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Divrei Torah on the weekly portions

VaYikra: Shemini


Having recently left Egypt, the Jewish People were given the laws of Kashrut. The latter part of our Sidra deals with the subject of kosher animals, fish and birds.

Animals can be classified under the following four headings:

  1. chew their cud and have split hooves;
  2. chew their cud but don’t have split hooves;
  3. don’t chew their cud but have split hooves;
  4. neither chew their cud nor have split hooves;

Only the animals in category (1) are kosher.

Interestingly, the Torah enumerates (in VaYikra 11:4-7) the world’s only three animals in category (2), namely gamal, shafan and arnevet, and the world’s only animal in (3), the chazir. (We will translate these words shortly.) This statement (Chulin 59a and Rambam Hilchot Ma’achalot Asurot 1:2-3) that there are no other animals in the world satisfying the criteria for categories (2) or (3) adds to the testimony that the Torah’s origins are divine, since no human would dare make such a bold statement. Regarding this, the Gemara comments (Chulin 60b) that Moshe was not a zoologist, deep-sea diver or ornithologist.

Our Rabbis teach that chazir is the pig family, but what are the gamal, shafan and arnevet? It is important to note that these Biblical words may not necessarily mean the same as in modern Hebrew where the respective translations are camel, cony and hare. In fact, the cony and hare neither chew their cud nor have split hooves.

Furthermore, why is it that:

  • concerning the gamal, the Torah says: "...ufarsah einenu mafris..." – its hoof is not split, i.e. in the present tense;
  • concerning the shafan, It says: "...ufarsah lo yafris..." – its hoof will not be split; i.e. in the future tense; and
  • concerning the arnevet, It says: "...ufarsah lo hifrisah..." – its hoof was not split, i.e. in the past tense?

In the journal “Intercom” (published in 1973 by the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists), Rabbi Meyer Lubin provides the following explanation based on his research in conjunction with leading zoologists:

  • GAMAL is the dromedary, the family of one-humped camels. The Hebrew present tense is used in its description because the Israelites could see one-humped camels around them. Indeed, already in Egypt they were used to seeing dromedaries.
  • SHAFAN is the family of no-humped camels such as the llama. Since the Israelites had never seen the llama - llamas were only discovered in South America about 500 years ago - the Torah employs the future tense. The Israelites were being told that, at some time in the future, they would come across the shafan, but Jewish people may not eat it.
  • ARNEVET refers to the family of two-humped camels. Here, the Torah uses the past tense because the Israelites’ ancestors saw this kind of camel where Avraham used to live.

In conclusion, Shemini teaches us to take great care over what enters our mouth. The following Sidrot, Tazria and Metzora, remind us that we must similarly take great care over what leaves our mouth.

PS Kosher symbols you may not know:
K sera sera: Hashgachah given by the more liberal branches of Judaism.
Yud K Vav K: Under Divine supervision.
KO: Hashgachah of the World Boxing Federation.

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