Bechorot 24a ~ Can a sheep suckle a pig?

בכורות כד, א

? יולדת מרחמת או אינה מרחמת

Might an animal that has given birth show mercy and suckle the young of another species?

Cow feeding sheep.jpg

On tomorrow’s daf we continue the vigorous argument between the rabbis and Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel over the following question: is it possible for a female of one species to adopt and nurse the young of an entirely different species? The rabbis (in the majority) believed that such a phenomena was entirely possible, while the great Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel believed that this does not occur. The rabbis were correct.

Animals as human wet-nurses

Let’s start with us. Unless you are lactose-intolerant, you probably are nourished from the milk of another species several times a day. But putting milk in our coffee is just the most recent manifestation of our being nursed by another species. There are myths and fables in many cultures in which a human infant is nursed by animals. In Rome, it was Romulus and Remus who were suckled by a wolf; this legend dates back to at least 350 BCE. In Greek mythology, Telephus the son of Hercules was (in most versions) suckled by a deer, but on the Telephos frieze from the first half of the second century BCE he is depicted suckling from a lioness. Another Greek myth tells of Zeus being suckled by a goat Amalthea.

The infant Telephos at the lioness’ breast, detail from the Telephos frieze. From  here .

The infant Telephos at the lioness’ breast, detail from the Telephos frieze. From here.

The Capitoline Wolf -    La Lupa Capitolina  . 11-12th century. The figures of Romulus and Remus were added in the 15th century.

The Capitoline Wolf - La Lupa Capitolina. 11-12th century. The figures of Romulus and Remus were added in the 15th century.

In his 1976 essay “The Role of Animals in Infant Feeding,” Samuel Radbill noted that these common myths of a great leader being suckled by an animal owe their popularity to the belief that “mental, emotional and physical characteristics, as well as disease, can be transmitted through milk…” He continues:

The Persian Cyrus, raised by Cyno, a bitch, was thought to derive his name from the dog. Heiro of Syracuse was fed sweet food by the apes; Semiramus was fostered by birds. Midas was nourished by ants that put food into his mouth. Habia, king of the Tartessians, and Telphus, son of Hercules and Pelias in the greek myth were both suckled by deer. Paris and Orion by bears’ Aegisthus, by a goat; Rursus Sabdrocotto of India by a lio; Gordius of Lydia , by birds. Recently delivered mares refreshed the infants Croesus, Xerxes and Lysimachus. These extraordinary foster parents were portentous omens of future greatness.

To this list we might add our very own Moses, raised for future greatness in the house of Pharaoh himself. Except, of course, that the Torah made sure to distance Moses from any suggestion that he was suckled by an animal or an Egyptian wet nurse. Instead, Moses was suckled by his own mother, and in a Midrash the rabbis describe why:

לְפִי שֶׁהֶחֱזִירַתּוּ לְמשֶׁה עַל כָּל הַמִּצְרִיּוֹת לְהָנִיק אוֹתוֹ וּפָסַל אֶת כֻּלָּן, וְלָמָּה פְסָלָן, אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא הַפֶּה שֶׁעָתִיד לְדַבֵּר עִמִּי יִינַק דָּבָר טָמֵא

Moses passed before all the wet nurses in Egypt, and rejected them all. And why did he reject them? The Holy One, Blessed be He said “should the mouth that will in the future speak to me suckle from that which is impure?”
— Shemot Rabba 1:25

Goats have been used as wet nurses for human infants for centuries. In her cultural history of milk, historian Deborah Valenze notes that during the syphilis plagues of the 1500s, “mothers bypassed infected wet nurses by employing goats. Similarly, eighteenth century abandoned children…received animal milk at the udder.” in 1900, a reference to animal wet nurses (in this case pigs) even made its way into the Philadelphia Medical Journal. Here it is in the original:

More examples of Interspecies feeding

Beware of believing what you see on the Internet. But if these images are real, they are examples of interspecies feeding: dogs nursing kittens and fawns, cats nursing rabbits, zebra nursing goats, chickens brooding on puppies and pigs nursing tiger cubs (that one from the Sri Rancho Tiger Zoo in Sri Lanka). But perhaps the most moving (and authenticated) story of interspecies care is that of the Kenyan lion that adopted a baby antelope. Six times. Take the time to watch the story here.

From  here .

From here.

Tarzan, Raised by Apes

On this page of Talmud the rabbis stated that nursing females will suckle the young from another species, and they are certainly correct. Perhaps the best description of why this should be so is found in Tarzan of the Apes, the famous 1912 novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. In the story, John Clayton II is one year old when he is snatched from his crib by Kala, an ape whose own infant had just died. As Kala took John

…she dropped the dead body of her own into the empty cradle; for the wail of the living had answered the call of universal motherhood within her wild breast which the dead could not still…Then hunger closed the gap between them and the son of an English lord and an English lady nursed at the breasts of Kala, the great ape.

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Bechorot 16a ~ A Flat Earth, The Eye, and the Sky

“Map of the Square and Stationary Earth. By Prof. Orlando Ferguson, Hot Springs, South Dakota. Four Hundred Passages in the Bible that Condemns the Globe Theory, or the Flying Earth, and None Sustain It.  This Map is the Bible Map of the World. Copyright by Orlando Ferguson, 1893.”

“Map of the Square and Stationary Earth. By Prof. Orlando Ferguson, Hot Springs, South Dakota.
Four Hundred Passages in the Bible that Condemns the Globe Theory, or the Flying Earth, and None Sustain It.
This Map is the Bible Map of the World. Copyright by Orlando Ferguson, 1893.”

בכורות טז, א

A film over the eye - בדוקין שבעין

An animal brought to the Temple in Jerusalem as a sacrifice must be free of physical deformities or blemishes. One of these is a film over the cornea or, according to some, over the eyelid. The word duk (דק), which in modern Hebrew means thin, is translated as either a cataract (Soncino and Schottenstein) or “a veiled or withered spot” (Jastrow).

Rashi and the Meaning of דֹּק

To better understand the etymology of the word, Rashi draws our attention to the verse in Isaiah (40:22 ) הַנּוֹטֶה כַדֹּק שָׁמַיִם וַיִּמְתָּחֵם כָּאֹהֶל לָשָׁבֶת “Who spread out the skies like a film [כַדֹּק], stretched them out like a tent to dwell in.” He notes that in the French of his day the the word for דֹּק is “teile” or toile, (טייל׳א or טולא) meaning a canvas or fabric. So the Talmud is describing a film over the eye, and this is certainly a reasonable way to describe a cataract, which is a cloudiness of the lens in the eye. In a cow it would look like this:

 
A cow with a cataract.

A cow with a cataract.

 

Rashi’s second explanation and a map of the world

Rashi then gives an alternative meaning for the word: a blemish on the eyelids. He continues

ל"א דוקין שיש לו מום בעפעפים ולהכי קרי לעפעפים דוק על העין כרקיע דהכי אמרינן בספרי אגודות העין דומה לעולם קטן העפעפים כנגד הרקיע והתחתון כנגד הארץ והלבן שמקיף את העין כנגד ים אוקיינוס שסובב את העולם והשחור שבו שהוא עגול דומה לגלגל חמה

We read about this in homiletic stories: The eye is a mini representation of the world. The upper eyelid represent the rakia (the vault over the sky that contains the stars) and the lower lid represents the earth. The white of the eye [the conjunctiva] represents the ocean that encircles the world, and the dark part which is circular [the pupil] represents the orbit of the sun.

Rashi seems to suggest that since the upper eyelid is described as representing the skies, which are stretched out like a canvas, working backwards the word דֹּק could mean the eyelid. The aggadic (homiletic) parable to which Rashi is referring is from Derech Eretz Zuta, a minor tractate of the Talmud (and not part of the daily one-page a day cycle). Here it is, from the end of the ninth chapter:


אבא איסי בן יוחנן משום שמואל הקטן אומר: העולם הזה דומה לגלגל עינו של אדם. לבן שבו זה אוקיינוס שמקיף את כל העולם שחור שבו זה העולם קומט שבשחור זה ירושלים פרצוף שבקומט זה בית המקדש, שיבנה במהרה בימינו ובימי כל ישראל אמן

The world can be compared to the eyes of a person. The whites of the eyes are the ocean that encircles the entire world. The dark part (? the ring around the iris) is the world, the iris [lit. the folded part of the pupil] is Jerusalem, and the pupil [lit image in the iris] is the Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily and in our days and the days of all of Israel, Amen.

Two maps of the world

So we have two ways in which eye might echo a map of the world. And although it is not entirely clear what the terms קומט שבשחור and פרצוף שבקומט mean, the maps look something like this:

Rashi’s description of the Aggada

Rashi’s description of the Aggada

Description by Shmuel Hakatan as found in Derech Eretz Zuta

Description by Shmuel Hakatan as found in Derech Eretz Zuta

Both of these “eye maps” capture elements of talmudic geography. In the talmudic mind, the Earth was a flat disc covered by an opaque sky known as the rakia. Exactly how the sun moved was the topic of a famous dispute between the “wise men of Israel” and the “wise Gentiles.” Here it is:

פסחים צד,ב

חכמי ישראל אומרים ביום חמה מהלכת למטה מן הרקיע ובלילה למעלה מן הרקיע וחכמי אומות העולם אומרים ביום חמה מהלכת למטה מן הרקיע ובלילה למטה מן הקרקע אמר רבי ונראין דבריהן מדברינו שביום מעינות צוננין ובלילה רותחין

The wise men of Israel say that during the day the Sun travels under the rakia, and at night it travels above the rakia. And Gentile wise men say: during the day the Sun travels under the rakia and at night under the Earth. Rabbi [Yehudah Hanasi] said: their view is more logical than ours for during the day springs are cold and at night they are warm.

The two options are shown below. In both, the earth is a flat disc surrounded by water. They really do match nicely with the eyeballs image.

From Judah Landa.  Torah and Science . Ktav. Hoboken NJ. 1991.p66

From Judah Landa. Torah and Science. Ktav. Hoboken NJ. 1991.p66

Earliest map of the world, from 6th century BCE. It shows the world as a disc, surrounded by a ring of water called the "Bitter River.”. From the Collection of the British Museum  #92687 .

Earliest map of the world, from 6th century BCE. It shows the world as a disc, surrounded by a ring of water called the "Bitter River.”. From the Collection of the British Museum #92687.

We have discussed the sun’s orbit around the earth back in February 2017. There is no doubt that the rabbis of the Talmud actually believed the world was actually a disk surrounded by an ocean. It was not a metaphor, even though describing the world as being reflected in the anatomy of the eye certainly is. (To read more about talmudic astronomy and the path of the sun around the flat earth, see here.) The rabbis of the Talmud were following a long held belief that the world is flat, which we can trace all the way back to the earliest known map, found in Babylon and made in the 6th century BCE. It shows a flat, disk like earth surrounded by waters. And that is the picture most people had, because, well, that’s what it looks like to us. But that changed when the great Greek mathematician and astronomer Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth, a figure that was within about 10% of its true value.

Jerusalem-Centric Maps

Bunting-Map-of-the-World-around-Jerusalem-site-Keilo-Jack.jpg

Before Copernicus, the earth was thought to be the physical center of the universe. All the planets in our solar system and all the stars beyond it were thought to orbit in perfect circles around us. And at the very center of the geocentric universe, was Jerusalem. You can see this beautifully demonstrated in the famous clover leaf map of the world by Heinrich Bunting (1545-1606). The original map now happily rests in Bunting’s bull’s-eye; it is part of the Eran Laor Cartographic Collection at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem.

Writing in the 16th century, the Maharsha, R. Shmuel Eidels (1555 – 1631) suggested that since the Earth is a sphere, Israel and Jerusalem can be seen as if they were its center.

מהרש"א חידושי אגדות מסכת קידושין דף סט עמוד א

 שהעולם הוא כתפוח ומקום בהמ"ק הוא מרכז עולם וכן א"י ולכך אמרו בא"י כיון דהוא מקום הממוצע אוירו מזוג

The world is round like an apple, and the Temple is at its center. So too is the Land of Israel, which is why it has a moderate climate

In fact Bunting’s clover leaf map and the Maharsha’s suggestion can now be combined with Google-era technology. It’s just one more way to help keep Jerusalem in our hearts and prayers.

Orthographic T&O  map with Jerusalem at the center of the Earth.

Orthographic T&O map with Jerusalem at the center of the Earth.


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