Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Day of the Rabbit


Today, in the daf yomi cycle, Chulin 59a was studied, where the Gemara mentions certain rules regarding the shafan, i.e. the rabbit.

Additionally, this week we are in Parashat Ree where also the shafan (rabbit) is mentioned and described as “maale gerah”.

Some people who believe that the hyrax may be the biblical shafan, are conscious that the hyrax does not practice classical rumination, nor caecotrophy, not even merycism, so I asked them the following:

Please provide a definition of maale gerah that includes the hyrax and all the animals the Torah called maale gerah.

Trying to save their position, they published recently in the Jewish blogosphera the following answer:

Rumination-style movement of the mouth of the animal in a way which would lead the people who were living in the times of Matan Torah to believe that the animal is a true ruminant (brings up the cud) would be enough for that animal to be considered Maaleh Gerah.

Which I refute B”H by the following:

The Torah wrote that the gamal, shafan and arnebet are maaleh gerah. Could it be that it meant to say that they only give an appearance of having this characteristic?

I.That couldn’t fit into the plain meaning of the pasuk which clearly calls them “maaleh gerah”.

ויקרא פרק יא

(ד) אַךְ אֶת זֶה לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִמַּעֲלֵי הַגֵּרָה וּמִמַּפְרִיסֵי הַפַּרְסָה אֶת הַגָּמָל כִּי מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא וּפַרְסָה אֵינֶנּוּ מַפְרִיס טָמֵא הוּא לָכֶם:

(ה) וְאֶת הַשָּׁפָן כִּי מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא וּפַרְסָה לֹא יַפְרִיס טָמֵא הוּא לָכֶם:

(ו) וְאֶת הָאַרְנֶבֶת כִּי מַעֲלַת גֵּרָה הִוא וּפַרְסָה לֹא הִפְרִיסָה טְמֵאָה הִוא לָכֶם:

II.The gamal (mentioned in the same verse[1] as similar to shafan and arnebet) is actually “maaleh gerah”.

III.The Midrash speaks of the shafan as an animal who indeed has Tahara (“purity”) signs:

ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשה יג ה' ד"ה א"ר שמואל

את השפן זו מדי, רבנן ור' יהודה ברבי סימון, רבנן אמרי מה השפן הזה יש בו סימני טומאה וסימני טהרה, כך היתה מלכות מדי מעמדת צדיק ורשע, אמר רבי יהודה ברבי סימון דריוש האחרון בנה של אסתר היה טהור מאמו וטמא מאביו.

So the shafan is “maaleh gerah”, and not just appears to be, as was suggested by some.

[1] Deuteronomy 14:7


  1. A link might have been nice, so that people could see this in context. At least over there, you had the courtesy to provide a link to here.

    Had you provided a link to there, perhaps people could have seen that already prior to your "refutation", your disputant(s) had argued that there need not be a consistent single definition which encompasses all those animals.

    But anyway, the single definition could be stated as: ancient people considered them (correctly or incorrectly) to be maaleh geira. This would include the gamal which was considered to be maaleh gera, and indeed is a true ruminant.

    Your disputant(s) already know that explicit pasuk (!) which was indeed the one under discussion. And you know, already, what I had said about nouns vs. verbs as "hih".

    As to the midrash, I already had given an explanation of how "simanei taharah" could describe the rumination-like action.

    But given that the very context of that post you did NOT link to was that Chazal might have some inaccurate beliefs about science (such as that cats' claws have venom), yet that should not cause us to think that we don't know cats, hawks, and foxes. Aristotle incorrectly thought the hare was a ruminant, though he did not speak of hyraxes. Is it not possible that Chazal, just like the other ancients the Torah was addressing, still incorrectly believed that the hyrax was a ruminant? This should bother us no more than Chazal believing, like their contemporaries, in spontaneous generation.

  2. also, note how you reframed what your disputant said:
    would be enough for that animal to be considered Maaleh Gerah

    became, in your words:
    Could it be that it meant to say that they only give an appearance of having this characteristic. That couldn’t fit into the plain meaning of the pasuk which clearly calls them “maaleh gerah”

    You did something similar to me, in the past, reading the words "considered to be" into my presumed reading of the pasuk, which would then be difficult. Thus, you wrote:

    Dear R. Josh Waxman[.] Thank you for your interest. The Torah does not write that the shafan "is considered" maale geira, but writes that the shafan is maale geira, so the hyrax can not be the biblical shafan.

    To make my own reading clearer: The Torah says that it is maaleh geira, not that it is "considered to be maaleh geira". But what the Torah would "consider to be" maaleh geira is what the people would consider to be maaleh geira. Since people consider it X, we deem it X, and the Torah calls it X. For the Torah is not a science book, but rather works within the beliefs of the people of the time.

  3. As an update, I wrote up a consistent explanation of the pasuk based on what I outlined above and elsewhere. See this post, published today.

    As Rabbi Slifkin notes in the comment section of my post, he actually has video of a hyrex not just making chewing-like motions, but actual motion in the hyrax's throat when it is chewing. In other words, merycism.

    This would contradict your point above that "the hyrax does not practice classical rumination, nor caecotrophy, not even merycism".

    Since you previously seem to have indicated that merycism would be sufficient for an animal to be maaleh geirah, this would seem to be enough to counter your objection.

  4. B"H
    Sorry for my short answer, I am still abroad lecturing day and night...

    Do you have any scientific source supporting your suggestion that the hyrax practices merycism?

    In any case, merycism (practiced by the kangaroo) is not “maaleh gerah”, because nutritionally it does not resemble rumination or caecotrophy.

  5. That was a short response to my aside, not to the main thrust.

    But, I WILL provide an answer over at my blog. That is, after all, where the discussion began.