Throughout the Written and Oral Torot there are many literal and metaphorical references to wild animals as well as living animals both kosher and non kosher. This series of classes is based on a new book titled the Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom – Samson Edition – Volume 1 – Chayot = Wild Animals.
The author is Rabbi Natan Slifkin known as the zoo rabbi. This book was published in conjunction with the opening of a Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh - Israel in the year 2015 – 5775.
The Torah encyclopedia of the animal kingdom discusses the animals of the Torah; but before doing so, we must first clarify the meanings of "Torah."
"Torah" is in fact a term with diverse meanings. Often it is used specifically to refer to the five books of Moses and in contrast to the books of Prophets, the Neviim, and writings, Ketuvim. However, in classical Judaism, there is both the written Torah and the Oral Torah. The written Torah includes all 24 books of Scripture. The Oral Torah is found in the Mishnah, Gemara which makes up the Talmud, Midrash, and certain other texts from that period.
But the term "Torah" is often not only limited to such classical works of the Jewish canon. It is commonly used in reference to any discussion relating to any of these texts, or anything contributing towards the goals of Judaism. Thus, the word "Torah" often refers to the entire gamut of Jewish religious works.
This broad usage of the word "Torah" is the meaning that is intended with the title of this work. It is an encyclopedia of animals in all 24 books of Scripture, Mishna, Gemara, Talmud, midrash, and throughout Jewish texts, tradition, and history. Animals appear in these for a variety of different reasons, which we shall explore in this introductory section.
”Torah” has much more meaning even than the broader definition as described above. “Torah” also includes the concept of people living their lives as embodiment of “Torah”. This is even a higher level of consciousness than even the term Tzadik – Righteousness. Also built into the connotation of “Torah” is a recognition of the hierarchy of levels of consciousness. Thus the 5 Books of Moshe is higher – meaning closer to the Creator than the Books of the Prophets and they in turn are higher than the Ketuvim – the Writings. Ultimately one will have to question where in this hierarchy does the person who is a “Baal Torah” - Master of Torah fits.
Animals As Participants
Many of these sections below do not require any commentary since they are basically introductory information about How the author perceives the Animals in the Torah.
Sometimes, animals appear in the Torah as participants and events described in the narrative. Examples from Scripture including the animals that were on Noah's Ark, the Ram slaughtered by Abraham in place of Isaac; the animals and the plagues of Egypt, the Bears who attacked the children who mocked Elisha, the lion that was killed by Samson, and the monkeys that were presented to King Solomon. Examples from the Talmud include the Fox encountered by Rabbi Akiba, and the Lions encountered by Rabbi Shimon Ben Chalafta.
Beyond the general concept that everything in this world is directed by God called HaShem meaning “the Name”, there is a prevalent theme in Jewish tradition of animals, especially predators, being specific in emissaries of HaShem. Most famously, we have the creatures that were involved in the plagues that were inflicted upon Egypt. There are also numerous mentions in Scripture of predatory animals being sent by HaShem to punish people for acts of wickedness, as we shall explore in the introduction to the section on predators.
Animals are generally not presented in the Torah as characters with personalities, aside from the snake in the garden of Eden and Balaam's ass. Still it is the inherent characteristic of the various species that are significant for their role in events. Therefore there is much discussion in rabbinic tradition regarding the symbolism and significance of animals that are described as participating in events.
Animals and laws and rituals
A second context in which animals are mentioned in Scripture, Midrash, and Talmud is in various laws and rituals. In Scripture, the most obviously occurs with regard to the laws of Kashrut nonkosher animals kosher and nonkosher animals, and with sacrificial offerings. However, there are also laws concerning animals relating to spiritual purity. These differ depending on the type of animal, and thus involve identifying the type of animal under consideration. Other laws relate to man's interactions with animals. This latter category includes not only man's treatment of animals, but also how to deal with animals that attack people or property; the Talmud elaborates on which types of animals are rated for it is dangerous from the outset.
Some of these laws are relevant to the animal kingdom as a whole, rather than to specific types of creatures. These are not discussed in this work. However laws that relate to particular types or groups of animals are discussed in the relevant sections. For example laws relating to kosher wild animals are discussed in the introduction to that section, laws relating to damages caused by predatory animals are discussed in the introduction to that section, and laws relating to the acquisition of elephants are discussed in the chapter on that animal.
Inspiration from animals
A third category of references to animals are those that provide inspiration and awe. Examples include various references to animals in the book of Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. Psalm 104 describes the beauty and harmony of the natural world and its inhabitants, from hyrax to storks to whales. It also includes the famous verse that speaks of the wonders of all nature:
How great are your works, HaShem in wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Psalm 104:24
The wonder of animals stems not just from extraordinary aspects of individual creatures but also from the rich diversity and sheer numbers of the animal kingdom: “how great are your works HaShem! ", come and see how many types of domestic and wild animals and birds there are in the world and how many types of fishes in the sea. Is the voice like that of another? Is the appearance of one like that of another? Is the personality of one like that of another? Is the taste of one like that of another? Tanna DeVei Eliyahu Rabba chapter 2.
Sometimes, the inspiration being described in Scripture is not from wondrous aspects of the animals themselves. Instead it stems from the providential matter in which the animal survives. The line between these two, however, is not always distinct.
The most extensive accounts of the animal kingdom occur in the book of Job. In response to Job's protests about the terrible suffering that he underwent, HaShem gives detailed descriptions of a variety of animals. These may be intended to humble Job in the face of such marvels of nature. Alternatively, or in addition, they may be intended to demonstrate God's providence over the animal kingdom, in order to impress upon Job that there is plan and purpose to existence, even if it is not always apparent to man.
The result of all this is that the animal kingdom is seen as praising HaShem: “praise HaShem from the land, the sea monsters, and all the depths. . . The beasts and every animal, insect and winged bird. Psalm 148:7, 10
This does not mean the animals are actually uttering praise. Instead it means that through the wonder of their very existence, the animal kingdom is living testimony to the glory of the creator. This is echoed in the prayer “Nishmat Kol Chai” - "the soul of every living thing shall bless your name."
Animals as symbols and metaphors
The fourth type of reference to animals in Scripture is that in which animals are mentioned to create imagery for their symbolic value. This is also often explored for animals that appear as participants in the narratives, based on the understanding of these particular animals were involved for a reason.
The prophets often make use of imagery involving animals. For example Jeremiah and Ezekiel describe animals that inhabit desolate areas, in order to conjure up imagery of destruction. Various people and nations are metaphorically represented by different animals – HaShem himself as compared to a variety of different creatures, including a vulture, lion, and a bear. The Talmud describes how Boaz pounced like a leopard, and the midrash engages extensively in describing how animals symbolize various people, nations, and concepts. In the medieval period, Berichiah Ben Natronai HaNakdan published an extensive series of animal fables adapted from those of Aesop, featuring a wide range of creatures displaying different personalities.
In Jacobs blessings for the 12 tribes, many of the blessings use animal symbolism. The Talmud stresses that even those tribes that did not receive blessings comparing them to animals, are elsewhere compared to animals:
"And the midwives said to Pharaoh: for the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; they are “chayot” Exodus 1:19. What are “chayot”? If you say actual midwives – the usual understanding of the word here – does a midwife not need another midwife in order to give birth?! Rather they said to him, this nation is compared to animals – chayot: "Yehudah is a young lion" "Dan shall be a serpent," "Naftali is a hind set loose," "Issachar is a strong ass," "Joseph is the firstling of an ox," "Benjamin is a predatory wolf." Those tribes that have such imagery written with regard them have it written; for those who do not have been written, it is written: "what was your mother? A lioness, crouching amongst the Lions" Ezekiel 19:2. I. E. That they are all compared to Lions - Soto 11B.
This also explains how animal names became popular as human names. In Scripture there are numerous Jews who are named after animals: Rachel-ewe, Shual-Fox, Shafan-Hyrax, Chuldah-Marten, Yael-ibex, Deborah-Bee, and Jonah-dove. The practice of naming people after animals appears to have subsequently disappeared, and was restarted by Ashkenazi Jews in the 14th-century. Originally, it was only German-Yiddish names for animals that were used, added to a person's Hebrew name. In the 19th century, people began to use Hebrew animal names. Animals used as names include the lion - Aryeh, bear-Dov, wolf-Ze'ev, bird Tzipporah, deer-incorrectly considered in Europe to be synonymous with the Tzvi.
Animals as Educators
As consequence of animals representing various characteristics is that they can be mentioned, not just to describe people, but also in order to educate people. There is a verse in the book of Job that is commonly translated as follows: “He teaches us more than the animals of the Land, and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens.” Job 35:11.
However, there is a different way of translating it chanoch adds: as taught in the Talmud:
He teaches us from the animals of the Land, and from the birds of the heavens he makes us wise.
The Talmud elaborates upon this verse according to this alternative translation:
Rabbi Chiyya said: “what does it mean, "He teaches us from the animals of the land, and from the birds of the heavens and makes us wise"? It means, and makes us wise. "He teaches us from the animals of the land" - this refers to the female mule, which squats to urinate; "and from the birds of the heavens he makes us wise" - this refers to the rooster, which appeases and then mates.
Rabbi Yochanan said: “had the Torah not yet been given, we would have learned modesty from the cat; prohibition of theft from the ants; the prohibition of prohibited relationships from the dove; the proper method of conjugal relations from fowl. Talmud-Eruvin 100B
The Mishnah highlights four creatures for the character traits they symbolize, which we are enjoined to emulate:
Rabbi Yehuda Ben Teima, said: “be as brazen as a leopard, as light as a vulture, as swift as a gazelle, as mighty as a lion to fulfill the will of your father in heaven”. Mishnah Avot 5:4
This was taken further in Perek Shira, this text of unclear origins that is first referenced in the 10th century. Perek Shira list many different elements of the universe - the luminaries, geographical features, plants, words, animals, insects - each of which "recites" a verse from Scripture. There have been many different interpretations of Perek Shira, but one approaches that each element of the natural world teaches us a lesson, which is alluded to in the verse - the "message" of each creature.
It is our intention to add these verses and some of the interpretations of Perek Shira – Chapters of Song as we discuss each animal below. Those chapters that deal with other consciousnesses like luminaries and plants and geographical features to add at a later time. Eventually the plan is to have all of this on line at www.yeshshem.com.
In conclusion, we see that animals are mentioned in Scripture, Talmud, midrash, and Jewish tradition for a variety of different purposes. If we are to understand the narratives that are being described, the laws that are being legislated, the inspiration that is being presented, the symbolism that is being conveyed, and the lessons that are being taught by these sources we have to familiarize ourselves with the identities and nature of these animals.
The importance of identification
Identifying the animals of the Torah is not an easy task. Biblical Hebrew has not been a spoken language for thousands of years. The meanings of the names of animals in modern Hebrew is not always the same as their names and meanings in biblical Hebrew. They are simply the assessment of those who created modern Hebrew, who might not even have been trying to replicate the biblical meaning of the terms. Even if they were trying to do so sometimes errors occurred to animal names taking on different meanings while Jews were in Europe and were surrounded by different animals that but then those that live in the land of Israel.
The creation of modern Hebrew is credited to one man – Eliezer Ben Yehudah. Did he receive Ruach Hakodesh as part of the plan of Creation is not known. The orientation of the modern state of Israel is Zionist and not religious. There is some similarity between the two items – Zionism and Judaism but this is not the time or place to go into this. The modern aspects of the language may be accurate just as Adam named the animals in Genesis with his intuitive perceptions of each animals inner nature the names in modern Hebrew may or not be accurate on this same level. The author of the Torah Encyclopedia of Animals prides himself on being a rationalist and therefore his research and determination will follow logic and rational parameters which may be accurate or may be changed over time as more insight and research becomes revealed.
One may wonder if it is indeed important to expend the effort precisely identifying the animals of the Torah. What difference does it make if a person's thinks the Tzvi is the gazelle, the deer, the ibex, or the antelope?
In fact, there are several reasons why it is important to be able to accurately identify the animals of the Torah. One simple reason is that this, too, is part of the fulfillment of the mitzvah Torah study. We are duty-bound to understand the precise meaning of every word in the Torah, including the names of the animals.
chanoch adds: By identifying the animal correctly and matching the name with the animal we gain understanding of the Torah teachings related to metaphors and essence. An example is the lamb/ram. When the Zohar says the lamb/ram is the most negative animal on earth, how would we know that the meaning comes to teach us about desire to receive for oneself alone if we did not know that the animal name mentioned was indeed that little lamb who pushes his brother away from their meals and then just leaves the food to spoil indicating that he does not want the food just he does not want the food to go to the other lamb.
Another reason is that every animal was mentioned in the Torah for a specific purpose, and this purpose can be negated if we make a mistake regarding the identity of the animal. For example, many creatures are mentioned in the context of the laws of kosher and nonkosher animals. Obviously in order to be able to correctly observe the laws of Kashrut, one has to know exactly which animals are in each category. In fact in this context, Maimonides states that there is a mitzvah that is fulfilled by knowing how to identify the animals:
“It is a positive Mitzvot to know the signs by which those domestic and wild animals, birds, fish, and Locusts that are permitted to be eaten are distinguished from those that are not permitted to be, as it is written, "and you shall distinguish between the clean and unclean animals, and between the unclean and clean birds" Leviticus 20:25; and it is also written, "to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be in the animal which may not be" Leviticus 11:47. Maimonides, Mishna Torah, Hilkhot Maakhalot Assurot wrote 1:1.
In many cases, animals are mentioned in order to convey symbolic moralistic concepts. But if one does not know the identity of the animal mentioned, these messages are lost. For example, the prophets often portray the destruction of Israel by invoking the sound of the time the Tanim. This phrase is carried through into several of the lamentations recited on the ninth of Av. Some, however, leave this name untranslated, being uncertain about the correct translation. Yet in doing so, the intent of the author is entirely lost. But if one knows of the Tanim means “our jackals”, and is familiar with their mournful sounding howls, one understands the message that the prophet was trying to convey.
This is the reason not only to be able to identify the animals of Torah, but also be familiar with their nature and way of life. The prophets convey messages to us in terms of the world in which they lived. This was not a world of cars and computers. It was a world in which the stork migration heralded spring, the crocodile symbolized Egypt, and the great hippopotamus was an unstoppable force of nature. If we are to understand their messages we have to understand the world in which they lived.
In order to identify the animals mentioned in the Torah, we need to establish a systematic methodology. This takes six factors into account:
1. All references to the creature in Torah literature;
2. Comprehensive and accurate zoological knowledge;
3. The names of the creature in other ancient languages;
4. Knowing when it is and when it is not viable to point to that the animal as unknown or extinct;
5. Zoogeographically-the realization that the animals of the Torah are those indigenous to the region of the land of Israel;
6. Thorough review of the previous research in this area, with a proper evaluation of each source.
We shall now proceed to discuss these factors in detail and apply them by the way of example to some of the animals in the Torah.
1. All references in Torah literature
The first factor to take into account is that one must study all references to the creature concerned in the entire gamut Torah literature. Additional clues to the creature's identity may be found elsewhere in Scripture or in the Talmud. One must also ascertain that the presumed conclusion is not contradicted by conflicting information elsewhere in the Torah.
For example, in the listing of "nonkosher animals, the Torah mentions the Shafan is an animal that brings up the cud but lacks split hooves. One might be tempted to identify it as a member of the common camel family, such as a llama. However in Proverbs, the chiffon is described as a small animal, and in Psalms it is described as hiding under rocks. These descriptions would not match any member of the camel family.
2. Comprehensive Zoological Knowledge
The second factor is that one's knowledge of zoology is comprehensive, and the information is accurate as possible. In past times, with knowledge of the animal world was very poor, some people have made mistakes about the identities of the animals of the Torah. Even today, the most accurate information is not to be found in the average encyclopedia of animals found in homes and libraries. Such books usually contain second or third hand information which is sometimes inaccurate. Most of us are not able to make detailed studies of animals in the field. But our information should ideally come from those who have specialized in individual groups of creatures, either via authoritative publications, scientific journals, or personal communication.
At the same time, it is important to realize that such information was not necessarily available with in antiquity. Thus, descriptions of animals from antiquity would reflect beliefs about animals in antiquity rather than modern zoology. As such, knowledge of the history of natural history can be just as relevant as knowledge of our natural history itself.
3. Names in other languages
Another valuable technique in identifying the names of creatures found in the Torah is to look at which creatures possess the same or similar names in other languages. Of the thousands of languages in the world, clearly not all of them concern us for this purpose of identifying the animals involved. The languages of importance to us are those closest to the region and preferably the era of the giving of the Torah. This includes not only various dialects of Arabic, but also other Semitic languages and also languages in the broader Afro - Asiatic family.
Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra utilizes this method of identifying the Nesher, pointing out that there is a bird by this name in the language of Ishmael - Arabic. Ibn Ezra states that the Arabic name is somewhat of a proof, and that the two languages are very similar. It transpires that the species from this master Arabic language is the Griffin vulture, which may be surprising to many is the identity of the Nesher but for which there are ample further lines of proof.
chanoch adds: Most people are translating the vulture as the “eagle” which brings to mind the American “Bald” Eagle. Yet it would be difficult to determine that the American Bald Eagle was indigenous to the Land of Israel.
The limitations of this technique must be recognized. As Ibn Ezra states, it is "somewhat" a proof, but it is not foolproof. Among many different dialects of Arabic, for example one can find the same name used for several very different species. Still this technique is an important one of which we need to be aware, although its implementation can be difficult due to the difficulty in deciphering ancient languages.
In many cases, perhaps even the majority of them, identifying the animals of Scripture is extremely difficult. Often there is no known creature that accurately matches the clues that we have. In Face of these difficulties, it is sometimes suggested that the creature is no longer living or extinct. For example since it is difficult to interpret the Torah's description of the Shafan as a ruminating animal that's lacks split hooves, some posted that the Shafan is extinct.
While this concept is freely used, it is actually highly difficult to substantiate. That a creature from Scripture should be living and unknown to us is extraordinarily unlikely. Although there are still new discoveries in the animal kingdom, the usually exclusively from remote regions of the world. Israel and the surrounding area, on the other hand, has been a center for human society for thousands of years and there are countless artifacts from ancient civilizations of the area which gives us enormous information about the world in which these people lived including its animal life.
Another important source of information for establishing a picture of the animals formerly in existence is the fossil record. In some cases, the fossil record gives us important information about animals that we would not otherwise think to be mentioned in the Torah. There are remains of animals that were formerly living in the region of Israel, but now only live elsewhere, such as the hippopotamus. We also find evidence of some animals that are now entirely extinct, such as the Auruchs. But we should be skeptical of claims that the creature formerly existed if there is no evidence for it in the fossil record
4. Difficulties with unknowns and extinctions
In many cases, perhaps even the majority, identifying the animals of Scripture is extremely difficult. Often there is no known creature that accurately matches the clues at hand. In face of these difficulties, it is sometimes suggested that the creature is unknown or extinct. For example, since it is difficult to interpret the Torah's description of the Shafan as a ruminating animal that lacks split hooves, some posit that the true Shafan is extinct.
While this concept is freely used it is actually highly difficult to substantiate that a creature from Scripture should be living and unknown to us is extraordinarily unlikely. Although there are still new discoveries in the animal kingdom these are exclusively from remote regions of the world. Israel and the surrounding area, on the other hand, has been a center of human society for thousands of years. There are countless artifacts from ancient civilizations of the area which give us enormous information about the world in which these people lived, including its animal life.
Another important source of information for establishing a picture of the animals formerly in existence and is the fossil record. In some cases the fossil record gives us important information about animals that we would not otherwise think to be mentioned in the Torah. There are remains of animals that were formerly living in the region of Israel, but now only live elsewhere, such as the hippopotamus. We also find evidence of some animals that are now entirely extinct from the fossil record that comes from old rocks. But we should not be skeptical of claims that the creature formerly existed if there is no evidence for it in the fossil record.
Science continuously updates its understanding. When these updates take place people then find language variations – such as letters or words or anomalies like the large and small letters as well as various dots above letters or using different tenses in the Torah story that hints to these understanding. The Sages teach that all wisdom was given to Moshe and that as science grows so will the understanding of Torah until we reach a union between Science and Torah. Learn this well.
One might argue that there is insufficient evidence to determine that a given creature did not exist, as it is only under very specific conditions that an animal will become fossilized. However since the fossil record provides extensive evidence for the overwhelming majority of known animals this indicates that we do possess very comprehensive coverage. And while the fossil record is for some parts of the world and some parts of history, for the land of Israel and the biblical period it is super. Overall than in most cases it is unreasonable to argue true creature discussed in the Torah is altogether unknown to us from current animal life, ancient accounts, and the fossil record.
Furthermore, extinction due to natural causes - for example for the destruction by man in the last few centuries - is a very rare event. The likelihood of a given species becoming extinct in the last few thousand years is very low.
"Zoogeography" refers to the geographical distribution - past and present - of animals. The creator of the world obviously knows every creature that he created. And the Torah is finding it true at all times and in all places. However the Torah would only mention animals familiar to the generation that received it. These are the animals that are indigenous to the region of the land of Israel. If we look at the reasons as to why animals are mentioned in the Torah in the first place, this becomes clear.
Animals are mentioned in Scripture for three reasons. Sometimes an animal is recorded as having been involved in a historical event. If so, it must have been an animal found in that region. A qualification to this is that some animals, while not indigenous to that region were nevertheless familiar to people due to their being imported to the area. The animals in this category are the monkeys and peacocks that are explicitly described as being shipped to King Solomon.
A second category of animals mentioned in the Torah are those listed in the laws of kosher and non kosher animals. Since many of these laws are transmitted by means of stating the names of the animals, this means that the animals themselves had to be familiar to the people. Otherwise their names would be meaningless and useless as a means of transmitting the laws.
The overwhelming majority of animals in the Torah are mentioned to convey concepts, which would be meaningless if people didn't know what the animal was. There is a principal in rabbinic literature that "the Torah speaks in the language of man."
This does not mean mankind in general, but rather the people who initially received the Torah. For example, the Torah contains figures of speech and references that were used by the Jewish people at the time. This principle is all the more true with the rest of Scripture-the books of prophets and writings. Prophecies were received and transmitted by the prophets in terms of concepts that were familiar to them and their intended audience. The animals mentioned in Scripture, usually to symbolize and convey concepts, or animals familiar to the audience - which are the animals of the region of the land of Israel.
Thus in all cases the Torah would only mention animals that were familiar to the Jewish people at that time.
Thus, in all cases, the Torah would only mention animals that were familiar to the Jewish people at that time. It is often not appreciated that these were very different from the animals of Europe or America, as discussed in the section of the wildlife of the Torah.
It is very important to remember that the author is an Torah Observant man living in the 21st Century. His personal agenda as expressed in his blog frequently and is the name of the blog “Rationalist Blogger” is Rationalism. He rejects out of hand that the people of the last 2000 years were incapable of a meditative ascent that would allow them to receive information and know things that happened anywhere else in the world or in the history of the world. In my opinion this is not true. Yet even though we disagree on this subject I do not have the expertise to argue with him. Therefore always keep in mind when he ascertains what is truth that it may be incorrect. We will need to wait to ask Moshe Rabeinu and other leaders of the generation or even the people of the generation. It is taught that the Tashish animal went underground to one of the 7 inner earths, is an example. This is based on mystical teachings which the author rejects out of hand, from the above teachings.
Furthermore, the animals of the Torah are not the animals that live in Israel today but rather they are animals that have lived in the biblical land of Israel. This includes many species that are no longer found in the region, such as lions, aurochen, hartebeest, and crocodiles. There are also some species living in Israel today that were introduced into the area, deliberately or accidentally, relatively recently and were not native to the region in biblical times. Some of these newcomers have also lead people astray about identifying the animals of Scripture.
Returning to our example of the Shafan, we now have a further reason why it could not be a llama, aside from the llama not being a small animal. The Shafan is mentioned by both King David in Psalms and King Solomon in Proverbs and was thus an animal that they knew of. Furthermore it is described in the context of its natural habitat, as something familiar to the audience. But lamas have only ever been found in South America. Even if one were to post it the highly unlikely possibility that a llama was shipped to King Solomon, he would not have been able to describe its existence in its natural habitat to the Jewish people for them to relate to. Furthermore since his goal was to describe a small animal that hides in rocks, and there is a local animal that fulfills that description - the Hydroxs - there would be no reason for him to look elsewhere.
6. Prior Research
Serious research to determine the identities of the animals in the Torah should include a review of all previous scholarship in that area. But it is also important to correctly prioritize and evaluate past scholarship.
One very important factor to take into account when studying prior Jewish scholarship with regard to identifying animals in zoogeography awareness. Since the destruction of the Temple, and until very recently, most Jewish scholars did not live in the land of Israel. Furthermore it was generally not appreciated that the animals of the land of Israel are very different from the animals of other lands. As a result many rabbinic scholars identified the animals of the Torah as animals which they knew from Europe. Later rabbinic scholars often recognize the drawbacks of following earlier scholars who lived outside of the land of Israel and were not familiar with it, in fields such as geography and botany. However it is often not appreciated that this is also very relevant to identifying animals in the Torah. Authorities such as Rashi are often given priority over proper authorities such as Rabbi Saadia Gaon subjugated their own and explicating words in the Torah. But in the case of identifying animals, it is my opinion – the authors Rabbi Saadia Gaon should receive priority, since he lived in Egypt, Israel, and Babylonia while Rashi lived only in France.
As mentioned previously Rashi is known by the Kabbalists to be a mystic while most modern academics do not agree with this opinion.
In reviewing previous efforts at identifying the animals of the Torah, there is a tremendous quantity of research by non-Jewish scholars. With regard to analyzing Scripture and Talmud, there were some classical Jewish commentators such as a Abarbanel who themselves made use of non-Jewish interpretations following Rambam's maxim was that one should adopt the truth from wherever it comes. Nevertheless, the general trend was of course to stick with Jewish approaches. In this volume the emphasis with regard to the significance and symbolism of animals in Scripture has been very much based on traditional Jewish interpreters. However in the case of identifying animals, a broader approach was utilized, although traditional views are discussed extensively.
It should be noted that some historical non-Jewish scholarship with regard to the identification of animals was itself ultimately based on Jewish sources. For example, Jerome, who wrote the Latin translation of Scripture known as the Vulgate, consulted with rabbinic scholars in ancient Israel regarding the meaning of various terms. Meanwhile, some Jewish scholarship insights from non-Jewish scholars are used.
In general, although there is a vast Chasm in between traditional approaches to Torah and academic Jewish studies, the field of biblical and Talmudic zoology is one area which the two worlds meet. This is because we are not dealing here with principles of Jewish ideology or belief but rather with the technical matter of identifying animals mentioned in the Torah. As we have discussed in most cases this relates to expertise in zoology, geography, and languages rather than religious beliefs and values.
Torah Versus Zoology
The classification of animals embodies two related concepts: how various different types of animals are grouped together, and how one time of animal is differentiated from another. The Torah system of animal classification is very different from modern zoology in both of these aspects. It is what is known in academic discourse as a “folk taxonomy” rather than “scientific taxonomy".
there is nothing disparaging about speaking of a "folk taxonomy." It is crucial to note that there is no "right" or "wrong" method of classification. A system of classification has no independent reality. It is simply a means by which we measure and describe the animal kingdom, depending upon our purpose. For the purposes of science, the animal kingdom is evaluated on its own terms. For the Torah system of classification, the animal kingdom is presented in terms of the relationship between animals and human beings, and their perception by the common person. Neither system is more correct than the other, you're just serving different purposes.
To illustrate this principle further consider the court case regarding whales that took place in New York in the 19th century. The question under judgment was whether taxes on fish oil should also apply to whale oil. Whalers, naturalists, philosophers, and lawyers all weighed in on the question. It is important to recognize that there is no objective “right” or “wrong” answer. Everyone, on both sides, agreed that whales are warm-blooded animals that give birth to live young and nurse them on milk. But who defines the term fish? Naturalists defined it as referring to cold-blooded creatures, with whales being mammals instead. But whalers also knew whales just as well, used the word “fish” to refer to any fish like creature, including whales - and the jury agreed that this was a legitimate meaning of the word.
Zoology itself employs different terms of classification depending on the purpose. For example, “necton” is a term that refers to all aquatic life possessing independent motion as opposed to plankton, which drifts in whichever direction the water moves. Thus certain microscopic organisms, fish, and whales are all “nekton”, even though they are from very different classes of creatures.
Grouping animals and the zoological system
Generally Zoological Science Groups Animals Using a Phylogenetic System, which is based upon shared anatomical features. Thus, for example, since the internal anatomy of a whale is far more similar to that of the dog into that of a shark, it is classified along with the dog as being a mammal, despite its super superficial resemblance to a shark. However, there are numerous controversies as to how much weight to give to various features, and this leads to disputes regarding how to group various families. For instance, there was a dispute for many decades as to whether pandas should be grouped with raccoons or with hares.
The animal kingdom is divided into the primary categories of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and invertebrates - and other members of the animal kingdom such as sponges and jellyfish. Following this are various subdivisions into orders, families, genera, and so on. The hierarchical system used in the zoological system is as follows; the example shows the classification of the domestic cow:
Order-Artiodactyla-even toed mammals
Sometimes: subfamily – Bovinae – cattle,antelope and buffalo
sometimes: Tribe -Bovini – Cattle and Buffalo
Sometimes: sub species-Taurus-domesticated version of Aurochs
When referring to an animal only the genus and species is used and sometimes the sub species if it exists. The genus is always capitalized and the species and sub species written in lowercase. Thus the domestic cow is Bos primigenius Taurus.
Grouping Animals in the Torah System
The Torah system of dividing animals and groups is considerably different from that used in zoology. It is based on their overall external appearance, the habitat in which they live, and their relationship to man.
Terrestrial animals of significant size are divided into the “Behemot” - domestic animals - and “chayot” - wild animals. Shearatzim - "creeping" or "swarming" creatures - refers to small terrestrial creatures including certain reptiles such as lizards; but it also refers to certain mammals, such as most rodents and certain small carnivores. “Remes” refers to terrestrial insects and other invertebrates which are also sometimes termed “Shearatzim Ha'aretz”. “0F” is a category including birds and also bats, witches are superficially similar to birds. Shearatzim HaOF” are winged insects. In a aquatic environments, there are “dagim” fishes, “Sherretz HaYam” - aquatic invertibrates, and Chayot HaYam – aquatic animals.
It is important to note that aspects of classification which we take for granted may be based on premises of modern zoology that are not shared by different systems. It is not just a matter of zoology grouping animals into mammals, birds, reptiles, and so on, and Torah using different categories. The entire system of categorization may be different.
For example, we are used to the idea that if something fits in one category-say, it is a reptile, then it cannot be in another category-say, of fish. Modern zoological taxonomy is a nested hierarchy in which there is absolutely no overlap. But it is possible within the Torah system may allow an animal to simultaneously be into multiple categories, or even to move from one category to another as it develops.
Defining species in zoology
It may come as a surprise to learn that there is no unequivocal definition of a "species" in zoology. It is popularly assumed that species can be defined simply as animals that do not reproduce with others in that it is thus an objectively real definition. But matters are not so simple. There are animals that can interbreed and even produce fertile offspring, such as lions and tigers, and yet nobody would consider them to be the same species, due to the vast physical and behavioral differences. Conversely, there are populations that are somewhat physically different and do not interbreed with each other, but which should still be considered the same species.
As an example of the complexities involved consider domestic dogs, which are descended from wolves – classification “Candace lupus.” Dogs and wolves can still interbreed, and their offspring are fertile. Nevertheless, all zoologists agree that due to the extensive physical and behavioral differences, dog should be classified differently from wolves. But how exactly should they be classified? There is no unequivocal answer. Some consider that they have developed into an entirely different species, - classification “Candace Familia”. But many others consider that they are simply a sub species of wolves, and name them “Candace lupus Familia”.
More than 20 different definitions of “species” have been offered. Many argue that there is no single definition of “species”, and that it is therefore not a real category in nature, as is commonly thought.
The real problem about defining the species is that HaShem uses a system related to the Sefirot when doing any physical Creation. Science does not recognize the Sefirot as a method of classification. All of these physical characteristics is not the method to use to define the essence of an animal which is what Science is trying to do. This is my opinion.
Defining types in Torah
with regard to the level at which individual animals are differentiated from each other Torah does not use the zoological concept of species. Instead it uses its own unique concept of “min”translating as type. The definition of min is even a less clear concept than species. There are however some general observations that can be made.
As discussed earlier, The Torah system of classification is a “folk taxonomy”, presented in terms of the animal kingdom's relationship to human beings. The difference between many zoological species are simply irrelevant, from the human standpoint. This is especially true in the case of smaller species, where the difference may not even be noticeable. All the different species of bats in the land of Israel-over two dozen-would presumably be classified as the same “min”. So all the different species of mice, which would also include voles, gerbils, hamsters, and other rodents.
At the other end of the scale, large animals of great significance to humans can be classified as different “minim” even if they are not different species from the zoological standpoint. As noted earlier there is a dispute amongst zoologists as to whether the domesticated versions of wild animals are classified as an entirely separate species, or merely a sub species. In the Torah system, however, it seems that such animals, each differ greatly in their relationship views of the humans, are classified as entirely different “min”.
Additionally, it seems that there are different levels of “min”-classification, for example regular “min” and sub species of “min”. This is similar to the concept of species and sub species in zoology, although here there are not distinct terms for the two levels of taxa. For example, the Torah gives a list of 24 types of birds that are not kosher. With several of these, after mentioning the birds name, it says, "according to its kind." The Talmud states that this serves to include many dozens, even hundreds of different types:
There are a hundred birds in the East, all of which are the “min” of the buzzard. Chullin
We see here that “min” can have a very broad definition, referring to many different zoological species. Several authorities state that while the Torah states "according to its kind" for bird subtypes they differ greatly, even those birds for which the Torah does not state "according to its kind" have subtypes that are different to some degree.
Furthermore, it seems that “min” can sometimes refer to a related variety. For example, the Torah's reference to the "crow after its kind" is explained by the Talmud to include the “zarzir” - Jack dog or starling. This does not mean that the “zarzir” is a subcategory of the Crow family. Rather it means that it b is related it is a related and associated variety. There are extensive disputes in the Talmud and amongst the great medieval rabbinic scholars regarding how to categorize various creatures, and the very concept of “min” itself, just as there are disputes among zoologists regarding the definition of species.
Matters become even more complicated when we investigate the prohibition of “kiyalim” - mating different animals together or harnessing them to the same plow. Nachmanides, with regard to the laws of kilayim, relates the difference between “minim” in their inability to produce fertile hybrids. But there is a ruling in the Mishna which explicitly states that even animals are very similar species that produce fertile hybrids can sometimes nevertheless be considered as two “minim”:
A wolf and a dog, and "village dog" with a fox, and goats with gazelles, and Ibex with ewes, and a horse with a mule, and a mule with a donkey and a donkey with an onager - even though they are similar to each other they are Kiyalim with each other. Mishna Kiyalim 1:6
Wolves and dogs can produce offspring, and yet they are defined here as different types. This means an even narrower definition to the term "min". The Tosefta adds further animals to the list of forbidden mixtures:
An Ox and wild ox, and an ass and a wild ass, a pig in a “wild boar” - even though they are similar to each other, they are “kiyalim” with each other. - Tosefta, Kilayim 1:5.
The domestic pig and the wild boar can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Nevertheless, for the laws of “kilayim” they are considered to be different “minim”.
The answer is unclear. Some rabbinic authorities appear to be of the view that the definition of “min” for the laws of “kilayin” is different from the definition used in the classification of kosher types. But others are of the view that it is the same. As such we cannot draw any unequivocal conclusions regarding the relationship between the two applications of "min" classification.
In conclusion, we see that the systems of classification used in the Torah is very difficult to untangle in that it often differs considerably from that employed by modern zoology. The result of all this is that the reader should not be surprised to learn that the “namer” refers to both Leopard and cheetah, that the “shual” refers to both Jachal and Fox, or that different types of deer are all the “Ayal”.
Rabbinic scholarship that aids biblical zoology
After the Written Tanach the most important writings are the Mishna and the Gemara which is the Talmud. No less a figure than Rashi suggests that the sages themselves were not fully proficient in the identities of all the creatures in Scripture. This would especially be the case with those sages who lived in Babylonia rather than the land of Israel. Furthermore, identifying the animals that the Talmud discusses.
There are actually two Talmuds. One was written in Babylonia and the other in the Land of Israel. The Babylonian Talmud makes it unclear whether the Sages were referring to the animals of Scripture or introducing other animals.
Furthermore, the Jerusalem Talmud as well as the Babylonian Talmud does not present a systematic translation of every animal in Scripture. Such a resource can however be found in the Aramaic translation of the Torah, Targum Onkelas, and that of the prophets, Also Targum Johnathan. Difficulties still remain with respect to identifying the different animals referred to in the various Targums. Even so, the Targums are very important sources.
A somewhat earlier effort to translate every animal mentioned in Scripture is the ancient Greek translation of Scripture known as the Septuagint, from the Latin word for "seventy". This name derives from the story related in Talmud and many earlier sources. The story explains that the Torah was first translated into Greek by 70 Jewish scholars authorized by Ptolemy of Egypt. These translations were undertaken by different translators in Egypt over the course of many years. As such it is not surprising to find that the Septuagint will often translate the same Hebrew animal name into a different Greek translation in different places.
Another ancient translation of the Torah is the Vulgate. This is an early 5th Century translation by a translator of his day. The translator of the Vulgate returned to the original source in Hebrew rather than using what many of his counterparts used the Septuagint. By comparing beliefs of the animal kingdom in the Jewish and non-Jewish community emulated regarding the identities of the animal being discussed. For example, occasionally, this indicates that the Talmudic references are to the same.
Since the Septuagint and Vulgate were written so long ago, they provide an important record of how people in ancient times understood the Torah's references to animals. But it is also important to research ancient zoological writings even when not connected to the Bible. By comparing beliefs about the animal kingdom in the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, evidence can be accumulated regarding the identities of the animals being discussed. For example there is discussion in Torah literature about the Korei, a bird that is described as stealing the eggs of other birds and raising their young itself. While there is strong evidence for identifying the Korai as the Partridge. Some have rejected this identification on the grounds that the Partridge is not known to demonstrate this behavior today. However, since a survey of ancient literature such as the Physiologus describe the Partridge to exhibit this behavior, it is reasonable to determine that the Korai is the Partridge.
After the Vulgate, the next translation of every animal listed in the Torah is found in the writings of Rav Saadia Gaon. Rav writing does not engage in discussions concerning each animal but he does give an Arabic translation. Rav Saadia's identifications of the Torah's creatures carry more weight than those of later Torah scholars of Europe. This is because he lived in the Middle East and was therefore more familiar with the wildlife of the area. Furthermore, as noted earlier, the Arabic names for animals provide additional evidence for their identities in cases where they are similar.
The Prestige of Wild Animals
This volume of the “Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom” is devoted to wild animals. While a distinction between wild animals and domestic animals is a relatively minor significance in modern zoological taxonomy, it is of overriding significance in the biblical system of classifying animals which primarily views them and their role vis-à-vis human beings. Domestic animals are of such great importance to man that they stand in a class by themselves. All other land dwelling large mammals default to the category of wild animals.
However, while wild animals are less important than domestic animals from a human perspective, they are, as far as most people are concerned, the most interesting members of the animal kingdom. They are often large often very strong, mostly fast, and always proud of spirit. Domestic animals are more part of our lives, but precisely for that reason we are desensitized to them. Insects are more diverse and ingenious, but they are too small and alien to be of major interest. Zoos house all sorts of creatures, but when we go to a zoo, it is primarily wild animals - lions and bears and elephants and monkeys and giraffes - that we go to see.
The Midrash notes that the Jewish people are compared to various wild animals, and explains why it is important:
Rabbi Yochanan said: the holy one said, I referred to Israel as a dove, as it is written, "Efraim is like a dove. . ." - Hosea chapter 7 verse 11" with me, they are like that of a dove; but vis-à-vis the nations of the world, they are like wild animals, as it is written, "Israel is a young lion," Naftalie is a hind set loose," "Dan shall be a serpent," "Benjamin is a predatory wolf." And all 12 tribes are compared to animals-such as a verse or verses that compare Israel to a family of lions. This is because the nations fight against Israel, and say to Israel, why are you interested in Shabbat and circumcision? And so the holy one empowers Israel, and makes them like wild animals in front of the nations, to subdue them before the holy one and before Israel. -Shir Hashirim Rabba chapter 2:30.
Note that the Midrash does not refer to those tribes that are compared to domestic animals – like Issachar, who is compared to an ass, and Joseph is compared to an ox. However Naftalie is mentioned, even though the wild animal to which he is compared - the deer - is a herbivore rather than a carnivore. All wild animals, even deer embody a certain vitality, a strength of spirit as well as a body. For a nation that has been persecuted for most of its history, the symbolism of wild animals provides an important source of strength and inspiration.
in Hebrew, wild animals are called “Chaya” the singular form and Chayot in the plural. The term "Chaya" literally means “possessing life”, which describes the vitality of wild animals. The category stands in opposition to domesticated animals, which are called Behema in the singular, and Behemot in the plural. The term Behema is explained by some as the connotation of raw material that is bent to man's will, and thus describes domestic animals, that are subordinate to human control.
It should be noted that the Hebrew terms for these groups are not always used in a precise manner in Scripture. As the Talmud and midrash note: "Chaya is sometimes included in the Behemot, and Behemot is sometimes included in Chaya." In the introduction to the laws of kosher and mammals, both terms are used interchangeably:
This is the Chaya that you shall eat, from every Behemot that is on the land. Leviticus chapter 11 verse 2.
Sometimes, we find the term Behema used being used to describe both domestic and wild animals. According to the view that the term Behama has the connotation of something that is bent to man's will, this is because wild animals are also under mans subjugation albeit less so than domestic animals. Thus the list of 10 kosher mammals, which includes both domestic and wild animals, is described as being a list of Behema:
This is the Behema that you shall eat: the ox, the sheep, and the goat; the deer, the gazelle, the hartebeest, the ibex, the Arochs, the oryx, and the wild sheep. Deuteronomy chapter 14 verse 4
Similarly, the term Chaya is also sometimes used to refer to all animals. This is because it literally means "possessing life," and domestic animals also possess life - although without as much vitality as wild animals. Thus, when Scripture describes the creation of animal life domestic animals are also called Chaya, since they are all also possess the spirit of life:
And HaShem formed out of the earth every Chaya of the field and all the birds of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature – Nefesh Chaya -, that would be its name. Genesis chapter 2 verse 19
However, in the very next verse the terms Behema and Chaya are used more precisely, to refer to distinct groups: and the man gave names to all the Behema of the birds of the sky and to every beast of the field - Chaya has said that. Genesis chapter 2 verse 20
And later, describing the animals that were in Noah's Ark a distinction is likewise drawn between domestic and wild animals:
HaShem remembered Noah and every Chaya and every behemoth that was with him in the ark and God caused the wind to blow across the earth, and the water subsided. Genesis chapter 8 verse 1
On other occasions, as well, the term Chaya is used to specifically refer to wild animals. For example, it is only with wild animals that there is a Mitzva that after slaughtering it for food, its blood must be covered with the earth:
Any man of the children of Israel and also the strangers and who sows and sojourns among you, who hunts and traps any beast or bird that may be eaten; he shall pour out it's blood and cover it with her Leviticus chapter 17 verse 13
In the Talmud the terms Behema and Chaya generally refer to domestic and wild animals respectively.
The term above relates to the energy of life. This term is a difficult one to understand and or differentiate. In our modern world during the Republican Presidential Debate one of the entrants refers to others of the entrants as low energy. Everyone knows what this means and no one defines it. Yet just as our understanding needs to be clarified we as students of Kabbalah need to define it as well. Chaya has a stronger – closer to the Creator Animal Nefesh than a Behema, in my opinion. This is because domestic animals connect to an idol – the human being while wild animals connect directly to the Creator.
In Scripture, the term “Chayat Haaretz” is often given a qualifying description: Chayat HaAretz – Beasts of the Land; Chayat Hasadeh – Beasts of the Field; or Chayat HaYaar – Beasts of the Forest. While some usages of these descriptions may refer to a particular subgroup of wild animals, such as carnivores or herbivores, the terms themselves include all wild animals.
The first expression Chaya Ha'aretz - “the beasts of the land” is used at Creation to describe everything other than domestic animals:
And the Lord made the beasts of the field after their kind and the Behema after their kind, and every creeping thing after its kind, and HaShem saw that it was good. Genesis chapter 1 verse 25
However on some occasions, it is intended to refer specifically to carnivores such as in God's promise that his people shall be saved from predation:
They shall no longer be a spoil for the nations, and the beasts of the land-Chiyat Ha'aretz-shall not devour them; they shall dwell secure and untroubled. Ezekiel 34:28
The second expression, Chayat HaSadeh - “the beasts of the field” - fields refers to wilderness not farmland – is also a generic term for all wild animals. For example, in the account of man naming all the animals, the term is used to cover all animals aside from domestic animals:And the man gave names to every domestic animal – Behema – and to the birds of the sky and to every beast of the field – Chayat HaSadeh; but for the man, no fitting helper was found. Genesis 2:20
However, sometimes the expression “beasts of the field” is used with a particular subgroup of wild animals in mind. For example, in some places it refers to herbivores, such as the references to the land being desolate in the sabbatical year, and the produce being food for the Chayat HaSadeh:
In the seventh year, you shall let it – the Land rest and lie fallow. Let the needy among your people eat of it and what they leave let the “beasts of the field” - act and eat. You shall do the same with your vineyards, and your olive groves. Exodus 23:11
On other occasions, the term "beasts of the field" refers to wild carnivores. For example, HaShem tells the Jewish people that he will drive out the pagan nations from the land of Israel very gradually, such that there should not be an increase in the number of "beasts of the field":
I will not drive them out before you in a single year, least the land becomes desolate, and the beasts of the field – Chayot HaSadeh - increase against you. Exodus 23:29
Here, the references to wild beasts that would pose a threat to human beings, not to herbivores that are a source of food. Another verse in which Hashem compares His people to a flock of sheep that has not been guarded, describe such a flock as falling prey to the Chayat HaSadeh:
As I live, declares HaShem My Flock has been a spoil, my flock has been food for all the “beasts of the field”, for lack of anyone to attend them, because my shepherds have not sought the welfare of my flock, for the shepherds tended themselves instead of attending the flock. Ezekiel 34:8
Yet another verse describes the “Chayat HaSadeh” as devouring a victim, and thus appears specifically to refer to the carnivores:
All you “beasts of the field” devour, all you “beasts of the forest”. Isaiah 56:9
This verse also mentions the third expression – Chayot HaYaar -, which is in this verse also seems to refer specifically to wild carnivores. This last expression is only mentioned on two other occasions in Scripture. One reference to the beasts of the forest describes them as being active at night, and juxtaposes them with Lions; this seems to indicate that the reference is specifically or primarily to predators:
You bring on darkness and it becomes night, in which all the beasts of the forest roam. The young lion's roar for their prey and to seek their food from Hashem. Psalm 104:20-21
Yet another occurrence of this phrase is in the declaration of God's ownership over the entire animal kingdom where it is used in contrast to domestic animals, and thus the phrase appears to refer to all wild animals:
For all the beasts of the forest are mine; the behemoth on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and the crawlers of the field are subject to me. Psalm 50:10-11
Thus the terms "beasts of the Land," "beasts of the field," and "beasts of the forest" can all refer to all of the wild animals.
Classification: defining wild animals
All domestic animals are descended from wild animals. Domestication is a process by which wild animals with suitable characteristics are selectively bred for desirable traits, such as a passive nature and a high-yield in meat or wool. But while domestic animals are descended from wild animals, their current nature places them in a different category.
Differentiating between wild and domestic animals is important in Jewish law. With regard to kosher animals, there are different requirements in the slaughter and consumption of wild and domestic animals, which are discussed in the introduction to the section on kosher wild animals. With regard to non-kosher animals, there is a prohibition of forbidden mixtures between domestic and wild animals. This not only applies to crossbreeding them, but even to working them together:
. . . working a domestic animal with a wild animal, a wild animal with a domestic animal. . . Are forbidden for plowing, pulling and leading. Mishna Kliyaot 8:2
In my opinion these laws and these differentiations are relating to the souls and which sefirah these souls come from during the breaking of the vessels and how far they fell into the Klipot.
The distinction between wild and domesticated animals is not absolutely clear. Zoologists differentiate between truly domestic animals and animals that are merely exploited captives - sometimes referred to as domesticated rather than domestic. A truly domesticated animal is an entire population that is reproductively isolated from wild populations, and exhibits unique morphological, physiological, and or behavioral characteristics. Exploited captives, on the other hand, are individual animals that have been made more tractable, such as elephants. This definition appears to basically correlate with that employed by the sages. Thus the Mishnah points out that the monkey and the elephant are not rated as domestic animals, even though they can be trained.
However there may also be cases where secular zoology differs from Judaism. For example, some but not all zoologists consider that the camel is not a domestic species, due to it's not fulfilling the above-mentioned criteria. But in Jewish thought the camel is certainly rated as a domestic animal.
The definition of wild versus domestic are not always easy to apply either in secular zoology or in Jewish law. Is a cat a domestic animal? What about water buffalo? The answer is unclear for both systems. The Mishnah itself records a dispute regarding whether certain animals - the dog and the wild ox, probably referring to the Aurochs - are classified as wild or domesticated. Domestic cattle are their descendants of wild Aurochs, which were gigantic, wild ox and that were hunted to extinction a few hundred years ago [in the land of Israel]. But is the Aurochs to be classified as a wild animal or is it a primordial domestic animal? Dogs are the descendants of wolves. But is the dog a truly domesticated animal, or is it merely a tractable wild animal? The answers to these questions are unclear, and hence form a dispute in the Mishnah.
The sages also note that some animals are extremely similar, such as the domestic pig and the wild boar, and the domestic donkey and the wild ass. Nevertheless they are considered different types with one being classified as a domestic animal and the other is a wild animal. This is even though they can interbreed and produce fertile offspring.
The Talmud does suggest a method of distinguishing between kosher wild and domestic animals vis-à-vis certain laws that are relevant to their slaughter for food and consumption based on the characteristics of their horns. However it appears that this method was not intended to conclusively resolve the question for all species. We shall explore it in detail in the introduction to the section on kosher wild animals.
In addition, in order for an animal to be classified as a Chaya, it is not enough that it is not a domestic animal. The shark is not a domestic animal but it is not a Chaya. The category of Chaya only includes terrestrial animals. Thus although a whale is a mammal it is not a Chaya; rather it is classified as an aquatic creature. There is a dispute in the Mishnah regarding the status of a semi aquatic animal known as the "water dog," which is probably is the otter as discussed in that chapter. And although a bat is classified by zoologists as a mammal due to its possessing hair and lactating it is rated by the Torah in the category of birds rather than being a Chaya.
Furthermore, the category of Chaya only includes terrestrial animals of significant size. Small mammals, such as mice, rats, and even Marten's and polecats are rated as Sheratzim, swarming or creeping creature's rather than Chayot. But here too, there is no clear dividing line between the categories. There is a continuum of sizes and body shapes amongst terrestrial and mammals, from the smallest true to the elephant. Thus even in the Mishnah we find that Beit Shammai in doubt as to whether a creature called the Chuldat Samayim, which we shall discuss in the chapter on the mongoose, is rated as a Chaya or a Sheratzim. Another question occurs with the snake: is it to be rated as a Chaya or a Sheratzim? The answer is unclear and and disputed.
The allocation of animals to various volumes of this encyclopedia follows the Torah classifications of Chayot rather than the zoological category of mammals. Thus, this volume does not include bats or whales. But it will also take into account editorial considerations including ease-of-use as well, balancing the various volumes in the set. Thus the dog will be discussed in the volume on the domesticated animals, even though there is a view in the Mishnah that it is rated as a wild animal. The snake, and small carnivores such as margins, will be discussed in the volume on Sheratzim.
A distinct category
We often divide terrestrial animals into categories of carnivores and herbivores. The Torah does not explicitly make such a distinction. However, there are various context in Scripture, Mishna, and Talmud where various different predators are grouped together. Some of these are specifically referring to predators that are dangerous to human beings - the lion, bear, leopard, and sometimes the less dangerous Wolf, hyena, and cheetah. But in the Mishnah and Talmud, this grouping sometimes also explicitly includes even smaller predators - in particular, with regard to laws pertaining to how all these animals can inflict fatal wounds on their prey. As such it makes sense to categorize all the predators into a distinct group from other wild animals, and to introduce this group with a discussion of the context in which they are placed together.
As discussed in the introduction to Chayot - wild animals, the term Chaya in Scripture is often given no qualifying description: “Chayot Ha'aretz” - “Beasts of the land”, “Chayot HaSadeh” - “the beasts of the field”, or “Chayot HaYaar” - “the beasts of the forest”. While some usages of these expressions may refer to a particular subgroup of wild animals, such as carnivores or herbivores, the terms themselves include all wild animals. However, we find in one qualifying description of Chayot which specifically refers to predators - in fact, specifically to predators that pose a particular threat. The term “Chaya Raah”, literally "evil beasts," is used to describe wild animals that are dangerous to human beings, such as the following verse:
I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone; I will give the land respite from evil beasts, and no sword shall cross your land. Leviticus 26:6
This expression "evil beasts" found in a number of places, should not be understood to mean that these animals are consciously engaging in acts of wickedness. In Jewish thought, animals do not possess free will such as to make moral choices. Rather, these animals are "evil" in the sense of being vicious. Alternatively, Scripture is describing these animals in terms of their harmful effects on people. It is similar to the warning that was printed on entry permits to Palestine in the early 20th century, when there was a great danger of malaria: "the mosquito is your enemy!"
We must remember the agenda of the author here. In my opinion, the category of “evil beast is referring to animals that have connection to the negative system.
Emissaries of HaShem
Predators present a threat not only to animals, but also to man. In the comfort of Western civilization today, it is hard for us to imagine being actually afraid of an attack from a predator. But in the ancient world, this was the reality. These animals posed a clear and present danger, no different from bandits or enemy soldiers:
There are four agents of damage: those which see and are seen, those which are seen but do not see, those which see but are not seen, and those which do not see and are not seen. Those which see and are seen - such as the Wolf, lion, leopard, bear, cheetah, snake, bandits, and troops - these can see and can be seen. Avot De Rabbi Natan 40:10
However, since HaShem controls everything, this means that an attack on a person by a predator is not mere happenstance. The Midrash states it can only occur if the predator is on a divinely arranged mission:
If the snake bites, it is because it has not been charmed Ecclesiastes 10:11 -Rabbi Aba Bar Kahana said, the snake never bites unless it has been best charmed from above, and the lion does not mall unless it has been best charmed from above, and an empire does not oppress people unless it has been best charmed from above. Kohellet Rabba 10:14
In fact predators are seen as being ideal agents via which God can exercise divine retribution if people sin:
If you reject my laws and spurn my rules, so that you do not observe all my mitzvot and you break my covenant. . . I will send the beasts of the field against you and they shall be a review of your children and wipe out your cattle. They shall decimate you, and your Road shall be deserted. Leviticus 26:22
This is seen as being an integral part of the purpose of these creatures existence, since creation:
We learn from the above that the teaching reinforces our understanding that everything that happens in the physical world is coming from HaShem and the Plan of Creation. Yet the rationalist does not accept this as truth. Yet the rationalist is quoting the Torah to prove that same point.
"The heaven and earth were completed, and all their hosts - or armies" Genesis 2:1. . . The holy one appointed many armies to demand retribution for man's wrongs; many bears, many lions, many snakes, many venomous snakes, many scorpions. Midrash Beraisheet Rabba 10:5
While this midrash describes them as "armies," elsewhere the sages described predators that act as HaShem's executioners as "judges":
Whoever negates themselves from words of Torah, is given over to those who will negate him, such as a lion, wolf or leopard… As it says, "there are judges in the land for Hashem" Psalm 58:12. Avot De Rabbi Nathan in a nighttime 29:2
A moving account in the Talmud relates how the righteous Lulianas and Pappas gave themselves to be killed in order to save their brethren. They told the Roman Emperor Trajan that in killing them he is no better than a predatory animal that is following the will of Hashem, and is in fact in a worse position:
When Trajan was about to execute Lulianus and his brother Pappas in Lydia, he said to them, "if you are of the people of Chaninah, MischaeL, and Azariah, let Hashem come and deliver you from my hands, in the same way as he delivered Chaninah, MischaeL, and Azariah from the hands of Nebuchadnezzar." They replied: "Chaninah, MischaeL, and Azariah were perfectly righteous men and they merited that a miracle should be wrought for them, and Nebuchadnezzar was also was a king worthy for a miracle to be brought through him, but as for you, you are a common and wicked man that are not worthy that a miracle be brought; and as for us, we have deserved of the omnipresent that we should die, and if you will not kill us, the omnipresent has many other agents of death. The omnipresent has in his world many bears and lions that can attack us and kill us; the only reason why the holy one blessed be he, has handed us over into your hand is that at some future time he may exact punishment of you for our blood." Tanit 18 B
The prophet Hosea describing God's response to the sins of Israel, speak of him first is metaphorically acting toward them like predators-lion leopard and bear-and finally states that actual predators, “Chayot HaSadeh”, will attack them:
Therefore I will be to them as a lion; as a leopard by the way will I observe them; I will meet them like a bear that is bereaved of her cubs, and I shall tear their closed up heart, and there I will devour them like a lion; the beast of the wilderness shall tear them apart. Hosea 13:7-8
Another account goes into greater detail of how predators will function and do function as agents of divine retribution:
All mortal, if the land were to sin against me and commit a trespass. . . And if I were to send evil beasts - Chaya Raah to roam the land and make it bereft, and it became a desolation with none passing through it because of the beasts. Ezekiel 14:13, 15
Predators do not always need to actually kill people in order to fulfill their divine mission. Sometimes, their mission is just to present a deterrent as when the children of Israel, leaving Egypt and arriving at the Yam Suf, wished to turn back:
When Israel saw the stormy sea they turned back to the wilderness. The holy one summoned the evil beasts, which did not allow them to pass, as it says, "he shut the wilderness against them" Exodus 14:3, and "shutting" means nothing other than by way of evil beasts, as it says, "who shut the mouths of the lions" Daniel 6:23.
Sometimes the predators follow divine instruction in going against their nature and not killing someone:
The Caesar said to Rabbi Tarfan," come, let us all be one people." "Certainly!" He replied, "but we, who are circumcised, cannot possibly become like you; so you should circumcise yourselves to become like us." The Caesar replied: "you have spoken well; nevertheless, anyone who gets the better of the King must be thrown into the arena." They threw him in, but he was not eaten. A Sadusee said, "the reason that they did not eat him is that they are not hungry." They threw the Sadusee into the arena, and he was eaten. Sanhedrin 39 a
It is not only the Jewish nation that suffers retribution at the hand of carnivores; Ezekiel describes the divine judgment from God - my God, destined to take place at the end of days, in terms of their corpses being eaten by scavengers: and you, all mortal, say to every winged bird to all the beasts of the wilderness:
Thus said the Lord God: assemble, and gather from all around the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you - a great sacrificial feast - upon the mountains of Israel, and the flesh and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of warriors and drink the blood of the princes of the land; rams, lambs, goats, and bowls - all fatlings of Bashan. Ezekiel 39:17-18
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