Sunday, April 14, 2013

When Wolves Attack

Readers of this website include kollel avreichim from Chaim Berlin and Mir, professors of Talmud, outstanding Torah scholars, and many intelligent people. I would like to ask this talented group to lend of their expertise to assist with a Chazal-science problem for The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom. (This is not intended to be a book about Torah-science conflicts, like Sacred Monsters, intended for a narrow audience; rather, it is intended to be for a broad audience, including charedim who lack the tools and the desire to grapple with Torah-science conflicts.)

An animal is only kosher for consumption if it is in good physical health at the time of slaughter. The Mishnah lists various terefos, fatal defects, which render an animal prohibited for use as food. One of these fatal defects is a mauling by a wolf:
These are the terefos in domesticated animals… if it fell from a roof, if most of its ribs were broken, a mauling by a wolf; Rabbi Yehudah says, a mauling (derusah) by a wolf [is considered a fatal defect] with a small domestic animal, and a mauling by a lion [is considered a fatal defect] with a large animal. (Mishnah, Chullin 3:1)
If a wolf mounts an unsuccessful attack against a large animal such as a cow, the animal is not considered to be mortally wounded and it may still be slaughtered for human consumption. Only with small livestock, such as sheep and goats, is a mauling by a wolf considered a fatal defect.

A difficulty with this topic is that the Talmud states that the result of such derusah is that venom is injected into the prey animal (Chullin 53a). Needless to say, this is not consistent with modern zoological knowledge of wolves.

One solution presented for such difficulties (Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, Michtav Me-Eliyahu, vol. IV, p. 355, footnote 4) is that the Talmud is not referring to a chemical venom generated by the animal, but rather to infections caused by bacteria accumulating in the animal. A variation on this would be to say that bacterial infections led to the belief that venom is injected.

At the moment, I am more concerned with a second difficulty. The Talmud (Chullin 53a) rules that these maulings which are rated as causing fatal defects are referring to maulings inflicted with the claws, not with the teeth (which is implicit in the term derusah, which usually means "trample"). But this conflicts with contemporary observations of wolves, which reveal that wolves never attack prey with their claws, only with their teeth.

The reason why wolves never attack with their claws reflects the very different hunting strategy of wolves compared to members of the cat family such as lions and leopards. A big cat is an ambush predator. It is not built for running at speed, but rather for firmly seizing its prey. It uses its strong arms and claws to grasp its prey, enabling it to make a killing bite in a precise spot. Wolves, on the other hand, are pursuit predators. The legs of a wolf are slender, and the paws are not jointed for grasping; its body is built for long-distance pursuit, not for bringing down prey. The wolf’s claws are strong, but very blunt, because the tips are worn off by constant contact with the ground. These are used for digging and gripping the earth while running, not for seizing or killing prey. Wolves kill with a large number of minor slashing bites.

What, then, are we to make of the Talmud's statement that derusah is only with the claws? Must it be considered an error?

I would like to suggest a way to slightly lessen this problem, if not to solve it entirely. In an entirely unrelated Gemara, we have the following case:
A shepherd was tending a flock, but left them and went to the town, and a wolf came and was taraf, and a lion came and was dores… (Talmud, Bava Metzia 93b) 
Here we seem to have a contrast presented between the typical modes of attack of a wolf and a lion. A lion is dores. A wolf, on the other hand, is toref. But what is the difference between these two modes of attack? Rashi explains that dores refers to instantaneous slaughter, whereas toref refers to wounding the sheep and then dragging it back to a lair for later consumption. But Rabbeinu Chananel to Bava Kama 16b refers to this Gemara and seems to explain it differently: that dores refers to killing with claws, whereas toref refers to killing with its teeth. He further states that this Gemara expresses the typical difference between attacks by lions and attacks by wolves. This is consistent with our knowledge of how wolves kill.

But then, what of the Gemara in Chullin which only lists derusah as causing predator-inflicted terefos, including by wolves, and later says that derusah is only with claws? Is it simply disputing the Gemara in Bava Metzia? Or is there some way to explain the latter statement of the Gemara as only referring to the derusah of certain predators? Or is the Gemara in Chullin not disputing the fact that wolves usually attack with their teeth, and is simply saying that only in the rare case of an attack with their claws would it be considered a terefah? What would Rabbeinu Chananel have said about it?

Your input is appreciated!

38 comments:

  1. Maybe the comment about claws is referring to an attack by a cat?

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  2. That's what I wanted to say. But the Gemara appears to be giving a blanket statement about all cases of derusah.

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  3. Is it absolutely true that wolves don't use their claws? According to the Timber Wolf Preservation Society, (timberwolfps.org/wolf-facts.html),

    What is considered a dew claw on a dog, is called a first digit on a wolf because it can be rotated, the claw is sharp because it doesn’t touch the ground, and is used to hang onto large prey.

    Besides, are wolves ONLY long chase predators? With a flock of sheep, there wouldn't necessarily be the same sort of long distance chase as with deer, etc. A low stalk and a rush might do it, especially with a few wolves working together.

    So maybe the meaning of the Gemara is: [wounds from the fangs of wolves and lions are always terefot] wounds from the claws of wolves are terefot in small livestock; from the claws of lions, in large livestock [and kal v'chomer in small.]

    That seems to fit OK with the material on the previous amud, too.

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  4. If you watch this somewhat graphic video of this baby moose being attacked, one can see that it is almost inevitable that many wolf attacks will involve leapin towards and thus scratching prey. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0b3py1xa8p0

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  5. Yoel - "Large Prey" would mean adult moose, which is not what the gemara is talking about anyway - wolves don't take that kind of prey here.

    But even if we can say that, on occasion, a wolf does use its claws, it's still primarily using its teeth (as seems to be the pshat in Bava Metzia.) You suggest that the meaning of the Gemara is: [wounds from the fangs of wolves and lions are always terefot] wounds from the claws of wolves are terefot in small livestock. But how do you reconcile the material in brackets with this:
    תלמוד בבלי מסכת חולין דף נג/א
    אין דרוסה אלא בצפורן לאפוקי שן דלא

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  6. Your question falls at the first hurdle: I myself have a scar from being clawed by a dog, and a quick check of medical literature shows that injuries like this are not uncommon.

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  7. See my comment above. Even if that sometimes happens, it's not the usual method of attack - as the Gemara in Bava Metzia indicates. Yet the Gemara in Chullin says that ONLY clawing and NOT biting makes a terefah.

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  8. נשתנה הטבע :-p

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  9. LOL. But even that wouldn't reconcile the two gemaras!

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  10. Of course it does - it changed between the time of one gemara being written and the time of the other one. ;-)

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  11. Maybe if the attack is fully carried out-- the wolf or lion bites –– there's no question about shechting; the prey is dead or clearly dying and neveilah. So the question is about survivable injuries.

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  12. When the gemara talks about a wolf, could there at that time period have been an animal residing in Israel that resembled a wolf, and chazal didnt feel the need to differentiate names between the two?

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  13. Good question, but the answer is no.

    (But that approach does solve a certain problem with the shu'al.)

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  14. Is it definitely talking about a wolf? And not a hyrax? Or a binyominesque werewolf?

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  15. It could be that in Chullin, they are defining the particular derusah of the Mishnah, which they may have had a tradition meant claws.

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  16. This post brings up a more basic question, one which I have had to deal with myself as an Orthodox musmach who has since earned a PhD in Judaic Studies: is it right to try to present a Torah-related issue to a general Orthodox/Haredi audience using traditional modes of thinking while ignoring what one believes to be the more intellectually honest approach? Personally, I have given up on the idea as I feel that in doing so I betray my intellectual integrity. On the one hand I refrain from publicizing in Orthodox/Haredi forums academic issues that won't be accepted in these circles, while on the other hand I also won't present ideas that I believe to be untrue. The sad net result is that I no longer have much of any intellectual dialogue with the general Orthodox/Haredi world. Rabbi Slifkin – don't you feel that you are betraying your own "truth" when you twist the facts (and here ask for our assistance in helping you think of ingenious ways to twist the facts!) just in order to allow your work to be read by a wider audience? I am not accusing you of doing something wrong – I’m just curious about how you find yourself able to do it.

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  17. My initial understanding of the Mishnah is that the Mishnah is not referring to specific animals, but rather a general class of animals.
    There are 2 types, small predators like wolves, & large predators like lions.

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  18. I agree with what Curious said. A lot of people here have secular degrees in various subjects. I have a master's in physics. If this question were presented to a secular biologist specializing in this area of zoology, I would think that the goal of trying to twist the contradictory and confused language of the Talmud (in this case) to make scientific sense is intellectually dishonest.

    This issue has been raised before in this forum/blog. In secular matters dealing with our understanding of the physical world, most of us here seem to agree that the writers of the Talmud did not possess special knowledge, and they were often mistaken in their understanding of the physical world and nature.

    So why do we not just shrug our shoulders and say the same here? The answer is that in this case, and probably in many others, our understand of the physical world affects our understanding and application of Halacha.

    I will just add that in my non-professional opinion, as one who has only taken 3 semesters of college biology and watched hours of nature programs on TV, that I have never seen a lion or any cat kill its prey with its claws. The claws are used for grasping and holding on. The kill is always made with the teeth.

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  19. Rabbi S.

    How can you say that the big cats don`t run at speed ? The cheetah is the fastest land animal on earth .Many of the other cats can sprint , also.

    From what I`ve seen on films ( before this butinsky net filter was required ) is that all the predators stalk their prey . They also all go for the throat to kill. The bear just mauls and disembowels .
    The wolf scratches plenty , but its relative lack of size compared to a tiger , or lion, means that its claws can`t hold as easily, especially when bringing down a much larger beast . Ffte al, a lin`s talons look to be a few inches long , while a wolf`s are much shorter .

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  20. R. Slifkin, I know that you wanted to concentrate on the second issue, but I want to say something about this topic:

    A difficulty with this topic is that the Talmud states that the result of such derusah is that venom is injected into the prey animal (Chullin 53a). Needless to say, this is not consistent with modern zoological knowledge of wolves.

    One solution presented for such difficulties (Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, Michtav Me-Eliyahu, vol. IV, p. 355, footnote 4) is that the Talmud is not referring to a chemical venom generated by the animal, but rather to infections caused by bacteria accumulating in the animal. A variation on this would be to say that bacterial infections led to the belief that venom is injected.


    I think that it is important to make a distinction between observation and theory. What Chazal most likely observed was the fact that when wolves attacks another animal that it may die of the resulting wound even if the wounds are seems too slight or is in the wrong location to "mechanically" cause death. They also observed that snakes can cause death via extremely small wounds and probably knew that it was due to the venom (as apparently it was isolated and even weaponized by that time). So while Chazal, like others, obviously had no understanding of microbiology and the true cause of death, it is possible (likely?) that they did correctly realize that this death was not the same as death from a wound to the heart or something similar.

    So it is not that when they said "venom" that they meant "micro-organisms". Rather is that they realized that something different was going on which was similar to snake venom and perhaps also thought that therefore there must be an equivalent venom for wolves. With the benefit of a proper theory of infectious disease, we can say that perhaps they recognized that this wound was fatal due to what we now know to be infection and not a "gross wound", without being able to give a proper theory for how this worked. So the observation was possibly correct, but the theory was wrong.

    I believe that this approach explains very well some of Chazal's interesting observations around "Gilui" which they also attributed to a snake venom, but were almost certainly due to food poisoning (which in the case of botulism is in fact a "venom" of a sort). It is clear that it really isn't a good idea to leave your food uncovered, especially in the absence of refrigeration. And if wine ferments and ages properly, then it could not have been contaminated with the "wrong" microorganism, etc. So while many of Chazal's theories look odd by modern lights, the observations themselves are sometimes insightful in their own way.

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  21. Rabbi Slifkin – don't you feel that you are betraying your own "truth" when you twist the facts (and here ask for our assistance in helping you think of ingenious ways to twist the facts!) just in order to allow your work to be read by a wider audience?

    I wouldn't say an outright lie. But I would slant the presentation to make it suitable for the audience. I believe in Rambam's approach regarding working within people's capabilities and "necessary truths."

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  22. David Ohsie - that's what I meant by "A variation on this would be to say that bacterial infections led to the belief that venom is injected."

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  23. I'm curious about your view on the relationship between Chazal's empirical observations and their determination of halacha. I have read that there have been long periods of history in which empirical observations were not considered important in determining reality. Isn't it possible or even likely that your question wouldn't even make sense to those whose statements you seek to understand/reconcile?

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  24. R' Natan, I know this won't help solve the question you raised, but I do find it interesting that the platypus does in fact carry venom in its 'claws'.

    See here:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/science/19obvenom.html?_r=0

    AM

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  25. "peretz mann said...
    Rabbi S.

    How can you say that the big cats don`t run at speed ? The cheetah is the fastest land animal on earth .Many of the other cats can sprint "

    Big Cats do have the ability to run very fast, but just about all cases, an attack and sprint is made after getting as close as possible to the prey while under cover-stalking.

    This is the same thing with the cheetah. Furthermore, the cheetah is built and adapted very differently from other cats-its made for running. The cheetah's claws in fact, are not nearly as able to grasp prey as other cats due tot hem being worn down by running and their non-retractable nature.

    Also, the cheetah still has to stalk it's prey, as it can only run for a couple seconds-it's built for speed but not endurance. If it doesn't catch it's prey within that short time, it won't at all.

    On the other hand, wolves are built for endurance. They can run for miles at a time. A wolf packs usual method of taking out prey is through lacerating bites to the nose, flanks and hindquarters. They prey then dies from shock and exhaustion.

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  26. An admittedly brief review of the gemara in question reveals that only one Amora's view (Abayei) is consistent with Rashi's claw venom hypothesis. Abayei holds that the Mishna at the beginning of the Perek mentions a sign of a 'treifa' as 'drusa' (clawed) to the exclusion of 'trufa' (bitten). Were it not for that Amora, I would have assumed that the 'chidush' of the Mishna was that even the clawing of a wolf makes the animal a 'treifa' - much less its bite, which is more common and more serious a wound. Rashi's understanding of the gemara is quite different and does not conform to reality - as R' Natan has posted.

    My suggestion then is not to treat Abayei's view as a generic conclusion of the gemara, and certainly not to confine the gemara's understanding of predator behavior to that of Rashi. While the halacha may follow Abayei, but our understanding of the gemara need not.

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  27. Natan, you said that:

    A difficulty with this topic is that the Talmud states that the result of such derusah is that venom is injected into the prey animal (Chullin 53a).

    I see Rashi explains the gemara to mean that (and says that the venom is contained in the claws and not the teeth). But I don't see that statement in the Talmud itself, at least not on page 53a. Is there possibly another way to interpret the gemara that doesn't rely on the venom theory?

    Also, is it clear that the distinction between derusah and terufa that the mishna in Bava Metzia makes applies to our mishna?

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  28. The bacteria hypothesis should not be attributed to R. Dessler, but rather to R. Carmel who wrote that footnote. See Rabbenu Tam in Sefer HaYashar who makes a hiluq between two types of drisa.

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  29. I am writing this as a friend, and do not intend for it to be confrontational.

    it is intended to be for a broad audience, including charedim who lack the tools and the desire to grapple with Torah-science conflicts

    My understanding is that Charedim do not allow their children to read your books and will not allow your books into their homes or yeshivas. Although the original cherem was on one or two specific books of yours, Charedim in general consider your work and a number of your views to be "Apikorsus" or at the very least will not allow it into their homes or yeshivos. A common statement of theirs is "It's better to stay away from it." (Please do not take this statement personally, they apply it with equal measure to ripe, delicious strawberries, even after scrubbing them vigorously with soap and a dishwashing brush to rid them of bugs they cannot see.)

    What is the purpose of trying to satisfy the sensitivities of a segment of Orthodoxy that has an entirely different epistimology than your own? They do not accept you in their club, they have rejected your work and put it in cherem, they have associated your name with "Apikorsus" and they will not allow your books into their homes and Yeshivas. Why are you bending over backwards to accomodate them if they are not going to buy or read your book?

    As the saying goes, "You can't please all of the people all of the time." Trying to do so may simply be an excercize in frustration and futility. Why bother?

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  30. Good question. The answer is that it's several years since the ban. There's many people who've never heard of me and who will buy and benefit from the encyclopedia.

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  31. Michapeser asked:

    Why do you continue to bend over backwards for that segment of Orthodoxy who doesn't even give you any attention today? Why do you bother?

    You replied: ... (Well, actually, would you care to explain how your response answers the question? Or if I may take the liberty in saying what you feel at the pit of your stomach. My own opinion: Because you still have that need for endorsment from the "segment of Orthodoxy" who have given their lives for our Torah since its giving. At the end of the day, you'd rather R' Chaim Kanievsky say "I like your pshat" than hearing it from someone who learns and lives by the Torah as one who lives by a book of his favorite author.)

    For heavens sake, can we stop with the label "Charedi", its getting so confusing now that Chilonim also started throwing it around. Just say what you mean: Bnei Torah, Bnei Yeshiva, Chassidim or whoever it may be and then just add "I don't mean all". Because every post of yours gives way to this confusion. Just above, Michapeset wrote about "Chareidm" who "do not let their children read your books". What a far cry from the truth. And everyone here knows that. In fact, I don't know a single "Chareidi" family who doesn't allow your books in their house or preaches against them etc. and my entire life I've lived in what you'd call a "Charedi" community. So come on, say it how it is, what you mean and who your referring to whenever you pull out that Joker card.

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  32. R' Natan, I was shocked initially at your citation from Rashi on T.B. Bava Metzia 93b. How could Rashi there state that 'dores' means to kill when in Perek Eilu Treifot the Mishna gives 'drisat ha'ze'ev' as an example of a treifa? That animal is not a treifa according to your translation of Rashi in Bava Metzia; it is a 'neveila' (carcass). On reading the 'problematic' Rashi, however, I note that he did not use the term 'killed' with 'dores'. His distinction between 'toref' and 'dores' should be understood, rather, as intention to kill and consume on the spot ('dores') vs. intention to drag off the victim to be killed and consumed at leisure. An animal which is the victim of a 'dores' predator may still be alive if the attacker was interrupted and forced to flee the scene. That distinction is still problematic in terms of the ordinary understanding of the terms 'doreis' and 'toreif', much less the physiology and hunting behavior of wolves - as per Chulin, but it is not illogical.

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  33. My own opinion: Because you still have that need for endorsment from the "segment of Orthodoxy" who have given their lives for our Torah since its giving

    Sorry, no, I no longer could give a hoot about endorsement from them. But I would like to sell my books to them!

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  34. Rabbi Slifkin - Thank you for answering. It is possible that there are those who have not heard of you or of the ban, and who would buy the book. But I would venture to guess that if another book of yours becomes even a little popular in Chareidi circles, then the ban will be dusted off, and some "Askanim" will take it upon themselves to publicize it again. I'm just not sure, strictly from a business standpoint, that bending over backwards to accomodate this segment of Orthodoxy wont eventually backfire.

    Mordy - I know a few people who will not allow Rabbi Slifkin's books into their homes. Also, use of the term "Chareidi" is quite common at this point.

    ...the "segment of Orthodoxy" who have given their lives for our Torah since its giving.

    Mordy - You must have missed that monograph on "The Novelty of Orthodoxy." Orthodoxy wasn't around when the Torah was given, when the Gemara was written, when the Mishnah Torah was put together, nor when the Shulchan Oruch was inked.

    Can someone please post a link here to that monograph for Mordy to read? I think he missed it.

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  35. Now now boys, are we going to nit-pick or actually give an answer with substance that is a direct (!) answer. A few words that casually touch on the question (to make it seem as if your sticking to the point) but fail to address the main point(s) isn’t more of an apologetic.

    Essentially this is what you both responded:

    Natan:

    [I suggested: It seems like you [Natan] still feel a need for the endorsement of the “Orthodox segment” and you responded:] No, you could not care less if you didn’t have their endorsement, but you’d still like to sell them your books.

    Well, I’d imagine people reading my suggestion didn’t exactly think “endorsement” meant a literal haskamah on the books because as we see , from the books themselves, you indeed couldn’t give a hoot about that. “Endorsement” in this context meant their weight. Politically or financially. Additionally they are ultimately the body of Orthodoxy today who has persevered throughout our history and will always be the ones on top. (Here, is where someone would typically throw in a boomerang like “but of course, because Reform and most other movements didn’t exist” – it’s a terrible argument and will only steer this discussion off topic, besides, it’s not the point). It is they who will also give way for our future generations off Shomrei Torah U’mitzvos, the ones who have kept our religion alive since it’s birth.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s the logical and necessary tactical move to take, therefore when I say “endorsement” it should have been obvious that the meaning in this context is a broad one. Yet I’ll spell it out (no pun intended): You feel a need for their acknowledgment, their acceptance. Why? That too is for multiple reasons.

    (Now that you mention it, as a side question, from a business point of view, how exactly do you expect to win their dollar (“But I would like to sell my books to them!”) if you’re constantly at their throats? Constantly criticizing their every belief, their value system… in short: their everything.)

    Michapeset:

    I quoted your own phraseology “Orthodox segment” and applied it to the typical “Chareidi” who, in my mind, is a normal Shomer Torah U’mitzvos like anyone else in my community (from the biggest in the world), where I personally don’t know a single person who “do not allow their children to read your books and will not allow your books into their homes or yeshivas”. (Granted, “yeshivas” I can’t say for sure, although even if there are, which I’d agree there probably are, that’s a completely different case. Yeshivas generally are more extreme for obvious reasons. Anything controversial in a school can be detrimental to the school at large.) By doing so I made the case, while subtly pointing out how you have a misconception of it’s meaning, that the use of the label “Chareidi” is just another empty word because everyone has a different application for it.

    You then responded (in my own words):

    You know a few people who fit the mold you’ve carved for the meaning. And (wait for it…) my idea of the “segment of Orthodoxy” you, Michapeset, were referring to is a new(ish) trend.

    Um, so what? I guess the few people you know, who you likewise call them Chareidim are from a minority. And, this “segment of Orthodoxy” – if you’re referring to the normal Shomer Torah U’mitzvos, correct me if I’m wrong, were the ones who the Torah was actually given to. Believe you me, it wasn't given to the left; the more liberal thinking Jews. Had it been, our religion would've probably died out by now.

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  36. I don't see any problem. The Gemara isn't telling us how a wolf is usually Dores. It just tells us the circumstances under which a wolf being Dores makes an animal Assur to eat.

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  37. I would like to post an additional difficulty to a unified theory of animal mauling terminology in the Talmud.

    סנהדרין דף צ עמוד ב
    אמר רב אחא בר אדא אמר רב יהודה כל הנותן תרומה לכהן עם הארץ כאילו נותנה לפני ארי מה ארי ספק דורס ואוכל ספק אינו דורס ואוכל אף כהן עם הארץ ספק אוכלה בטהרה ספק אוכלה בטומאה

    http://halakhah.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_90.html#PARTb

    R. Aha b. Adda said in Rab Judah's name: One who gives terumah to an ignorant priest is as though he had placed it before a lion: just as a lion may possibly tear his prey and eat it and possibly not,10 so is an ignorant priest — he may possibly eat it undefiled and possibly defiled.

    The Talmud says that it is unknown if a lion will maul (dores) its prey before it eats it. If you define mauling by a lion via dores as catching the animal with its claws, this Gemara does not make so much sense.

    Best of luck!

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  38. That's not what it means! It doesn't mean that it sometimes mauls before eating - it means that it sometimes eats and sometimes doesn't eat.

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