The Evolution of Camelus ArtScrollus BlackHoofus
Did you know that there's a special edition of the ArtScroll Stone Chumash which features color illustrations at the back? I recently came across it and I was surprised to discover that it depicted a species of camel hitherto unknown to science. I think it should be named Camelus ArtScrollus BlackHoofus, the ArtScroll black-hoofed camel. It wasn't too hard to figure out how it evolved.
The picture is to illustrate the Torah's description of animals that meet the criterion of possessing split hooves, and those that don't. Instead of photos, ArtScroll uses high-quality artwork. And the illustration of the camel's foot is this:
But what on earth is that? The picture shows a big black hoof with two gray nails on the tip. But that's not what a camel has. Here are photos of a camel's foot:
As you can see, the camel doesn't actually have a hoof at all. Instead, there is a just a big furry foot, with two nails at the end.
So how did ArtScroll come up with the idea that the camel has a big black hoof, split at the tip? The answer is that it comes from a common mistranslation of the Torah.
The Torah’s first requirement for an animal to be kosher is that it is mafris parsah, which is often understood to mean that the animal must possess a split hoof. However, as I explained in great detail in The Camel, The Hare And The Hyrax, there are actually two different classical explanations of this phrase, and neither of them translates it this way.
According to Rashbam, the word "mafris" is based on the same root as "parsah," which refers to a nail-like covering. Accordingly, the phrase mafris parsah means that the animal "hooves a hoof," or to put it in better English, "forms a hoof." The requirement of it being split is expressed in another phrase, shosa'as shesa.
According to Rashi, on the other hand, the word mafris is not based on the same root as parsah. Instead, mafris means "split" (and shosa'as shesa means fully split). Parsah is defined by Rashi (to Vayikra 11:3) as having the meaning of the Old French word plante. This refers to the sole of a foot - not necessarily to a foot that is hooved (i.e. encased by a hard covering). Accordingly, the phrase mafris parsah means that the animal "has a split foot."
Thus, according to neither view does mafris parsah mean "split hoof". It either means "has a hoof" or "has a split foot."
Now let us turn to the Torah's account of the camel:
אַךְ אֶת זֶה לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִמַּעֲלֵי הַגֵּרָה וּמִמַּפְרִסֵי הַפַּרְסָה אֶת הַגָּמָל כִּי מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא וּפַרְסָה אֵינֶנּוּ מַפְרִיס טָמֵא הוּא לָכֶם
This verse is often translated as meaning that the camel's "hoof is not split" - i.e. that it has a hoof, but the hoof is not adequately split. But that's not what it means at all, according to any view. According to Rashbam, it means that the camel does not have a hoof - instead, it has a big furry foot with nails. (To put it another way: according to Rashbam, the camel is disqualified because it does not have a proper hoof at all, let alone one that is split.) According to Rashi, on the other hand, it means that the camel's foot (not hoof) is not adequately split, as Rashi explains there:
מפרסת פרסה ושסע איננה שוסעת - כגון גמל שפרסתו סדוקה למעלה אבל למטה היא מחוברת:
“Which divides the foot but is not split” —such as the camel, whose foot is split at the tip but is joined at the back. (Rashi to Leviticus 11:26)
According to Rashi, the camel is disqualified is because its foot is not adequately split. There is no reference to the camel either having or lacking a hoof. (Rashi's explanation of the camel having a foot which is only partially split is consistent with camel anatomy, but one does wonder whether Rashi, living in France, ever actually saw a camel in the flesh.)
Thus, ArtScroll's reference to a camel having "a hoof that is split at the tip" is not based on any Rishon - and thus its corresponding illustration is not rooted in any zoological reality.
The problem is that most people are not aware that there are two different explanations of the Torah here, and they blur both explanations together in their minds. So most people read the requirement of mafris parsah as meaning that the animal must have a split hoof. And then when the camel is described as "ufarsah einenu mafris," they understand this to mean that it has a hoof that is not split. Thus emerges the creation of the camel illustrated in ArtScroll, which has a big black hoof. But there ain't no such thing!