Monday, July 14, 2014

And You Shall Cover It With Tachash Skins

Previously, I mentioned the wonderful gift that I was given by the group that I took around Africa, of a tallis and tefillin bag made out of giraffe skin. Someone made reference to the giraffe being the legendary tachash, the skin of which was used to cover the Mishkan. This was indeed a theory that I quoted and favored in my book Mysterious Creatures. It is based on the Gemara identifying the tachash as the keres, which is described as having a single horn in the center of its forehead, which is indeed the case with some giraffes (which have two horns on top of their head and a single horn in the center).

I would dearly love to believe that my tallis and tefillin have the same covering as the Mishkan. However, in the revised and expanded edition of that book, Sacred Monsters, I rejected identifying the tachash as the giraffe. I had gotten carried away with the ingenuity of the notion, while overlooking the fact that it wasn't particularly reasonable. First, the Talmud’s statement that the keres satisfies the criterion that a kosher wild animal possess horns “even though it only has one horn” certainly seems to mean that it only has one horn, period, notwithstanding Maharam Shif’s creative explanation that it is only referring to its forehead. Second, the most distinctive feature of a giraffe is its height. It would be strange that in the description of the tachash and keres, no mention is made of that aspect. In Sacred Monsters I noted that according to some opinions in the Gemara, the tachash is not even an animal, and I presented other possibilities as to its nature.

Another person, upon hearing of my new tallis and tefillin bag, muttered his disapproval of my using the skin of a non-kosher animal for such holy items. In fact, there is a lining, not to mention the tefillin boxes, and I can't see any problem in using the skin of a non-kosher animal on the outside. But in any case, the giraffe is most certainly a kosher animal! Here is a picture that I took last week in the Madikwe game reserve of a dead giraffe, in which you can see its cloven hooves:

And here is a video that I took in Madikwe of a giraffe bringing up its cud. At 00:30 you can clearly see the cud rising up its neck:

(I don't know why the video shows the giraffe as being blue. This was when I had forgotten to put the battery in my Canon DSLR, and was instead using a point-and-shoot. If anyone knows how I can get the color fixed in the original video file, please let me know.)

Most people are aware that the giraffe is kosher, but think that we don't know where to schecht it. This is an incredibly widespread belief, but as my colleagues Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky and Dr. Zohar Amar have shown, it is a myth. There will also be an extensive discussion of this topic, complete with photos, in the forthcoming Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom.

Tomorrow, I am off to the US on a lengthy lecture tour/ family vacation. I'll be speaking in LA (YINBH and Beth Jacob), Seattle (BCMH), Silver Spring (KMS) and the National Zoo in Washington DC. The blog schedule will be irregular, so if you want to be updated when there are new posts, I recommend subscribing via email using the form on the right of the webpage.


  1. I love your stuff. I will be really happy to see you put the lie to the notion that 'we don't know where to shecht the giraffe.' I don't know how that myth got started but it clearly wasn't from anyone who studied Chullin or Hilchot Sh'chita. Keep up the good work!

  2. Of course, the Giraffe is a kosher animal, but it is an unlikely candidate for the biblical Tachash. That skin was an outer covering of the Mishkan. It is presumably there as a weatherproof covering. I don't know why Giraffe skin should be any more protective than cowhide (another conjectured translation, 'blue processed cowhide'). On the other hand, sealskin or, more likely, Dugong skin should fit the bill since they cover aquatic mammals. Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Kaplan stated that the Dugong (a seagoing mammal related to the American Manatee) is called Tuchash in Arabic.

    1. "Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Kaplan stated that the Dugong (a seagoing mammal related to the American Manatee) is called Tuchash in Arabic"

      Where does he say this? I would really like to see the source.

    2. Living Torah, Exodus 25:5. (Neither Google Translate nor Arabic Wikipedia seem to back him up, but that may be a matter of different species or older words or something.) He mentions Ezekiel 16:10, which mentions that shoes could be made out of the tahash. I recall reading that some South Arabian tribes did indeed make shoes from sea cows.

  3. Sorry about the lack of ID. The last post was by Y. Aharon

  4. I would love a giraffe tallis bag if the skins are responsibly sourced (giraffes aren't officially endangered, but they aren't a food staple, are they?). Did your group tell you who is making them into tallis bags?

    While you're at it, let me know if you do come across tachash tallis bags. I could use one of those, too. :)

  5. >favored

    FavoURed. You're British, you should know better.

  6. Another person, upon hearing of my new tallis and tefillin bag, muttered his disapproval of my using the skin of a non-kosher animal for such holy items..

    Seriously? And fedoras are made out of which Kosher animals? And shreimals?

    One more case of inventing a Halcha to join the ever-expanding pseudo-Judaism we're being pelted with.


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