The Camel, The Hare, and the Hyrax

The Laws of Animals with One Kosher Sign in Light of Modern Zoology
Rabbi Natan Slifkin

General Information

The Camel, The Hare, and the Hyrax "Every animal that has hooves that are fully split and brings up the cud, you shall eat. However, this you shall not eat...the camel, the hare, and the hyrax, for they bring up the cud, but they do not have split hooves; therefore they are unclean to you." (Deuteronomy 14:6-7)

For more than a century, the Torah's list of animals with one kosher sign has been a source of controversy. This obscure topic is used both by those seeking to demonstrate the Torah's scientific knowledge and also by those seeking to challenge it. Do we know the correct identities of these animals? Do they indeed chew the cud and lack split hooves? Does the Torah claim them to be the only such animals? And are there any others? This groundbreaking work draws upon a wealth of Torah literature and the latest zoological research to present a detailed and comprehensive study of this difficult topic.

"Rambam wrote that difficult and deep passages of the Talmud cannot be addressed by enthusiasm alone. We do a great injustice to the Torah and the Sages by providing explanations that don't really hold water. Sensitive areas of the Torah must be approached with hard work, thorough research, rigorous analysis, and intellectual honesty. In this authoritative book, Rabbi Slifkin once again applies these qualities, and this is why it succeeds."
—Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein,
Author, Maharal: Be'er HaGolah (ArtScroll)

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Contents ↑ Back to top

Haskamos (Rabbinic Approbations) for the first edition ↑ Back to top

Letter of Approbation from Rav Yisroel Belsky, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah, Torah VeDaas (Download original Hebrew here).

Rabbi Nosson Slifkim showed me his great work on the identification of the gamal, arneves and shafan. I read it from beginning to end with an enthusiastic and joyful heart as I saw how much he deepened, expanded and enwisened to analyze the section of the Torah that is concealed from all eyes and hidden, and how he presented his explanations in a beautiful and clear way for the the eyes of the students who are thirsty for the word of God. The upright will see, rejoice and contemplate his pleasant words. This work has helped fulfill two important things:

The first is regarding what the Sages said (Hullin 42a): "It is taught in the school of Rabbi Yishmael: 'This is the animal which you shall eat' - This teaches that God took each species, showed it to Moshe and said to him, 'This eat and this do not eat.'" It is clear that recognizing the species is an integral part of knowledge of the holy Torah. Until each species is identified we are missing from this knowledge, even if it has almost no practical ramifications. Regardless, knowledge of the Torah is inherently a mitzvah.

The second is that if what the author suggests is verified, that the issue of "ma'aleh gerah" is different from the simple understanding as found among the kosher species i.e. raising the food from its place of digestion - the stomach - back to the mouth, according to his view cecotrophy and merycism may also be considered "ma'aleh gerah", the Rambam counted as a mitzvah among the positive commandments in the Torah (no. 149) to check the signs of animals. If so, one who only has a superficial knowledge in the explanation of this sign cannot properly fulfill this mitzvah. One can discuss this at length but this is not the place.

In addition to all the above, every additional explanation and understanding in the verses of the Torah is a great fulfillment in its learning. About the author and the readers of his work it is truly written, "I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word." [Tehillim 119:15-16]

I will say a true thing - until I examined this book I had leaned towards the precious explanation that my friend R. Meir Lubin, one of the elderly students of the great genius R. Shlomo Heiman, innovated and passed on to me. According to his approach it is possible to understand "ma'aleh gerah" of the arneves and shafan simply. He also explained with this in an amazing way why the Torah distinguishes in its language - that regarding the arneves it speaks in the past tense "u-farsah lo hifrisah, regarding the gamal it speaks in the present tense "u-farsah einenu mafris" and regarding the shafan it changes to the future tense "u-farsah lo yafris". However, the author overcame this with his proofs and demonstrations. Even though the matter is still undetermined, my view leans towards this approach. Despite that there is no conclusive proof, this is a very important view. However, he left a number of issues from the rishonim, the princes of Torah, as difficulties and one can still engage his words. Nevertheless, he correctly rebuffed the complaints of the instigators and showed with his clear mind that the Torah spoke uprightly. He invalidated like dust all of the words of the complainers and also explained in his writings a number of sayings of the Sages with good judgment and knowledge. Therefore, I say praiseworthy is the portion of R. Nosson Slifkin. May his wealth in the Torah be increased and may it please [God] that his words reach the world.

Signing on Thursday, the 8th of Shevat, 5764 in Brooklyn,
Yisroel HaLevi Belsky

Letter of Approbation from Rav Chaim Malinowitz, shlita, General Editor, The Schottenstein Talmud, and Rav of Kehillas Beis Tefillah, Ramat Bet Shemesh.

11th Cheshvan, 5764

Rambam, in Chapter Two of Hilchos Yesodei Torah, writes that the path leading to love of Hashem lies in one's observing the phenomena of the natural world, perceiving His creations and appreciating the Creator's boundless wisdom. In his Sefer HaMitzvos, Mitzvah Three, Rambam writes that the path to love and devotion for Hashem is through studying His Torah - learning it, analyzing it, understanding it, asking, answering, unearthing its truths - all this causes a person to joyfully bond with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

These two directives from Rambam are obviously complementary. Each path, the study of the natural world and scientific laws, and the study of our Holy Torah, would bring a person to love and appreciate Hashem's wisdom and Essence - yet each alone, taken narrowly, is only a part of the total picture.

This is ever more so when the Torah deals directly with the world of the natural sciences, i.e, when knowledge of "other" branches of learning is necessary to understand the Torah itself! How much more incumbent upon us is it then to delve into and sort out the vast store of scientific knowledge which exists today to unlock the meaning of the Torah and Chazal. The task is daunting - many times difficult questions exist, apparent contradictions, and statements which seem to fly in the face of our present scientific knowledge and understanding. While many times the ultimate solution might well be to wait for further discoveries and realities to be unearthed and "discovered," each generation has no choice but to learn and understand Torah with the tools it presently has. And in an area which is touched upon by Torah Shebichesav - the Written Torah - which is easily available to the general public- any seeming problem also becomes an area of potential Chillul Hashem, chas v'shalom.

It is to fill one such "gap" that the young Torah scholar and by now world-famous "Zoo Rabbi," Nosson Slifkin, has stepped in with his work entitled The Camel, The Hare, And The Hyrax, which he has written in order to clarify the Torah's descriptions of animals which possess only one "kosher" sign. Rabbi Slifkin, the author of many works on the interface between Torah and the natural world, clarifies, with impressive scholarship, and intellectual objectivity and honesty, many seemingly difficult statements of Chazal, sugyohs in Maseches Chullin, and other areas, to help clarify this somewhat obscure area of Torah. While one might not necessarily agree with some of his conclusions or speculations, he certainly expounds a Torah opinion which should be reckoned with. And the Torah world is thus in his debt, both in helping to meet challenges to Its truth, and in showing how lais assar panuy minai - "there is no place (read, "area," both physical and conceptual) which exists without Hashem's essence (and His Torah)." I wish Rabbi Slifkin well, and may this book, and his other works, open our minds to understand both Hashem's Torah and His wondrous universe.

Chaim Zev Malinowitz

Reader Feedback ↑ Back to top

Comments from readers will be posted here. To send a comment, write to

Letter received April 27, 2004
Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
I am writing to you to say thank you. Being that I am trying to be a "Baal Tshuva," I have always had an inquisitive mind. As my Torah Learning grew, however, so did my doubts and questions. I have always considered the most difficult of these questions the questions regarding the camel, the hare, the hyrax, and the pig (from the Torah and Talmud), and other animal-related questions from the Talmud because these were just some of few questions regarding Torah that were outwardly verifiable (i.e. statements whose validity could be verified outside the realm of Torah).
To say the least, I was always disapointed with the answers I got for these questions. The Rabbis I have asked always seemed to give me a run-around answer or said that the shafan and arnevet were extinct. My research showed me otherwise, so I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth, doubting my new way of life.
Reading two of your works, The Camel, The Hare, and The Hyrax and Mysterious Creatures, I found your research to be exhaustive, honest, and refreshing. I feel that addressing such issues head on, and taking the time to do extensive and honest research is the best and only approach to get a true answer to these questions. Seeing an Orthodox Rabbi willing to address these questions in the detailed manner which I am used to (being that I am an engineer), rather than an off-the-cuff answer, has given me new found inspiration in my relatively new Torah-Observant way of life. I cannot praise you enough for your work, as I have found it to be a major reason I have decided to continue this way of life. Thank you so much, and hatzlacha raba to you!
Adir Levy
Los Angeles, CA

Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
It's been a while now since I have completed "The Camel, The Hare & The Hyrax," but I think of it almost every day. I think of why it took so long for someone to come out and write about this subject. There are many kinds of Jews out in the world and they have been unsuccessful in coming back to Judaism, due to certain "controversies". The issue of the identity of the Kosher animals has for a long time been the sticking point for me, and each of the rabbis that I would talk to would always push it aside or give some apologetic answer to it mainly because they are just plain ill informed.
Not you Rabbi Slifkin. Your research into the matter topped with your honesty is a breath of fresh air. Many Jews need this kind of "intellectual" look into the matter to bring us back into Judaism rather than just seeing it from a "hashkafah" point of view. I have had many doubts before, regarding this matter. But through your book I have realized that there is still hope for me. Many people fear to speak of this subject, because of what we might find out. In this book, you have shown me that we should not fear to ask questions and that sometimes admitting to not knowing something is not the same as admitting to defeat.
You have shown me that an Orthodox Rabbi is not afraid to tackle this matter in an honest fashion and I am very proud of that. This book deserves to be in every serious Jewish thinker's home. Long have people used the subject of the identity of the kosher animals as evidence that the Torah is not from God. This book gives us all the ammunition to fire back at them... to show them that they do not own a monopoly on intellectual thought... nobody does.
Thank you Rabbi Slifkin for your great work on this subject. You have given me, as well as many other people, a reason why we should give Judaism another chance.
Hanan Druker
Los Angeles, CA

Update and Corrections ↑ Back to top

On pp. 94-95 reasons are presented as to why the hyrax is not disqualified from being the shafan as being a sheretz. To these can be added that the rabbit is the same size as a hyrax - in fact, slightly smaller - and yet since at least Talmudic times, this was widely identified as being the arneves of the Torah.