SALT - Thursday, 21 Adar Bet 5776 - March 31, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Yesterday, we noted the question addressed by several Acharonim concerning the conceptual underpinnings of the simanei tahara – the two characteristics which the Torah designates as signifying a kosher species of animal (split hooves, and an animal’s chewing its cud).  We can view these properties either as the reasons why an animal is deemed kosher, or merely as indicators of a species’ kosher status.  According to the first reason, an animal is kosher because it features these properties, whereas according to the second, an animal with these properties is kosher for some other reason, and these properties simply serve as indicators, signs by which we can determine a given species’ status.

            Among the contexts where this issue arises is the Gemara’s discussion in Masekhet Bekhorot (10a) concerning the law of tum’at okhelin – the ability of food to contract tum’a (ritual impurity).  The Torah in Parashat Shemini (11:34) establishes that food is susceptible to tum’a, and the Gemara discusses this law’s application to non-kosher meat.  Specifically, as the Gemara cites from the Mishna in Masekhet Uktzin (3:3), a distinction is drawn between the meat of a kosher animal and the meat of a non-kosher animal.  The meat of a kosher animal has the formal halakhic status of food, and is thus susceptible to tum’a, even if the animal died without proper shechita and its meat is therefore forbidden.  Since the animal is inherently kosher, its meat, by default, is halakhically regarded as food.  By contrast, a non-kosher animal’s meat is not halakhically treated as food unless one specifically intended to use its meat as food (such as to feed it to a non-Jew).  Without this clear intent, the meat is not considered food and hence it cannot contract tum’a.  (The practical significance of a non-kosher food’s status of tum’a lies in the fact that it can then transfer this status to kosher food through contact, as Rashi explains in Masekhet Bekhorot 9b.)

            The Mishna (there in Uktzin) then cites Rabbi Shimon as making a seemingly peculiar exception to this rule.  Namely, the meat of a camel, pig or hare, despite these being non-kosher species, is considered food even if one does not specifically intend to use it as such.  Curiously, Rabbi Shimon treats these species as kosher animals with respect to tum’at okhelin, even though they are not kosher.  The reason, as the Gemara in Bekhorot cites, is because these three animals have one of the two characteristics of kosher species.  The camel and hare chew their cud, and the pig has split hooves.  The fact that these animals feature one kosher characteristic, according to Rabbi Shimon, renders them “somewhat” kosher, so-to-speak, which – in Rabbi Shimon’s view – suffices for the law of tum’at okhelin.  Therefore, with respect to this law, they are treated as kosher animals, and their meat is susceptible to impurity regardless of whether it is intended to be used as food.

            Rav Menachem Zemba (Zera Avraham 14:24) cites a letter by Rav Avraham Loftiver proving from Rabbi Shimon’s position that the simanei tahara should be viewed as the reasons for an animal’s kosher status, rather than simply indicators.  If they merely indicate an animal’s kosher status, then an animal with one characteristic but not the other should seemingly be no different than animals with neither characteristic.  Since these properties are nothing more than signs that the animal is regarded as kosher, any animal without both signs is excluded from the family of kosher species.  If Rabbi Shimon views the presence of only one characteristic as significant, even without the presence of the other, then he necessarily perceives the simanei tahara as the qualities which actually make an animal kosher.  From this perspective, we can understand that the presence of one quality, even though it does not render an animal permissible for consumption, nevertheless suffices to distinguish an animal from those which neither characteristic.

            Rav Zemba (as cited by Rav Asher Weiss, Minchat Asher, Parashat Shemini, p. 75) noted that Rabbi Shimon here follows consistently his ruling earlier in Masekhet Bekhorot (6b).  As we discussed yesterday, Rabbi Shimon maintained that if a kosher animal delivered a child with non-kosher properties, the offspring is considered non-kosher.  As we saw, this ruling likely reflects the perspective that the simanei tahara are to be viewed as the reasons for an animal’s status, not as indicators of a kosher species.  Since they are what make an animal kosher, they must be present for an animal to be deemed permissible, even if we can ascertain through other means that the animal belongs to a kosher species.  Consistent with this view, Rabbi Shimon maintains that an animal with one kosher characteristic but not the other differs from animals which have neither characteristic, which similarly reflects this perspective on the simanei tahara.