Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
389 Parashat Shmini 5762/ April 6, 2002
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's
International Center for Jewish Identity.
Prepared for Internet
Publication by the Center for IT & IS Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
389 Parashat Shmini 5762/ April 6, 2002
Dr. Zohar Amar
Land of Israel Studies
The Torah permits us to eat a wide variety of animals,
according to certain signs of purity. Among these animals are mammals, fish,
fowl, and various grasshoppers. The list includes wild as well as domesticated
animals (Lev. 11; Deut. 14). The Torah's way of speaking is to list the
exceptions, thus "countless birds" remain permissible for
save for the twenty-four impure birds
expressly forbidden. Moreover, the phrase "of every variety" (Lev.11:22)
indicates that we are not dealing with specific varieties, rather with broad
categories of animals that have certain similarities in their form or
Thus the stock of kosher animals
available to our ancestors was rich and varied.
What happened since then? Over the years the tradition of
identifying most of these varieties was lost and the identification of many
animals became doubtful, so that the choice of meat available to us has become
far more limited than that available to our ancestors.
The Tradition of Identification
Several of the names and indications of kosher as opposed to
non-kosher animals are explicitly mentioned in the Torah. What was clear to the
Israelites, however, when they received the Torah, was not completely obvious to
later generations. Even when the Torah was given, it was necessary to identify
unequivocally the animals mentioned, since not everyone could identify these
animals or know them by name. The Sages, interpreting from the precise words of
Scripture, "These are the creatures that you may eat" (Lev. 11:2), understood
that the Holy One, blessed be He, conveyed the tradition to Moses tangibly:
We learn from this that the Holy One, blessed be He, grabbed
hold of each and every variety and showed Moses, saying to him, 'This you may
eat, and this you may not eat.'
the tradition on to the Israelites in like fashion: 'These are the creatures
that you may eat.' From this we learn that Moses grabbed hold of the creature
and showed it to the Israelites, saying to them, 'This you may eat, and this you
may not eat. The following you shall abominate among the birds. These you
shall abominate, and these you shall not abominate. The following shall make
you unclean; these are unclean, and these are
Later, identifying the names of the animals became problematic
because of the absence of a continuous and reliable tradition of identification,
due to events that befell the Jewish people: the exile from their land and
dispersion throughout the world, and the long time that elapsed between
antiquity and the present. This is compounded with the fact that some Jews came
to regions where certain animals that had been common in the "lands of the
Bible" (the Fertile Crescent) were not part of the local fauna or were not
generally eaten there for cultural reasons.
Furthermore, one cannot rely on identification of animals merely by how they are
called, since names change from place to place.
There are, broadly speaking, two approaches to identifying the
animals and plants mentioned in ancient sources. The first is the traditional
approach generally accepted in the world of Jewish halakhah and traditional
exegesis. In time several exegetical schools emerged, such as those of R.
Saadiah Gaon, Rashi, and Maimonides, that served as models to later
commentators. These commentators generally derived their interpretations from
the traditions of Jewish study current in their time and place, and sometimes
from independent analysis and deductions that gave rise to original
The second approach to identification is the "scientific
approach," developed in recent generations in accordance with scientific method.
This approach, of course, is based on analysis of the sources themselves, but
also incorporates research from a number of other areas: linguistics,
comparison with sources from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, archaeology,
zoology, and others.
The suggested identifications for animals that appear in both
approaches, whether Jewish writings on the one hand, or in scientific journals
on the other, do not suffice to make animals kosher for eating, even when the
identification is most certain. Rather, other fundamental conditions must be
satisfied as well, namely recognizing the animals, their names, and indications
as determined by the Sages.
condition is the existence of a "tradition." According to most halakhic
authorities, this is essential in the case of birds; as Rabbi Isaac said, "Birds
are eaten by tradition."
As for beasts and
animals, it follows from Maimonides that recognizing them
However some Ashkenazi halakhic
authorities have ruled that these animals, as well, require a
As we have said, in order to give binding halakhic force to a
suggested identification, an additional fundamental requirement must be
satisfied, namely that which we call "tradition." This is not a marginal
folkloristic matter, rather an important halakhic principle. "Tradition" in our
sense of the word requires at least two essential conditions. The first is an
ancient, reliable and authorized source for the tradition. The second is a
preserving force that knows how to safeguard tradition. These two conditions do
not always coincide, and sometimes certain traditions (as important as they may
be) ceased to exist in certain communities for various reasons, such as losing
contact with an important ancient center of Jewish study, or because of cultural
and geographical circumstances. A halakhically acceptable tradition can only be
received from reliable sources: that means G-d-fearing people who are in
possession of a living and active tradition according to the Talmudic principle:
"A hunter may be relied upon to say, 'This bird is kosher, my Rabbi has informed
Later generations relied primarily upon Rabbis and ritual
slaughterers (shohet) who had a tradition that had been passed on to
them, from one person to the next over the generations, and that had been
maintained through actual practice. They had authentic, precise and reliable
information, since by its very nature halakhic tradition cannot rely on surmise,
but rather must be based on unequivocal identification, passed down through an
unbroken chain and maintained for centuries without any changes. The
reliability of this tradition is absolute, since Jews throughout the Diaspora
were known for their strict adherence to the dietary laws of kashrut. In fact,
precisely this extreme strictness in certain cases caused traditions that had
become no longer active to lose their validity.
The importance of preserving the tradition in our day
An active tradition regarding the kashrut of a wide variety of
animals existed from antiquity until recent times. Generally speaking, the
standard of living in a traditional society was low and characterized by economy
and maximal utilization of potential benefits that could be derived from the
world of nature. Therefore, it is not the least surprising that in many
countries, especially in times of drought or famine, Jews used to eat locusts,
small song birds, or wild animals that were still readily available, such as
gazelles. It actually the relative prosperity in which we live and the impact
of Western culture that have led certain traditions to be cancelled and many
others to be in danger of disappearing totally. Therefore, it is our duty to
document these traditions and preserve them for the sake of later generations.
These traditions can be received only from "the older generation," who still are
in possession of an ancient and living heritage, an "Oral Law." The order of
the day is to commit these traditions to writing, formulating them as clearly as
possible according to scientific criteria and documenting them visually. This
will assist preservation of the tradition and thus also enable later generations
to have a continuous tradition of kashrut for various animals.
The list of animals in the "Project for Preservation of the Tradition"
As we have said, in the past a tradition of kashrut existed
for a large number of animals. The tradition regarding many of these animals
was lost, according to some posekim
beyond retrieval. For example, there
is no active tradition of eating giraffes (according to some commentators,
thought to be the biblical zemer
), and therefore it is difficult to
Hence, one of our goals in
preserving the tradition is to establish a preliminary list of animals that
clearly display the indicators of kashrut, that have many sources attesting an
active tradition of eating in recent times, and that have reliable informants to
confirm and transmit the tradition.
The list includes animals at "high risk," meaning animals that
in our opinion are in great danger of losing their kashrut tradition. Although
the list includes domesticated animals such as the guinea hen, naturally we
decided to focus on non-domesticated animals like the sparrow, partridge and
gazelle. Another category includes animals that people have attempted to raise
in captivity and market with kashrut certification, but for which the
certification is still in question, such as quail, pheasant and deer.
In preparing the list we availed ourselves of later halakhic
literature containing information about various species of kosher
the important work by Y. M.
and additional primary sources
culled thus far from various informants and likely to be decisive in determining
the kashrut of animals according to Jewish tradition.
Some Names of Specific Animals
As the model for this project we used the comprehensive
interdisciplinary study recently made for the tradition among Yemenite Jews and
some North-African Jews to eat locusts - a study that included gathering
testimony from hundreds of informants. Among those interviewed were Jews who
had immigrated from Yemen to Israel several years ago and who identified with
great certainty live locusts that were shown them and even reenacted how these
creatures had been eaten.
* Only common names of species are listed
Hebrew name today
Yahmor, Ayal, Adam
Djaj Habshi, Harziyyah, Bar Elabid
We would like to take this opportunity to appeal to all those who can contribute
information on kashrut traditions regarding the animals in this list, or other
animals that have a less-well-known tradition of being eaten today (such as the
ibex or swan). Please transmit any such information to the author in written
form, or to Dr. Ari Zivotofsky,
include the source of your information (the person from whom you received it,
the date and place), as detailed a description of the animal as possible, and
its names. Any reliable information, both written references and orally
transmitted testimony, will be gladly received.
In the final analysis, the validity of the tradition that we shall obtain
depends on posekim confirming the kashrut. This may differ from one animal to
another, in accordance with the source of the tradition (land of origin) and its
quality (degree of reliability, notability of the transmitter and the halakhic
circle to which he belongs). In addition, it must be remembered that the system
of kashrut in Israel and the Diaspora is not monolithic, but lies in the hands
of a variety of groups and authorities. In actual practice even the
governmental institution of the Israel Rabbinate has many local authorities that
operate under its umbrella, with no uniformity in the level of kashrut, the
differences depending first and foremost on the nature of the local kashrut
Since we are aware of this complexity, for the first stage we would like to
document existing traditions before they disappear and to provide a data base
for those wishing to preserve them. If this project succeeds, it might be
possible to set up an authorized body, accepted by most religious circles, that
will be able to coordinate between the various kashrut authorities and set
standards and a system of agreed rules and codes, so that everyone will be able
to eat the animals permitted by his or her tradition.
1.8. Also see the research work of M. Kislev,
"Ekronot ha-Miyun le-Kevutzot shel Baalei Hayyim ba-Torah ve-Hadgamatam
, 7 (1989), pp. 27-40;
., "Behinat ha-Zihuyyim shel Aseret Minei Maalei-ha-Gerah
ha-Tehorim al-pi ha-Taxonomia
, 125 (2000), pp.
On the absence of a
tradition of eating grasshoppers in Europe, see Z. Amar, "Ha-Arbeh
ve-Akhilato be-Mesoret Yisrael,
" Proceedings of the conference held at Bar
Ilan University, 14/4/99, pp. 11-12.
The principles of the
various methods of identification are illustrated in my article, "Zihui Minei
Sheretz ha-Of Be-Re
'i ha-Mesoret ve-ha-Mada
1.15; Shulhan Arukh
Especially Hazon-Ish, in
his explanation of the Shakh
). See the discussion of
this subject in the article by Rabbi A. Hamami, "Ha-Giraffa
, 20 (2000), pp. 91-92; A. Z. Zivotofsky,
"Kashrut of Exotic Animals: The Buffalo," The Journal of Halacha and
, 38 (1999), pp. 117-128.
See A. Hamami's article,
., note 10. Incidentally, Rabbi Joseph Kafih ruled that the
giraffe is kosher from the outset and that no tradition of eating it is
required. See my article, "Several Principles of R. J. Kafih's System to
Identify Plants and Realia", Rabbi Yosef Kafih Memorial Volume, TelAviv, 2001,
pp. 68-73; A. Zivotofsky, A. Greenspan, "On the Kashrut of Pheasants",
., pp. 107-116.
For example, Hida,
Mahazik Berakhah le-Yoreh De
; Y. M. Cohen,
, Leghorn 1832; A. Ben-David, Sihat Hullin
Jerusalem 1997. Many other collections of responsa, especially by
from Northern Africa, contain information that has not yet been
Y. M. Loewinger,
Mazon Kasher min he-Hai
, Jerusalem 1980.
H. Seri and Z. Amar,
"The Kashrut of Locusts," Tehumin
19 (1999), pp. 283-299. The
complete study will be published by Bar Ilan University.