Masechet Chullin 61a-67b

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25 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 61a-b: Determining the kosher status of birds

How do we know which animals are kosher?

According to the Mishnah (59a), although the Torah offers indicators for animals – split hooves and chewing its cud – it does not do so for birds. Nevertheless, the Sages established a number of indicators for birds:

The Gemara on today’s daf offers the source for these rules. The baraita teaches that the nesher is mentioned as one of the non-kosher birds and we know that a tor is a kosher bird since it is brought as a sacrifice. We can therefore conclude that:

Just as the nesher is unique in that it has neither an extra toe nor a crop, its gizzard cannot be peeled, it seizes prey and eats it, and is unclean, so all that have similar characteristics are unclean.

Torim have an extra toe and a crop, their gizzard can be peeled, they do not seize prey and eat it; just as they are clean, so all that have similar characteristics are clean

Traditionally, the nesher has been identified as an eagle, a bird of prey that is called an ayit in modern Hebrew. Rabbeinu Tam argues that this identification cannot be correct, since eagles do have an extra toe. The Ramban adds that according to a passage in Sefer Mikhah (1:16) it appears that the nesher is bald, which would preclude identifying it as an eagle. An alternative identification is the gyps fulvus or griffon vulture, a bird of prey that has a very white bald head, very broad wings and short tail feathers.

In contrast to the nesher, the baraita points to the tor as the archetype kosher bird. In fact, the Torah does not list any kosher birds; the entire list of 24 birds mentioned in the Torah (see Vayikra 11:13-19) are non-kosher. According to the Torah (Sefer Vayikra 1:14), the two types of birds that can be brought as sacrifices are torim and benei yonah – turtledoves and pigeons. The tor that is referred to is identified as Streptopelia turtur, while the yonah is identified as Columba livia domestica.  Since they are brought as sacrifices, the Gemara assumes that they must be kosher for mundane purposes, as well.

Chullin 62a-b: Identifying a kosher bird

As we learned on yesterday’s daf the Sages established a number of indicators that show which birds are kosher:

Although we no longer rely on these indicators (see the Rama, Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah 82:3), it is clear that in the time of the Gemara it was commonplace to rely on them to determine whether a given bird was permissible. The Gemara on today’s daf, for example, relates that a type of songbird, the zarzir – identified as a type of starling – was eaten by the people of Kfar Temarta since it has a crop, and that the senunit levana – identified as a type of swallow (hirundo rustica) or martin (delichon urbica) – was eaten by the people of the upper Galilee because it has a gizzard that can be peeled. In both of these cases Rabbi Eliezer argued that it was forbidden since these are types of ravens that are listed in the Torah among non-kosher birds.

The Gemara also offers a list compiled by Rav Assi of eight birds regarding which there is a doubt, specifically the Huba, huga, suga, harnuga, tushlami, marda, kohilna, and bar nappaka. The Gemara explains that Rav Assi’s doubt stems from the fact that in these birds the gizzard can only be peeled with a knife.  Although the Gemara relates the case of a duck belonging to Mar Shmuel, where the gizzard could not be peeled, so it was left in the sun, and as soon as it became soft it peeled easily, the Gemara explains that in that case as soon as it became soft it peeled easily with the hand, but here even after it had been softened it could only be peeled with a knife.

In an attempt to identify the birds in Rav Assi’s list, researchers have gone so far as to check which birds have such gizzards. The suggestions of Professor Yisrael Aharoni appear here.

Chullin 63a-b: A tradition of kosher birds

As we have learned, unlike other animals, the Torah does not offer clear indicators that allow us to recognize which birds are kosher, rather it offers a list of 24 non-kosher birds (see above, daf, or page 61). On today’s daf Rabbi suggests that the reason for this is because there are many more kosher birds in the world than non-kosher birds; it was therefore simpler to list the few birds that are not kosher, leaving us to understand that all the rest could be used in the kosher kitchen.

The challenge, of course is whether we can accurately identify all of the birds that appear in the Biblical list.

While the Mishnah above teaches that there are certain indicators of kosher birds, on today’s daf Rabbi Yitzhak notes that there is another reliable method of identifying a kosher bird, that of massoret – tradition. He further teaches that a hunter is believed when he says that his teacher handed down a tradition to him that a given bird is kosher. Rabbi Yochanan limits this, however, to people who show that they are familiar with the different birds and their names.

Rashi explains that the tradition can be from a teacher or from a parent, and can even be based on the hunter’s memory of what his father ate. In situations such as these the tradition is trusted as reliable and there is no need to look for the indicators that the Sages established to recognize a kosher bird (see above, daf 61) and even if none of those indicators are found this bird is acceptable based on the mesorah. The Shach rules, however, that if the bird is found to have the indicator that it is not kosher, e.g. it is found to be a bird of prey, then we must conclude that the tradition was mistaken and the bird is deemed unkosher.

With the passage of time and development of commercial kashrut, many traditions regarding kosher foods are being forgotten. A number of committed scholars have devoted themselves to locating and reestablishing these traditions – see, for example:

Chullin 64a-b: The eggs of non-kosher birds

The Talmudic sage Chizkiya asked: From where do we know that the egg of an unclean bird is prohibited by the Torah?

The Gemara responds by pointing to the bat ha-ya’anah, one of the birds in the list of unclean birds (see Vayikra 11:16). Literally, the word bat seems to indicate that this is the daughter of the ya’anah and if the ya’anah does have a daughter – will the daughter have a different status than its mother? The Gemara concludes that it must mean that the egg of an unclean bird is not kosher.

It would appear that Chizkiya’s question is superfluous, given the general Talmudic principle ha-yotzeh min ha-tamei, tamei – that anything produced by an unclean animal is also unclean.

The Ba’al Halakhot Gedolot argues that the true issue at hand is how we know that the egg of a clean bird is permitted by the Torah. That is to say, a living bird is forbidden to eat until it is slaughtered, so we may have thought that the eggs it produces are forbidden as well. The passage about the bat ha-ya’anah teaches that only eggs of unclean birds are forbidden.

Other rishonim disagree with this approach. The R”i suggests that we know that the eggs of a kosher bird are permitted from the law of shiluach ha-ken, where the Torah permits taking the eggs of a bird if you first chase the mother away (see Devarim 22:6-7). It is possible that we may have thought that since the Torah permits the use of such eggs – their status as the product of a non-kosher (i.e. a living) animal notwithstanding – we may have thought that all eggs would be permissible. This is the foundation for Chizkiya’s question and the Gemara’s response.

The bat ha-ya’anah is usually identified as the ostrich, struthio camelus, which is its name in modern Hebrew. Some researchers suggest that it is a nocturnal bird of prey, the Eurasian Eagle-owl, or bubo bubo.

Chullin 65a-b: Eating grasshoppers

While insects are not part of a Western diet, the Torah includes certain types of locusts among the “winged swarming things” that can be eaten (see Vayikra 11:20-25), offering both a description – those that “have jointed legs above their feet, wherewith to leap upon the earth” – and a list of names of the kosher species. The Mishnah (daf, or page 59a) elaborates on the description, requiring that kosher locusts must have four legs, four wings, leaping legs, and wings covering the greater part of the body; Rabbi Yosi adds that they must bear the name hagav – locust.

On today’s daf, the Sages discuss the four specific names mentioned in the Torah as kosher species of locusts – arbeh, sol’am, hargol and hagav – and what the Torah is including when it adds that each of these is permitted “after its kind.” Thus we find a baraita teaching that the arbeh is the gobai, the sol’am is the vashon, the hargol is the nippol, and the hagav is the gadi’an.

Arbeh is a general term for many kinds of grasshoppers that travel in large swarms. Some Jewish communities have retained a tradition that identifies the Biblical arbeh with the Desert Locust – schistocerca gregaria – a very common insect found in Israel, Africa and the Arabian peninsula. Another possibility is the Migratory Locust – Locusta moratoria – or the Moroccan Locust – Dociostaurus marocanus – both of which were common in ancient times.

The meaning of the name vashon in Arabic means “with the long nose,” which, apparently, refers to a locust with an elongated head. A number of species match this description, like the truxalis and the acrida, which have long thin heads and high foreheads.

As the Gemara explains, the nippol is a species that “has a tail.” This appears to refer to types of grasshoppers whose females have an elongated birth canal.

The name gadi’an (or, nadyan, as appears in some manuscripts) means “jumper,” which might mean to distinguish it from locusts that can fly for relatively long distances with the help of the wind. According to some researchers this may refer to the Calliptamus palaestinensis.

Chullin 66a-b: Kosher fish

The Torah teaches that in order for a fish to be kosher it must have fins (senapir) and scales (kaskeset – see Vayikra 11:9-12). This rule is stated both as a positive commandment (verse 9) and a negative commandment (verse 12). Senapirim – fins – are bony protuberances that extend from the stomach of a fish on its side that serve as “oars” for the fish. The other fins – on the top of the fish and on its tail, do not move. Kaskasim – scales – are flat knobs or protrusions stretched out across the body of the fish that cover it like a coat of mail. There are different types of scales that are unique to a given type of fish based on their shape, how they are connected to the body of the fish and so forth. Some fish – including certain types of tuna – lose their scales as they age, but remain kosher fish.

The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a Mishnah from Masechet Niddah (daf 51b) that teaches that all fish that have scales also have fins, but a fish might have fins, yet not have scales. Thus, if it has scales it will also have fins and it is a kosher fish; if it has fins without scales the fish is not kosher. According to Tosafot, this rule is a tradition handed down from the first man, Adam, who examined each and every living creature when he named them (see Bereshit 2:20) – or, perhaps, this is a tradition handed down from Moshe on Mount Sinai.

At various times in history, creatures with scales but no fins were brought before the Rabbinic leadership to determine their status, given that the animal appeared to negate the principle taught in this Mishnah. In his Ma’adanei Yom Tov, Rav Yom Tov Lippman Heller argued that this rule applied only to fish and not to other sea creatures. Rav Yonatan Eibeshutz suggests that when the Mishnah says that there are no animals with scales but no fins it simply means that the vast majority of fish with scales have fins, as well. In the whole of nature we are bound to find exceptions to every rule and the principle that was taught is referring to the majority of cases.

Chullin 67a-b: Creepy-crawly critters aren’t kosher

On the closing daf of Perek Eilu Tereifot, the Gemara turns its attention to the passage in Sefer Vayikra (11:42) that forbids eating a variety of different insects and creatures that crawl on the ground.

Our Rabbis taught: “Goeth upon the belly” means the nahash, the snake, “whatsoever” includes the shilshul, the earthworm, and all that are like unto it. “Upon all fours” means the akrav, the scorpion, “whatsoever” includes the hipushit, the beetle and all that are like unto it. “Hath many feet” means the nadal, the centipede, “whatsoever” includes all that are like unto it and all that resemble the latter.

The shilshul or earthworm – lumbricus – is found on every part of the globe. It has neither eyes nor legs (it crawls) and it likes moisture. By its burrowing actions, the earthworm is of great value in keeping the soil structure open, creating a multitude of channels which allow the processes of both aeration and drainage to occur, helping plants grow.

There are a number of different types of akravimscorpions – that differ mainly in the strength of their venom. All known scorpion species possess venom and use it primarily to kill or paralyze their prey so that it can be eaten. A scorpion has eight legs – four on each side. Some suggest that when the Gemara says that they have four legs it means that they possess four pairs of legs.

The hipushit, or beetle – coleoptera – is the largest group of insects. In Israel alone there are about 3,000 types of beetles. Its body is made up of a head, thorax and abdomen, it has two sets of wings and three pair of legs.

One of the most common of the nadalim, or centipedes, is the Scolopendra singulata whose body is made up of 22 segments, with a pair of legs extending from each segment. Attached to its head are two venom glands that help the animal to kill or paralyze its prey.

As the Gemara concludes, all of these creatures and all that are similar to them cannot be eaten.

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.