does not present the list of animals possessing only one characteristic of kashrut as exclusive. Second, it is not clear how the Pentateuch or the rabbinic tradition defines the boundaries of a given "kind" of animal. [24] Are, for example, the wild boar and the domestic pig one "kind" of animal or not? And what about all those animal species which are classified by modern zoology as belonging to the same zoological family as pigs -- family Suidae but are nevertheless different one from another in some of their anatomical and physiological characteristics (see, e.g., Slifkin's discussion of the species of babirusa, native to South-Eastern Asia [25])? Or all the Suidae on the one hand, and the peccaries -- three species from the American continent included in the family Tayassuidae -- on the other? [26] Or the dromedary and the Bactrian camel (one-humped and two-humped, respectively)? Or camels and llamas? [27]

In fact, in those cases where traditional Jewish sources speak of animals certainly known to the ancient and medieval rabbis and raise the question of what constitutes a separate "kind" of animal, it appears that even relatively minor differences are sufficient to relegate two animals to two different "kinds" -- such as the differences between the wolf and the dog, for example, or between the horse and the mule, or between the wild pig and the domestic pig. [28] It may be, of course, that these criteria of classification, applied to the issue of kil'ayim -- the prohibition against mating two different kinds of animals (Leviticus 19:19) -- are different from the criteria that should be applied to the issue of defining a "kind" of animal for the purposes of kashrut, but this is, at least, not self-evident.

Moreover, the understanding of the Pentateuchal list of animals with one characteristic of kashrut as exclusive emanates from a passage in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Chullin, fol. 59a. [29] This passage speaks of a person who walks on a road and finds an animal with a damaged mouth, so that it is impossible to check whether the animal possessed upper canines and incisors -- the lack of which teeth is understood by the Talmud as a sign of "bringing up the cud." [30] Then, the Talmud holds, if the animal found possesses split hooves, and the person who finds it can be sure that the animal is not a pig, he should assume it to be kosher. Yet it is hard to suppose that a person familiar with wild or domestic pigs would intuitively recognize a babirusa as one of their "kind": in a striking difference from pigs, the babirusa's upper canine teeth grow not downwards but upwards and protrude through the skin at the rear part of the oral cavity, which lends them an external appearance of horns rather than teeth. [31] So, following the Talmudic guidelines, a person walking on a road and finding a babirusa with a damaged mouth (provided that the damage obliterated the front part of the oral cavity with the upper incisors, but not the rear part of the oral cavity with the upper canines-cum-horns and molars), would have a good chance of understanding the babirusa to be different from a pig and eat it, even though it is not kosher. [32]

Another situation described in Tractate Chullin, fol. 59a, is that of a person who walks in the desert and finds an animal with damaged feet, so that it cannot be determined whether the animal had split hooves. In such a situation, according to the Talmud, one should assume the animal in question to be kosher, provided that one can recognize it as "bringing up the cud" and not being a camel. [33] Similar to the previous case, a person walking in the desert and finding a llama can hardly be expected to assume that it is merely a kind of camel: llamas are humpless and much smaller than camels, among other things. [34] And yet llamas' hooves are not split, just like those of camels. Thus, once again, the method outlined in the Talmud would bring one to eat a non-kosher animal.

In addition, the way offered by the Talmud to check whether an animal "brings up the cud" -- by checking whether it lacks upper canines and incisors -- is not always reliable, as there are kosher animals who possess upper canines (the musk deer, the elk and the muntjac), and animals who lack upper incisors and canines but are nevertheless non-kosher for the reason that they do not "bring up the cud" (the aardvark, the rhinoceros and the warthog). [35]

So, the attempted "proof" of the Torah's divine authorship is not only faulty, but also presents a statement in the Talmud -- another formative corpus of traditional Judaism -- as scientifically incorrect. What does Slifkin have to say in this regard?

Of course, he attempts to do whatever is possible to salvage the relevant Talmudic passage from being judged as scientifically incorrect. Thus, he suggests a couple of ad hoc reservations to the notion that an animal's lack of upper canines and incisors is enough to qualify it as "bringing up the cud" -- but acknowledges that these reservations are not sufficient to solve the whole problem. [36] Another possibility explored by Slifkin is that the Talmudic statement does not refer to animals throughout the whole world, but only in the Near East and its immediate environs -- the region which was inhabited by the Jews of the Talmudic period, and beyond the bounds of which they had no real chance to travel. According to this approach, the fact that some animals living in Sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia, America or Northern and Central Europe do not fit the rule stated in the Talmud is of no significance. Evidently, Slifkin suggests that the author of the Talmudic rule in Tractate Chullin, fol. 59a, knew that there are exceptions to his rule but did not bother to mention them, since for his audience, these exceptions were irrelevant. [37] In the final event, however, Slifkin does not shrink from suggesting the possibility that the author of the Talmudic rule simply did not know that his rule is not absolute. [38]

Not surprisingly, Slifkin prefers the approach based on geographical limitedness of the Talmudic rule, [39] since it does allow for the possibility that divinely revealed knowledge about all animals in the world stands behind this rule. But at the very least, according to this approach, the divine wisdom is not manifest in this rule. Indeed, one should ask: how is it possible to know whether a rule phrased in absolute terms (as is the rule in Tractate Chullin, fol. 59a [40]) is stated with exceptions in view? In Slifkin's own words, the conclusion that "seemingly absolute statements are not to be taken that way" should be reached "when there was a received tradition that the rule was not absolute, or when there was clear evidence that the rule could not be absolute." [41]

It does not take much to recognize that under such criteria, no rule stated by the Talmud concerning the natural world can ever be found to be false. If there are some cases contradicting this rule, they can always be declared exceptions, already held in view -- even though not stated explicitly -- when the rule was coined. The situation is, thus, not unlike the possibility that factually incorrect statements in the Pentateuch were made by God in order to accommodate the text to the erroneous ideas of the ancient Israelites about the natural world, since these ideas did not interfere with God's intent in revealing the Pentateuch. Both possibilities can neither be proved nor disproved. [42] At most, one can say that assuming the faulty knowledge of the author of the Pentateuch or of a Talmudic statement is simpler than assuming a perfect knowledge which was somehow expressed as a faulty statement -- faulty at least in its plain wording. But then again, a worldview lacking God altogether is simpler than a worldview that posits His existence -- and this consideration has hardly ever made a believer into an atheist.

Commendably, at least in his discussion of the Talmud, Slifkin has drawn the lines clearly: on the one hand there is the possibility of faulty knowledge behind a statement in a traditional Jewish source, on the other hand there is the possibility that the knowledge behind the statement was perfect, but the statement as it is does not reflect this knowledge (and then one has to provide the reason why this is so, which is where this possibility violates Occam's Razor). But in any event, at least in some cases the wisdom of the Torah -- be it Written or Oral -- is less than manifest, and the conclusion about the existence of such wisdom reflects a faith commitment, not the results of scientific research. Thus, when Slifkin concludes his book with the statement that "the Torah is neither proved nor disproved by the camel, the hare and the hyrax," [43] one has only to concur, with the reservation that this is so because science -- in our case, zoology -- is incapable of either proving or disproving articles of faith, such as the divine origin of the Torah. Paraphrasing the most popular Jew in history (who is, however, not willingly acknowledged by his kinsmen), one should give to God that which belongs to God, and to science that which belongs to science.


[1] The term "Torah" may be used in traditional Jewish sources with two basic meanings: 1) the Pentateuch, or even the whole Jewish Bible, i.e., the Written Torah; 2) the whole body of traditional Jewish teachings incorporated in the Written Torah and in various Rabbinic sources, summarily termed the Oral Torah. Therefore, this review will use the unambiguous term "Pentateuch" in referring to the first five books of the Jewish Bible.

[2] On the explanation of these terms see The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 26-30.

[3] Ibid., pp. 31-34.

[4] Ibid., pp. 88-105, 120-136.

[5] Ibid., p. 13.

[6] Rabbenu Chananel, commentary on the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Pesachim, fol. 94a, s.v. amar Rabbah. The earliest source mentioning the passage in the Sabbath morning prayer, which describes God as "opening the windows of the firmament and bringing the sun out of its place," is the Seder (prayerbook) of Rav Amram Ga'on, from the 9th century (Seder Rav Amram Ga'on, seder shacharit shel shabbat, s.v. we-omer shat"z).

[7] Another possibility which should be mentioned is that the notion of God "opening the windows of the firmament and bringing the sun out of its place" is employed as a metaphor, and was not intended to be understood literally. This possibility, however, does not appear likely. First, it was noted above that very soon after the first appearance of the relevant fragment of the Sabbath morning prayer, Rabbenu Chananel presented the picture of the world reflected in that fragment as a statement of fact (even though he did not mention the prayer itself). Second, by the early 13th century, the commentary of Rabbi Eliezer Rokeach to the prayerbook explicitly treated the relevant fragment of the Sabbath morning prayer as an accurate description of the real world (Perushei siddur ha-tefillah le-Rokeach, paragraph 67, p. 378). Theoretically, it would be possible to claim that the statement of Rabbenu Chananel has no relation to the fragment of the Sabbath morning prayer, and that the interpretation of that fragment by Rabbi Eliezer Rokeach resulted from a misunderstanding. However, such a claim does not appear plausible and cannot be substantiated.

[8] In the system of classification of animals, accepted in modern zoology, "pandas and sun bears are classified as Carnivores even though they are not carnivores. That is to say, even though they are not carnivorous, they are nevertheless classified as being part of the order Carnivora (which is Latin for 'meat-eater'), due to various affinities that they share with true carnivores" (The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, p. 114).

[9] The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 119-120; emphasis and statements in parentheses preserved.

[10] Here the analogy with the Carnivores of modern zoology is unquestionably bad. The assumption of the use of the term ma'aleh gerah in a similar sense presumes a thoroughgoing analysis of the anatomy and physiology of the hare and the hyrax, which would weigh their similarity to true ruminants as significant enough to classify them as "bringing up the cud" despite their actual non-rumination. However, since the animals explicitly specified as kosher (Deuteronomy 14:4-5) all practice true rumination, it would be strange to stretch the criterion of "bringing up the cud" in order to enable its application to the hare and the hyrax, since this criterion is of no value concerning their status as non-kosher (due to the lack of hooves).

[11] See David Zvi Hoffmann, Sefer Vayikra, vol. I (translated into Hebrew by Z. Har Shefer and A. Lieberman; Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1953), p. 228; and cf. The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, p. 137, n. 2.

[12] The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 107-110. The accuracy of these claims is, however, doubted by the majority of zoologists, as Slifkin is careful to note.

[13] Compare, for example, the following statement: "Aside from the arguments that we have presented as to why it is difficult to accept that the shafan (and arneves) are unknown or extinct animals, this argument is entirely baseless for one who does not a priori accept the divine authorship of the Torah" (The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, p. 113). That is, for those who do not accept the idea of the divine authorship of the Torah, a certain line of argument is lost from the outset; for those who do accept this idea a priori, it may be worth a try (though it is eventually found difficult, for various reasons).

[14] The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 174-179.

[15] Ibid., pp. 110-112, 180. Slifkin is careful to note that "there is no firm evidence" for the possibility that the hyrax practices merycism (ibid., p. 112).

[16] The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 138-145.

[17] Ibid., p. 33.

[18] Ibid., p. 142, n. 1. Interestingly, the Hebrew noun gerah is parallel, in both etymology and morphology, to the Arabic noun jirra (see F. Brown, S. R. Driver and C. A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon [Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1906], p. 176). The Arabic noun jirra has the meaning "the stomach of the camel and of a cloven-hoofed animal," but also "the cud which a camel [or a cloven-hoofed animal] ejects from its stomach and eats again" (E. W. Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, Derived from the Best and Most Copious Eastern Sources [London: Williams and Norgate, 1863-1893], pp. 400-401; brackets in original). Taking into consideration the Rabbinic Hebrew gerah = "throat," it must be concluded that another point which the nouns gerah and jirra have in common is their use to denote both the cud produced in rumination and an organ connected with the process of rumination: the throat for Hebrew, the stomach for Arabic.

[19] The difficulty in defining such a category becomes all the more salient once another phenomenon is taken into consideration -- that of coprophagy, whereby an animal consumes its regular feces, for whatever nutritional value that may be utilized by re-digesting them. The important difference between cecotrophy and coprophagy lies, in Slifkin's words, in the fact that coprophagy "is not a fundamental part of the animal's diet" (The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, p. 139). This difference is to be taken into consideration necessarily, since coprophagy is practiced not only by hares but also by other animals, including pigs (The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 139-140, n. 5, p. 147). However, if, in order to be included in the category of "bringing up the cud," a physiological phenomenon has to be a fundamental part of an animal's diet, then this category cannot include merycism.

[20] In Slifkin's words, "The phenomenon of merycism is somewhat mysterious... In addition, the biological significance of all forms of merycism is unclear" (The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, p. 176).

[21] The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 32-33.

[22] In the terms of the Orthodox Jewish community, such activity is called kiruv rechokim -- literally, "bringing the far persons near."

[23] See, e.g., Rabbi Shmuel Waldman, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Convincing Evidence of the Truths of Judaism (edited by Ya'akov Astor; Jerusalem-New York, Feldheim: 2004), p. 100.

[24] The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 58-70.

[25] Ibid., pp. 193-200.

[26] Ibid., pp. 186-192.

[27] Ibid., pp. 71-87.

[28] Ibid., pp. 63-66.

[29] For an extensive discussion of this statement, and some other statements on the Pentateuchal lists of non-kosher animals, see The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 36-57. It is interesting to note that an additional statement, utilizing the Pentateuchal list of animals with only one characteristic of kashrut as a proof of the divine authorship of the Torah (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Chullin, fol. 60b), is based on interpretation of the Hebrew term shesu'ah -- an adjective meaning "split" (Deuteronomy 14:7) -- as the name of a specific kind of animal. Such interpretation is, in Slifkin's words, "extremely perplexing, to say the least" (The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 46-47).

[30] The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, p. 205, n. 2; and see below.

[31] The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 194, 197-198.

[32] Of course, a thorough examination of a babirusa skull would reveal that it does possess upper canines -- which would exclude its definition as "bringing up the cud," in Talmudic terms. But it is difficult to assume that a Talmudic statement presupposes a thorough anatomical examination of the skull of a slaughtered animal before allowing its consumption. And a mere external examination would not reveal that the babirusa's "horns" are indeed upper canines (see a photo of a babirusa skull in The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, p. 198).

[33] A question about the hare or the hyrax should not arise in this context, since they possess all upper teeth, while the Talmud speaks of recognizing an animal "bringing up the cud" by checking that it lacks upper teeth (presumably canines and incisors); and see below, n. 40.

[34] This point is recognized by Slifkin, The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 76-80.

[35] Ibid., pp. 202-208.

[36] The first reservation has to do with the fact that the ruminating animals' jaws are divided clearly in two parts: the lower rear part with the molars, and the higher front part, which in the lower jaw includes the canines and the incisors, and in the upper jaw has no teeth whatsoever. Thus, says Slifkin, the Talmud's statement that the animals "bringing up the cud" lack upper teeth may refer only to the animals with this bipartite structure of the jaws (The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 207-208). The problem with this reservation is, however, that "in discussing the upper teeth rule, the Talmud mentions the hare and the hyrax as possessing upper teeth, and yet these animals do not have an upper section of an upper jaw that is as distinct as that of ruminants. In addition, the Talmud notes that all animals that possess upper teeth do not bring up the cud, and yet there is no animal that possesses the distinct upper section of the upper jaw and has teeth in it (except the camelids). Thus, we shall have to qualify this answer by stating that when the Talmud speaks of animals lacking upper teeth, it means that they possess an upper section to the upper jaw that lacks teeth, whereas when it speaks of animals possessing upper teeth, it is not referring to an upper section of an upper jaw" (ibid., p. 208; emphasis preserved). The absurdity of such a distinction hardly requires any further comment.

Another reservation suggested by Slifkin is that when the Talmud spoke of the absence of upper teeth (canines and incisors) in an animal, it "was implying that lower teeth must be present" (The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, p. 208). This is sufficient to resolve the difficulty with aardvarks and rhinoceroses, who lack lower canines and incisors, but not with the Somali warthog, who "does sometimes possess lower incisors, although these are rudimentary" (ibid.). Moreover, the difficulty with the musk deer, the elk and the muntjac, who possess upper canines but ruminate and are kosher, the difficulty with the llamas' distinctiveness from the camels, which has every chance to result in llamas being identified as a separate kind of animal from camels by an ordinary observer, and the similar difficulty with the babirusa's distinctiveness from all other pigs and pig-like animals are not resolved by this reservation.

[37] Compare, e.g., the following: "Some would counter that the Talmud is making a definite statement with halachic [legal] ramifications, and that it was presumably intended to be an absolute rule with no exceptions. However, it should be noted that seemingly absolute rules given by the Talmud are often not meant to be taken that way" (The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, p. 211). This implies that the rule is stated from the outset with the exceptions in view.

[38] The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 208-210.

[39] "Perhaps the most reasonable answer is that the Talmud is giving a practical rule for scenarios that are feasibly going to happen and it does not matter if there are rare exceptions in distant countries" (The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, p. 211).

[40] Thus, e.g., "the Ruler of His world knows that there is no creature that brings up the cud and is non-kosher except for the camel"; "the Ruler of His world knows that there is no creature that has cloven hooves and is non-kosher except for the pig" (translated by Slifkin, The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, pp. 38, 40). It should be noted that the first of these two phrases was clearly phrased with recognition of its non-absolute scope, since earlier in the same Talmudic passage, the hare and the hyrax are mentioned as "bringing up the cud" (see ibid., p. 37). But the Talmudic discussion took the lack of upper teeth (canines and incisors) to be a sufficient condition for establishing that an animal "brings up the cud," and thus shifted the question to the existence or lack of upper teeth. From the viewpoint of animals lacking upper teeth, the statement that the camel is the only such animal which is non-kosher is phrased as an absolute rule.

[41] The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, p. 211.

[42] This essay purposefully leaves out of consideration those statements of the Pentateuch which deal not with the general reality of the natural world but with specific events in the life of the Pentateuch's alleged initial audience -- the Israelite community that escaped slavery in Pharaonic Egypt and wandered for forty years in the desert of Sinai and the adjoining regions, receiving during this period, on different occasions, revelation from God. The initial audience of the Pentateuch must have been well aware of the events of their lives, so if false statements are found in this field, it would be difficult to claim that God revealed these statements with a view to the faulty perceptions of the ancient Israelites, even if He knew better. This whole issue, however, belongs under the category of "Torah and history" rather than "Torah and science" and demands a separate discussion.

[43] The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, p. 211.


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