Saturday, October 12, 2019

Are Mammoths Kosher?

There were some fascinating comments that came in, both online and by email, to my previous two posts on mammoths: Woolly Mammoths And The Jews, and The Rabbi And The Mammoth. One particularly intriguing email suggested that, according to some rabbinic opinions, you could actually eat mammoth!

Unlike dinosaurs, which only ever exist today in fossilized form, mammoths are sometimes found preserved whole and frozen in permafrost - including flesh and fur. While the famous story of 250,000 year old mammoth being served at the Explorer's Club in 1951 was a hoax - it was actually turtle meat - it certainly is possible to find such meat, and it seems that people have sometimes eaten it. While it's probably not too healthy, it would certainly be a unique gastronomic experience, like the legendary exotic dinners that we prepare at the Biblical Museum of Natural History (and we are doing one in New York next month!) Might there be a case to be made that it is actually kosher?

The logic goes as follows. Mammoths do not, of course, have split hooves or bring up the cud. But according to some Rabbinic opinions, such as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the explanation as to why the world appears to contain the remains of prehistoric creatures from before 5780 years ago is that when Hashem created the world, 5780 years ago, He created it complete with these remains. Thus, dinosaurs skeletons are not actually the remnants of dead dinosaurs; instead, they were created by Hashem as skeletons. This view was endorsed by Rabbi Reuven Schmelzer - one of the engineers of the ban on my books - as a "gantz gut pshat," along with others such as Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb of Ohr Somayach.

Accordingly, while the remains of mammoths from 4000 years ago are actually from real mammoths that once walked the earth (and are certainly not kosher), the apparent remains of mammoths from 250,000 years ago are not actually the remnants of creatures that once lived, but were instead created as we see them. In which case, they are not dead animals, they are just like rocks, and they are kosher!

Now, of course, one can come up with a number of rejoinders to this. But I think that the most fundamental reason as to why no anti-science rabbi would take this position regarding mammoths is as follows.

There is a basic difference between Orthodox Jewish young-earthers and Christian young-earthers. Christian young-earthers have a developed doctrine. As mistaken as they may be, they believe that they have a proper scientific case regarding the world being just a few thousand years old. And they develope it and teach it. They go digging for dinosaurs. They even have "creation museums" in which they have models of people and dinosaurs coexisting. This is their position and they are not afraid or ashamed of it; they want to study it and teach it.

The Orthodox Jewish young-earthers are entirely different. They don't want to confront the issue at all. They'll toss out a vague rejoinder to science, such as that the world was created to look old, or that the laws of science were different back then, but they don't really want to delve into any of these positions and have to develop them, and they are not particularly committed to them. That's why in Rabbi Moshe Meiselman's 800 page book about Torah and science, he doesn't even present any suggestion as to when the dinosaurs lived.

And so regarding mammoths, although a rabbi might say that the world was created to look old, complete with fossils, he's not so committed to that view, he's just saying that to have some kind of rejoinder. He's just as ready to say that scientists don't know what they're talking about, or that the laws of science have somehow changed in such a way as to make things look older than they are, or whatever - he's not interested in actually developing a full-blown approach and certainly not in dealing with the actual available evidence.

So you can forget about getting any hechsher on frozen mammoth!


See too this post: Confronting Dinosaurs

Don't forget to visit the Biblical Museum of Natural History this Sukkot, where you can check out our mammoth tooth and tusk! (And there's also a tour tomorrow morning at 11am). Book at www.BiblicalNaturalHistory.org.


17 comments:

  1. On th me tangential point of confronting dinosaurs, it seems to me that you suffer a similar issue.

    I once asked you (on a long car journey) what you do with the issues of biblical archaeology, scriptural criticism etc that show (to a high degree of scientific confidence and consensus) a non literal Torah in pretty much all narratives pre Melachim. Your answer was not that dissimilar to the type of answers that RMM gives for dinosaurs. While I don’t recall it verbatim it included “not my field of expertise” and similar “vague rejoinders”. One could argue that you cannot really consider yourself an expert in Chazal / science without having clearly developed ideas in this area.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What do archaeology and biblical criticism have to do with Chazal and science?!

      Delete
    2. Both are forms of science and contradict chazal’s (and generally orthodox jewry’s) beliefs. Need I elaborate or am I missing something?

      Delete
    3. And so does psychology. So I'm not allowed to discuss Chazal's statements about zoology if I don't know how to discuss questions about psychology?!

      Delete
    4. You are allowed to do as you please.

      My point was that you criticise others for not having a developed alternative explanation for e.g. dinosaurs while representing themselves as experts on Torah / science issues. However you also represent as an expert on these issues (not just torah and zoology) and yet don’t have a developed position on other important areas of conflict between the two.

      Your approach of “dibra torah...” works fine for (at least the first half of bereishis, but not so well on shemos through shmuel.

      Delete
    5. By the way, my intention is not to be adversarial. These are just issues that to me are more bothersome than bereishis / dinasours and so far as I can see there is noone out there who deals with them in an intellectually honest way.

      Chag sameach

      Delete
    6. I do not present myself as an expert on "Torah/science" issues. I am always very clear that I only address certain very specific areas. In my books I state explicitly that there there are other serious challenges that I do not address.

      Delete
    7. wishing you didn't present yourself as an expertOctober 14, 2019 at 9:35 PM

      Biblical zoology and talmudic cryptozoology are very specific areas. Creation, evolution, extinctions, theology and miracles (all covered in one book, mind you) are not.

      Delete
  2. You make "lack of commitment to a position" sound like a negative. Why doesn't it show open mindedness that alternative possibilities exist and that we don't actually have a definitive answer that will entirely satisfy both scientific evidence and theological beliefs ? There are many aspects in halacha and hashkafa where safek is respectable position.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm fine with people saying that. The problem is with people who insist that pro-science positions are completely unacceptable and heretical, but who refuse to present any thought-out alternative.

      Delete
    2. ...while claiming to have provided adequate answers.

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    3. The science and Torah are not the issue the objection is primarily political. Politics is not an insignificant matter and there are real world ramifications to these seemingly irrelevant issues.

      Delete
    4. Prefers no good position to heretical positionOctober 30, 2019 at 2:39 PM

      The determination of what's an adequate answer can't be made by someone who declares that anything which goes against consensus in science is inadequate.

      Delete
  3. "Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb of Ohr Somayach" This is not quite correct. While he does mention this view and today says it is the only "available" view, in his older shiurim he does mention extensively the "prior world"/"old world" approaches from the midrashim and kabbalah. The fact that he keeps those older shiurim on his website available leads me to believe he actually prefers those approaches that acknowledge the scientific age of the universe more then he might let on...

    ReplyDelete
  4. why assume and criticize when you can askOctober 14, 2019 at 9:28 PM

    "And so regarding mammoths, although a rabbi might say that the world was created to look old, complete with fossils, he's not so committed to that view, he's just saying that to have some kind of rejoinder."

    Try this out with a serious Chabad Rabbi. The proposed solution you are referring to was presented to the Orthodox world by the late Lubavicher Rebbe--I'm sure a Chabad chassid would take this with the utmost seriousness.
    How about E-mail the Chabad.org ask the rabbi with this suggestion and see where it goes?

    ReplyDelete
  5. A different perspective, shu"t chacham tzvi 3.

    ReplyDelete
  6. RNS have you seen the deleted chapter on evolution from R. Aryeh Kaplan?

    https://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2019/10/24/aryeh-kaplan-on-evolution-a-missing-chapter-of-the-handbook-of-jewish-thought/

    ReplyDelete

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