Monday, April 22, 2013

A Solution to Wolf Attacks?

Last week, I posed a question: The Gemara in Chullin says that maulings (derusah) which are rated as causing fatal defects are only maulings inflicted with the claws, not with the teeth. This conflicts with contemporary observations of wolves, which reveal that wolves attack prey with their teeth rather than with their claws. It also seems to contradict the Gemara itself in Bava Metzia, which indicates that wolves kill with their teeth rather than with their claws.

I think that, with the aid of some comments that were submitted, I now have the solution. But first, another question: Why does the Gemara say that maulings inflicted with the teeth do not render the animal as a terefah? Surely Chazal were aware of the terrible damage that a lion can inflict with its terrible teeth and jaws!

The answer to all these questions is perhaps as follows. If an animal has been seriously mauled by a predator's teeth, it will very likely anyway suffer one of the wounds that are separately classified in the Mishnah as rendering it a terefah. If it doesn't suffer one of those injuries, then it is not classified as a terefah, because it stands a good chance of survival.

Clawing, on the other hand, renders the animal a terefah even if it does not cause any serious injury. The reason is that "venom has been injected" (a belief that developed based on bacterial infection, which can indeed be fatal). Such clawing can occasionally happen with wolves, especially since their first digit is not a blunt running claw, but a sharp claw that can be rotated and is occasionally used for gripping or ripping its prey.

So the Gemara in Chullin was aware that predators can inflict great damage with their teeth. And, as we see in Bava Metzia, Chazal knew that wolves inflict primary damage in that way. But such damage is not relevant to the category of derusah.

How does that sound? Of course, it doesn't solve all the problems with the Gemara's criteria for derusah. But it would seem to solve the basic problem regarding teeth and the mode of attack.


  1. I would rather state that an animal seriously bitten by a predator need not fall under another listed category of 'traifa' but under the essential definition of a treifa. The 18 signs of a treifa listed by the sages are in addition to the basic definition (wounded or torn by a predator). The first Mishna in perek Eilu Treifot which lists the clawing of a wolf ('drusat ha-ze'ev) as one of the signs would then carry the implication that the biting of a wolf (at least for a smaller prey) is then certainly a creator of a treifa. As I see it, there is no need to introduce the contrary view of Abayei which is then elaborated by Rashi's poison claw hypothesis - except as a footnote.
    That hypothesis is unrealistic even given a 'modern' interpretation as producing life-threatening infection since the bite of a wolf is presumably as infective as its claws.

  2. I`m not sure if this is relevant to the debate, but I don`t see infection , from either teeth or claws, as a method of bringing down prey .

    All animals, with maybe one exception, aim to kill on the spot, then eat the carcass and hide the remains. They can`t afford to wait for the the beast to die of infections, since another animal would come and carry it off.

    The idea of a lion, or cheetah, sitting around reading The Economist while waiting for a gazelle to breathe its last is a bit much , after all.

  3. Wouldn't bites be more infective than claws?


  5. Unfortunately for me, I have not learned Talmud, except for some bits and pieces, so here is my non-expert input in spite of my previous protest that any such speculation is futile.

    It seems to me that the solution offered by Rabbi Slifkin is a good one. The idea that the wounds inflicted by the claws of a predator introduces venom into its prey seems similar to a previous discussion of Mezizah be-Peh. In that discussion, Rabbi Slifkin referenced the paper “Meẓiẓah be-Peh―Therapeutic Touch or Hippocratic Vestige?” By SHLOMO SPRECHER

    In that paper the idea seems to be that the Gemara (and Rambam) saw all wounds as similar to a venomous attack by a snake or scorpion. It kind of makes sense: today we understand that venom is a chemical (proteins) that attack the circulatory or nervous system, and is not based on an infection of bacteria. But it seems possible that the ancient view was that infection and poison were two manifestations of the same thing.

    The original rationale of Mezizah be-Peh seems to be that it draws out blood in order to prevent inflammation and pus. The idea was that blood attracted inflammation from the surrounding tissue and decays into pus, creating disease. Thus by drawing out the blood and drying out the wound, healing is allowed to take place.

    It is probably true that the Gemara and Rambam viewed wounds in animals to be of the same nature as wounds in humans. Here is some copying and pasting from Shlomo Sprecher’s paper.

    (Begin quote from Shlomo Sprecher.)

    “… the reason given for Mezizah be-Peh in the Mishna and later codified by Rambam is that “One draws out the milah until the blood comes out of the distant places, so that no danger shall prevail.” …

    (Still quoting Sprecher’s paper.)
    "It appears that the only commentator who actually understood this enigmatic Rambam is Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, who writes:

    'The Rambam’s additional phrase explains the technique of meẓiẓah necessary to avoid danger―"Until the blood exits from distant places." This is similar to the technique expressed by Rambam in the first chapter of his work, "Poisons and Their Antidotes." In that work Rambam refers repeatedly to the value of meẓiẓah in treating a victim of a snake or scorpion bite. Without meẓiẓah to draw out the poison, it would spread in the blood and reach the life-sustaining internal organs. If one succeeds in drawing the poison out from their distant places, before further spread, the danger is averted. Since the Rambam ruled that a metal instrument is preferred for brit milah, and Ḥazal in Yevamot 76a teach us that iron causes inflammation, it is evident why meẓiẓah is needed. Rabbi Rabinovitch’s comparison of meẓiẓah following brit milah to meẓiẓah following a toxic bite indicates an awareness (though unstated) that the bleeding following a brit milah is equivalent to a toxin, a notion that is sensible only in the Greek model outlined above―blood becomes attracted to a wound and subsequently decays into pus.
    End of quote from Shlomo Sprecher.)

    So it seems that the Gemara puts a clawing type of wound into a separate category because death would not be from an overt physical destruction as in the case of teeth, but from a more slowly acting type of poison or venom from a wound. Of course, teeth can also create a venomous type of wound, but this would seem obvious, so that it would not be necessary to create a special category for this.

  6. If "Taiku" works to satisfy as an answer for the audience you are targetting, why not use it liberally? There are lots of things the Gemara says that don't make sense, statements that contradict modern science, and other contradictions. Taiku. End of story.

  7. "Michapeset said...
    If "Taiku" works to satisfy as an answer for the audience you are targetting, why not use it liberally?"

    It doesn't satisfy. It is a confession, not a solution.

  8. This was a misleading title for a post. I thought you were going to explain how to stop attacks by wolves on people living in rural areas where this is a becoming a more and more horrific problem. This was a very disappointing post.

  9. I sent your previous wolf-post to a friend who knows a lot about wild animals, but he wanted to stay anonymous for some reason. I'm posting what he wrote me:
    "All “throat clutch predators” of which wolf and felines are included, contain HIGHLY toxic and extremely dangerous rotting bacteria on their dew claws, which are used not to kill but to steady their pray as they feed, pulling meat off the carcass. I have seen this many, many times with Hyena, Jackal etc. Some 80% of all non-fatal mauling by leopard and other apex predators result in major blood toxicity from what they call “Claw Contact”. It also passes on tuberculoses and sometimes cholera, believe it or not. There is an expression in Zulu that says: If the teeth don’t kill you the claws will!"

  10. Well, R' Natan is Pliny's friend correct about the alleged greater toxicity of a clawing injury than a biting one? If so, then it seems that both the wolf posts and my comments need to be reconsidered. I would still maintain, however, that a serious biting wound on a prey animal falls into the basic torah definition of a treifa that the sages would have treated as self-understood without any need for elaboration.

  11. Today (5/3/2013) there was the following news item:

    "LOS ANGELES — Jeff Hanneman, a founding member of the thrash metal band Slayer whose career was irrevocably changed after a spider bite, has died. He was 49."

    How in the world does a healthy 49 year old die from a non-venomous spider bite? Answer: He develops "Necrotizing fasciitis - a disease condition of rapidly spreading infection, usually located in fascial planes of connective tissue that results in tissue necrosis (dead and damaged tissue)"

    This is commonly called a "flesh eating infection". I assume that clawing and scratching can also cause this.

    Here is a bit from the very thorough and professional article:

    "In general, the bacteria that cause necrotizing fasciitis utilize similar methods to cause and advance the disease. Most produce toxins that inhibit the immune response, damage or kill tissue, produce tissue hypoxia, specifically dissolve connective tissue, or do all of the above."

    So this is a bacterial infection that in reality is "venomous" in the true understanding that specific chemicals are produced by the bacteria to break down the flesh. To this day, the disease has a very high mortality rate and can lead to death within a few days, even in previously healthy individuals. I don't know how often wounded animals get this, but if anyone is interested, they can research it.

    Here is the link:


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