Defining the Seven Kosher Wild Beasts

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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Shmini

Parshat Parah/Shabbat Mevarchim Nissan

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The Torah portion of Shemini discusses the laws of the kosher and non-kosher animals, birds, and insects.[1] The verses in Deuteronomy[2] give a more detailed list of all the kosher animals. They are שׁ֕וֹר שֵׂ֥ה כְשָׂבִ֖ים וְשֵׂ֥ה עִזִּֽים אַיָּ֥ל וּצְבִ֖י וְיַחְמ֑וּר וְאַקּ֥וֹ וְדִישֹׁ֖ן וּתְא֥וֹ וָזָֽמֶר: This article will try to define these animals based on the interpretations of the commentaries.
Three Kosher Domestic Animals
The translation of the first three is straightforward: A שׁ֕וֹר is an ox, a שֵׂ֥ה כְשָׂבִ֖יםis a sheep and a ְשֵׂ֥ה עִזִּֽים is a goat. These three are kosher domestic animals (beheimah). As such there are certain parts of their fats that are forbidden.[3]In addition, when slaughtering them, it is not necessary to cover their blood.[4]
Seven Kosher Wild Animals
The other seven animals in the verse are kosher wild animals (chaya).[5] As such, their fat is not forbidden for consumption and when slaughtering them one must cover their blood.[6]
The species that are considered domestic have the laws of a beheimah even if they live in the wild while the laws of a chaya apply to all the species that are considered wild even if they are domesticated.[7] See the footnote as to the differences between domestic and wild animals.[8]
The translation of these seven is somewhat complex.[9]
I will present the opinion of Yisroel Meir Levinger in his Mazon Kasher min HaChai (Kosher Food from the Animal Kingdom – Jerusalem 1980).[10]
1)     איל (Ayal) – Roe Deer (Capreolus Capreolus)
This is based on the following descriptions of the Ayal:
·        It is a swift runner (see Gen. 49:21)
·        It is (often) thirsty for water (see Tehillim 42:10)
·        Its horns are branched, and the more the horns grow, the more they branch out (see Yoma 29a). This is true about a deer but is not true about a gazelle which is how some other commentaries translate this word.
·        In many of the Semitic languages, the word for this animal is similar to the word ayal.
·        This animal was native to the land of Israel in Biblical times.
Some translate ayal as a gazelle (see the Kaplan Chumash).
2)     צבי (Tzvi) – Gazelle[11]
This is based on the following descriptions of the Tzvi:
·        It is a swift runner (see Kings I, 12:8)
·        It is a particularly beautiful animal (see Song of Songs 8:14)
·        It is similar to a goat (see Chullin 80a)
·        It does not shed its horns every year. The Jerusalem Talmud (9:2) recounts the following story: The people of Paneas (in the north of Israel) were unhappy with the way the Roman emperor (Dioclestianus) was treating them. They threatened to leave the area. A wise man told the emperor that the people would not leave and even if they would, it would not be for long as they would return soon after. The wise man said he would prove that animals (and by extension people) will always move back to their place of origin by doing the following experiment: He advised that they take Tavyan(Aramaic for tzvi), plate their horns with silver, and ship them to Africa. They did this, and 13 years later, the animals returned.[12] They were able to identify the animals by the silver plating on their horns. This story proves that the tzvi does not shed its horns annually because if they did, it would be impossible to identify them by their horns 13 years later. Since deer shed their horns every year and gazelles do not, this supports the translation of tzvi as gazelle rather than deer.
Some, however, translate tzvi as deer (see Tosfot quoted in note 11).
3)      יחמור (Yachmur) – Fallow Deer (Dama Dama)
This is based on the following:
·        This species of deer was native to Israel in earlier eras.
·        The Talmud (Bechorot 7b) says that the yachmur can mate with the ayal. If the ayal is a roe deer as explained above, it stands to reason that the yachmur is a similar species.
·        In several middle eastern languages (Arabic and parts of Iran), this deer is called a yachmur.
Some translate yachmur as antelope (Kaplan Chumash based on the Septuagint).
4)      אקו (Ako) – Ibex (Capra Ibex)
This is based on the fact that the Targum Onkelus translates ako as ya’el. The ya’el is described as living in high mountains (see Tehillim 102:18) which is true of the ibex. In addition:
·        The Mishnah (Rosh HaShana 3:3) indicates that a ya’el has a straight horn. This is true of the female ibex.
·        The Mishnah (Kilayim, 1:6) indicates that a ya’el can mate with a sheep. Although it is not known if the ibex can mate with a sheep, it is known that it can mate (and produce fertile offspring) with a goat (which is similar to a sheep).
5)     דישן (Dishon) – Antelope (Oryx)
The Targum Onkelos translates dishon as a re’eim. The re’eim is described in the Torah (Deut. 33:17) and Midrash (Sifri on ibid) as having beautiful horns but as not being very strong. The antelope fits this description.
·        In addition, the word re’eim is the name used for antelope in many Semitic languages.
6)     תאו (Te’o) – Auroch (Bos Primigenius), an extinct species of wild cattle.
This is based on the Targum Onkelus who translates te’o as torbala or wild ox. The Auroch fits the description of the shor habar (wild ox) given in the Midrash[13] as a huge beast. The Auroch was native to the land of Israel in Biblical times but was no longer found there after the destruction of the Temple. It became extinct in Europe in the 1600’s.
·        Some translate te’o as a bison (see the Kaplan Chumash). This is not clear as it seems that bison was not native to Israel in Biblical times.
7)     זמר (Zamer) – Wild Goat (Capra Aegagrus) or Giraffe
Rav Sa’adiah Ga’on translates the zamer as a giraffe as does the Septuagint. This would explain the opinion of the Rambam[14] that the 10 species of kosher animals listed in the Torah are the only ones that chew their cud and have split hooves. While other species that are not listed can be grouped with one of these ten, the giraffe is very different than all the others. So since it is not listed explicitly, it would be difficult to include it in the category of any other one of these species.
Slaughtering a Giraffe
There is a common belief that it is impossible to shecht (slaughter) a giraffe as it is not known where on the neck to shecht it. This is incorrect as, according to the halacha (Jewish law), one may slaughter a kosher animal anywhere on its neck.[15]
Having a Tradition
The Rama (Y.D. 82:3) writes that we only eat birds which we know from tradition to be kosher.[16] The Shach (Rabbi Shabsi Cohen, 1621–1662, of Lithuania) says[17] that the same applies to kosher wild animals. Some say[18] that we do not need a tradition to eat any animal that chews its cud and has split hooves. When the Shach said that we need a tradition, he was referring to the question of whether a particular species is considered a beheimah (kosher domestic animal) or a chaya (kosher wild animal), the difference being whether the fats of the animal are forbidden to eat as cheilev or not. Also, as explained above, the blood of a chaya must be covered with earth after it is slaughtered (the blood of a beheimah does not have to be). Since the difference between the two is subtle (see note 9 above), the Shach is saying that one should not eat the fat of a kosher animal unless one has a tradition that the animal is a chaya.
Others understand[19] the Shach to mean that one may not eat any species of animal even if it exhibits the signs of a kosher animal unless there is a tradition that it is kosher.
Based on this opinion, some say[20] that we may not eat giraffe as we do not have a tradition that it is kosher. Others say[21] that since Rav Sa’adiah Ga’on includes it in the list of kosher animals, it is considered a tradition, and therefore one may eat it.
Don’t Waste
It has been argued[22] that since giraffe meat is expensive (according to my Google search, it costs $299.00 for 16 ozs.), it is forbidden to eat it as it is considered wasteful. While the Talmud[23] says something similar, it also indicates that if there is a health benefit to eating an expensive food, it is not forbidden despite its high price.
In conclusion, it is unclear if one may eat giraffe meat as we don’t have an explicit tradition that it is a kosher animal despite the fact that it has the signs of one. According to those who permit it, it may be slaughtered on any part of the neck. (Please note that, depending on the country one is in, it may be illegal to kill a giraffe.)
May we soon experience the redemption with Moshiach and partake in the great feast with the wild ox and the leviathan![24]
[1] Levit. 11
[2] 14:4 and 5
[3] See Y.D. 64
[4] See Y.D. 28
[5] But see Y.D. 28:4 that there is a doubt about the buffalo as to whether is it considered a beheimah or a chaya.
[6] See Rambam, Ma’achalot Assurot 1:9 and Y.D. 80
[7] Malbim on Levit. 11:3
[8] The Rambam writes that the sign of a kosher wild animal is that its horns branch off or that they are curved, notched and spiraled. The commentaries differ as to the exact definition of these characteristics. The Pri Megadim (Siftei Da’at on Y.D. 80:1) says that we aren’t familiar with the exact definition of these characteristics and that, as such, one may only eat the fat of an animal that we have a tradition of it being a chayah.
[9] Please note that all animals that chew their cud and have split hooves are kosher. The Rambam (cited below) writes that the ten species listed in the Torah are the only species that posses these signs. As such, any other species that have these signs must be included in one of these categories. See below regarding the need for a tradition to establish that a species is kosher.
[10] Page 20 as explained by the same author in his article in Torah UMada (Torah and Science – Elul 1975, pg. 37).
[11] Commonly tzvi is translated as deer. But see Rashi on Chullin 59b (D.H. Vaharei Tzvi) that “what we call tzvi is not what they called tzvi.” Rabeinu Tam (in D.H. Vaharei Tzvi) is of the opinion, however, that tzvi means deer.
[12] See Rash Sirlio that they returned despite the fact that Africa has a similar climate to Israel. The Ramban (Gen. 49:21) explains that they were held in captivity for 13 years and that as soon as they were set free, they returned.
[13] See Vayikrah Rabbah 13:3 (but there it is referring to a uniquely large beast).
[14] Hilchot Ma’achalot Asurot, 1:8
[15] See Y.D. 20 as to the details of this matter.
[16] See Chullin 62b where a bird was first considered kosher and it was only later that the sages realized that it wasn’t kosher. Based on this, Rashi (D.H. Chazyuha) writes that we should only eat birds that we know to be kosher based on our tradition.
[17] Y.D. 80:1
[18] Pri Megadim (Siftei Da’at on Y.D. 80:1)
[19] Chochmat Adam, Klal 36:1
[20] Hakashrut BaHalacha, seventh edition, 1997, chapter 1, page 18
[21] Rabbi Avraham Chamami in Yalkut Yosef, Issur VeHeter vol. 2, page 477
[22] Yalkut Yosef, ibid
[23] See Shabbat 140a regarding eating wheat vs. barley bread.
[24] See Vayikra Rabbah 13:3
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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