Masechet Chullin 54a-60b

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18 Aug 2011

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

Chullin 54a-b: When is an animal not a treifah?

In contrast with the first Mishnah in the perek on daf 42a, the Mishnah on today’s daf lists situations where an animal suffers an injury that does not render it a treifah, i.e. it is not a terminal condition that will lead to the animal’s imminent death. For example, if the animal’s spine was broken or if its liver was entirely removed, the earlier Mishnah teaches that the animal is rendered a treifah; according to the Mishnah on today’s daf, if the animal’s spine was broken but the spinal cord remained intact or if its liver was partially removed, but an olive’s size remained, the animal remains kosher.

The Mishnah on today’s daf offers a list of cases where internal organs are removed entirely, yet the animal remains kosher. This list includes:

All of which are not considered essential to the animal’s continued existence.

The spleen is an organ that is connected with the circulatory system of the blood, as it creates white blood cells and breaks off dead or injured red blood cells. It also creates anti-bodies and plays a role in the immune system. In animals, the spleen is located near the front of the animal near its stomach, and it is tongue-shaped, thick on one end and tapering off on the other. As we know from modern-day medicine, a spleen is not essential for survival, yet disease or complications from an injury to the spleen can be life-threatening, which is why in such cases it is often removed by means of surgery.

Regarding the lower jaw, it is clear that we must be dealing with a case where the trachea and esophagus remain intact. The Rambam argues that although the animal is not a treifah and can survive if it is missing its lower jaw, if the upper jaw were to be removed the animal would not be able to survive and the animal would be rendered a treifah.

Chullin 55a-b: When kidneys are missing or diseased

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, there are a number of cases where internal organs may be entirely removed from an animal, yet it is not rendered a treifah, i.e. it is not a terminal condition that will lead to the animal’s imminent death.

The kidneys are essential organs that serve the body as a natural filter of the blood, and remove wastes which are diverted to the bladder. Furthermore, they function as a regulator, maintaining the acid-base balance and regulating blood pressure by maintaining the salt and water balance). The kidneys also are responsible for the reabsorption of water, glucose and amino acids; they also produce hormones and enzymes. A human being whose kidneys are removed would face certain death, yet the stomachs of ruminant animals contain a mechanism that removes wastes to the stomach so that such an animal could survive even if its kidneys were removed.

On today’s daf, Rachish bar Papa teaches that although missing kidneys would not render the animal a treifah, if one of the kidneys is diseased, then the animal would be rendered a treifah. The Gemara continues by teaching that in Israel they limited this ruling to a case where the disease reached until the white area beneath the animal’s loins.

Rashi explains that the case is when one of the kidneys becomes infected and is full of pus. Others offer different explanations for the disease that is discussed here. According to the Rashba and the Tosafot ha-Rosh, the kidney is considered diseased if the tissue of the kidney weakens and begins to dissolve; the Rambam rules that it is diseased if the kidney falls apart when held up. According to the Ba’al HaItur the case is when the color of the kidney changes to white, indicating a serious condition.

Chullin 56a-b: Of crops and gizzards

Having clarified issues regarding animals that are considered treifah, i.e. a terminal condition that will lead to the animal’s imminent death, the Mishnayot on today’s daf turn their attention to conditions that would render kosher birds as tereifot. In truth, as Levi points out in a baraita that appears in the Gemara, most of the laws of tereifot in birds parallel those of animals that were enumerated in the Mishnayot on daf 42a and daf 54a. Nevertheless, the ones that appear here are mentioned since they clarify rules and regulations that are unique to the situation of birds. So, for example, we find laws regarding the kurkevan (gizzard), which, if pierced, renders the bird a treifah, and the zefek (crop) which will not affect the kosher status of the bird if it is pierced; Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi rules that even if it is removed entirely the bird will remain kosher.

The zefek, or crop, is an enlarged part on one or both sides of the esophagus, which is found in many birds, as well as some insects and reptiles.  The crop is used to temporarily store food, where harder foods like seeds become softened before continuing down the esophagus to the kurkevan.

Since birds do not have teeth, the process of grinding the food up in preparation for digestion differs from that of animals. The kurkevan or gizzard serves this purpose. This specialized stomach – the ventriculus – is constructed of thick, muscular walls. The bird swallows hard objects, like small rocks or pebbles, and by means of the muscles of the gizzard “chews” and grinds up the food. The structure of the gizzard, as well as the thickness of its muscular walls differs from one bird to another, with the general principle being that the thicker the membrane, the easier it is to peel off.

Chullin 57a-b: A creative therapy performed by a Roman

Among the conditions that the Mishnah (56b) lists as not rendering a bird a treifah, is when its innards are protruding from the body but remain uninjured. In the Gemara Rabbi Shmuel bar Rav Yitzhak adds that this is true only if the intestines did not become twisted, but if they became twisted the bird would be rendered a treifah. The suggested source for this is a passage in Sefer Devarim (32:6), where we learn that “God…made you He established you,” which is understood to mean that the internal organs sit in a certain fashion, and if they are improperly replaced the person cannot live. Although this particular situation is not enumerated in the Mishnah regarding birds, the Gemara applies this concept to all other animals, as well as humans. Tosafot explains that this is included in the Mishnah since twisted intestines are destined to become pierced or torn.

In response to this teaching, the Gemara relates the following story:

A Roman once saw a man fall from the roof to the ground so that his belly burst open and his entrails protruded. The Roman thereupon brought the son of the victim and by means of an optical illusion made out as if he slaughtered him in the presence of the father. The father became faint, sighed deeply and drew in his entrails; whereupon his belly was immediately stitched up.

Rashi explains that the Roman was aware of the above teaching and feared that if he were to touch the man’s intestines and attempt to replace them in his body, it was likely that he would be the cause of the man’s death. The purpose of this trick was to horrify the man so terribly as to cause him to take in a deep breath and draw in his entrails, thus they would be replaced without the aid of the hand of man.

Chullin 58a-b: Poisons and kosher animals

Among the conditions listed in the Mishnah on today’s daf are a number of situations where an animal was poisoned, yet is still alive – would such an animal be rendered a treifah or not?

According to the Mishnah, if an animal ate hardufni – nerium oleander – it remains kosher. If the animal was bitten by a snake or if it drank poison, the Mishnah rules it does not become a treifah, yet it is forbidden to eat for reasons of danger. Shmuel teaches, however, that some poisons will render the animal a treifah. An animal that eats hiltit – Ferula assafoetida – for example, would become a treifah. He explains that hiltit is such a powerful substance that it pierces the intestines.

Hardufni, nerium oleander, is a shrub that grows to a height of four meters with hard yellow-green leaves and purple flowers. Aside from being bitter, the leaves and flowers of this plant are poisonous, and can kill animals and even people if eaten in large quantities.

Hiltit, Ferula assafoetida, is a perennial herb in the family Apiaceae, that grows to a height of 6-9 feet. It is native mainly to Afghanistan and neighboring countries. The plant grows for a number of years, at which time it flowers and produces fruit, after which it dies. To this day hiltit is recognized as a medicinal plant; resin extracted from its roots is used to develop medicines that are used as powders, creams and pills that are used as treatment for intestinal discomfort and diseases, as well as for strengthening the nervous system. Although it is also used as a spice, large amounts – more than half a gram – could lead to poisoning.

Regarding the Mishnah’s ruling that an animal that ingests poison does not become a treifah but is forbidden to eat for reasons of danger, several of the commentaries argue that this seems to negate the general principle that we learned– that an animal that is injured and will not survive a year is a treifah. Certainly an animal that is poisoned will not survive; why is it not a treifah? The Ra’avad suggests that since the poisoned animal can be treated with medicines, it is not certain to die and is not a treifah; others argue that since there is no immediate terminal injury, even if the animal will certainly die at some later time because of the effects of the poison, it cannot be considered a treifah.

Chullin 59a-b: God as a destructive lion

The Gemara on today’s daf describes a lion of mythical proportions – the lion of Be-Ilai’i – and continues by relating the following story.

The Emperor once said to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah, ‘Your God is likened to a lion, for it is written:

‘The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?’ (Amos 3:8). But what is the greatness of this? A horseman can kill the lion’! He replied: ‘He has not been likened to the ordinary lion, but to the lion of Be-Ilai’i!’ ‘I desire’, said the Emperor, ‘that you show it to me’. He replied: ‘You cannot behold it.’ ‘Indeed,’ said the Emperor, ‘I will see it.’ Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananiah prayed and the lion set out from its place. When it was four hundred parasangs distant it roared once, and all pregnant women miscarried and the walls of Rome fell. When it was three hundred parasangs distant it roared again and all the molars and incisors of man fell out; even the Emperor himself fell from his throne to the ground. ‘I beseech you,’ he implored, ‘pray that it return to its place.’ He prayed and it returned to its place.

In his Torat Chaim, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Schor suggests that this story, as well as the ones that follow it in the Gemara, points to suggestions made by the Roman Emperor that biblical verses show that God is limited in a variety of different ways. The Maharal mi-Prague argues that the Emperor believed that God’s power is connected with other forces of the world and that He is only one of the forces involved, as indicated by the verses that compare Him to a lion and so forth. The awe and fear that struck the Emperor clarified to him that, in fact, God transcends all boundaries and limitations. The Maharal continues by clarifying that the story told above – as well as similar stories found in the following aggadot – are not to be understood literally. Rather, Rabbi Yehoshua’s arguments were so well illustrated and expressed that it opened the Emperor’s mind to the realization that his comprehension of God was undeveloped and limited.

Chullin 60a-b: A shrunken moon

The Gemara on today’s daf is the source for a well-known parable.

Rabbi Shimon ben Pazzi pointed out a contradiction between verses. One verse says: And God made the two great lights (see Bereshit 1:16) and immediately the verse continues: The greater light . . . and the lesser light.

The moon said unto the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Is it possible for two kings to wear one crown?’ He answered: ‘Go then and make thyself smaller.’ ‘Sovereign of the Universe’! cried the moon, ‘Because I have suggested that which is proper must I then make myself smaller?’ He replied: ‘Go and thou wilt rule by day and by night.’ ‘But what is the value of this?’ cried the moon; ‘Of what use is a lamp in broad daylight?’ He replied: ‘Go. Israel shall reckon by thee the days and the years.’ ‘But it is impossible,’ said the moon, ‘to do without the sun for the reckoning of the seasons, as it is written: And let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years.’ ‘Go. The righteous shall be named after thee as we find, Ya’akov the Small (see Amos 7:2), Shmuel the Small, David the Small (see I Shmuel 17:14).’ On seeing that it would not be consoled the Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘Bring an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller.’ This is what was meant by Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish when he declared: Why is it that the he-goat offered on the new moon is distinguished in that there is written concerning it “unto the Lord” (see Bamidbar 28:15)? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, said: Let this he-goat be an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller.

The Maharal mi-Prague writes that by means of this description of negotiations between the moon and God, the Sages are attempting to describe different elements of Creation. The story itself is interpreted in many different ways, among them an explanation put forward by the Maharsha that the moon is a metaphor for the Jewish People. On its most basic level, this is a description of the limitation on the full spiritual light that is to be found in this world, a situation that will change in the World to Come, as described in Sefer Yeshayahu (30:26) “Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun…”

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.