Friday, August 26, 2011

Today is Shafan Day

Slifkin writes (Thursday, August 25, 2011):

Two of my readers told me last week that whenever they see the word "hyrax" in a post, they stop reading. I am sympathetic to that, but if you are such a person, I urge you to make today an exception! This post is more about the general idea of Rishonim having ruach hakodesh; the hyrax is only appearing incidentally.

Today is Hyrax Day - the day that Daf Yomi studies Chullin 59b, which launches the discussion of the camel, the hare and the hyrax. There are those who suggest that the shafan is not the hyrax, but instead is the rabbit. Previously, I noted that the reason why some Rishonim (medieval Torah scholars) believed that is that they lived in Spain, and were thus familiar with rabbits, but not with hyraxes. The shafan of the Chumash, Mishlei and Tehillim, on the other hand, must have been an animal from the Land of Israel - and in Israel there are plenty of hyraxes (there is one ten feet away from me right now!) but no rabbits.
Slifkin writes that "we should not be viewing the Torah as some sort of ultimate scientific text reflecting perfect Divine knowledge of the physical universe". Slifkin's statements are both a scientific (see previous posts by Dr. Betech) and a metaphysical falsehood. Here are some of the problems with his statement quoted above.

1. It is not only the Rishonim who translated shafan as rabbit. The authors of the Targumim were familiar with our mesora (and with the Middle East) and they translate Shafan as טפזא (jumping). The Aruch Hashalem in one translation of טפזא has springhasse, i.e. jumping rabbit. Jastrow also translates טפזא as rabbit.

2. David Hamelech in Tehillim (also inspired by ruach Hakodesh) is addressing all of creation, not just the land of Israel. See for example how Radak and Malbim explain Borchi Nafshi. In the Tanach we are told about new animals brought to Eretz Yisroel in the times of Shlomo Hamelech.

The Talmud in Chulin 59a describes Hashem as Shalit beolamo, i.e.  the Ruler of the His World, the One Who knows that only the camel is maaleh geira and yet tamei. ... So, of course, Hashem knows all the animals of this world. Who could think otherwise?

I wish all our readers Shabbat Shalom. This week's parsha (and this week's daf yomi) are indeed providential. There is an additional mitzvah in learning about all the signs of kosher animals, to know how to distinguish between those animals that are tamei and those that are tahor.


11 comments:

  1. 1. Tafza does not mean "rabbit." The term can equally refer to the hyrax (which is MUCH more of a jumper than the rabbit) or the jerboa. Springhasse is a name for jerboas.

    2. What on earth is the relevance of Jastrow? He had probably never heard of a hyrax.

    3. David HaMelech does not speak about penguins or kangaroos. He is speaking about animals with which he AND HIS READERS are familiar. How can he describe the name and habits of an animal that they haven't seen? They wouldn't even know what the name means!

    4. In Tenach we are indeed told about new animals brought to Shlomo on ships from Tarshish - monkeys and peacocks. I fail to see the relevance of this.

    5. Hashem certainly knows all the animals in the world. Who could think otherwise? He also knows the future. So what? The Chumash, and certain Nevi'im and Kesuvim, does not make any mention of the halachos of cloning, donor IVF, or software piracy - instead, it speaks about donkeys falling into pits. Likewise it makes no mention of penguins, polar bears, kangaroos - or rabbits from South Africa. Who could think otherwise?

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  3. Thank you for your response.

    1-2. Later on, Kohut (Aruch HaShalem) does refer to jaculus which is the jerboa. There is no indication that the jerboa practices redigestion or caecotrophy so I think we can eliminate that possibility, although of course a jerboa looks like a rabbit/hare. In German and Dutch haas/hase is a hare. The root meaning of טפזא is to jump and it is some kind of a hopping animal similar to a hare (in Kohut: springhase). Both Kohut and Jastrow were experts in Aramaic so when Jastrow says that טפזא means a rabbit, why should we ignore that?

    BTW, the hyraxes that I saw in my youth did not have the same level of hopping movement characteristic of hares/rabbit. They do jump between rocks etc. but otherwise I recall them running like other animals. Can you point me to the literature that shows that hopping is characteristic of hyraxes. This is something that I did not know.

    Aruch HaShalem refers to the fact that the טפזא has unequal legs. Their large hind legs may be what gives the rabbit their characteristic hopping motion. I have seen them jump very high.

    http://www.afrotheria.net/Hyracoidea.html

    The above link describe hyraxes as having "short legs" (as I recall it too), and perhaps it is more a sheretz than a chaya, and hence not even a candidate for shafan. Dr Betech has referred me to "The behavior guide to African mammals: including hoofed mammals, carnivores", Richard Estes, 1992, page 252 which describes hyraxes as “moving in a creeping walk”.

    3-5. How do you know that Dovid Hamelech was not familiar with the rabbit? Perhaps some were brought to Eretz Yisroel as in the days of Shlomo when monkeys and peacocks were brought from Tarshish (possibly Cathage, North Africa). Why is not relevant to know that animals were brought to Eretz Yisroel from faraway places? If monkeys and peacocks could arrive from Tarshish, why could rabbits not come from Tarshish or Spain?. Perhaps Dovid was told about these animals by others who had seen them. Or perhaps he knew through ruach hakodesh. The Radak and Malbim explain that Borchi Nafshi is talking about the whole of creation as is obvious from even a superficial reading of the psalm. I don't know how you know that this psalm is limited to phenomena in Eretz Yisroel?

    Your position is based on just too many suppositions. The Targum Onkelos/Yonasan ben Uziel both say that a shafan is a טפזא which is some kind of jumping animal similar to a hare, and as Jastrow says this means a rabbit. The Rishonim also say that the shafan is a rabbit. Rav Hirsch and the Malbim also had this mesora (although they could not see how it could work). So shafan=rabbit seems secure. If you have any expert in Aramaic/Targumim who disagree, then that would be valuable information. I am open to all reasonable possibilities.

    I am pleased to see that you believe that "Hashem certainly knows all the animals in the world. Who could think otherwise?". In fact, I never doubted that this is what you believe. But then I fail to follow your logic. As you say, of course, He knows about the rabbits in Spain and elsewhere. So what is so difficult about Him writing about them in His Torah of Truth?

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  4. "I am pleased to see that you believe that "Hashem certainly knows all the animals in the world. Who could think otherwise?". In fact, I never doubted that this is what you believe. But then I fail to follow your logic. As you say, of course, He knows about the rabbits in Spain and elsewhere. So what is so difficult about Him writing about them in His Torah of Truth?"

    The Torah also had to be comprehensible to its original audience and subsequent dozens of generations. There are undoubtedly certain Hebrew words in the Torah, particularly the names of species and the like, which became lost in the vicissitudes of time because they were not directly relevant all the time like other precise Hebrew words, such as "arvei nachal." But is it really tenable to say that the meaning of some words was never known to anyone but God? Or more so, that the earlier generations didn't know what it meant but the later ones do? Think about what you're saying. No one knew vos mainst a shafan until Jews lived in Spain?

    In addition, although I'm sure you believe that Hebrew is a (the?) divinely created language, the actual vocabulary in the Torah and Nach is rather meager. But it includes odd specie names that the Bnai Yisrael could not have understood? What about the fact that the word also occurs in the Phoenician dialect? Did they also not know what the word meant?

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  5. Hi Mississippi Fred! We also have an Oral Torah from which we can infer what words mean. The Targum Onkelos and Yonasan ben Uziel going back almost 2000 years ago use words that indicate a rabbit-like creature. In addition, the rabbit fits every description that we have from both the Written and Oral Torah (e.g. having long ears whereas the hyrax has relatively short ears). So we are not saying that the meaning of shafan was known only to G-d.

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  6. I should add that the core of the Oral Torah is co-extensive with the Written Torah (back to the revelation at Sinai). Moses certainly was told by G-d what a shafan is and he would have taught that to his generation.

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  7. FYI:
    Targum Yonasson ben Uziel on the Torah is a medieval work, perhaps misnamed by a printer when he saw "TY."

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  8. Rabbi Slifkin says the comments feature appears to be off. Testing.

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  9. Lev. 11:5 clearly speaks of some kind of animal that is capable of rumination and has non-split hoofs [farsah lo yafris] (NOT PAWS - kapav).

    For the love of God, can someone please explain to me how does hyrax or rabbit, or any other rodent for that matter (they all have "paws") falls into what is described in Lev 11:5 ?

    Thanks...

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  10. Aleksandr Sigalov,

    Lev. 11:5 clearly speaks of some kind of animal that is capable of rumination and has non-split hoofs [farsah lo yafris] (NOT PAWS - kapav).

    For the love of God, can someone please explain to me how does hyrax or rabbit, or any other rodent for that matter (they all have "paws") falls into what is described in Lev 11:5 ?


    Dear Aleksandr,

    I suspect that the term “ufarsah lo yafris” simply means that the creature “does not possess a cloven hoof” rather than “it possesses a hoof which is not cloven”. But I admit that your kushya is a good one…

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  11. Aleksandr's kashya is good according to Rashbam and others that parsah means a hoof. However, according to Rashi, parsah means the sole of the foot (O.F. plante), not a hoof. Thus the Torah does not require a split hoof, but rather a divided foot/paw.

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