With the start of the third chapter of Chullin we take a deep dive into animal anatomy.
אלו טרפות בבהמה נקובת הוושט ופסוקת הגרגרת ניקב קרום של מוח ניקב הלב לבית חללו נשברה השדרה ונפסק החוט שלה ניטל הכבד ולא נשתייר הימנו כלום הריאה שניקבה או שחסרה ר"ש אומר עד שתינקב לבית הסמפונות ניקבה הקבה ניקבה המרה ניקבו הדקין הכרס הפנימית שניקבה או שנקרע רוב החיצונה רבי יהודה אומר הגדולה טפח והקטנה ברובה המסס ובית הכוסות שניקבו לחוץ נפלה מן הגג נשתברו רוב צלעותיה ודרוסת הזאב רבי יהודה אומר דרוסת הזאב בדקה ודרוסת ארי בגסה דרוסת הנץ בעוף הדק ודרוסת הגס בעוף הגס זה הכלל כל שאין כמוה חיה טרפה
These wounds constitute tereifot in an animal,rendering them prohibited for consumption:
1. A perforated esophagus, where the perforation goes through the wall ,
2. or a cut trachea.
3. If the membrane of the brain was perforated,
4. or if the heart was perforated to its chamber;
5. if the spinal column was broken and its cord was cut;
6. if the liver was removed and nothing remained of it…
7. a lung that was perforated
8. or a lung missing a piece….
9. If the abomasum was perforated
10. or the gallbladder was perforated,
11. or the small intestines were perforated, it is a tereifa…
This is the principle: Any animal that was injured such that an animal in a similar condition could not live for an extended period is a treifa, the consumption of which is forbidden by Torah law.
The original meaning of the term treif in the Torah is torn, and it describes a domestic animal that was attacked by a wild animal and suffered an injury that led to its death.
But the rabbis of the Talmud greatly expanded this category - hence the list in the Mishnah that we are studying today. Later in Chullin (57b) there is a dispute as to the prognosis of living animal were it to be declared treif. According to Rav Hunna, if an animal is treif, by definition it cannot live for longer than a year (אמר רב הונא סימן לטרפה י"ב חדש). But there are other opinions (this is, after all, the Talmud): the great editor of the Mishnah, Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi opinion that a treifa is destined to die within 30 days, while a berasia states that a treif animal cannot give birth (leaving open the question about male animals).
It is generally agreed upon that list in today’s Mishnah details the kinds of lesions that would be fatal within a year. And that’s when the problems begin. Some of them are certainly likely to be fatal. For example a perforated esophagus (נקובת הוושט) leads to mediastinitis, an inflammation of the chest cavity. And that is commonly fatal. If the animal swallows something sharp it can pierce not only the esophagus, but the membranes that surround the heart, called the pericardium. Way back in 1955 - at the start of the era of antibiotics - The Australian Veterinary Journal published a case series of twenty-one dairy cows that developed traumatic pericarditis. “Fifteen cases were treated with sulphonamide [an antibiotic] and six were not. ” The six animals untreated cows all died, and even among the cows treated with antibiotics, almost half died. So yes, some lesions recorded in the Mishanh (and later refined in the talmudic discussion which follows) are indeed fatal.
The Case of Serachot
But other lesions that render an animal treif are certainly not fatal. Take for example lung adhesions, called סרחות (serachot, or sircha in the singular), which are discussed in detail later (46b et. seq). These adhesions are fibrous tissues that may run between different lung lobes, or between the lungs and the rib cage. They are common and are caused by a number of conditions, including trauma or previous infections. Many kinds of serichot render an animal treif. But lung adhesions are certainly not lethal. Animals and humans live quite happily with them. In fact this doctor recently told me that the presence of lung adhesions does not prevent lungs from being donated and used for a lung transplant. Now, if they are used in that delicate situation, they most certainly do not have a fatal defect, or anything even close.
the case of the missing liver (and the missing heart)
Equally puzzling to the modern reader is the sixth category in the Mishna’s list: ניטל הכבד ולא נשתייר הימנו כלום - if the slaughtered animal was found to have no liver. Here’s the thing: an animal cannot live without a liver. If a healthy looking cow - or indeed any cow -was well enough to be slaughtered, it must have had a liver. So this is not an example of a treif animal - it’s an example of one that could not possibly have existed. But don’t take my word for it.
In 1709 the great rabbi of Hamburg, Zevi Ashkenazi, (better known as the Chacham Zevi, after the name of his responsa) was asked the following question. A young woman had opened a slaughtered chicken to remove the unwanted entrails, while her cat sat at her feet “waiting patiently for anything that may fall to the ground.” To her great surprise, the young woman found that the chicken did not have a heart, and so assumed the bird was treif. Not so, claimed her mother, who apparently owned the chicken. The cat must have eaten it, when it was thrown to the ground together with the entrails. The young women was however quite adamant, and insisted she had never fed anything that resembled a heart to the cat. The bird had been perfectly healthy before it was slaughtered, eating and drinking like any other healthy chicken, (וגם בעודנה בחיים חיותה היתה חזקה ובריאה ובכל כחה לאכול ולשתות). The question of the kashrut of the bird was brought to the local rabbis, who declared it to be treif, on the basis that while alive, it had no heart.
The Chacham Zevi was asked to weigh in on the matter. “It is absolutely clear to any person who has a wise heart” he wrote, apparently enjoying the play on words, “or who has a brain in his skull, that it is impossible for any creature to live for even a moment without a heart…Clearly, the heart fell out when the bird was opened, and that cat ate it…It is obvious that the chicken is permitted” Strike one for common sense. You would think. But not so fast. This answer of the Chacham Zevi engendered one of the great halachic disputes of the eighteenth century. In one corner, the Chacham, and in the other at least four leading rabbinic figures who vehemently opposed this ruling: Naphtali Katz of Frankfurt, Moses Rothenburg, David Oppenheim (who was the Chief Rabbi of Prague, no less) and Jonathan Eyebeschuetz (who spent much of his later life fighting halachic battles against Rabbi Yaakov Emden, who was the son of the Chacham Zevi). It got nasty, but that’s a story for another day.
No bird or animal can live without a heart, and none can do so without a liver. So there can be no case, like the one in the Mishnah, in which a healthy living animal was slaughtered and found to be without a liver.
Some of the categories of treifot overlap with conditions that are indeed incompatible with life. Others are perfectly innocuous and compatible with a long and healthy life. And a few make no sense given what we know about animal physiology. But none should be thought of as describing an anatomical reality. They describe instead a halachic reality, a reality that reflected a world some 1,500 years ago. And while our understanding of physiology has changed, these halachic classes remain a fixed part of Jewish tradition. Here is the great Maimonides, who was obviously troubled by the chasm that sometimes exists between halacha and facts.
רמב’ם משנה תורה הלכות שחיטה י, יג וְכֵן אֵלּוּ שֶׁמָּנוּ וְאָמְרוּ שֶׁהֵן טְרֵפָה אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיֵּרָאֶה בְּדַרְכֵי הָרְפוּאָה שֶׁבְּיָדֵינוּ שֶׁמִּקְצָתָן אֵינָן מְמִיתִין וְאֶפְשָׁר שֶׁתִּחְיֶה מֵהֶן אֵין לְךָ אֶלָּא מַה שֶּׁמָּנוּ חֲכָמִים שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים יז יא)"עַל פִּי הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר יוֹרוּךָ
Each one of these lesions that were declared treif remain so even if modern medicine can demonstrate that some of them are not actually fatal, and that it is indeed possible to live despite them. Rather we must follow these rabbinic categories, as the Torah states“ You shall act in accordance with the instructions given you and the ruling handed down to you; [you must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either to the right or to the left.]
In more recent times, Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, better known as the Chazon Ish, also addressed this question. “We see today” he wrote, “that very often surgeons operate on the abdomen of a person [with an injury like one found in a treif animal], and he is completely cured, and lives a long life.” But this does nothing to change the way we view the categories of treif . These depend solely on what was decided by the rabbis of the Talmud, and no modern findings can change them.
But what happens when science suggests that the act of shechita inflicts unnecessary pain on the animal? That’s coming up, on Talmudology.