Bar-Ilan University

The Faculty of Jewish Studies

The Office of the Campus Rabbi


Daf Parashat Hashavua

(Study Sheet on the Weekly Torah Portion)

Basic Jewish Studies Unit


Number 128

Parashat Shmini

Shafan and Arnevet

"For They Chew Their Cud and Do Not Divide The Hoof"(Deut.14:8)

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

a. abdomen

b. reticulum

c. rumen

d. stomach - intestinal juices

Illustration A: Anatomic structure of the four stomachs of a calf

and the path followed by the food.



This is true of all cud-chewing animals, in fact of all animals which have horns - but not of the shafan and the arnevet, when properly identified, as we shall see. This apparent contradiction between the facts and to what is stated in the Torah has lead several investigators to claim that we do not really know what the Torah meant by the names shafan and arnevet. Several years ago in the American - Jewish magazine Tradition, the author proposed that the word shafan in the Torah referred to various types of llamasl; and that the arnevet should be identified with the Baletrian (two-humped) camel. These identifications have no philological foundation, excepting the fact that these animals do not chew their cud or have split hoofs. The author of the article claims that Moses was told by God that thousands of years after receiving the Torah there would be Jews living on the South American continent and so he warned them not to eat the llama. This theory appears unreasonable and lacks any philological basis acceptable to scientific identification. It is obvious that the Torah was referring to animals native to the Land of Israel and known in Bible times.

A. Shafan

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" (Proverbs 30:25-26).

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



B. Arnevet

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.

Illustration C:

Right: Rabbit

Left: Hare (arnevet)



In summary, neither animal chews it cud; the Torah identifies them as such because of an anatomical similarity (in the case of the shafan) and a physiological one (in the case of the arnevet). However, these signs were not mentioned in order to permit these two creatures for eating but to warn us that they lack the other trait which could have made them permissible - split hooves.

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