Anatomy

Chullin 42a ~ Halachic Reality and Anatomic Reality: the Case of the Treif Animal

With the start of the third chapter of Chullin we take a deep dive into animal anatomy.

Treif machinery.jpeg

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.

וְאַנְשֵׁי־קֹ֖דֶשׁ תִּהְי֣וּן לִ֑י וּבָשָׂ֨ר בַּשָּׂדֶ֤ה טְרֵפָה֙ לֹ֣א תֹאכֵ֔לוּ לַכֶּ֖לֶב תַּשְׁלִכ֥וּן אֹתֽוֹ׃
You will be holy people to Me: you must not eat flesh torn by beasts in the field; you shall cast it to the dogs.
— Exodus 22:30

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).

“Jason Marcus, chef and owner of the new Traif restaurant on S. Fourth Street in Williamsburg, says the name is just cheeky, not a slap at his mostly Kosher eaters.”

“But [the name] really represents our philosophical view of how restaurants should be free of rules. We’re just people who live for good food.”

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)

Opening paragraph of the famous responsa on “the chicken that had no heart”. From שו׳ת חכם צבי, Amsterdam 1712.

Opening paragraph of the famous responsa on “the chicken that had no heart”. From שו׳ת חכם צבי, Amsterdam 1712.

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.

Halachic Reality

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.

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Avodah Zarah 51a ~ The Neck of a Grasshopper

Grasshopper anatomy.jpg

In today's page of Talmud there is a dispute about how far the prohibition against idol worship extends: 

עבודה זרה נא, א

 שחט לה חגב ר' יהודה מחייב וחכמים פוטרים

If one slaughtered a locust for an idol, Rabbi Yehuda deems him liable, and the Rabbis deem him exempt from punishment.

According to Rabbi Yehudah the neck of the grasshopper is similar to the neck of an animal; since slaughtering an animal for idol worship is prohibited, so, by analogy, is slaughtering a grasshopper.

ושאני חגב הואיל וצוארו דומה לצואר בהמה...

The neck of the grasshopper resembles the neck of an animal...

What is a neck?

The neck is the bit that connects an animal's head to its body. Grasshoppers have a head and they have a body, so perforce, they have a neck.  Here is what a typical (female) grasshopper looks like:

 

Diagram of a female grasshopper. From Pfadt, R. The Field Guide to Common Wester Grasshoppers. Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin #912, 1994. p1.

As you can see, the pronotum  sits where the neck should be.  It is the bony upper plate of the first section of the thorax, and when viewed from the side, appears saddle shaped.  Other insects with a pronotum include ladybugs (or ladybirds, as they are quaintly called in Britain and elsewhere), termites, beetles and fleas. The pronotum covers the cervix, the neck proper, which is "a membranous area that allows considerable freedom of movement for protraction and retraction of the insect's head." Like all insects, grasshoppers possess an exoskeleton. Beneath this hard outer shell, lay all the soft squishy bits like the gut and heart, or at least what passes for a heart in an insect.

Rabbi Yehudah's Anatomy Lesson

Rabbi Yehudah declared that the neck of the grasshopper resembled the neck of an animal, by which he meant an animal that was offered as a sacrifice in the Temple. Rashi changes the language just a little, and in so doing suggests the resemblance is even closer. The grasshopper's neck does not just resemble (דומה) an animal's. Rather, they are the same:

דיש לה צואר כבהמה ולהכי מחייב רבי יהודה דכעין שחיטת פנים הוא

The grasshopper has a neck like an animal, which is why Rabbi Yehudah finds that [a person who slaughters a grasshopper like he would an animal] is liable...

Here is the explanation found in the Koren English Talmud:

Most insects possess a head located very close to the body, i.e., the thorax, and therefore lack a visible neck. Nevertheless, some types of grasshopper possess an uncommonly visible pronotum protecting the front of the thorax. This feature has the appearance of a neck, and so even though a grasshopper cannot be truly slaughtered, it can appear to be slaughtered much like animals with necks.

But animal necks and grasshopper necks are nothing like each other. 

The grasshopper neck:

  1. Is covered with a protective shell (the pronotum)
  2. Does not possess an endoskeleton.
  3. Is really the cervix which lies hidden beneath the pronotum.

The animal neck:

  1. Is covered with skin or feathers, not a hard protective shell.
  2. Has an endoskeleton made of seven cervical vertebrae.
  3. Is clearly visible and is not hidden.

It is not clear in what way Rabbi Yehudah equated the neck of a grasshopper with the neck of an animal that was sacrificed in Jerusalem, but his teaching is echoed in Jewish law.  According to Maimonides, such an act is forbidden if it is done as a part of a religious ceremony:

משנה תורה, הלכות עבודה זרה וחוקות הגויים ג׳:ד׳

 שָׁחַט לָהּ חָגָב פָּטוּר אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן הָיְתָה עֲבוֹדָתָהּ בְּכָךְ

And the Shulchan Aruch rules that a grasshopper slaughtered in front of an idol, regardless of whether this was part of a religious ceremony or not, is forbidden to be used by a Jew. 

שולחן ערוך ירוה דעה ס׳קלט, ד

שחט לפניה חגב, נאסר, אפלו אין דרך לעבדה בחגב כלל

As a result, it's probably best not to sacrifice a grasshopper to an idol, even if you can't see its neck.

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Bava Basra 24a ~ Anatomy That Isn't There

In August 2013 a paper published in the otherwise sleepy Journal of Anatomy caused quite a sensation. Although doctors have been dissecting the human body for centuries, it seems that they missed a bit, and a team from Belgium announced that they had discovered a new knee ligament, which they called the anterolateral ligament. Today's page of Talmud describes the opposite phenomena. In it, the rabbis describe an anatomical part that is really hard to identify, and may not exist at all.  It is called the aliyah, which usually refers to an attic or the upper chamber of a house.

Majority or Proximity?

It all begins with a discussion of how to resolve uncertainty about the status of a found object. Do we assume the object comes from a class of similar objects that is in the majority, or do we assume that it is in the class of similar objects that is found in proximity?  According to Rabbi Hanina we are to follow the class of objects in the majority

 אמר רבי חנינא רוב וקרוב הולכין אחר הרוב ואע"ג דרובא דאורייתא וקורבא דאורייתא אפילו הכי רובא עדיף

This ruling of Rabbi Hanina is then supported by Abaye:

אמר אביי אף אנן נמי תנינא דם שנמצא בפרוזדור ספיקו טמא שחזקתו מן המקור ואע"ג דאיכא עלייה דמקרבא

Abaye said: We have learned this in a Mishnah (Nidda 17b) [that one follows the majority rather than proximity]: With regard to blood that is found in the vagina [prozdor], it is ritually impure as menstrual blood, as there is a presumption that it came from the uterus, [which is the most common source of menstrual blood]. And this is the halakha even though there is an upper chamber [עלייה], which empties into the canal, which is closer.

The Mishnah cited by Abaye is found in Niddah (17b), and it is there that the Talmud's gynecological anatomy is described. Here is that Mishanh: 

משנה נדה ב, ה

 משל משלו חכמים באשה החדר והפרוזדור והעלייה דם החדר טמא דם העלייה טהור נמצא בפרוזדור ספקו טמא לפי שחזקתו מן המקור 

The Sages analogized the anatomy of women through a parable: a chamber [חדר], a corridor [פרוזדור], and an upper chamber [עלייה]. The blood of the chamber is impure. Blood from the aliyah is pure. If [blood is] found in the corridor, [and we are unsure of its origin] out of doubt it is impure, because it is presumed to have come from the source [i.e. from the chamber, which is the most common source of bleeding].

The חדר, the chamber, is uniformly identified with the uterus, the medical term for the womb.  Of this there is no controversy. The פרוזדור, the corridor, is identified as the vagina, though according to Maimonides it includes the cervix, which is the neck of the uterus. So what, and where, is this aliyah ? This is the question we will focus on for the rest of this post. 

the Aliyah surrounds the ovaries

From the Mishanh in Niddah, it is clear that the aliyah sometimes bleeds, and that this blood becomes visible when it passes into the vagina. Maimonides identifies the aliyah with the space that contains the ovaries and the fallopian tubes. In modern medicine the ovaries and the Fallopian tubes and tissues that support them are called the adenxa. They are further from the vagina that the uterus, and so this identification does not fit in with Abaye's anatomy in which the aliyah is closer to the vagina than is the uterus.

רמב׳ם הל׳ איסורי ביאה ה, ד

ולמעלה מן החדר ומן הפרוזדוד, בין חדר לפרוזדוד, והוא המקום שיש בו שתי ביצים של אישה, והשבילים שבהן מתבשלת שכבת זרע שלה--מקום זה הוא הנקרא עלייה.  וכמו נקב פתוח מן העלייה לגג הפרוזדוד, ונקב זה קוראין אותו לול; והאבר נכנס לפנים מן הלול, בשעת גמר ביאה

Above the uterus and the vagina, between the uterus and the vagina, is the place in which the two ovaries are found, and the tubes along which the sperm from intercourse matures, this place is called the aliyah. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah Issurie Bi'ah 5:4)

As we said, the problem is that the space which contains the ovaries is inside the abdomen, and this space does not connect with the vagina. It connects via the Fallopian tubes with the uterus.  Although Maimonides does not identify the aliyah as the ovaries themselves, some have done so. But the problem with this is that the ovaries don't bleed unless they develop a large cyst which then ruptures. But even in this case they bleed into the abdomen, or into the uterus, again via the Fallopian tubes, and not directly into the vagina.

Menachem ben Shalom (1249-1306) known as the Meiri, wrote an important commentary on the Talmud call Bet Habechirah - בית הבחירה and in it he too identifies the aliyah as the space between the uterus and the vagina in which the ovaries are found. He notes that in this space there are many blood vessels which may rupture and bleed directly into the vagina (עורקים שמתבקעים לפעמים), but as we have noted this is not biologically correct. Any bleeding from the adnexa is via the Fallopian tubes into the uterus itself, and certainly not directly into the vagina.

The Aliyah is the vagina

In his classic Biblisch-Talmudische Medezin published in 1911Jacob Preuss identified the aliyah as the vagina. "It can be assumed with reasonable certainty" he wrote "that the cheder refers to the uterus, that the prosdor is the vulva, and that the aliyah is the vagina." However certain he may have been, Preuss is the only one to make this identification, which does not fit in with the text of the Mishanh. So let's try another suggestion.

The Aliyah is the Bladder

Sefer Ha'Arukh , Venice 1552.

Sefer Ha'Arukh, Venice 1552.

Natan ben Yechiel of Rome, who died in 1106, wrote an influential lexicon of talmudic terms called the Sefer Ha'Arukh (ספר הערוך) which was first published around 1470. In that work the aliyah is identified as the urinary bladder. This identification also cannot be correct, because the bladder does not empty into the vagina, and because it does not lie between the uterus and the vagina but anterior to them. The commentary in the Schottenstein Talmud to Niddah 17b notes that a connection between the urethra and the vagina (known as a urethero-vaginal fistula) might account for bleeding from the bladder into the vagina. This is possible - though it is of course not normal anatomy.  

From  here .

From here.

The AliyaH is a completely new structure

Meir ben Gedaliah of Lublin (d.1616) also considered the location of the aliyah in his modestly titled book Meir Einei Hakhamim - מאיר עיני חכמים - (Enlightening the Eyes of the Sages) first published in Venice in 1618.  He locates it between the uterus and the bladder, and provides two helpful schematics. The problem is that there is no such organ. You won't find it if you dissect a cadaver, and you won't find it in any textbook of anatomy (like this one). And as one astute radiologist and reader of Talmudology recently told me, you won't find it on an MRI either. Here is the text. 

Maharam Lublin.  Meir Einei Hakhamim.  Venice 1618. p255b .  

Maharam Lublin. Meir Einei Hakhamim. Venice 1618. p255b. 

This non-existent anatomy is also pictured in the Schottenstein Talmud (Niddah 17b), based on the difficult Mishanah.  

From Schottenstein Talmud Niddah 17b.  Note that this does NOT correspond to the known female anatomy, but is a schematic based on Rashi's understanding.  

From Schottenstein Talmud Niddah 17b.  Note that this does NOT correspond to the known female anatomy, but is a schematic based on Rashi's understanding.  

The Hatam Sofer on the Aliyah

Moses Schreiber known as Hatam Sofer, (d. 1839) was a leader of Hungarian Jewry and he too weighed in on the issue in his talmudic commentary to Niddah (18a).

What is the "corridor" or the "room"  or the "roof" or the "ground" or the "aliyah" ? After some investigation using books and authors experts and books about autopsies it is impossible to deny the facts that do not accord with the statements of Rashi or Tosafot or the diagrams of the Maharam of Lublin...but you will find the correct diagram in the book called Ma'asei Tuviah and in book Shvilei Emunah...therefore I have made no effort to explain the words of Rashi or Tosafot for they are incompatible with the facts...

Tuviah HaCohen, the Doctor from Padua

I couldn't find the diagram in any edition of the Shvilei Emunah to which the Hatam Sofer refers, so let's look at the diagram from Ma'asei Tuviah, which I happen to have in my own library.

Detail from Tuviah HaCohen,   Ma'aseh Tuviah , Venice 1708. p132b.

Detail from Tuviah HaCohen,  Ma'aseh Tuviah, Venice 1708. p132b.

A careful reading of the annotation (זז) reveals that Tuviah HaCohen (1652-1729) identifies the aliyah as that area containing the ovaries and the Fallopian tubes. In doing so he followed the opinion of Maimonides that we cited earlier, even though that does not in any way fit in with the understanding of Abaye and his ruling that blood found in the vagina that comes from the aliyah is not impure because it does not come from the uterus. Any gynecologist (or first year medical student completing their anatomy dissections) will tell you that blood from the adnexa (the ovaries and Fallopian tubes) can only get into the vagina via the uterus. But the most interesting part of this diagram is the very first line of text, at the top of the image. 

פירוש המחבר כפי ידיעת הנתוח  

The author's explanation according to knowledge gained from an autopsy

Anatomical Theatre, Palazzo del Bo, at the University of Padua. It was built in 1594 by the anatomist who helped found modern embryology, Girolamo Fabricius. From  here .

Anatomical Theatre, Palazzo del Bo, at the University of Padua. It was built in 1594 by the anatomist who helped found modern embryology, Girolamo Fabricius. From here.

Here, perhaps for the first time, anatomical knowledge from an autopsy is being shared in Hebrew. At the medical school in Padua, two bodies (one of each sex) had to be dissected each year, and all the students attended- Tuviah included.  As a medical student, Tuviah would have stood in the famous anatomical theater and watched the dissection, perhaps following along in one of the textbooks based on those dissections. 

Facts Matter

As the Hatam Sofer noted, facts matter. The illustration in the work of the Maharam of Lublin was an example of trying to get the facts to fit the text of the Mishnah (or more precisely, the explanations of Rashi and Tosafot) but in doing so the Maharam created a fictitious anatomical part.

It is very unlikely that the rabbis of the Talmud witnessed human dissections. In the ancient world two Greeks, Herophilus of Chalcedon and  Erasistratus of Ceos (who lived in the first half of the third century BCE) were "the first and last ancient scientists to perform dissections of human cadavers." Facts about human anatomy became clear once human dissection began in the fourteenth century, but as is demonstrated by the Maharam of Lublin, these lessons did not always diffuse into the Jewish community.  The Hatam Sofer is often - and rightly  - cited as a force for tradition against the challenges from the outside world. But the Hatam Sofer, at least in so far as gynecology was concerned, had no time for a theory when the facts show otherwise. In an age of "alternative facts" the Hatam Sofer is a model of rationalism.

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