Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mouse Deer Tries To Attack Hare, Hyrax


There's a curious journal on Torah and science published by Bar-Ilan University entitled Bechol Derachecha De'ehu, or BDD for short. Many of the articles are excellent and reflect the rationalist approach to these topics. However, there are also several articles which reflect a decidedly anti-rationalist approach (such as those by various physicists claiming to correlate 21st century science with the first chapter of Genesis). In the latest volume, Zvi Weinberger argues that the arneves and shafan of the Torah are not the hare and hyrax, as all Biblical zoologists concur, but instead are the musk deer and mouse deer (echoing a suggestion first put forth in the 19th century).

Why does he suggest this? Weinberger points out that neither the hare nor the hyrax bring up the cud, as the Torah describes the arneves and shafan doing. In this, he is at least half and possibly entirely correct. The reingestion of special fecal pellets practiced by the hare, technically known as cecotrophy, cannot reasonably be described as ma'aleh gerah, which literally means "bringing up by way of the throat." This is notwithstanding the fanciful suggestion of Isaac Betech that the phrase is describing how the fecal pellets are "brought up" in the ascending colon (!) and subsequently pass down the throat when they are reingested. As for the hyrax, some claim to have observed it bringing up food for reingestion, perhaps in a reduced form of rumination known as merycism. Others, however, debate the validity of these observations and argue that it may instead be a form of communication. My video of my own hyrax engaged in what appeared to me to be merycism has been dismissed by some zoologists as showing a form of threat gesture instead. Thus, Weinberger is correct that the hare does not bring up the cud, and may well also be correct regarding the hyrax.

However, none of this is reason to reject identifying the arneves and shafan as the hare and hyrax. There is simply far too much evidence supporting their identification. As for the Torah's description of their bringing up their cud, this is no different from the Torah's description of the Heavens bringing down its dew. It is scientifically inaccurate, but "the Torah speaks in the language of man."

There is also a complete absence of viable alternatives to the hare and hyrax. The rabbit, as noted previously (see here and here), does not live in Israel. (Betech claimed otherwise, and when challenged, replied that rabbits are found in pet stores across Israel! I kid you not.) Nor, more importantly, did it live in Israel in Biblical times (Betech's alleged sources otherwise were conclusively shown to be mistaken references to hares; he has yet to acknowledge this error). Mouse deer and musk deer likewise did not live in Biblical Israel, nor anywhere nearby.

Weinberger presents some extremely unconvincing suggestions in response to this. He suggests that mouse deer and musk deer were familiar via trade routes. But this is not only almost certainly not true for the mouse deer. It also does not account for David and Shlomo choosing to mention the shafan (see here). Weinberger also quotes a professor from Machon Lev as suggesting that the mouse deer and musk deer did indeed live in Israel in Biblical times. But this professor's field of expertise is in technology! I don't understand why someone would quote a non-expert on such a thing. Weinberger does then quote a zooarcheologist, who points out that this suggestion is against all evidence. But this does not dissuade Weinberger from arguing it.

Weinberger acknowledges that there are difficulties with his approach, but argues that it is better to be faced with such difficulties than to have a problem with the straightforward meaning of the pesukim. I don't agree, and I don't think that there is an exceptional problem with the pesukim describing the hare and hyrax as maaleh gerah, whereas I do think that his approach does make a severe problem with the pesukim. Nevertheless, I greatly appreciate his honesty regarding his epistemology. He acknowledges the difficulties, and states that he is choosing to override them due to concerns stemming from his particular religious outlook.

The difference between Weinberger and Betech in this regard is striking. Weinberger freely concedes that he is disputing those who base their views on zooarcheology, unlike Betech, who claims that his approach (which identifies the shafan as the non-native rabbit) is "scientific" and "academic"! And Weinberger freely concedes that he is disputing Chazal and traditional authorities (regarding the identity of the arneves), as opposed to Betech, who claims that his approach (regarding defining cecotrophy as maaleh gerah) is "compatible" with every great Torah scholar in history! I have no problem with people adopting positions due to religious motivations, as long as they don't pretend that it is for scientific or academic reasons.

29 comments:

  1. Dr. Betech is continued to be free to post whatever comments he likes in the previous two threads on this topic. On this post, I will only post comments from him which are brief and which actually say something of substance, as opposed to the vast majority of his comments.

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  2. It seems to me that most of the readers (or commenters) of this blog come from a yeshiva background. If someone would be kind enough to explain briefly what this dispute about the hare and hyrax is about and how it relates to the Torah I would be most grateful.
    As it is now, I have a somewhat vague and confused idea about what exactly the controversy is and how it relates to the Torah. A link to the original post would be fine too if it explains the dispute to the almost Talmud illiterate like me.

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  3. As for the Torah's description of their bringing up their cud, this is no different from the Torah's description of the Heavens bringing down its dew. It is scientifically inaccurate, but "the Torah speaks in the language of man."

    While this raises certain issues, couldn't it have made one of your books much shorter?

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  4. "there are also several articles which reflect a decidedly anti-rationalist approach (such as those by various physicists claiming to correlate 21st century science with the first chapter of Genesis)."
    Just to be clear, do you mean that these particular physicists happen to have an anti-rationalist approach, or that these approaches are by definition anti-rationalist?

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  5. Dear R. Slifkin,

    Does the fact that some zoologist dismissed your video made you back up or at least consider that reaction as a threat possibility and not merycism?

    Regarding "dibra torah kelashon bene adam", i could understand that in a phrase like : "the rising of the sun reveals gods greatness" we could accept that god spoke in the language of man because there it does not matter what is the actual process, all that it is wanted to express is that human beings get amazed by observig this phenomenon, but in the case of the shafan and arnevet, god would be saying something that it is false and irrelevant since they are not maaleh guerah and anyhow they do not have splitt hooves so we would never eat them. What can you say about this?

    Shabua Tov

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  6. It seems that the article is not available online (or at least, the link you provided is only to a synopsis). However, the most interesting thing (in my opinion) about the view that the shafan is the musk deer, is that it overturns an accepted halacha. Musk deers have hooves which are split into 4 (unlike the usual 2 with other kosher animals). My understanding is that the accepted opinion is that musk deer are considered kosher. Even though people don't normally eat them, they may use perfume made from the gland of a musk deer (also called "musk"). Since there are some who are stringent about kashrut for things which are anointed on the body, based on the Gemara in Yoma, deciding that the musk deer is in a fact explicitly forbidden by the Torah requires a change in accepted halacha.
    Even though there is no mesorah in hashkafa, there most certainly in a mesorah in halacha. And furthermore, we have a principle that "even if they are not prophets, they are the descendants of prophets" (Pesachim 66a) which was used by Hillel to justify his halachic view based on common practice.
    I suppose in a sense this is the same as worms in fish.
    Solving one problem (possibly) by creating a bigger problem doesn't seem to be very sensible to me. Sometimes it is better to remain with the question. (As the Gemara sometimes does).

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  7. "Betech, who claims that his approach (regarding defining cecotrophy as maaleh gerah)"

    This raises an interesting question: Should an animal which has split hooves and practices cecotrophy be found, would it be considered kosher under Betech's definition? (Answer: I hope not!)

    Elias Cohen: One answer can serve both your questions: It does not matter if the hyrax practices cud chewing or something close to it, or if the rabbit and hyrax practice it at all: To the untrained eye, they *appear* to, and so the Torah gave its instruction to the ordinary person, who may be fooled.

    Samuel Dinkels: The background is simple: A kosher mammal is one that chews its cud (i.e., has multiple stomachs) and has split hooves. The Torah lists four animals that do one but not the other: The pig has split hooves but does not chew its cud. The camel chews its cud but does not have split hooves. And then there are two other animals described similarly to the camel, the shafan and arnevet in Hebrew. These are translated as "hyrax" (a small mammal of Israel) and "hare."

    The problem is that neither of these animals literally chews its cud as the Torah says. R' Slifkin explains this is not a problem and explains why; other more fundamentalist types cannot accept this and try to redefine either the animals or its characteristics. Adding to the problem is a tradition that these four are the *only* such animals on planet Earth; again, fundamentalists try to explain this in such a way to uphold this tradition, while R' Slifkin says it is not an issue and explains why.

    For more, see R' Slifkin's excellent book on the subject.

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  8. Why must you equate positions due to religious motivations with scientific accuracy saying,

    "I have no problem with people adopting positions due to religious motivations, as long as they don't pretend that it is for scientific or academic reasons."

    The position that is contrary to scientific reality is not a position. You have yet to see that this is why intelligent Jews reject was it called Judaism.



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  9. Dear Nachum,

    What would be the relevance of stating that they seem to be maaleh guera if they do not have splitt hooves? Regarding Betech interpretation, the reason for why this is mentioned is: leagdil torah beyadir, these are soppssed to be the only animals in the world to have one of the two signs.
    What is the relevance lefi natan Slifkin?

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  10. Elias: One might as well ask why the pig or camel are mentioned, as they have only one sign. The hare and hyrax appear to have one sign, which puts them in the same category, for all intents and purposes, as the pig and camel, and thus they are mentioned.

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  11. Nachum,

    My question goes to the camel and the pig as well

    If possible i would like Rav. Slifkin, the one who wrote the book about the matter, to respond by himself.

    Kind Regards

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  12. It's in my book. Since these animals were eaten by other people in the area, and are "somewhat" kosher, the Torah stressed that they nevertheless are forbidden, because they are not fully kosher.

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  13. Eliyahu,

    Even if there are flaws in the Torah there are numerous advantages from its way of living, I am not talking just about the traditions but to the way of living that for example the Tanya of the Alter Rebe proposes.

    Smart jews adopt this kind of living and inmerse in philosophical and mystical knowledge because it is trascendental

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  14. Elias: IMHO, to suggest that Betech's insistence that cecotrophy is a better fit in p'shat of ma'aleh Gerah than merycism is, prima facie, a joke and therefore there's no creditable claim to be made for "Yagdil Torah Veyadir."

    I think that any claim to "Yagdil Torah Veyadir" has to fit with simple logic. Applying simple logic to ma'aleh gerah takes you to one of two places. (1)A narrow interpretation leaves the question of why the hare and possibly the hyrax are included on the list. (2)An expansive definition that would include cecotrophy also necessitates inclusion of other species not on the list, and therefore the Torah did not present an exclusive list.

    A twisted argument that only appeals to the experienced Talmudist (perhaps) or those who want to bury their heads in the sand may satisfactorily preserve a traditional understanding for those who consider that a higher value than seeking truth, but there's no increased grandeur of Torah in that.

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  15. Rabbi Slifkin .

    You have no problem with people who take a position due to religious motivations , as long as they don`t claim that it`s scientific.

    But that is exactly the problem many of us have. Once people believe that anything they ( claim to ) see in the Torah takes precedence over scientific facts, or discoveries, then nothing we see elsewhere makes any difference . There is no argument .
    In fact, your position seems to be that we are able to believe in two things at he same time- the empirical view, and what is supposed to be the Torah view. These days , the lines are getting drawn and we are being made to choose .

    By the way , you remarked a while ago about Yonatan Rosenbloom sying how the Rambam made his scientific deductions through some sort of ruach haKodesh. This an inversion of the old joke , saying that the New York Times had to have Ruach haKodesh, since it got its news a full two weeks before Der Yid .

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  16. @peretz mann

    I think that what R. Slifkin is saying is that he doesn't have a problem with people who prefer traditional explanations even if they fly in the face of modern knowledge. As long as they don't try to twist the science (or other facts) to fit the tradition.

    He doesn't say that he, personally, would accept the traditional explanation, nor does he say that one should do so. He certainly doesn't say that one should try to accept both at the same time!

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  17. Dear Ahg,

    I did not said that Betechs expelanation is better, but than in that aspect at least he has an answer.
    You did not answer lefi Natan Slifkin why are these animals mentioned

    Nevertheless i am lookin for NS own answer

    Kind Regards

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  18. Dear R. Slifkin,

    Does the fact that some zoologist dismissed your video made you back up or at least consider that reaction as a threat possibility and not merycism?

    Regarding "dibra torah kelashon bene adam", i could understand that in a phrase like : "the rising of the sun reveals gods greatness" we could accept that god spoke in the language of man because there it does not matter what is the actual process, all that it is wanted to express is that human beings get amazed by observig this phenomenon, but in the case of the camel, pig,shafan and arnevet, god would be saying something that it is false and irrelevant since they are not maaleh guerah and anyhow they do not have splitt hooves so we would never eat them. What can you say about this?

    Shabua Tov

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  19. Does the fact that some zoologist dismissed your video made you back up or at least consider that reaction as a threat possibility and not merycism?


    Sure. I'm not committed to the hyrax engaging in merycism.

    Regarding dibra Torah - see my more detailed explanation of this concept in The Challenge Of Creation. But I can certainly understand that some people would view it as problematic.

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  20. peretz man: you got the joke wrong.The proof that the NYT had ruah ha-kodesh is that they knew what Der Yid would write the next day.

    elias cohen: RNS, March 17, 4:34, explained why these animals are mentioned.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  21. Its time to close off this subject.
    The Betech debate was a watershed that revealed to many thinking jews that just like rishonim can be mistaken in the sciences so can, and i dare say it, Rabbi Slifkin can also be mistaken.
    Persuing this subject further comes across as trying to settle a score when in fact, i am sure many intellectuals have made up their mind 4 weeks ago

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  22. Hello again, Eli/Saul/Sam. Which mistake did I make exactly? Do you have some new evidence that rabbits lived in Biblical Israel? Betech's alleged evidence turned out to be wrong.

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  23. Why must an animal live in biblical israel to be prohibitied by the bible? An all-knowing God can prohibit animals that will one day become known to his people?

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  24. That's strange, you asked the exact same question on the previous post on this topic:

    Why must rabbits live in eretz Yisrael in Biblical times to be prohibited by the Bible?

    And as I already answered there:

    The point is that the shafan is mentioned by David and Shlomo when they want to point to an animal that lives in the rocks. The hyrax, being a local animal that lives in the rocks, is the obvious candidate, rather than the rabbit, which only lives in the rocks in southern Africa.

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  25. @ Anonymous

    I still got it right, in that the NYT had it first . Rabbeinu Tam holds like me, by the way .

    On a more serious note , my question remains. When it comes down to actually believing what we say , can we skate around it all by saying that we believe in the Torah telling us something, then turn and say that we do not believe it to be true because of empirical evidence ? When we say the kiddush, and state that Hashem created the world in seven days , which is quite a simple statement , and then say that a huge amount of evidence tells us otherwise , and we have doubts ? Or more ?

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  26. Hi R' Slifkin,
    Any thought about my question above? (Fourth from the top.) Thanks!

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  27. Well, they wouldn't be anti-rationalist if they worked!

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  28. They could theoretically still be rationalist, yet be mistaken.

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  29. @Rabbi Sedley
    brings up an interesting point. is the musk deer indeed assumed to be Kosher? are there any Poskim who have written as much?
    I would really appreciate if RS would be able to point us to some sources on the topic

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