Talmud Tips

For the week ending 16 February 2019 / 11 Adar I 5779

Chullin 65-71

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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The Kosher “Sea-Monster”

Rabbi Yossi ben Dormaskis says, “A liviyatan is a kosher type of fish.”

While you may not be familiar with a kosher fish called liviyatan from the supermarket nowadays, you are likely to be familiar with this name from learning Rashi in the beginning of the Chumash (1:21). Regarding the fifth day of Creation, when the fish, fowl and crawling life was created, the verse states, “And G-d created the great taninim.” Rashi first explains taninim to be large fish in the sea. (Today, the word tanin refers to a crocodile or alligator.)

However, Rashi also cites a Midrash that teaches that these taninim were two large creatures that were originally created as a pair — a male and female. But, the Midrash states, G-d saw that the world would not sustain their reproduction, and He proceeded to kill the female and salt her for the righteous in the World-to-Come. (This idea that they were created as two and then reduced to one is deduced from the lack of the letter yod in the word’s suffix that denotes a plural noun.)

Rabbi Yossi ben Domaskis, in a beraita on our daf, states that he learns that it is a kosher type of fish from verses in Sefer Iyov which describe the awesomeness of the liviyatan.In chapter 41, verse 7 alludes to its scales, and verse 22 to its fins, as explained in the gemara and in Rashi’s commentary there.

The Maharsha questions the need for Rabbi Yossi ben Dormaskis to teach us that the liviyatan is a type of kosher fish since we have already been taught that it was preserved as a reward for the righteous to eat in the World-to-Come. This clearly indicates that it is kosher!

The Maharsha answers that without Rabbi Yossi’s teaching, based on the verse in Iyov, we might have thought that a liviyatan is not a fish at all. Rather, perhaps it is a different type of kosher creature that lives in the water, such as a gigantic goose, which is not a fish. Therefore, the Sage needed to teach that it is in fact a type of fish.

A different answer to the Maharsha’s question is offered by the Maharitz Chiyut here. He notes another Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah, Shemini) that teaches that the fins of the liviyatan will be used in the future to perform the mitzvah of shechita on a gigantic type of ox. The Midrash states that although this type of shechita with an unsmooth utensil is not considered kosher according to halacha, G-d proclaims that “a new law of the Torah will go forth from Me.” The Yafeh To’ar commentary notes that this is difficult to understand since we are taught that mitzvahs will not be voided or changed in the future, and the laws of shechita will not be voided or changed. He explains the intent of the Midrash to be that the shechita done with the fins of the liviyatan in the future will be permitted as a hor’aat sha’ah, an act permitted by G-d only at that specific time. Only at that time, when G-d will make a celebration for the righteous in the future, will the normal laws of shechita not be in effect. And likewise, asserts the Maharitz Chiyut, we might have thought that that although the liviyatan is not a kosher type of fish, it would be permitted for the righteous to eat at that special Chiyut, we might have thought that that although the liviyatan is not a kosher type of fish, it would be permitted for the righteous to eat at that special occasion. Rabbi Yossi ben Dormaskis teaches that this is not so. The liviyatan, he teaches, is a kosher fish, and is permitted to eat even without any hor’aat sha’ah dispensation.

To summarize, the key word in the Rabbi Yossi ben Dormaski’s statement is “fish” according to the Maharsha, whereas the word to emphasize according to the Maharitz Chiyut is “kosher”.

· Chullin 67b

Like a Kosher Bird on a Wire

Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Tzaddok says, “A string is pulled taut, and the bird stands on it. If the bird stands with divided toes, two on one side and two on the other, we can be certain that this (type of) bird is not kosher; if it puts three toes on one side and one on the other, it is kosher.”

This “string test” is taught in a beraita listing various bodily signs of empirical evidence which indicate if a bird is of a kosher species or not. A bird that is called a do’res, is certainly not kosher. (While do’res means “trample” in Modern Hebrew, it is meant to describe a predatory nature when referring to a non-kosher bird according to halacha.) Other ways to see if a bird is do’res or not are taught in the gemara and by the Rishonim. For example: eating a living creature, catching and eating its food in the air, or lifting its food up to its mouth instead of pecking at it on the ground.

It is interesting to note that, unlike the signs of land animals, the signs of non-kosher birds are not mentioned in the Torah. Only their names. And since there are more categories of kosher birds than non-kosher ones, the Torah taught us in a “short manner” — an important principle in teaching — the fewer ones that are not-kosher rather than the larger list of kosher ones. (It is recommended to see Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 82 for the intricate details of the signs and the halachot regarding kosher birds.)

· Chullin 65a

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