Chullin 134b ~ The Right. Always to the Right

חולין קלד, ב

ת"ר (דברים יח, ג) הזרוע זה זרוע ימין אתה אומר זה זרוע ימין או אינו אלא זרוע שמאל ת"ל הזרוע

The rabbis taught in a baraita: The verse states with regard to the gifts of the priesthood: “That they shall give to the priest the foreleg…” (Deuteronomy 18:3)…is this the right foreleg, or is it only the left foreleg? The verse states: “The foreleg.” The definite article indicates that the verse is referring to the right foreleg.

מאי תלמודא? כדאמר רבאהירך’ - המיומנת שבירך. הכא נמי הזרוע - המיומן שבזרוע

But how is it understood from the definite article that the verse is referring to the right foreleg? It is derived like that which Rava said with regard to the verse: [“Therefore the children of Israel do not eat the sciatic nerve which is upon the hollow of the thigh”(Genesis 32:33). The definite article indicates that this is referring to the most important thigh. Here too, the definite article in the term “the foreleg” indicates that the verse is referring to the most important foreleg, i.e., the right foreleg.

But why did the rabbis derive that “the most important” thigh is the right one? Why not the left one?

Let’s take a trip into the worlds of comparative religion, chirality, astronomy, and neuroscience to find out.

Homer Simpson Lefty Store.jpeg

The importance of the right side in Judaism

In the Talmud and in normative Jewish practice, the preference to favor the right over the left is everywhere. Here are just a few. (How many more can you think of?)

  • When walking up the ramp to the top of the Altar in the Temple, the Cohen must make a right turn at the top. Following that, every turn he makes must be a right turn. (זבחים נד,ב)

  • Actually, the entire service in the Temple in Jerusalem must be performed with the right hand. (ביאת המקדש 5:18 )

  • Rav Ashi rules that Tefillin must placed it on the left arm, because it is weaker than the right and the action of placing them should be performed with the stronger right hand (מנחות לז, א).

  • The Talmud teaches that a right-handed person who writes with her left hand on Shabbat has not violated the prohibition against writing. It doesn't count. Maimonides (הלכות שבת 11:14) agrees:

הַכּוֹתֵב בִּשְׂמֹאלוֹ אוֹ לְאַחַר יָדוֹ בְּרַגְלוֹ בְּפִיו וּבְמַרְפֵּקוֹ פָּטוּר

  • According to Rava, walking should start with the right leg, and not the left (יומא יא, ב)

  • The rite of חליצה must be performed with the right leg and a right shoe (יבמות קד, א).

  • The mezuzah can only be placed on the right side of the door (רמבם הל׳ מזוזה 6:12).

  • The best student of a rabbi should walk on the rabbi's right side, relegating the second best to the left (יומא לז, א).

  • After observing his teacher Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Akiva taught that the left hand should be used after using the bathroom, out of respect to the right hand (ברכות סב,ב). When challenged as to why Rabbi Akiva was impertinent enough to report on which hand his teacher wiped himself he replied תורה היא וללמוד אני צריך - "this too is Torah, and I must study it".

לֵ֤ב חָכָם֙ לִֽימִינ֔וֹ וְלֵ֥ב כְּסִ֖יל לִשְׂמֹאלֽוֹ׃

A wise man’s mind tends toward the right hand, a fool’s toward the left.

— Kohelet 10:2

It's not Just Judaism

  1. Islam

The importance of all things right handed is found in other religions. For example, when Muslims perform any of the following, it is mustahabb [مستحبّ‎, - "recommended"] to start on the right or use the right hand.

  • putting on one's garment and pants and shoes

  • entering the mosque, using the siwaak [ a kind of toothpick]

  • putting on kohl [an ancient blue eye cosmetic]

  • clipping the nails

  • trimming the mustache

  • combing the hair plucking the armpit hair

  • shaving the head

  • saying salaam at the end of prayer

  • washing the limbs when purifying oneself

  • exiting the toilet, eating and drinking

  • shaking hands

  • touching the Black Stone [ٱلْحَجَرُ ٱلْأَسْوَد‎, al-Ḥajaru al-Aswad, a rock set into the eastern corner of the Kaaba, the ancient building located in the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Legend has it that the rock dates back to Adam and Eve.]

  • Conversely, the Bukhari Sharif , one of the six major hadith collections of Sunni Islam rules along the lines of Rabbi Akiva:

"... when you urinate, do not touch your penis with your right hand. And when you cleanse yourself after defecation, do not use your right hand."

The right hand of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was for his purification and food, and his left hand was for using the toilet and anything that was dirty...
— Sunan Abi Dawood (33)

2. Christianity

3. Hinduism

  • Offerings, such as flowers or garlands, are carried with both hands on the right side of the body.

  • "Pointing with the forefinger of the right hand or shaking the forefinger in emphasis while talking is never done. This is because the right hand possesses a powerful, aggressive pranic force, and an energy that moves the forces of the world."

  • Vāmācāra ( वामाचार, meaning "left-handed attainment" in Sanskrit) describes the "Left-Hand Path" or "Left-path" It is used to describe a particular mode of worship that is heterodox to standard Vedic teachings.

  • In Benares, the holiest of the seven sacred cities and sitting on the Ganges, "pilgrims circumambulate with their right hands towards the center, as Krishna is alleged to have done at the sacred mountain."

Well, you get the point.  Judaism, along with all the major religions (and some you've never heard of) emphasize the dominance of the right hand in all things holy. Or mundane.

The Ngaga of southern Borneo believe everything in the after-world is reversed, “sweet” becoming “bitter”, “straight” becoming “crooked”, and “right” becoming “left”. Likewise the Toraja of Celebes (Sulawesi) believed the dead do everything backwards, even pronouncing words backwards... the dead therefore use their left hand...
— I. C. Mcmanus. Right Hand, Left Hand: The Origins of Asymmetry in Brains, Bodies, Atoms and Cultures. Phoenix 2003, p27.

 and It's not just religions

There are lots of things that have chirality - meaning they have a mirror image but cannot be mapped onto that mirror image by rotations and translations. They exist in left or right-handed versions. Let's start with in easy example. Um, your hands. Although your right hand mirrors your left, your right hand cannot (comfortably) fit into a handed-glove.

From  here .

From here.

Here's another example. Bend your fingers and extend your thumb as in the figure. You've made two mirror images that cannot be mapped onto each other. (Go on. Give it a try. See what I mean?) That's chirality.

If we extend this to molecules, they are left or right-handed, meaning they are mirror images but they cannot be superimposed on each other. These are isomers. Like this:

From  here .

From here.

And here is where things start to get really weird. Nearly everything in the universe - from chemicals and medications to fundamental particles and even galaxies themselves have a right-handed or left-handed preference. No, really. 

Let's start with the essential building blocks of life: amino acids and sugars. Almost all amino acids (not you, glycine) used by life on earth (but not necessarily elsewhere in the universe) are left-handed.  Right-handed amino acids exist of course. They're just not utilized by any life form on earth. Any.  If you sit in a lab and cook up an amino acid from its ingredients, you will make an equal amount of the left and right handed variates. That's just good old chemistry at work. But life on earth can only use half the mixture: the L form. Some bacteria can actually convert right-handed amino acids into the left-handed version, but they can’t use the right-handed ones as is.

Like amino acids, sugars also come in two isomers, but those that are used by life forms on earth are the right-handed variety. All the enzymes that living things use to manipulate amino acids and sugars only work on left-handed amino acids and right-handed sugars. They simply can't use the opposites. Why did life turn out this way? Truth is, nobody knows.  

Medications also exhibit chirality. For example, propranolol is commonly used to help control high blood pressure. Some of you reading this may be taking it. The left form (L-propranolol) is the one that helps. The right form (known as D-propranolol) is inactive. (The Latin for left and right is laevus and dexter, respectively.)

Quinine is an antimalarial drug. It has an isomer called quinidine, and quinidine has no anti-malarial action. But it's a great drug to reduce arrhythmias of the heart. One compound, with two isomers, each with their own remarkable and very different healing properties.

Now consider muons, a fundamental particle in our universe. It is kind of like an electron, but about 200 times heavier. Muons have an average life-expectancy of 2.2 microseconds (so don't expect any kind of long-term relationship) after which time they decay into an electron, a neutrino, and an antineutrino. The direction that the electron will come out depends on the direction in which the muon spins. Now you would expect there to be equal amounts of electrons that are ejected spinning one way or another. But there aren't.  What happens is that 99.9% of muons decay in a right-handed fashion.

And while we are on the subject of decaying muons, let's talk about those neutrinos, which are a weird fundamental particle with the smallest mass of any known thing. They too, have a preference for the right or left. All neutrinos are left handed, while all anti-neutrinos (whatever that means) are right handed.

Left and right handed galaxies. From  here .

Left and right handed galaxies. From here.

Ready for more? Statistically speaking our universe should contain an equal amount of left and right handed galaxies (as noted in how they spin). But this should not occur. In an analysis of over 2,600 nearby spiral galaxies and a later analysis of 15,000 more, Michael Longo demonstrated that that left-handed spirals are more common in the northern hemisphere, above the northern galactic pole. And although the signal is less strong, right-handed spirals appear more frequently in the south.

It's good to be a leftie

About 10-13% of humans are left-handed. (Captive chimpanzees are more left-handed than us, with an approximate 2:1 ratio of righties to lefties. In us it's more like 8:1) But aside from the problem of not finding scissors that work for you, being a leftie gives you some pretty good advantages.

...not only left-handers are over-represented in confrontational sports, but the closer the physical interaction of the opponents such as in boxing, fencing, judo, or karate, the greater the prevalence of left-handers. In basketball, football, handball, table tennis, tennis, and volleyball, for instance, competitors stand some distance apart and do not confront directly. But even in these sports, there are more than the expected number of left-handers...
— Grouios G. et al. Do left-handed competitors have an innate superiority in sports? Perception and Motor Skills, 2000:90;1273-1282

At the undergraduate level they are more likely to take part in a whole range of events, from judo and fencing and soccer and volleyball. But when it comes to non-confrontational sports like cycle racing, running or swimming, the proportion of left handers fall back to that of the general population. Lefties make up about 10% of the population, but 23% of all Wimbledon tennis champions were lefties.

There is a lot more evidence that lefties have many advantages over (us) righties. In a complicated test of spatial skills which you can read about here, 47 lefties demonstrated faster and more accurate spatial skills than the 50 righties, along with strong executive control and mental flexibility. And in this study of 100 lefties and 100 righties, the left-handed demonstrated greater creativity than the right-handed on all 4 scales of the Torrance test which examines creative thinking.

Obama writes with his left hand.jpg

And lefties appear to be smarter that righties.  In a study of some 300 gifted children, left (-or mixed-handedness) occurred more frequently in those who were mathematically or verbally precocious (for our readers in the US, this meant an SAT-M score of more than 700 and an SAT-L score of more than 630). Of the last 15 US presidents, seven (about 47%) have been left-handed.  That's almost 1 in 2! Oh, and compared with righties, college-educated left-handers in the US earn 10-15% more.

Leonardo da Vinci was a lefty, as were Michelangelo, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein.

Despite these, and many other advantages, our cultures have stigmatized those who are left-handed. We all know that the word sinister (meaning something harmful or evil is going to happen) comes from the Latin sinister meaning left.  But there are more examples of anti-left associations in other languages too. Adroit, meaning clever or skillful comes from the French word for right droite, meaning dextrous. In German, linkisch means awkward, and it comes from the German links, meaning left. And so it goes on.

Back to the Jewish Bible

Left-handed people are mentioned only three times in Tanach, and all come from the tribe of Benjamin:

  • There were the 700 men from the tribe of Benjamin who could use a sling with deadly accuracy (שופתים 20:16):

מִכֹּ֣ל ׀ הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֗ה שְׁבַ֤ע מֵאוֹת֙ אִ֣ישׁ בָּח֔וּר אִטֵּ֖ר יַד־יְמִינ֑וֹ כָּל־זֶ֗ה קֹלֵ֧עַ בָּאֶ֛בֶן אֶל־הַֽשַּׂעֲרָ֖ה וְלֹ֥א יַחֲטִֽא׃

  • There were the ambidextrous men who came to fight for King David at Ziklag, who were from the tribe of Benjamin (דברי הימים א, 12:2)

נֹ֣שְׁקֵי קֶ֗שֶׁת מַיְמִינִ֤ים וּמַשְׂמִאלִים֙ בָּֽאֲבָנִ֔ים וּבַחִצִּ֖ים בַּקָּ֑שֶׁת מֵאֲחֵ֥י שָׁא֖וּל מִבִּנְיָמִֽן׃

  • And perhaps most famously there was the left-handed Ehud ( אֶת־אֵה֤וּד בֶּן־גֵּרָא֙ בֶּן־הַיְמִינִ֔י אִ֥ישׁ אִטֵּ֖ר יַד־יְמִינ֑וֹ) who assassinated the Moabite king Eglon (שופתים 3:12-30). Because Ehud was left-handed he hid his dagger on his right side. In this way he got past the body search outside the throne room, where the guards looked for a weapon on the left. As for the rest, well, read on:

  • וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח אֵהוּד֙ אֶת־יַ֣ד שְׂמֹאל֔וֹ וַיִּקַּח֙ אֶת־הַחֶ֔רֶב מֵעַ֖ל יֶ֣רֶךְ יְמִינ֑וֹ וַיִּתְקָעֶ֖הָ בְּבִטְנֽוֹ׃ וַיָּבֹ֨א גַֽם־הַנִּצָּ֜ב אַחַ֣ר הַלַּ֗הַב וַיִּסְגֹּ֤ר הַחֵ֙לֶב֙ בְּעַ֣ד הַלַּ֔הַב כִּ֣י לֹ֥א שָׁלַ֛ף הַחֶ֖רֶב מִבִּטְנ֑וֹ וַיֵּצֵ֖א הַֽפַּרְשְׁדֹֽנָה׃

    Reaching with his left hand, Ehud drew the dagger from his right side and drove it into [Eglon’s] belly. The fat closed over the blade and the hilt went in after the blade—for he did not pull the dagger out of his belly—and the filth came out.

All of this is really strange because of course the name of this tribe  - Benjamin - literally means "the son of the right" בן ימין.  

Back to Chhulin

Today's daf yomi page of Talmud has a very short instruction. Give to the priests the most choice of meat cuts: those from the right leg of the animal. But this phrase reveals a profound truth about who we are as humans, and of the very stuff from which we are made.  In culture after culture, in religions after religion, and in the very structure of our universe, there are left or right-handed preferences and predilections, many of which we simply cannot currently explain. Our religious and cultural preferences for the right likely stems from the simple fact that left-handedness is eight times less common. Unfortunately, a suspicion of the other, of those who are not like the majority, is a common trait that in one way or another we all share. But it needn't be so. The other, those in the minority, teach us and enrich our lives. Heck, they are often even smarter and quicker than the majority.  We are all better off with them.

[An oldie but a goodie originally posted here.]

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Chullin 127a (Part II)~ Spontaneous Generation

Gas Gas mouse.jpg

חולין קכז,א

עכבר שחציו בשר וחציו אדמה שאין פרה ורבה

There is a mouse that is hard made from flesh and half from dirt, and does not procreate

The spontaneous generation of the half-mouse

Deep into several pages about ritual impurity, the Talmud mentions in passing this strange creature, which has come to be called the mud-mouse. And what exactly is this strange creature? Here is the explanation of Rashi:

אין פרה ורבה - כלומר שלא היה מפריה ורביה של עכבר לפי שנוצר מאליו  

It does not procreate: This means it does not sexually reproduce, but instead it spontaneously appears.

And here is Rashi from 127b:

 יש מין עכבר שאינו פרה ורבה  אלא מעצמו נוצר מאדמה כאשפה המשרצת תולעים 

There is a species of mouse that does not reproduce sexually but is spontaneously generated from the earth, just as maggots appear at a garbage site.

The mud-mouse is also mentioned in Sanhedrin (91):


סנהדרין צא, א

צא לבקעה וראה עכבר שהיום חציו בשר וחציו אדמה למחר השריץ ונעשה כלו בשר

Consider the mouse which today is half flesh and half earth, and tomorrow it has become a creeping thing made entirely of flesh.  

Clearly, Rashi and the rabbis of the Talmud believed in spontaneous generation. Here is the opening of the Wiki article on the subject:

Spontaneous generation or anomalous generation is an obsolete body of thought on the ordinary formation of living organisms without descent from similar organisms. Typically, the idea was that certain forms such as fleas could arise from inanimate matter such as dust, or that maggots could arise from dead flesh.

Everyone Believed it

How could the esteemed rabbis of the Talmud believed in this crazy idea of spontaneous generation? The answer is simple. Everyone believed it. Everyone, from the time of Aristotle until Louis Pasteur. Here is Aristotle (d. 322 BCE):

So with animals, some spring from parent animals according to their kind, whilst others grow spontaneously and not from kindred stock; and of these instances of spontaneous generation some come from putrefying earth or vegetable matter. [History of Animals 539a, 18-26.]

Aristotle’s theory of spontaneous generation was as influential as his other teachings in philosophy and natural history; it was accepted with reverence, not only among his contemporaries but well into modern times
— Jan Bondeson. The Feejee Mermaid and other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History. Cornell University Press 1999. p194

The great Roman poet Ovid (43 BCE-17/18 CE) is best known for his work Metamorphosis. It’s a bit of a long read (almost 12,000 lines contained in 15 books), and in it he mentions spontaneous generation three times. Actually, given its length, he probably mentions everything at least three times. Here is an example, from Metamorphosis I, 416-437.

So, when the seven-mouthed Nile retreats from the drowned fields and returns to its former bed, and the fresh mud boils in the sun, farmers find many creatures as they turn the lumps of earth. Amongst them they see some just spawned, on the edge of life, some with incomplete bodies and number of limbs, and often in the same matter one part is alive and the other is raw earth. In fact when heat and moisture are mixed they conceive, and from these two things the whole of life originates. And though fire and water fight each other, heat and moisture create everything, and this discordant union is suitable for growth. So when the earth muddied from the recent flood glowed again heated by the deep heaven-sent light of the sun she produced innumerable species, partly remaking previous forms, partly creating new monsters.

Spontaneous generation was an accepted theory throughout the middle ages and was found in the writings of Arab naturalists, such as Averroes. Sir Francis Bacon, (d.1626) the English "philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, orator, and author" accepted the theory. And so did Willam Harvey, who discovered the circulation of the blood,  - at least under certain circumstances.  And why not believe is spontaneous generation? Before the invention of the microscope, it certainly explained how worms, fleas, bees and other insects could appear out of nowhere.

Well, not quite everyone

In his commentary to the Mishnah on today’s page of Talmud, Maimonides has this to say:

והויות העכבר בלבד מן האדמה עד שימצא קצתו בשר וקצתו עפר וטיט והוא ענין מפורסם מאד אין מספר לרוב המגידין לי שראו זה אע"פ שמציאות בעל חיים כזה דבר מתמיה ולא נודעת בו טענה בשום פנים

The case of the mouse which uniquely grows from the earth so that it is half-flesh and half dust and mud is very well known. There is no end to the countless numbers of those who have told me that they have seen it, even though the existence of this creature is astonishing, and there is no known explanation for it.

Maimonides did not reject the idea that the mouse grows directly from the earth, but he seems very sceptical of the idea. Still, it was a widely accepted explanation for centuries before, and centuries after Maimonides. For example, let’s consider…

Jan Baptista van Helmont and the recipe to grow a mud-mouse

Jan Baptista van Helmont (1580-1644) knew a thing or two about science. Although still deeply embedded in alchemy, his many observations led the way to the scientific revolution. He was the first to suggest that the stomach contained somethings to aid in digestion (what we call today enzymes and acids). And according to the Science History Institute, “he discovered that chemical reactions could produce substances that were neither solids nor liquids and coined the term gas to describe them.” “I call this spirit,” he wrote, “hitherto unknown, by the new name of gas…"(Hunc spiritum, incognitum hactenus, nero heroine Gas voco). This laid the groundwork for Robert Boyle’s later research on gases.

Spontaneous generation also occupied Van Helmont’s scientific worldview. Like everyone else, he believed in it, because it explained observations like fleas appearing around rotting meat or mice appearing in a farmer’s barn of grain. He was so certain of the reality of spontaneous generation that he provided a recipe to grow mice de novo.

If a dirty shirt is stuffed into the mouth of a vessel containing wheat, within a few days, say 21, the ferment produced by the shirt, modified by the smell of the grain, transforms the wheat itself, encased its husk into mice.

Pasteur's Experiments

Then came the microscope. Using one, in October 1676, Leeuwenhoek reported finding tiny micro-organisms in lake water. Now perhaps there was another explanation for how things were created, although not much progress was made for a couple of hundred more years.  It was Louis Pasteur (d.1895) who finally disproved the theory of spontaneous generation with some elegant experiments. He boiled a meat broth in a flask like this, with its neck pointed downwards.

Sanhedrin 91. Spntaneous Generation.jpeg

Boiling sterilized the mixture, and with the neck pointing down, no organisms could contaminate the broth. As a result, there was no growth of bacteria or could inside the flask. He did the same using a flask with a neck that was upturned. This allowed the broth to become contaminated with organisms in the outside air, and the mixture soon became cloudy. Spontaneous generation had been disproven.

The Rabbi who tried to get it right, but got it wrong

Israel Lipschutz of Danzig (1782-1860) wrote a very important two-part commentary on the Mishnah called Tiferet Yisrael. (Oh, before we go any further, there is an error in the english Wiki page about R. Lipschutz. He was not, as is claimed there, the author of “Shevilei de'Rakiya, an introduction to the principles of Rabbinical astronomy.” Two books of that title on rabbinic astronomy were indeed written: one by Elijah Hokheim (Prague: Emmanuel Diesbach, 1784) and another by Judah Ze’ev Riswasch (Warsaw: Efraim Boymritter, 1896). You can find more on these two works here. But none by our R. Lipschutz. Can someone get into Wiki and edit that page?)

Anyway, in his commentary of the Mishnah R. Lipschutz got very excited about this whole mouse thing:

ואני שמעתי אפיקורסים מלגלגין על בריה זו שנזכרת כאן ובסנהדרין [דצ"א א']. ומכחישים ואומרים שאינה במציאות כלל לכן ראיתי להזכיר כאן מה שמ"כ בספר אשכנזי שחיבר חכם אחד מפורסם בחכמי האומות. ושמו. לינק. בספרו הנקרא אורוועלט חלק א' עמוד 327. שנמצא בריה כזאת בארץ מצרים במחוז טחעבאיס. ונקראת העכבר ההיא בלשון מצרים דיפוס יאקולוס . ובל"א שפרינגמויז. אשר החלק שלפניה ראש וחזה וידיה מתוארים יפה. ואחוריה עדיין מגולמים ברגבי ארץ. עד אחר איזה ימים תתהפך כולה לבשר. ואומר מה רבו מעשיך ה

I have heard heretics mocking the existence of this creature, mentioned here and in the Talmud Sanhedrin. They deny its existence and claim it is not in any way real. So I have found it appropriate to mention here what is published in a German book written by one of the wisest and most well-known of any nationality, named Link. In his book Urwelt (Part I p327) he states that such a creature was indeed found in the district of Thebais in Egypt. In Egyptian this mouse is called Dipus Jaculus, and in German it is called the spring-mouse. Its head, chest and front paws are well-formed, but its rear is still unformed and is just bits of earth. But after a few days, the mouse becomes made entirely of flesh. And I said “Lord, how great are your works!” (Ps.104:24)

So according to R. Lipschutz all the scoffers were wrong, and as proof he cites his contemporary, the well respected naturalist Johan Heinrich Link (1738–1783), whose Die Urwelt und das Altertum, erläutert durch die Naturkunde (Prehistoric times and antiquity, explained by natural history) was first published in Berlin between 1820 and 1822. Great. A mid-19th century rabbi and scholar quoting a German naturalist in support of a statement made by the rabbis of the Talmud. Science and Judaism at their best! Well no. Not so fast.

In a paper devoted to this topic, Dr. Sid Leiman noted that the passage cited by R. Lipschutz only appeared in the first edition of Link’s book, and was removed from later ones. But more importantly, R. Lipschutz misread the context of the passage he was citing. Rather than attesting to the reality of the mud-mouse, Link was quoting from a passage in the book Bibliotheca historica by Diodorus Siculas, a Greek historian of the first century. It was Diodorus who was describing what his contemporaries believed. But what about that reference to the Latin and German names for the mouse? Diodorus wrote in Greek and could not not have thought that Dipus Jaculus (Latin) is an Egyptian phrase. Let’s have Prof. Leiman explain:

What happened is that Link added a footnote to the Diodorus passage, in an attempt to account for the belief in the existence of this strange creature in antiquity. Link’s note reads (in translation): “The Springmaus (Dipus Jaculus), which dwells in Upper Egypt and is characterized by very short forelegs, doubtless could lead one to conclude that it is a not yet fully developed creature.” Link was suggesting that the very existence of the Springmaus, or jerboa, a small, leaping kangaroo-like rodent found to this day in the arid parts of North Africa, and characterized by long hindfeet and short forelegs, may have misled the ancients into thinking that the different parts of the body of some mice fully matured at different times…The upshot of this was that Lipschutz was persuaded, quite mistakenly, that the mouse described by the rabbis as being half flesh and half earth was alive and well in nineteenth-century Egypt, as attested by no less a scholar than Professor Link!

Wrong, but for the right reasons

The rabbis of the Talmud were not fools for believing in spontaneous generation. They would have been fools had they not. If was an explanation for many natural phenomena and was believed by heroes of the scientific revolution, along with everyone else, until Pasteur proved them all wrong.

And what about our Rabbi Lipschutz? Let’s give the last word on him to Prof. Sid Leiman.

One would like to think that Rabbi Israel Lipschutz, whose seminal work is everywhere characterized by intellectual honesty, would have retracted his garbled reading of Link if only the error had been brought to his attention.

If only indeed.

[Expanded spontaneously from an original post here].

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