Monday, February 18, 2013

And the “Zoo-Rabbi” did not answer!


Chazaka” in Torah literature means that if something happened three times in a similar way, you may presume that it was not an accident but follows a particular pattern.

Natan Slifkin (NS) in his “rationalist blogspot” explicitly refused three times to answer my questions which challenged his published position.

A brief background:

1. I published an article on Dialogue Magazine No. 3 (Fall 5773) about the identity of the Biblical shafan, where 15 reasons are presented to support the rabbit as the Biblical shafan and 6 reasons to disqualify the hyrax as a candidate.
Being that it is a short article, I did not include in it an analysis of the objections that could be presented to my identification of the rabbit or against my suggested definition of “maale gera” and my response to them.

2. NS published in his blogspot an extensive but non-systematic response to it.

3. I asked if he was ready to discuss the contents of his letter.

4. He initially agreed.

5. I decided to begin the discussion by pointing out to one of his published erroneous statements written in his response, i.e.
“But rabbits do not, and did not, live in Eretz Yisrael or anywhere nearby”.

6. Since I think that the above statement is not accurate, I posted a comment including nine sources, among them, six supporting the existence of native rabbits in Egypt.
The latter is particularly significant -even according to my opponents’ position- for the following reasons:
a) Bene Yisrael lived in Egypt for more than two hundred years.
b) Egypt is very close to Eretz Yisrael and both countries were connected by a common trade route.

7. Then, a long comment-thread developed, where most of my questions and challenges were repeatedly ignored.
Many evasive strategies were used by NS, including omissions, distortions, taking texts out of context, citing mutilated paragraphs, inadequate generalizations, unsupported claims, faulty cause-effect connections, “appeal to authority”, proclaiming premature conclusions, sarcasm, “straw man arguments”, etc.

8. Although NS initially agreed to discuss, now despite a long list of unanswered questions, he has decided to stop answering my challenges, questions and comments.
The unanswered points could be summarized in my posts dated:
February 1, 2013 at 5:09 PM (20.1 IB)
February 2, 2013 at 1:44 AM
February 5, 2013 at 1:07 AM (first and second part)
February 11, 2013 at 8:24 AM (first and second part)
February 11, 2013 at 8:27 PM
February 14, 2013 at 12:09 AM
February 14, 2013 at 7:20 PM

Additional thoughts:

9. An important point is that even if no evidence of rabbits in the ancient Middle East could be found, that would not be a challenge to my suggestion that the Biblical Shafan is the rabbit, since Bene Yisrael got acquainted with the rabbit when Moshe presented it to them.
The inherent difficulty[1] in identifying these species and their signs is evident from the very first moment when Hashem instructed Moshe Rabbenu regarding them, and told him (Leviticus 11:2):
Zot hachaya asher tochelu (This is the living thing that ye may eat among all the beasts that are on the earth).
The Talmud (Chulin 42a) reports that, as indicated by the words “this is”, when enumerating the various species, the Almighty miraculously showed Moshe each and every species[2] and exclaimed, “this one you may eat” or, “this one you may not eat”.
It is also reported that Moshe did the same with Bene Yisrael.[3]
Thus, even in the remote case that Bene Yisrael were not yet acquainted with the rabbit in Egypt, and even if there were no rabbits in Eretz Yisrael, nevertheless David HaMelech and Shelomo HaMelech were not speaking about an unfamiliar species.

Even if rabbits were absent in Eretz Yisrael in Biblical times, and even in the whole Middle East, Am Yisrael -in any case- would become familiar with them in their journeys through the exile-long centuries; thus it would be necessary to warn them against their consumption.

10. Besides questions regarding rabbits in the ancient Middle East, NS refused to answer additional important questions, among them:

a) NS wrote in his response to my article in Dialogue Magazine:
“Some zoologists, however, have observed that hyraxes do in fact regurgitate small quantities of food for remastication”,

Could you please provide the sources supporting that?

NS never published any support to his questionable statement. Nullius in verba.

b) IB: The hyrax cannot be the shafan, because even the proponents of identifying the hyrax as the shafan acknowledge that there is no evidence that the hyrax practices rumination, caecotrophy or even merycism; thus, the hyrax is not “maaleh gerah”.
In any case, as explained elsewhere, merycism (practiced by the kangaroo) is not equivalent to “maaleh gerah”, because nutritionally it does not resemble rumination or caecotrophy.

NS never tried to engage in discussing with me to refute this argument.

11. More challenges against NS’s response could not be presented because the discussion was abruptly aborted by NS on February 14, 2013 at 12:13 AM.

12. As a side note, it should be emphasized that NS’s refusal to debate is very significant, because I agreed to debate with NS in a clearly non-neutral environment, i.e. in his blogspot, a forum where comments are moderated by NS himself, where he can decide what to publish and what not, when to publish, when to erase a comment, allowing or not bloggers using simultaneously double identities, etc. All this censorship and manipulation is done without the public’s awareness.

13. Sadly, the number and intensity of ad hominem attacks made by NS and other “bloggers” (not filtered by NS), were a big hindrance to the flux of ideas. Needless to say, these attacks were not reciprocated by me.

14. With NS´s refusal to continue the discussion on the Biblical shafan we could integrate another “chazaka”.
In the past NS declined to debate the scientific evidences in favor of “his” evolution of the species, then he refused to debate the reproductive characteristics of lice and now the zoological characteristics of the biblical shafan.

15. All the above, should give us something to think about...

Finally, I do believe I have partially presented my case for any objective reader.

Yitzchak Betech

P.S. Nevertheless, I am still willing B"H to continue this interchange immediately after NS will start answering the unanswered questions.

[1] Bamidbar Rabba 15:4
[2] Midrash Tanchuma Shemini 8 s.v. “veim tameah
[3] Sifra Shemini 11:62


  1. Dear Isaac

    You are truly unbelievable! (I mean that literally - I can't believe how your brain works).

    I know that the mishna says that chutzpa will increase in the time before Mashiach, so I suppose I should be grateful to you for hastening his coming!

    The discussion between you (and your supporters) and Rabbi Slifkin (and his supporters) went on for over 200 comments! Is that what you describe as refusing to discuss? Except that you don't seem to understand how a discussion or debate works. Normally each side raises questions for the other side, and answers questions posed to them.
    What you seem to do is to continue with the same question over and over again, regardless of the fact that it has already been answered, and that you yourself admit it is irrelevant. Then, instead of answering questions you simply revert to numbers prefaced with IB.
    Furthermore, perhaps there is a comprehension issue - either with English or with Torah.
    You claim (on Rabbi Slifkin's blog) to have given 3 sources here which answer the question I asked you.
    Let me restate the question:
    Do you have any source in Chazal, Rishonim or Acharonim that a navi spoke with ruach hakodesh to an audience who did not understand what he meant?

    Your answer there was to tell me to look at Leviticus 11. And Chulin 42. I did. It did not answer the question. I explained to you why these sources are not sufficient.
    Your answer now is to look at Bamidbar Rabba 15:4. I actually did look that up (one day I'll learn not to waste time with you). It is EXACTLY the same source that you brought last time. It says there that G-d showed Moshe the kosher and non-kosher animals (along with showing him the moon and the menorah).
    I'll copy and paste my response to you there:
    1. How do you know that this includes animals unknown to Moshe? Perhaps it only includes those animals listed in the Torah?
    2. Even if you can answer 2. it does not answer my question. This is not speaking about Moshe's audience. There is no implication in this Gemara at all that Moshe transmitted the information he learned on Mount Sinai to the Children of Israel. In the same way that the gemarot in Berachot 5a and Megilla 19b do not mean that Moshe dictated the book of Esther (or any other books of Tanach) the Children of Israel, nor did he teach them Mishna, Gemara etc. (See introduction of Tosefot Yom Tov)

    Same questions apply here. It is not Rabbi Slifkin who has a chazaka, but you. You consistently refuse to answer any question, you cannot bring a single support for your position from the words of our Rabbis, and I still maintain that you are perverting our Holy Torah and destroying our mesorah.

    Oh, and I also tried to find the Tanchuma and Sifra you cited, but apparently you are using a different numbering system than the books I have, so I couldn't find them. I would appreciate it if you could actually cite your sources.

    (At least I should appreciate the fact that you finally had the decency to refer to Rabbi Slifkin as a Rabbi.)

    1. B”H
      Dear RDS
      Thank you for your comment.

      RDS wrote:
      ...What you seem to do is to continue with the same question over and over again, regardless of the fact that it has already been answered, and that you yourself admit it is irrelevant...

      1.1 IB:
      Please provide a link to one example matching your description.

      RDS wrote:
      You claim (on Rabbi Slifkin's blog) to have given 3 sources here which answer the question I asked you...

      1.2 IB:
      From the continuation of your comment it seems that you think that I did not answer your questions.
      Dear David, I understand you because you think that I am answering what you wrote on:
      February 11, 2013 at 9:21 PM
      But I clearly wrote that I am answering what you wrote on:
      February 13, 2013 at 11:11 PM

      So I understand why you do not understand.

      I will try to help you B”H, I will copy your question and then my answer.

      RDS asked on February 13, 2013 at 11:11 PM:
      How do you know that G-d showed Moshe every single animal that has (or will) ever live? Does the word "kol" in Tanach always mean every single one? (Clearly not - look at Tosefot Zevachim 113a s.v. Lo Yarad).

      1.3 IB:
      Please look at Midrash Tanchuma Shemini 8 s.v. “veim tameah”

      RDS asked on February 13, 2013 at 11:11 PM:
      Furthermore, how do you know that "Eved Neeman" means that Moshe told everything to the Children of Israel? As I showed you, Tosefot Yom Tov, in his introduction to Mishna, says explicitly the opposite of you.

      1.4 IB:
      Please look at Sifra (Shemini 11:62)

      RDS asked on February 13, 2013 at 11:11 PM:
      So, I'll ask again. Can you please give me an explicit source which shows someone speaking with Ruach HaKodesh to an audience who cannot understand his terminology?

      1.5 IB:
      Please look at Chulin 42ª plus Sifra Shemini 11:62 plus Bamidbar Rabba 15:4

    2. B"H
      Although you read and elsewhere commented on some points related to this comment, you did not answered what I wrote on 1.1 IB

      So please present an example or retract from your accusation.

    3. Dear Dr Betech
      Have you taken away my smicha now? Or are we such close friends that you feel able to call me by my first name?

      Perhaps you don't believe me when I say that my time is valuable. But I'll give you an example of you repeating the same answer - your previous comment (just one of dozens of examples - but don't ask me to list them all).
      You yourself admitted that whether or not rabbits lived in Egypt was irrelevant to your position. Since Rabbi Slifkin's blog was about your Dialogue article, the entire (repeated) discussion about rabbits in Egypt was irrelevant.
      Now, will you answer my questions? Or just keep setting me homework to do.

    4. B"H
      Dear RDS
      I am not asking but one example.
      The example you presented does not match your description.
      a) It was not answered by NS.
      b) Irrelevant leshitati does not mean irrelevant to the discussion (regarding the mistakes on the letter NS sent to Dialogue).
      c) So please present an example which matches with your accusation or please retract.

    5. I'll give you another example. You have cited Chullin 42b three times, and Bamidbar Rabba once. I explained to you after the first time why it was not an answer to my question. Yet you kept repeating it.
      Another example: You keep asking when (according to Rabbi Slifkin) the rabbit was introduced to Egypt. I have lost count of how many times you have asked this question. What you seem to fail to grasp is that the onus is on you to show that the rabbit WAS in egypt, and from what time. You have yet shown conclusively that the rabbit was known to the Egyptians in the Biblical period. You have not shown at all that the rabbit lived in Ein Gedi in the Biblical period. You have not shown any kind of connection between the gazelle and the rabbit. You have not explained why you believe that the Torah would use different words for "hare" and "rabbit" yet lump camels, llamas, alpacas into one category. You have not explained to us why the hyrax has no name in Biblical Hebrew.
      But you criticise RNS for not telling you exactly how frequently whales appear in the Mediterranean (it seems that you admit that they do appear, so the frequency is yet another example of you raising irrelevant points).

      The letter NS sent to Dialogue was all about your shita. So irrelevant leshitatcha DOES mean irrelevant to that blog post. After 234 comments, you have focused almost exclusively on a comment (about which NS himself said (and I quote) "Ah, very good, you caught a small inaccuracy; I should just have written "there were not" rather than "there are not".")
      According to your "rules" (who allows you to set the rules on someone else's blog?) Rabbi Slifkin bringing video and academic evidence is not sufficient. You want something more. Yet, for most other readers of his blog, he has answered your questions sufficiently and made his case. In addition, almost all of the questions you have raised have been dealt with in his books.
      On the other hand, you very rarely cite sources. And on the few times that you do, even when your sources are shown to be faulty, you continue to quote from them.
      What accusation should I retract?

    6. Furthermore, all of this discussion of retraction of accusations is another tool which you use to avoid answering the issue.
      I have shown why I don't believe the Gemara, Bamidbar Rabba or Sifra are sufficient to support your claim. Tanchuma is certainly not muchrach, it may have merit, but not necessarily.
      So, when I ask you to please bring some explicit sources that support your position, and then you fail to do so, but change the subject, that is another example of you going on to irrelevant subjects.

    7. B"H
      Dear RDS
      Your new examples do not match your description.

      RDS wrote:
      What accusation should I retract?

      The following:
      "What you seem to do is to continue with the same question over and over again, regardless of the fact that it has already been answered, and that you yourself admit it is irrelevant."

    8. Yes, they do match.
      Now will you retract your accusation that "the zoo-Rabbi did not answer"?

    9. B"H
      Which one I admitted it is irrelevant?

    10. says:
      Irrelevant: not relevant; not applicable or pertinent:

      Topic of Rabbi Slifkin's blog (from his opening sentence):
      "In “The Identity of the Shafan and Arnevet” (Dialogue 2012), physicians Isaac Betech and Obadia Maya attempt to argue that the shafan of Tenach is the rabbit and not the hyrax."

      IB 27.1: "As stated in a previous comment, leshitati (according to my approach), the presence or absence of rabbits in the Biblical Israel or in the Biblical Middle East is irrelevant. (Leshitati: A = B)."

      Since the topic of the post was your shita, the discussion of rabbits in Israel (according to your own words) is irrelevant.

      Now that I have answered your (same) question 3 times, and thus have a chazaka of answering your questions, can you please answer my question.

      You have failed to bring sources at least three times when I asked you for them:
      1. Which Rishon/Acharon claims that the definition of "aino pareh u-revah" is most parasitic of all animals.
      2. Do you have any source in Shas or Rishonim which says explicitly that Tanach refers to animals which were unknown to the original audience?
      3. Can you please provide all of us with the basis (Shas, Rishonim or even Acharonim) for your claim that "maaleh gerah" means: ruminant or caecotroph or merycist species.

      Three times you have failed to provide sources which back up your position. It seems that you have a chazaka.
      Please, please, please, for your own credibility, bring some sources. Answer my questions. Simply, clearly, with the actual words of the source included in your comment.
      Thank you.

    11. B"H
      Dear R. Sedley

      RDS wrote:
      …Since the topic of the post was your shita, the discussion of rabbits in Israel (according to your own words) is irrelevant…

      The reason of my involvement on that comment-thread was clearly defined from my very first comment, i.e.
      Dear Natan
      Please let me know if you are ready to discuss the contents of your letter.
      January 29, 2013 at 5:47 PM

      Irrelevant leshitati does not mean irrelevant to the discussion.

      Dear R. David, I suggest you to show your Rab a copy of this comment thread and please ask him a written Psak Halacha regarding what is expected from you in this case according to the last words of Rama on Sh. A. Or Hachayim 606:1

    12. Dear Dr Betech

      You are accusing me of motzi shem ra? I would love to ask a Rav about that - please give me the name of the Rav that you asked before contributing to a blog which was set up entirely to denounce Rabbi Slifkin. Particularly in this post entitled "And the “Zoo-Rabbi” did not answer" despite the fact that he answered you over and over and over again - which Rabbi did you ask before posting this post?
      Furthermore, Rabbi Slifkin claimed (in a comment on his blog) that:
      "This is a person who, by his own admission, was instrumental in getting several Gedolim to sign a letter of condemnation against my books. According to someone in Mexico who wants to translate my books into Spanish, he would be unable to distribute them in bookstores due to Dr. Betech's opposition."
      Is his accusation true? If it is, which Rabbi permitted you to be motzi shem ra in such a fashion?

      I see that you have absolutely no sources to back up what you are saying. In which case, every single one of your comments, in addition to your Dialogue article are irrelevant (assuming that you are a traditional Jew. If you are not and are just making it up yourself then it is both irrelevant (because Rabbi Slifkin is trying to follow traditional Jewish sources) and heretical).
      Please bring your sources.
      And explain to me the heter that you use for being motzi shem ra.
      Thank you

    13. B”H
      Dear R. Sedley

      RDS wrote:
      And explain to me the heter that you use for being motzi shem ra.

      A heter is required after the case is defined.
      “Motsi shem ra” is publicizing a false accusation against someone.
      Please define this case:
      a) Who is the defamed person?
      b) What was the false accusation against that person?
      c) When this defamation was done.
      d) Where the defamation was done.

    14. Please don't give me any more homework.
      Please give me the sources to back up what you say.
      Since you don't deny it, I assume that you admit to being behind the ban on Rabbi Slifkin's books and preventing their translation into Spanish, thus causing him financial and physical harm.
      If you have no sources, please don't preach to me in halacha. Your halachic views are extremely suspect in my mind. Either you are a fool, or a heretic, or what you say is irrelevant. I was trying to be dan le-kaf z'chut.
      You have consistently failed to answer any of my questions. You continue giving "homework" though I have requested several times that you stop. I asked for the name of your Rabbi who paskened for you. Not a shiur in hilchot motzi shem ra.
      Please simply rename this post to "And Dr Betech did not answer" and we'll call it quits.

    15. B”H
      Dear R. Sedley

      RDS wrote:
      I asked for the name of your Rabbi who paskened for you.

      A heter is required after the case is defined.
      I defined a, b, c and d.
      You have not.

    16. No, I have not. And I have explained why.
      Now will you answer my questions?

  2. Dear Dr Betech

    Since all open discussions should be discussed in the open, and not hidden behind numbers and concealed sources, could you please clarify one point. IIRC you only had one source which stated that rabbits were present in Biblical Israel, and when Rabbi Slifkin contacted the author of that paper he conceded that it was an error, and should have said "hare".
    So, can you please show us all of your evidence that there were rabbits in Biblical Israel, at the time of Kings David and Solomon.
    In addition, can you please explain the relevance of six sources showing there were rabbits in Biblical Egypt (even though those were also disputed, and in no way convincing).

    Finally, do you remember that the purpose of Rabbi Slifkin's blog was to discuss YOUR article in Dialogue. Did you answer his questions (or mine, or anyone else's) regarding your article? If not, the words "pot", "kettle" and "black" spring to mind.

  3. RDS also said: "I also tried to find the Tanchuma and Sifra you cited, but apparently you are using a different numbering system than the books I have, so I couldn't find them. I would appreciate it if you could actually cite your sources."
    You obviously have the sources in front of you. Why could you not cite them here (i.e. copy and paste them) to save me having to hunt for them? Do you not think that my time is valuable? Or are you trying to get me to give up?

    I have looked at Tanchuma. It seems to make a clear distinction between Moshe who was shown "all the animals" and Adam HaRishon, who was shown "all the creatures that He created."
    In other words, it is not at all clear that Moshe saw all the same animals that Adam saw. The only comparison between them is that G-d brought them before each of them. The "Im temeah" is "if you are surprised that G-d passed [the animals] before Moshe."

    If you read the Sifra it is clear that Moshe was only showing the animals that he had in his possession to the Jewish people. Nowhere there does it use the word "all". It simply says that "he held the animal and showed it to Yisrael..." Surely you don't think that Moshe picked up the animals that G-d showed him prophetically (even if I were to accept your reading of Tanchuma)?! As far as I know, only G-d can show things prophetically. Furthermore, if you reading of Tanchuma is correct (which I am not at all sure of), showing all of the animals in the world was something so strange that it only happened for Moshe and Adam. In other words, certainly it was not something that Moshe could do for the Jewish people (otherwise there would be no "tameah")

    So, please bring out your next source. Something which says explicitly that the audience did not understand what was being said with ruach hakodesh (which was the question).

    And please, cite your sources (i.e. present the Hebrew text here on the website. My time is actually valuable. Also, the fact that you don't do so, makes it always seem as though you are trying to hide something).

  4. Dear Dr Betech

    The problem in trying to check all your sources in a hurry is that I missed something - which presumably you also missed.

    The Midrash Tanchuma which you cited is clearly only speaking about sheratzim (see the beginning of the section). It was only sheratzim that Moshe was troubled by. So when it says "all the animals" it does not mean "all" but only the sheratzim.

    I'm not sure whether you consider the rabbit to be a sheretz or not. Can you please clarify that you believe that the rabbit is a sheretz? Or can you please retract this source (or explain it) and bring a proper source which actually supports your position.

    Thank you

  5. a) NS wrote in his response to my article in Dialogue Magazine:
    “Some zoologists, however, have observed that hyraxes do in fact regurgitate small quantities of food for remastication”,

    Could you please provide the sources supporting that?

    Answer rabbi slifkin is the zoologist

    Some zoologists, however, have observed that hyraxes do in fact regurgitate small quantities of food
    for remastication – a behavior that I have managed to film in my own captive hyrax. Accordingly, it is
    even easier to describe the hyrax as ma’aleh gerah than it is to give this description to the hare and
    rabbit. W

    1. B"H
      Dear DWL

      DWL wrote:
      Answer rabbi slifkin is the zoologist

      But NS himself did not say that he is the zoologist, he only wrote:
      "Well, you can find the names of two zoologists in my book…”

      As you probably know, I could not find the claimed zoologists (stating what NS claimed they stated) in his book, and even when repeatedly requested, NS still refused to say the page number...

      If you or someone else finds in his book the zoologists that claimed what NS says, please let me know.

      Shabbat Sha-lom.