Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax

The pesukim about the camel, the hare and the hyrax, which appear in this week's parashah, have been used by many to argue for the Divine authorship of the Torah, based on the claim that these are the only animals with one kosher sign; while others use it to argue against the Divine authorship of the Torah, claiming that these verses contain biological errors. My book on this topic, The Camel, The Hare And The Hyrax, is long out of print. I am too busy with fundraising for other projects, and so I have no plans to work on republishing that book; I may e-publish it in Kindle format or suchlike. But meanwhile, I will post the summary, from the final chapter.


1. The Torah lists four animals that possess only one kosher sign.

2. The Talmud, following its own principles of drawing additional meaning from words in the Torah, infers that the Torah’s list is exhaustive.

3. Elsewhere, the Talmud states that this topic argues for the Divine origins of the Torah, but the meaning of this is disputed:

Approach A: The simple reading of Rashi is that the argument refers to Moshe being familiar with the physiology of the four animals in the list.

Approach B: Alternately, one can argue that it refers to Moshe knowing all the local animals that possess one kosher sign.

Approach C: Tosafos explains that it refers to Moshe knowing about an animal called the shesuah, but this is a difficult explanation, as the simple reading of the verse does not indicate that the shesuah is a type of animal.

Approach D: Beginning in the eighteenth century, it was claimed that the Talmud’s argument refers to the Torah saying that there are no other such animals in the entire world. This argument rests upon (a) the boldness of the claim and (b) the veracity of it (as per point 2 above).

4. Making an argument from the boldness of the claim is fundamentally flawed, as there is no claim in the Torah that there are only four animals in the world possessing one kosher sign. Simply speaking, they are presented merely as examples from the region of the Land of Israel that were a particular dietary risk for the Jewish People. The idea that the list is specified as being exhaustive would only be accepted by someone with an a priori belief in the divine origins of the Talmud.

5. The lamoids and peccaries from South America also possess only one kosher sign. To posit that they are of the same min as camels and pigs (respectively) can only be done with a novel definition of min that grants a high degree of unspecified flexibility in categorizing new species under the Torah’s preexisting range of types. Accordingly, making an argument out of the exclusivity of the list is greatly weakened.

6. There is overwhelming evidence (discussed in chapters six and seven) that the shafan and arneves are the hyrax and the hare, and there are no alternative candidates. Positing the existence of extinct and unknown species is not viable in this case, for reasons explained at length in chapter four.

7. According to all evidence, the hare does not bring up the cud. To resolve this problem, we must say that the term ma’aleh gerah is an idiom that refers to such phenomena as ruminant-style chewing or cecotrophy, and perhaps to invoke the concept that "the Torah speaks as in the language of men." These approaches are viable, albeit somewhat difficult.

8. There are conflicting reports as to whether the hyrax regurgitates its food. Based on my own extensive observations of hyraxes, I believe that they do sometimes regurgitate small amounts. It is likely that the hyrax practices merycism, which can be defined as ma’aleh gerah without too much difficulty. If it does not practice merycism, then it can only be defined as ma’aleh gerah on the basis of its complex gut or manner of chewing, and perhaps requiring us to invoke the concept that “the Torah speaks as in the language of men.” As with the hare, these approaches are viable, albeit somewhat difficult.

9. Since we are forced to define characteristics such as merycism, ruminant-style chewing or cecotrophy as ma’aleh gerah, then there are still further types of animals that possess only one kosher sign, even with our novel flexible definition of min.

10. These further examples of animals with one kosher sign raise a problem with the Talmud, which apparently claims that the Torah’s list is exhaustive. However, there are two approaches which explain the Talmud in a way that avoids this problem:

• The Talmud is only making a statement about the exclusivity of the camel (due to it being the only ma’aleh gerah animal that is domesticated, or that lacks upper teeth, or that is a true ruminant); but the hare and hyrax may indeed share their characteristics with other animals. This only leaves the problem of the lamoids, which can perhaps be rated as a type of camel, albeit with some difficulty.

• The Talmud is only giving a rule for the general region surrounding the Land of Israel, but there may indeed be other such animals in remote regions of the world.

(Note to my website readers: If you are interested in sponsoring the republication of this or any of my other books, please be in touch!)


  1. You may want to reconsider not making a second addition- it’s going for $170 to $330 on Amazon!

  2. The hyrax made it into a Cracked article yesterday:

  3. The summary here reminds me of how the classification of animals is always changing, with the most obvious (to me) being that separate species used to not be able to make viable offspring, but now they can, and frequently do.

  4. I read that Cracked Article yesterday, hilarious as always.

    For anyone who wishes to know without reading it, the Hyrax's two closest evolutionary relatives are the elephant and the manatee, neither of which even appear to chew cud, putting the Hyrax's actions as even more of a "freak" development that causes it to look as it it chews cud, enough for the Torah to warn us I think.

  5. Joshua: but RNS doesn't get royalties from second-hand sales!

  6. I think Joshua means to say there must be a demand for it if sellers can list it for such a high price.

    However, I don't think that's what it means. There really is no such thing as a market price for a book anymore because of the internet. Unless the $170 and $330 versions are being sold weekly, it means nothing but that the seller is willing to hold on to the book until someone with that much money craves it.

    R. Slifkin, have you considered trying to republish through or some other print on demand service?

  7. IIUC Amazon makes it pretty easy to self-publish a Kindle book. I think authors get 35% of whatever price they name.

  8. Rabbi, please consider S's suggestion. Amazon, Lulu and even Cafe Press offer print on demand services. Others such as Smashwords have excellent ebook services. They're easy to set up, and the increased distribution could more than make up for the reduced revenue per book of traditional publishing.

    Besides, a traditional publisher might be cowed by boycotts and bans from small groups of critics. These larger outfits couldn't care less.

  9. If you plan on printing more than 15 copies, amazon's CreateSpace pro plan is the way to go. A 230-page book only costs $3.61 per copy, and they also offer many distribution channels (which charge reasonable prices). I don't know why anyone would ever need to raise money to print a book.

  10. Amongst other problems, Amazon's printing options are very limited (no hardcover option!) and, most importantly, they don't distribute to Jewish bookstores, which is where the main market is. Nor to Israel.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. It is also delayed because I need to find the time to go over it and make some changes.

  13. CreateSpace is cheap enough that you can then ship it to where you want to sell it. And printing on CreateSpace doesn't prevent you from printing it elsewhere.

  14. I appreciate the suggestion, but Jewish book distribution just can't work that way, unless there is a person employed to make it happen.

  15. is an excellent service. I used it for my book ( ). You can ship copies to bookshops at the very advantageous 'Author's rate'. Happy to share experiences with others,including the esteemed Rabbi Slifkin!


  16. 6. There is overwhelming evidence (discussed in chapters six and seven) that the shafan and arneves are the hyrax and the hare, and there are no alternative candidates. Positing the existence of extinct and unknown species is not viable in this case, for reasons explained at length in chapter four.

    Let's assume for a minute that although Moses showed ALL the various animals to his generation (as per Talmud Hulin 42A), which then includes animals even foreign to the Middle-East, how would subsequent generations be able to identify animals that they never saw before? Therefore, later scripture that refers to Shafan and Arneveth may in reality be different animals than we think today.

    If this is true, then the Shafan and Arneveth could very well be members of the extended Camel family. One could then posit that the Gamal is the dromedary camel, the Arneveth the bactrian camel and the Shafan is the llama family (alpaca, vicuna and guanaco inclusive).

    This would answer all the difficulties with cud chewing, as all these animals chew the cud. Of course later scripture and the Talmud Hulin 59A would remain a question, but the Torah remains intact.

  17. In my book I presented numerous pieces of evidence which show that those animals do not at all match the descriptions of the shafan and arneves which emerge from other statements in Nach and Chazal. In addition, it is clear that these animals were familiar to the Jewish people.

  18. In my book I presented numerous pieces of evidence which show that those animals do not at all match the descriptions of the shafan and arneves which emerge from other statements in Nach and Chazal. In addition, it is clear that these animals were familiar to the Jewish people.

    I was quite clear that I am trying to reconcile ONLY the Torah with science. Other statements from Nach and Chazal notwithstanding.

    I also noted that although the Jewish people in subsequent generations might have believed the hare and hyrax to be the Shafan and Arneveth, that has no bearing on my theory. As it is quite possible that since these animals were not found in their environs, they looked at other animals (hare and hyrax) which they believed to chew the cud and falsely concluded that they were the Shafan/Arneveth.

  19. Do you really think that this is reasonable? That the Torah describes animals that subsequent generations didn't have a hope of identifying correctly, and would confuse with other animals?

  20. Yes! How many other portions of Torah do we not know/understand?

    As for the identifications that were lost, perhaps it is for our generation to restore them.

    I find this much more plausible than saying that the Torah did not know physiology of rabbits, hyraces and hares.

  21. o the llama not have split hooves??

  22. Llamas, similar to camels, do not have TOTALLY split hooves.

  23. Someone's explanation is very interesting. Unfortunately, it doesn't jive with chazal. Yet I don't see why you are so adamant that this is not what the Torah meant. As his explanation leaves the torah clean as a whistle. It makes more sense to say that the shafan and arneves are from the lamoid family, than be left with the problem of maalah gayrah.

  24. The Torah is clearly oriented towards the Bnei Yisrael. It makes no sense to me that it would describe animals that the immediately following generations didn't have a hope of understanding, and would confuse with other animals, with halachic consequences.

  25. You may not understand it, but in your post you said that there were no other options. I find someone's option to be viable. The immediate generations knew what they were, Yet by the time Proverbs and Psalms were written, and certainly the Talmud, the identifications could have been easily lost. Certainly no one of the coming generations remembered the llamas, and no one else saw them until the Americas were discovered. There are no halakhik implications or mistakes possible, since the hare and hyrax lack split hooves, no one would ever eat them anyway.

  26. "generations didn't have a hope of understanding, and would confuse with other animals, with halachic consequences."

    This is what happened with the Nesher.

    Israeli's think it means vulture, everyone else thinks it means Eagle.

    So obviously, these sort of mix ups happen.

  27. First all, I don't understand how you can say that camels, llamas and the like aren't all included in the camel family. A simple Google search includes them all as camelids. I honestly don't see how anyone can argue this.

    Peccaries, I'm sorry, they're pigs bro. Like, seriously, just look at them. The Torah is telling you there's one type of animal in the world that has split hooves and doesn't do maalei geirah, and it says it's the pig. And everywhere you go in the world, the only animals that fit this description are either mamish pigs, or look SOOOOOOOOOO much like them that what difference does it make what scientific class they may or may not be in, they're pigs!!! Look at them! They all look identical!

    The rabbit family practices caprophagia (and are the only ones that do it this way, with two distinct types of feces) which is, for all intents and purposes, THE EXACT SAME THING AS CHEWING THE CUD.

    And finally, the hyrax has a multi chambered stomach and digests it's food much the same as cows and the like.

    So here you have, in fact, an incredible BRILLIANT explanation by the Torah about the THREE different types of maalei geirah! The traditional type as seen in camels called rumination.

    A second type unique to the lagomorpha, ie rabbit, hares and pikas, who ear one of two types of feces which serves the EXACT SAME PURPOSE as classical rumination, and therefore is also called maalei geirah in the Torah.

    And a third type, an animal that processes it's food INTERNALLY the EXACT SAME WAY as traditional ruminants because it has a multi chambered stomach, and, once again, is therefore called a maalei geirah by the Torah.

    The Torah meant what it said and said what it meant.

  28. Hi Dr. Slifkin,
    Thought you might be interested to learn that the factoid about the capybara and coprophagy was mentioned in the popular sitcom the big bang theory. See this link


Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.

Blog Migration!

Birds migrate, butterflies migrate, whales migrate, and this blog is migrating! It's being moved over from Blogger to Substack. The URL ...