Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Signs of Life

I recently saw a book (which I believe has just been published) which has beautiful illustrations showing what makes animals kosher and what makes them non-kosher. It is called "Signs of Life" The pictures are beautiful. However, as many of you know, there has been much controversy in the past few years about how to deal with the issue of hyrax and rabbit in terms of whether they chew the cud or not. I was curious how this book dealt with the issue. He spends almost half a page on both animals, and this is what he writes:

The Rock Badger and the Rabbit
Scientists throughout the generations have had the audacity to argue that the rock badger (shafan) and rabbit (arneves) do not chew their cud, in direct contradiction of that which is stated in the Torah. On the contrary, anyone can see with their own eyes that these animals chew their food long after it was ingested. (See Torah Sheleimah, Parshas Shemini (p. 293, quoted in Sefer Sichas Chullin p. 410) for further explanation of why these animals are considered to chew their cud

I am not all that impressed with his scholarship - he apparently didn't actually look in Torah Sheleimah, but relied on the citation from Sichas Chullin (which is honest of him). I'm not sure how many rock badgers or rabbits he has looked at - personally I have never looked at them for long enough to see them chew their food after it was ingested, but I'm skeptical!

But I am completely impressed with his total faith in the Torah (though his reliance on 'that which is stated in the Torah' disregarding the disagreements of Chazal and Rishonim is perhaps a but too much like the Saducees for my linking). And the audacity of those scientists throughout the ages! (Not sure how many studies of rock badgers have been done before the 20th century, but I'll believe him). Wouldn't it be great if scientists would always only stick to the simple text of Chumash and never have the audacity to argue with it! We wouldn't have to worry about pesky issues such as the age of the universe, the heliocentric solar system, or the Southern Hemisphere. We would never investigate photosynthesis, because we would know that plants can live without a sun. We would never look for medical cures for illnesses, because we know that they come from G-d, who is the only true Healer.

Wouldn't life be simple (if short) if we restricted scientists from investigating things which make them seem audacious.

PS I just found an article in HaModia about the book which includes the following line:
Signs of Life, is the only modern comprehensive work that deals with the mitzvah of recognizing the kosher signs of animals, providing an in-depth analysis of the issue with beautiful full-color photos and diagrams. It has been widely acclaimed by the Torah leaders of this generation.

I didn't know that it was the only book on the topic! And I'm slightly disappointed that he didn't go into the issue in more details once he realised that it is a Torah mitzvah!


  1. These animals are coprophages (they run their droppings through the digestive system a second time) so they do chew their food a long time after having eaten them. Perhaps the author simply was trying to avoid scatological references and instead left himself unclear?

  2. It is true that rabbits do so, and perhaps one could give him the benefit of the doubt. However, since he stresses in the HaModia interview that it is a Torah mitzvah to know these signs (not to mention a mitzvah of Talmud Torah) shouldn't he have explained p'shat in the Chumash that 'chewing the cud' includes coprophagy? (Would it be too much to hope that he also includes the Rishonim who interpret the verse this way?)
    Furthermore, if he includes coprophagy in the definition of 'chewing the cud' then why are the scientists throughout the ages being audacious? Are they not agreeing with chumash? They should be praised for clarifying p'shat in the Torah and enabling us Jews to learn better.
    Finally, are we sure that the hyrax of the Torah practices coprophagy? I am not an expert, but I see that ParshaBlog doesn't think that it does, and cites Rav Aryeh Kaplan who has a different explanation of 'maaleh gerah' to accomodate the hyrax.
    His single paragraph on the subject accuses scientists of audacity, yet does not advance my Torah knowledge, which is unfortunate because learning Torah is the purpose not only of the book, but also of life.