Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Natan Slifkin sent a letter to Artscroll. Response to some points.

Dear friends:

Finally –after a few weeks– Natan Slifkin decided to write about Chulin 59a on the issue of the shafan.
He published in his blogspot the letter he sent to Artscroll.
Following are some comments related to Natan Slifkin’s letter. (Emphasis by bold letters added by me in the whole document).
I will try to ignore ad hominem attacks and his psychoanalytical analysis of my personality.

1.1 NS wrote:
…It is disappointing to see that a certain note was added to the latest edition of the Artscroll Talmud. (As you may recall, 16 years ago you hired me as zoological consultant for Chullin.)

16 years ago, was 2003. The year when Artscroll hired you was 2003.
In 2005, about 30 Gedole Yisrael signed letters disqualifying your writings, so it’s understandable that Artscroll hired you in 2003, two years before the letters were published.

2.1 NS wrote:
…Dr. Betech is single-minded in his religious obsession that the shafan must not be the hyrax (because in order to contrive his own particular forced explanation of how the Torah's four animals with one kosher sign are the only such animals on the planet, he wants the shafan to be the rabbit).

This is not my own particular explanation, but a statement written in Chullin 59a and followed by all the Rishonim I have found, as amply documented in “The enigma of the Biblical shafan” book in chapter 8 entitled: “The exhaustive list of one-signed animals”.

3.1 NS wrote:
And amazingly, in a book that professes to be the definitive and comprehensive study of this topic with "more than 1000 bibliographical Torah and scientific sources," he fails to cite the only dedicated work on this topic that had ever been published - because it was written by me!

In the main collective letter signed by 23 Gedole Yisrael in 2005 they wrote that it is forbidden to propagate NS’s teachings, therefore I decided not to quote that book. Anyway we tried to address all the intellectual arguments presented by that author, usually being arguments that historically preceded him.
If someone thinks that we didn’t address any specific argument made in NS’s book, please point it out in the comments to this blogspot.

4.1 NS wrote:
But far more problematic is the description of Betech as attempting to defend the "traditional" view. The view that the shafan is the rabbit is not the "traditional" view; it's the medieval European view, because they didn't have hyraxes in Europe. They broke from the original tradition of people from the Geonic era, who lived in the region of Israel, and were familiar with the hyrax.

Regarding the identification of the Biblical shafan from the Geonic era, I only remember Rab Saadia Gaon who just wrote “wabr” without describing that species; as we explained in the book we doubt that he meant the hyrax, and even if he was referring to the hyrax, nevertheless Ibn Ezra in Bereshit 2:11 wrote that Rab Saadia Gaon didn’t have a kabala for the identification of the Biblical animals.
We also found that Ibn Janach -who lived less than a century later than Rab Saadia Gaon- translated shafan as wabr and wabr as conilio (rabbit), so the hyrax can hardly be called a Geonic era tradition.

5.1 NS wrote:
You can ask anyone in the field of Biblical natural history (such as Dr. Zohar Amar and Dr. Moshe Raanan), and they will all tell you that it's clear beyond any doubt that the shafan is the hyrax, and cannot possibly be the rabbit.

In science, appealing to authority is not acceptable (ad verecundiam fallacy).
Furthermore, as any scientist knows, in the field of natural history, experts do not write grandiose statements like “clear beyond any doubt”. The latter is the reason the title and subtitle of our book is “The enigma of the Biblical shafan. Torah and scientific research suggesting a solution”.

6.1 NS wrote:
…The reason is the very clear passuk in Barchi Nafshi
הָרִים הַגְּבֹהִים לַיְּעֵלִים סְלָעִים מַחְסֶה לַשְׁפַנִּים: תהילים קד:יח
"The high hills are for the ya'elim, the rocks are a refuge for the shefanim."
The pasuk tells us two things about shefanim: that they hide in rocks, and that they are associated with ya'elim

Indeed the pasuk tells us that shefanim hide in rocks, as rabbits do.
Nevertheless, I’m not sure that the pasuk tells us that the shefanim are associated in the same habitat with yaelim, since an “atnach/etnachta” separates between the two elements of this pasuk.
For textual and pictorial evidence that common rabbits hide in rocks, please see the linked document (taken from the forthcoming 2nd expanded edition of our shafan book).
ShafanBook Betech Rabbit on rocky areas.pdf

7.1 NS wrote:
Instead, he claims, David HaMelech was speaking about the rabbit of Spain - an animal that never lived anywhere near the Land of Israel and was thus completely unfamiliar to David HaMelech and to his audience, and which moreover does not hide under rocks but rather in burrows! It's simply ludicrous.

In chapter 5 (b) of our book we wrote nine ways of refuting these arguments.

8.1 NS wrote:
(The hyrax also matches the description in Shemini of an animal that brings up food via its throat, which it does in small quantities, as I have observed and filmed on several occasions.

With the last statement, Natan Slifkin reminded me what he himself published on 17th March 13 in his website:
My video of my own hyrax engaged in what appeared to me to be merycism has been dismissed by some zoologists as showing a form of threat gesture instead.

And NS added in response to a question in the comments of the same blogspot the following:
Sure. I'm not committed to the hyrax engaging in merycism.

Nevertheless, I will very much enjoy if Natan Slifkin is able to present even one source from the professional scientific literature stating that the hyrax practices any kind of redigestion.
Otherwise, even the Biblical primary criteria of being maale gerah would not be met by the hyrax.

9.1 NS wrote:
And contrary to Betech's claim, the shafan is no more of a sheretz than is a rabbit - in fact, it is much larger, and more of a leaper.)

NS does not present any source from the classic Jewish literature that mentions the size of the animal as a requirement to be classified as a sheretz.
As explained in the linked document, the hyrax is a sheretz because it is a short-legged creature.

10.1 NS wrote:
I understand that you were probably placed under a lot of pressure - Isaac Betech is experienced at manipulating Gedolei Torah to write letters in support of his agenda, which he uses to bully people into kowtowing to his demands. Indeed, a few years ago he launched a massive campaign to prevent Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks from coming to Mexico. However, he was ultimately unsuccessful, which shows that it is possible to stand up to that kind of pressure.

Indeed people who are interested in searching for the truth find it difficult to withstand the intellectual pressure that emanates from the sources presented and carefully studied.
Regarding Dr. Jonathan Sacks, here is not the place to detail who invited him, and why they invited him, nevertheless Dr. Jonathan Sacks was not ready to intellectually defend his ideological statements which oppose Judaism, similar to NS who refused 12 times when challenged some years ago (documented here).

Finally, any respectful question or comment signed with the real full name is welcomed.

Dr. Yizchak Betech

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Important updates on Torah and science regarding the Shafan (Chulin 59a)


Dear friends:
Tomorrow Chulin 59a will be studied on Daf Yomi.
On that page the shafan is mentioned, so we decided to post some news on this famous issue.

1. A few years ago we published the 1st edition of the book (292 pages):
"The Enigma of the Biblical Shafan" Torah and scientific research suggesting a solution.
(The book includes appendices on the Talmudic science-related statements about the fish's scales/fins and the reproductive biology of lice).
After all the new information found in the last years -which also includes new scientific information supporting our conclusions B"H- the book now has more than 1000 bibliographical Torah and scientific sources, more than 100 color illustrations and four indexes.
Now the 2nd expanded and completely revised edition (388 pages) is almost ready for printing.

2. The following is the English abstract of the book (also available on request in Hebrew):
The Torah included the shafan and the arnebet among the four non-kosher animals with only one kosher sign. Throughout the centuries, the usual translations of these terms were, respectively, rabbit and hare.
            Indeed, current science shows that all the characteristics Jewish classic literature attributes to these animals do occur in the rabbit[1] and the hare.[2]
            This publication will make the case that the Torah/Talmudic definition of “maaleh gerah” includes a qualified form of cecotrophy practiced by the rabbit and hare.
            The following essay B”H refutes different options (like the hyrax, the llama, the pika and the mouse-deer) suggested and published by some as the identity of the shafan. And additionally, it answers in a systematic approach, the published challenges to our conclusions regarding the identity of the shafan.
After extensive research, as presented in a comprehensive chapter (which analyzes the kangaroo and the capybara among other animals), we did not find any additional “min” (Torah-type creature) with only one kosher sign besides the four mentioned in the Torah, and we can recognize with admiration, today as always, that only the Master of the World could state this accurate information thousands of years ago.

3. A summarized edition of "The Enigma of the Biblical Shafan" in Hebrew (162 pages) is ready for printing.

4. Important modifications were made in Nov. 2018 ed. regarding the main translation for the Biblical Shafan as the rabbit in the Artscroll Gemara Schottenstein English Edition Talmud Bavli on Chulin 59a and also in the Hebrew Edition.

5. Rab Amitai Ben David shlit"a in his new 14th edition of the Sichat Chulin added important information which supports the translation of the Shafan as the rabbit. His new approach is widely explained in the approbation letter he gave to our book.

6. One of the chapters of the book explained six points of why the hyrax cannot be the Biblical Shafan. Lately we obtained the original translation of shafan as rabbit even in Ibn Janach and Rambam; therefore now a two-page article summarizing eight points is available here.
Also available in Hebrew here

7. The book "The Enigma of the Biblical Shafan" merited approbation letters written by many Gdole Yisrael, other Rabanim who are experts in these subjects and a scientist who specialized in rabbit biology.
New letters were added throughout the last years.
A document compiling all of them is available here.

Dr. Yitzchak Betech <>

[1] For example, the common rabbit, taxonomi­cally classified as Oryctolagus spp. or the Pronolagus spp.
[2] For example, the cape hare taxonomically classified as Lepus capensis or the brown hare (Lepus europaeus).