The Faculty of Jewish Studies
The Office of the Campus Rabbi
Prof. Yehudah Felix
Faculty of Life Sciences - Dept. of Eretz Yisrael Studies
This verse in Deuteronomy (Parashat Re'eh) and a similar one in Parashat Shmini (Leviticus 11:5-6) raise problems of identification and anatomy. The animals known by these names which we will soon identify, do not chew their cud. The digestive systems of the animals which properly chew their cud consist of the following organs: abdomen, rumen, reticulum and the actual stomach. The path followed by the food beginning at the mouth goes as follows: abdomen - rumen - to the mouth to be ground by the teeth and from there to the reticulum, the stomach and the intestines (see illustration below).
Side View of Stomach of a Calf
d. stomach - intestinal juices
Illustration A: Anatomic structure of the four stomachs of a calf
and the path followed by the food.
It is also evident that the shafan in the Bible is not
the rabbit (Hebrew - arnav bayit or arnavon - see
illustration c). This identification has no support whatsoever
and serious doubt exists if rabbits were raised in this region
in ancient times. The description of the shafan in the
Bible and its Arabic name tafan leave no
doubt as to its correct identification as the "Procavia hyrox
capensis". In antiquity this creature was exceptionally wary:
"Rocks are refuge for the shefanim" (Psalms 104:18)
and could be found mainly among the rocks of Ein Gedi. It is also
mentioned among the "four things that are among the small
of the earth and yet they are exceedingly wise. ... the shefanim
are not a strong race yet they make their home in the rocks"
Today the shafan is fairly common in mountainous areas
of Israel, especially where hikers leave leftover food. Wildlife
protection laws prohibit hunting or trapping them and as a result
these small creatures have abandoned their former caution. Previously
it was difficult to follow their movements while they were alive
in the wild and only after a shafan was caught was it possible
to examine its unique anatomic structure (despite its smallness
it is genetically related to the elephant!).
It is well known that the shafan eats the leaves of the oleander, which is a poisonous plant, defined as a deadly poison for animals (on the subject of the oleander - harduf - see my article in the Bar-Ilan Daf for Parashat Beshalach, 1995). It was discovered that in its large intestine and appendix there are thick projections somewhat similar to the stomachs of ruminants (cud-chewers). The Torah warned against the shafan because of the anatomic similarity to the ruminants, and emphasized that the shafan was nevertheless prohibited since it did not have split hooves.
Illustration B: Rockbadger
The hare is not a ruminant. There have been attempts to explain
the Torah's definition of the arnevet as a cud-chewer due
to the similarity in its chewing movements to those of ruminants
(this explanation was given about the shafan as well).
This is an oversimplified explanation. A better one may be as
follows: in our generation we have learned that the local hares
of the genus called lepus are accustomed to eating a large
amount of greens each morning. These are only partially digested
and the remnants are excreted in the form of balls on a flat,
open surface lacking vegetation. These balls are left for a time
on the open surface and later the hare returns to chew them, after
these greens have undergone a process of chemical breakdown caused
by bacteria. Anyone who sees a hare chewing food in a place where
no vegetation exists might think that the hare is chewing its
cud. The Torah, therefore warned that the hare was not kosher
because it does not have split hooves.
Left: Hare (arnevet)
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