The Camel, The Hare, And The Hyrax

The laws of animals with one kosher sign in light of modern zoology


Rabbi Natan Slifkin Zoo Torah/ Gefen Books

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” meaning that they are almost ungulates (hoofed mammals). although they are far more agile. and klipdas. usually refers to the rabbit. Traditional sources for identifying the shafan as the hyrax include Rav Saadia Gaon (882-942 CE). correct—understanding of the shafan is that it refers to the hyrax. shafan. hyraxes are classified as being most closely related to elephants (!) and are in the category of “subungulates. damans. Ibn Janach2 and Tevuos Ha-Aretz. Since then. These 1 Note that the term “coney.1 These are also called dassies. but not quite. Hyraxes (the plural form is sometimes written as “hyrax” or “hyraces”) are small mammals that somewhat resemble very large guinea pigs. The species found in Israel is Procavia capensis (sometimes called Procavia syriaca).Chapter Six Shafan—The Hyrax The Identity of the Shafan The popular—and as we shall see. known in Modern Hebrew as shafan sela and in English as the rock hyrax. 88 . the word has sometimes also been used to refer to the hyrax. and was originally used by European and American translators who were unfamiliar with the hyrax. 2 Rabbeinu Yonah Ibn Janach.” which is used in some works as a translation of shafan or arneves. rock badgers. rock rabbits. According to mainstream zoological taxonomy. Sefer HaShorashim (Berlin 1896).

214. as we shall discuss at the end of this chapter. Tristram.1 The Septuagint translates shafan as coirogrullion. reprint of 1883 ed.”3 Some have understood this to refer to the hedgehog. 3 Wilhelm Gesenius. coirogrullion means “bristly animal” or “hairy animal. 75. 1432.Chapter Six: Shafan—The Hyrax A rock hyrax authorities translate shafan as wabr. Handbuch der Biblischen Alterthumskunde (Leipzig: Baumgärtner 1823-1831) vol 4 part II p. as hedgehogs do not live in rocks and do not do anything that could be described as bringing up the cud. According to Gesenius. due to its “rough skin and bristles. a type of jumping rodent.” This may refer to the long. translation by Samuel Davidson) p. stiff hairs that emerge 1 H. since it does not match the description of the shafan being a non-rodentlike creature that hides under rocks. The Natural History of the Bible (New Jersey: Gorgias Press 2002.2 However. 2 From a Coptic-Arab dictionary cited by Ernst Friedrich Rosenmüller. which is the most common and widespread Arabic name for the hyrax. But Gesenius explains that this name refers to the hyrax. this is not an acceptable identification for the shafan. and states that the Arabic name wabr conveys the same meaning. Yet this cannot be correct. which is a difficult word to translate.). p. 89 . A Hebrew & Chaldean Lexicon to the Old Testament (London: Willams & Norgate 1867. There is a report that this is to be identified with the jerboa. B.

”2 He describes it as being very common in Israel and living in caves in the rocks. Professor Shimon Bodenheimer. and resembling both a bear and a mouse.5 also concluded that the shafan is the hyrax. 213-222. 45. all concluded that the shafan is the hyrax.9 who carefully studied the zoology of the Torah. Hieronymus explained coirogrullion to refer to a creature that is no larger than a hedgehog. Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush. Yehudah Feliks. This is also the preferred conclusion of the contemporary Torah scholars who have published works 1 Rosenmüller (op. 220) likewise states that the hyrax earns its Amharic name of aschkoko due to its possessing hedgehog-like hairs that resemble thorns. which literally means “bear mouse. Menachem Dor. 6 Commentary to Leviticus 11:5. p. and gives reasons for this that we shall see later. arktomys is the Latin name for the marmot (known in America as the woodchuck or groundhog). 245. 8 Dr.8 and Dr. 90 . 4 James Bruce. Yehudah Feliks. 1809-1879) also explains that shafan refers to the hyrax. such as the eighteenth-century explorer James Bruce. HaChai BiMai HaMikra HaMishnah VeHaTalmud (Tel-Aviv: Grafor-Daftal books 1997).THE CAMEL. is the conclusion of Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Hoffman (1843-1921). and they live in tunnels rather than rocks. too. he notes that it is therefore also called arktomys. 2 Letter to Sunnias and Fretela (403 CE). 3 However. 9 Prof. Handbuch der Biblischen Alterthumskunde vol 4 part II pp. It seems that Hieronymus was referring to the hyrax. called aschok in Amharic. HaChai B’Eretz Yisrael (Tel Aviv: Dvir 1953) p. p. So.7 Dr. which the hyrax uses like whiskers to feel its way in dark tunnels. 228. Today. cit. 5 Ernst Friedrich Rosenmüller.3 Various others who studied the animals of the Bible. Cited by Rosenmüller and Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Hoffman. Rosenmüller (op.6 The Israeli zoologists. cit. The Animal World of the Bible (Tel-Aviv: Sinai 1962) p. 214) understands it to refer to the jerboa. p. but these are not native to the region of Israel.4 and the nineteenth-century German Hebraist Ernst Friedrich Rosenmüller.1 In the fifth century. Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile (1790) vol. 56. p. 7 Prof. 5. Shimon Bodenheimer. THE HARE AND THE HYRAx at intervals all over its body. Menachem Dor.

hyraxes are preyed upon by eagles. Sichas Chullin (Jerusalem: Medrash Bikkurei Yosef 1995) p. there are some verses in Scripture which match the hyrax perfectly: :‫ׁשפּנִ ים עם לֹא עצּום וַ ּיָ ׂשימּו בּסלַ ע ּביתם‬ ָ ֵ ֶ ַ ִ ָ ַ ַ ְ The shefanim are not a strong people. As we shall see. they all dart into hiding: 1 Rabbi Yisrael Meir Levinger. but they place their home in the rock. There are different species of hyrax. jackals. abriement in Old French. this author. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Levinger1 and Rabbi Amitai ben-David2—and. Rashi ad loc. only those who were unfamiliar with the hyrax thought that the shafan is a different animal such as the rabbit or jerboa. the rocks are a refuge (machseh) for the shefanim. 91 . but the species found in Israel always lives in rocky areas (and hence is called the “rock hyrax”). 410. where a person hides from the storms and rain.כל לשון מחסה לשון צל ומחבא שאדם מתכסה שם מן הזרם ומן‬ :‫המטר אבר”י בלע”ז‬ Machseh—Every form of the word machseh is a term of shade and refuge. They are indeed “not a strong people.Chapter Six: Shafan—The Hyrax specializing in animals of the Torah. Evidence for the Hyrax There are several different lines of evidence demonstrating that shafan refers to the hyrax. They have a multitude of tunnels and hiding places in these rocks. 2 Rabbi Amitai Ben David. Psalms 104:18 ‫מחסה .” The verse further states that they place their homes in the rocks (the name shafan is explained by some to mean “hidden one”). 4. and when danger threatens. hyenas and snakes. First. Maor LeMaseches Chullin (Jerusalem: Maskil LeDavid 1995) p. Proverbs 30:26 Being relatively small animals. A similar description is given elsewhere: :‫הרים הּגְ בֹהים לַ ּיְ עלִ ים סלָ עים מחסה לַ ׁשפּנִ ים‬ ַ ְ ֶ ְ ַ ִ ְ ֵ ִ ַ ִ ָ The high hills are for the ibex. of course.

but lives in holes in the rocks.B.1 Verreaux’s eagle (Aquila verreauxii) is the major predator of hyraxes. Hoeck. The Black Eagle: A Study (Randburg. Tristram. scoop out a burrow for itself. but principally eagles. 92 . Oxfordshire: Andromeda Oxford 2001).S.” in The Encyclopedia of Mammals (Ed. H. 76 …wherever there are rocky cliffs. hyenas. “Hyraxes. including leopards. “The habitat of the rock hyrax. South Africa: Acorn Books. and to which it retires at the least alarm.2 This predation by birds is highlighted in the Midrash: 1 H. like a rabbit. D.THE CAMEL. The Natural History of the Bible (New Jersey: Gorgias Press 2002. 205-214 These refuges serve to protect the hyrax from predators. 1990). Gargett. 2 V. reprint of 1883 ed. where it makes its nest and conceals its young.” Journal of the East African Natural History Society (1966) 25 pp.) p. outcrops of boulder screes providing cavities in which the colonies can find shelter. feeding upon them almost exclusively. It does not. one can reasonably expect to find hyrax… Rock hyraces do not burrow but inhabit any type of rock providing suitable cavities as dwelling holes. THE HARE AND THE HYRAx A hyrax emerging from its hiding place under the rocks at Ein-Gedi in Israel The habits of the coney (hyrax—N. Sale. MacDonald.) are very accurately portrayed in the Psalms and in Proverbs. B. J.

Arabic names provide strong evidence for an animal’s Torah identity. even if true.‫שהוא פורח שלא יאכלנו‬ “The rocks are a refuge for hyraxes”—These hyraxes hide under clefts from birds flying overhead. The Natural History of the Bible (New Jersey: Gorgias Press 2002.B. 77 Some present another reason for identifying shafan as hyrax. v. 3 H. and indeed both ibexes and hyraxes are noticeably abundant in the hills surrounding the Dead Sea. that they should not eat them… Midrash Bereishis Rabbah 12:9 In the aforementioned verse. “Hyraxes.3 However.1 As Ibn Ezra states. H. from the root thafan.Chapter Six: Shafan—The Hyrax ‫“סלעים מחסה לשפנים” הדין טפזא מיגין תחות שקפה מפני העוף בשעה‬ . 2 Commentary to Leviticus 11:13. especially in the region of Ein Gedi. several opinions explain that the Torah specifically wanted to warn against eating those non-kosher animals that were commonly eaten by people in the area. 93 . 514. the shafanim are described immediately after the ibex (a species of wild goat). cited in The Jewish Encyclopedia (New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls Company 1901).) p. The Natural History of the Bible. Hyraxes are indeed a popular food item: The flesh is much prized by the Arabs. Tristram. and so they called the place Ishaphan. Historians say that 3000 years ago. they thought were hyraxes (but which subsequently turned out to be rabbits). reprint of 1883 ed. Journal Asiatique. In the Ehkili dialect of Arabic (Sabean) the hyrax is called thufun. according to the literature. cit. The Romans later modified the name to Hispania. This may suggest geographical proximity. 3rd series. Phoenician sailors explored the Mediterranean. B. this only shows that the Phoenicians considered 1 Fulgence Fresnel. Tristram. sailing westward from their homeland on the coast of Syria. “Coney”..” in The Encyclopedia of Mammals. which is related to the Hebrew word shafan. H.2 As we saw in chapter two. loc. They found land where they saw many animals which.. and we now know it as Spain. Hoeck. Island of the Hyrax.

in terms of it being small with tiny legs. the Talmud (Chullin 59a) states that. they would have misinterpreted the term as referring to an animal with which they were familiar. unlike most ruminants. One strategy is to cite descriptions of the shafan from medieval authorities which do not match the hyrax. such as the rabbit. Due to this. these authorities did not live in the region of the Land of Israel and would in any case not have been familiar with the hyrax. there is dispute as to whether the term sheretz refers to a creature’s build. it is still substantially different from 94 . or to its scurrying manner of locomotion. This matches the hyrax. which possess large upper incisors. Another argument is that the hyrax is a sheretz (verminous creature). the arneves and shafan possess upper teeth. are there any arguments against the hyrax being the shafan? Those for whom the hyrax presents difficulties for using this topic as a proof for the divine origins of the Torah (as we shall later explore) sometimes claim that there are. it does not necessarily mean that the shafan is the hyrax. THE HARE AND THE HYRAx rabbits to resemble shafanim. Finally. As we shall see later. While the hyrax does possess those characteristics to a certain degree. However.THE CAMEL. and would therefore not be listed here as a chayah (regular wild mammal). Two views of a hyrax skull Arguments against the Hyrax Aside from the question regarding whether the hyrax is ma’aleh gerah.

it could not refer to any of the lamoids. their feet are of a peculiarly solid shape with a rubbery texture. Adults measure around twenty inches in length and weigh six to ten pounds. There are certainly adequate grounds for rating the hyrax as a chayah. However. there are no other candidates. As discussed in chapter four. concerning which one reference work states: 95 .Chapter Six: Shafan—The Hyrax A rock hyrax walking over rocks the “classic” sheratzim—small rodents and lizards. it is also the only candidate. As explained in the previous chapter. it is important to note that the hyrax cannot be disqualified from being the shafan unless a more likely alternative is proposed. The hyrax is not only a superb candidate based on numerous lines of evidence. The front foot has four toes that are little more than stubby outgrowths of the foot. while the hind feet possess three longer toes that are joined for much of their length but are still far more divided than those of the front feet. And as we shall discuss soon. They walk with their body much higher off the ground than do small rodents and lizards. and often leap around. it is not viable to propose the existence of an unknown and extinct creature. At the end of the toes are thick nails. Finally. Hooves of the Hyrax Hyraxes do not have hooves in the commonly used sense of the term.

it is saying that it does not possess hooves at all. while according to others. 96 . Malbim sees the foot structure of the hyrax as being perfectly described in the words of the verse: “ufarsah lo yafris” (Leviticus 11:5). apparently thought that the hyrax has a fully split hind foot. 541 According to some commentaries.1 Front and bottom view of the forefeet of a hyrax Bottom view of the hindfoot of a hyrax 1 Malbim. Since the hyrax’s nails do not encase the foot. Hoeck. the Torah is saying that the hyrax does not possess split feet. 4 p. but rather true hooves. The precise meaning of this phrase (as contrasted with that describing the camel and the hare) is that it does not finish developing cloven hooves on its front feet. in Grzimek’s Encyclopedia of Mammals. vol. who had almost certainly never actually seen a hyrax. THE HARE AND THE HYRAx These are not nails. even though it looks as though it has started developing them on its hind feet.THE CAMEL. which would adequately describe a hyrax. it is not rated as a hoof in the Torah sense of the term (similar to the camel). H. which is written in the future tense. Midrash Lekach Tov states that the shafan possesses paws.

But based on observations of their behavior. “Hyraxes. who also cites the 18th century traveler James Bruce. In the Hellabrunn Tierpark. Hoeck performed field research on the behavioral ecology of hyraxes at the Serengeti Research Institute in Tanzania. However. This in itself does not rule out the possibility of the food being simply regurgitated anyway. Hendrik Hoeck. H. MacDonald) p. other researchers place doubts on the authenticity of this observation. and their ability to digest fiber efficiently is similar to that of ruminants. chew the cud for about half an hour daily. Hubert Hendrichs. although these authors note that it is of doubtful credibility: An interesting piece of information has been presented by one researcher.” in The Encyclopedia of Mammals (Ed. I simultaneously observed eight hyrax that had arrived from Eritrea. 60 The researcher referred to is the zoologist Dr. Hoeck. However with the bad light and the distance to the closely crouching animals I could not recognize details. chewing for a considerable time. D. comprising three separate areas of microbial digestion. Dr. Munich. in a resting position. Shafan HaSela’im (Israel: Massada 1982) p. which are fed on dried grasses. that hyraxes in captivity. and is widely considered as an expert in this family of animals. several hours after their last food intake. and saw them at night. Zoological texts therefore state that the hyrax is not a ruminant. hyraxes possess unusual digestive systems. He writes: Hyraxes do not ruminate. 449 But a contrasting view is presented in a study of hyraxes by Dr. it seems that this does not happen. The source usually cited for this information is Dr. I could more precisely observe 3 hyraxes 97 . as we shall later discuss in detail. Hendrichs reports as follows: In the summer of 1962 I observed duikers over 24-hour periods in the Round House at the Frankfurt zoo. their gut is complex. Aharon Meltzer and Michah Levnah.Chapter Six: Shafan—The Hyrax Does the Hyrax Chew its Cud? Although. there is no chamber producing “cud” to be chewed. The hyrax is also rated as chewing the cud in the Bible. However. He is the author of several papers about hyraxes.

” frequently used a place for rumination that was directly at the window which separates it from the observer. chewing. Vergleichende Untersuchung des wiederkau-verhaltens [Comparative investigation of cud retainers]. “Grey. 736-739 (translated from German) According to Hendrichs’ report. One of the animals. who toured the Nile countries from 1768 to 1773. regurgitating a bolus. Due to two fortunate circumstances I am able to state that they actually ruminated: 1. Therefore I could often precisely observe it from a distance of only 1 meter and saw a sequence of dozing. “because it chews the cud. I repeatedly saw eructations and swallowing as a conclusion of chewing. taking the ruminating position. as noted. in order to examine this I kept it alive for some time. eructations. this was probably also the case with the animals in Frankfurt. accompanied by convulsions. During the quiet winter months (1962/63) the animals were so trusting that they ruminated even during the day. although in the spring of 1963 I was not able to clearly follow the sequence of regurgitation. and swallowing. but it reliably ruminates. Once I could clearly also observe with “Brown” the sequence of regurgitation. Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile (1790) vol. However. chewing. writes from Aschkoko about the hyrax: “I never heard a sound from it.THE CAMEL. 98 . chewing. intermediate swallowing. They placed it with the impure animals. Hendrichs. 2. but has no split hooves. others doubt the accuracy of the observations and deductions of Hendrichs and Bruce: Throughout my observations of rock hyraces I have found no evidence of rumination… Hyrax will sometimes produce a chewing motion 1 James Bruce. Since with these two animals I clearly determined re-chewing.” Bruce. …The Jewish legislators (Leviticus 11:5) already knew that the hyrax chews the cud. THE HARE AND THE HYRAx (Procavia capensis…). the reason why the hyrax’s cud chewing behavior remained unconfirmed for so long is that the animal chews cud for only 20 to 50 minutes per day and usually at night. and swallowing with them. and final swallowing.”1 H. Biologisches Zentralblatt (1965) 84:6 pp. 5.

Chapter Six: Shafan—The Hyrax without having recently ingested and such action is particularly common when they are confronted by something which is strange to them.1 which could be interpreted as chewing the cud. More sources for this will be cited later. Until more details of these observations are available it is unwise to comment but my own view is that although hyrax sometimes chew in the absence of ingestion. 1790)… Hendrichs (1963) claims to have observed rumination in P. B. Therefore I’m pretty sure that the animal he observed was showing antagonistic behavior towards him. for example. For the past 30 years I have been observing hyrax and I never saw this behavior in the field.” Journal of the East African Natural History Society (1966) 25 pp.… this motion reminds one forcibly of a ruminant and is probably responsible for the statement by some observers that hyrax chews the cud (Bruce. Hendrik Hoeck. likewise claims that Hendrich’s conclusion was mistaken: I have been asked several times the question if hyrax chew the cud. when captive animals are introduced to an unfamiliar animal species such as a caged bird. where the coney is stated to chew the cud. I know that it is mentioned in the Bible and Dr. 1 This is also reported by Dr. However. It has been observed. author of the statement in The Encyclopedia of Mammals that hyraxes do not ruminate. 99 . capensis in captivity in Europe. xI. they do not regurgitate material from the stomach for further mastication. Should rumination be established. He informs me that the animals chewed the cud for ½ hr (in 24 hr) when fed on dried grass (? hay). 215-224 Dr. will be attested. Sale. Dr. “Daily food consumption and mode of ingestion in the hyrax. the accuracy of the Bible (Lev. The simple structure of the stomach would appear to make such action extremely unlikely. 5). J. Hubert Hendrichs is the last scientist to report it. Aharon Melzer in Shafan HaSela’im. Maybe the observations in the Bible were also made in captive animals. Newly-captured and nervous animals frequently show it when being observed by humans. when an animal shows antagonistic behavior (threatens and/or is afraid) it will make chewing movements. Hendrichs made his observation while the animal was in captivity in a cage.

…I observed on a few occasions in resting rock hyrax that they will make chewing movements (3-4). Professor Ian Hume. Hendrichs (and on the simple reading of the Torah) that hyraxes do indeed regurgitate their food and chew it again. Maybe it is a form of social communication? I had a habituated animal and by having a close look I could not see any indication that she was chewing a cud. personal communication 2002 The matter has not been fully resolved. It could be that the observations of chewing motions in the hyrax are due to merycism. the animal regurgitates a small amount of food. It is a limited variation of rumination which is found in Australian marsupials such as koalas and kangaroos.1 There is another possibility. Others will prefer to rely on the research of Dr. makes a startling suggestion: I wouldn’t be surprised if merycism was widespread amongst mammals… It seems to be an effective way of increasing salivary flow for buffering acid and/or increasing starch digestion… merycism should be just as likely to occur in hindgut as in foregut fermenters. There is a phenomenon called “merycism” that we shall later discuss in detail. and it is not chewed as thoroughly as is the case with ruminants. With merycism. Some might wish to rely on Dr. in the forestomach. as we shall see later. it may well qualify for the label of ma’aleh gerah. Perhaps it is more important in foregut fermenters because of the production of acid by the forestomach fermentation… [But] the hyrax has a third fermentation area. Hoeck. THE HARE AND THE HYRAx Many years ago I exchanged this information with Aharon Meltzer (coauthor of Shafan HaSela’im) and we both were in agreement. Sometimes I heard this also during the night. nor does it play as fundamental a role in digestion. H.THE CAMEL. 100 . The production of acetic and lactic acids in 1 Hendrich’s report on kangaroos as ruminants has been strongly challenged. author of several papers on hyrax physiology. when resting animals were huddling. Still. Sale and Dr. especially since Hendrich’s reports of rumination in other animals has likewise been challenged. In response to the question of whether merycism might occur with the hyrax. Hoeck.

there often appears to be movement in the throat.Chapter Six: Shafan—The Hyrax the forestomach need to be buffered. H. the hyrax does not chew its cud. and is the author of a paper on hyraxes that we shall later cite. however. who specializes in the relationship of craniodental morphology to diet in ungulates. It is on these grounds that some atheists state that the Bible contains blatant 1 See http://www. Christine Janis. there might be a need for merycism to stimulate saliva flow. Hoeck. which can be viewed online.. We shall discuss merycism and marsupials in greater detail in a separate chapter. Hume. possibly by saliva. Does the Hyrax Not Chew its Cud? As far as most people know. personal communication 2003 This author has managed to film such behavior. but it may be that they regurgitate and rechew a little bit of food. Hoeck admitted that this might also take place with hyraxes: I cannot exclude that similar behavior could occur in 2011 In response to a paper about merycism in koalas. and is therefore described as bringing up the cud. It needs to be investigated very carefully. then there are several other animals which likewise possess one kosher sign. personal communication 2003 Professor Christine Janis.. that if this is the case. yet is making chewing motions with its mouth. there is a distinct likelihood that the hyrax practices merycism. personal communication 2003. It’s not regular rumination. 101 . Furthermore. So even though the hyrax is primarily a hindgut fermenter. Dr.. writes: …when I kept pet hyraces I would occasionally (maybe up to two or three times per week) see them doing some brief chewing movements. It should be noted. Thus.1 The hyrax was not involved in eating at the time. as in a true ruminant. similar to those of a ruminant.zootorah. I. which indicates that this is a process related to food rather than communication.

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