Friday, January 7, 2011

Halachic Discussion: Kosher Animals

There's a common argument that I've always found interesting: that the Torah names ten species of kosher land animals, and that no other animals have ever been discovered to display the two signs of a kosher species. (The signs are that the animal chews its cud and has a split hoof.) Also impressive is that the four animals identified as showing only one of the two signs (aka, be warned!) remain the only species to date that only show one sign.

The animals listed in Deuteronomy (Devarim) are the ox, sheep, goat, deer, gazelle, yahmur, the'o, pygarg, antelope, camelopardalis.

My question: Where is the cow? From everything I can find, the untranslated animals above are clearly not cow-like. And cows don't seem very ox-like to me.

More fundamentally: Is the basic claim true?


  1. I am guessing that, due to the location of the Israelites when this took place and the time period, cows were no where to be found! So surely they wouldn't have been listed. However, immediately after the list Hashem goes on to state that the reason these animals are kosher is that they have split hooves and chew their cud. So from this, we get that cows are kosher.

    This is my understanding at least, but don't necessarily trust my word for it right when I wake up! :)

  2. You missed the point, dude :P

    It's that everyone is going around and saying that "You know the Torah was written by G-d because only G-d could possibly know that ONLY these 10 animals have, or ever will have, these two signs I'm giving you." Therefore, what about the cow?

  3. An ox is a castrated male of the bovine family, which includes females (cows) and full males (bulls). They are used mostly as draft animals but can also be used as beef.

    So the ox is the cow.

    1. I thought castrated male cattle were called Steer . . . but maybe that's only in the western US. (I got a long lecture on this when I moved to a rural area of CO known for it's beef production).

  4. Ox and cow are in the bovine family. Essentially the same thing. Oxen are raised to be better at hard labour and cows are raised to be better for meat and milking.

    (take this for what it's worth -- I'm not fully kosher yet - still working on it! and I'm not too great with hebrew either heh... but i do know a thing or two about farm animals ;) )

  5. Elle, you cracked me up!

    Thanks, guys!

  6. the claim you stated (that the kosher mammals described in the torah are the only ones known to exist) is certainly false. The giraffe is kosher and is not mentioned in the torah. Bison are kosher, and as far as we know no North American animals are listed in the torah. The more common claim that I've heard is that th 4 non-kosher animals described as bearing only one of the two kosher signs are the only ones known. Some claim this is also false - see Overall, not only is the torah not a science textbook, but the hebrew names for animals do not map into contemporary zoological classifications. This makes it hard to determine exactly which species are being discussed.

  7. The gemora (Talmud) talks about the four animals with one sign, but not other and the gemora comments, "Was Moshe a zoologist?" I don't think it takes about the 10 animals which have both signs. I personally spoke to Rabbi Nosson Slifkin about it once (, as Aish HaTorah likes to use this as a 'proof' that Torah is true and he said even that statement about the four with one sign and not the other isn't true. There are indeed other animals that have one sign and not the other and the gemora only meant, according to Rashi, that how would Moshe who lived in Egypt and Midian his whole life know of all the animals livings according to their type, and so forth.

    He did say that some rishonim say that they are the only four and see it as a proof, and this is what Aish's claim is presumably based off of, and I think Larry also has a point... how do you define 'species' in Torah language? It's not always so clear in modern biology definitions either.

    I also heard this past Shabbos that in Yoel it talks about a locust storm on Mitzrayim, and Rashi comments that even though it wasn't supposed to happen again, it's because this is a different species!