Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review of the Enigma of the Biblical Shafan, pt iii: Llama as shafan

This is the third post in a series reviewed Dr. Isaac Betech's book, The Enigma of the Biblical Shafan.

So far, I haven't been impressed. See my first post, about how the book covers the klal regarding fins and scales, and my second post, about how the book covers evidence of merycism in hyraxes. In both cases, the book deliberately conceals information from the reader, and in the case of hyraxes, uses carefully chosen (and thus dishonest) language to cover up the existence of evidence. In each case, the information which has been concealed would have weakened the position put forth in the book.

In this post, I begin considering the arguments set forth in the chapter Why The Llama Cannot Be The Biblical Shafan.

The gemara in Eruvin 13b states:
מפני מה זכו בית הלל לקבוע הלכה כמותן? מפני שנוחין ועלובין היו, ושונין דבריהן ודברי בית שמאי. ולא עוד, אלא שמקדימין דברי בית שמאי לדבריהן.
"Why did Bet Hillel merit that the halacha was encoded like them? Because they were kindly and modest, and taught their words and the words of Bet Shammai. And not only that, but they preceded the words of Bet Shammai to their own words."
Such that even if the purpose of the book is to argue that the rabbit is the Biblical shafan and the llama is not, it is proper to provide readers with a fair presentation of the pro-llama position. We shall investigate whether the book does this, or if the book (deliberately) omits information which would undermine its anti-llama agenda.

First, if we look at Rabbi Slifkin's discussion of the llama, on page 71 of The Camel, The Hare, and The Hyrax, we find the following footnote:

When we compare with the footnotes on page 133 in Dr. Betech's book, we find something rather surprising and bizarre.

That is, he writes:
Some have published [374][375] even recently [376] the claim that the Biblical "shafan" is the llama (Lama glama, family Camelidae), the "arnebet" is the Bactrian camel and the "gamal" is the Arabian camel.
In his footnotes, he gives:
[374] Rabbi Meyer Lubin, 1973, Identification of the Gamel, Shafan and Arnevet, "Intercom", (published in May 1973 by the Association of Orthodox Jewish scientists)
[375] North Henden Adath Yisroel Synagogue Sedra Sheet - Shabbos Re'eh - 03/09/05 - Issue 48
[376] Rabbi Pinchus Presworsky, Animals of the Torah, SYS Marketing, USA, 5770, pages 34-36.
This is a different list. Since Dr. Betech has read The Camel, The Hare, and The Hyrax, he knows about these other sources. Why would he omit Rabbi Dr. Tendler's article in the Torah UMadda Journal? Why would he omit Rabbi Dr. Yosef HaLevi Zeliger? And to remove Rabbi Tendler's (a rosh yeshiva of RIETS and professor and chairman of a department of biology) article in a journal and put in a random parsha sheet (by a Mr. David Levi) seems quite strange.

However, having read through these sources, I can see why he does this. Rabbi Lubin argued specifically for arnevet as Bactrian camel, gamal as Arabian camel, and shafan as llama. The random parsha sheet just cites Rabbi Lubin, and thus puts forth the exact same claim. Rabbi Presworsky also puts forth the exact same claim.

However, Rabbi Dr. Tendler has a slightly different claim. He asserts that the gamal is the camel (both Bactrian and Arabian), the arnevet is the vicuna, and the shafan is the llama. (As we saw above in Rabbi Slifkin's book, Rabbi Dr. Zeliger identifies them as mini-camels, unknown to us, so it is not entirely relevant to a chapter on llama as shafan.)

If the reader knew of Rabbi Tendler's position, then he would have a ready answer to Dr. Betech's objection #1.

To summarize Dr. Betech's objection #1:

If the arnevet is the Bactrian camel and the gamal is Arabian camel, then they are different minim. Yet Bava Kamma 55a discusses the Bactrian camel and the Arabian camel and asserts that, despite minor physical differences, they are the same min and thus are not kilayim! And extend this to the shafan as llama, another camelid.

To this objection, the reader will answer:

According to Rabbi Dr. Tendler, the Bactrian and Arabian camel are indeed the same min, the gamal. And scientifically, they belong to the genus Camelus. However, there are other genuses in the Camelidae family, which scientists have distinguished enough to declare them to be in separate genuses. The arnevet is the vicuna, and the shafan is still the llama!

I think Rabbi Dr. Levinger's opinion was not brought not only because it is not a llama, but also because it would undermine Dr. Betech's reason #6, but that is for another post.


If we look at Rabbi Slifkin's discussion of the Arabian and Bactrian camel regarding the aforementioned gemara in Bava Kamma 55a, we see that he provides pictures. From page 66 of The Camel, The Hare, and The Hyrax:

And Rabbi Slifkin also explains, in the text, that the Arabian camel has one hump and the Bactrian camel has two. So too, in the parsha sheet, Dr. Betech cited in his footnote, we see them summarize Rabbi Lubin as follows:
We don’t have space here to go into detail, but he deduces that the Gomol is the one humped camel (Dromedary) found in Egypt and Israel, Arneves is the two humped (Bactrian) camel found further to the east in Central Asia (where Avrohom originated from), and Shofon is the Llama, found only in South America (unknown by our civilisation until the sixteenth century).
And so too, Rabbi Pinchus Presworsky, in the cited pages, calls them the one-hump camel and the two-hump camel:


Yet surprisingly (?) Dr. Betech does not provide pictures of the Arabian and Bactrian camel in this chapter at all!

It is true that on page 179, at the end of a different chapter, Dr. Betech includes pictures of the Family Camelidae:

But this just states Camel, and does not show a number of humps.

Meanwhile, in his chapter on Why The Llama Cannot Be The Biblical Shafan, no picture of Bactrian camel and Arabian camel exists. This is strange because most other times in the book, when an animal is mentioned -- a hyrax, a llama, a kangaroo -- an image is provided.

OK, so no picture is provided. Surely the text would make the distinction, right? Let us look again at the first page of Dr. Betech's chapter, to find reference to one hump or two humps:

Nope. Just, on the first page, that the arnebet is the Bactrian camel and the gamal is the Arabian camel. And then, spanning from the first to the second page:
The Talmud in Baba Kama 55a concludes that the Persian (probably the Bactrian camel) and the Arabian camel, in spite of minor physical differences, are the same "min". [Then cites the gemara and Rashi.] So it is difficult to accept that the Talmud would consider the "arnebet" to be the Bactrian camel, and the "gamal" the Arabian camel."
What are these "minor physical differences"? By this, he surely means to encompass the one-hump vs. two hump distinction, but how come he did not make this explicit. The poor typical reader has no clue that this is the distinction!

Why is this relevant? Wait for point #3, and then I will explain.

Further, why not translate the gemara and Rashi to English? The gemara said that the distinction between the גמלא פרסא and the גמלא טעייא was that one was אלים קועיה and the other was קטין קועיה, and Rashi explains that אלים קועיה means that צוארו עב, it has a thick neck.

Yet all Dr. Betech does is vaguely refer to it as "minor physical differences".

To present the gemara:
אמר ר"ל כאן שנה רבי תרנגול טווס ופסיוני כלאים זה בזה פשיטא אמר רב חביבא משום דרבו בהדי הדדי מהו דתימא מין חד הוא קמ"ל:
אמר שמואל אווז ואווז הבר כלאים זה בזה מתקיף לה רבא בר רב חנן מאי טעמא אילימא משום דהאי אריך קועיה והאי זוטר קועיה אלא מעתה גמלא פרסא וגמלא טייעא דהאי אלים קועיה והאי קטין קועיה הכי נמי דהוו כלאים זה בזה
Or, in English:
SO ALSO BEASTS AND BIRDS ARE LIKE THEM etc. Resh Lakish said: Rabbi taught here19  that a cock, a peacock and a pheasant are heterogeneous with one another.20  Is this not obvious?21  — R. Habiba said: Since they can breed from one another it might have been thought that they constitute a homogeneous species; we are therefore told [by this that this is not the case]. Samuel said:22  The [domestic] goose and the wild goose are heterogeneous with each other. Raba son of R. Hanan demurred [saying:] What is the reason? Shall we say because one has a long neck and the other has a short neck? If so, why should a Persian camel and an Arabian camel similarly not be considered heterogeneous with each other, since one has a thick neck and the other a slender neck? 
It is somewhat strange that the Bactrian camel and the Arabian camel, which differ in the number of humps, are distinguished by an Amora as merely long vs. short neck. Rabbi Slifkin makes this point about this gemara explicitly in The Camel, The Hare, and The Hyrax, on page 66, right above his Bactrian and Arabian camel pictures, saying:
It seems that the “Persian camel” is the Bactrian camel—Bactria is a province of the ancient Persian Empire. Its neck is indeed far thicker than that of the dromedary, although it is curious that the Talmud did not mention the even more striking difference of the number of humps. Another possibility is that the “Persian camel” is a variety of dromedary.
so Dr. Betech surely knows that this objection can be made.

Thus, a reader, or a llama as shafan proponent, might have readily responded to Dr. Betech's objection #1 with:

Wait! Who says that the Talmud is equating the Bactrian and Arabian camel? Given that it only speaks of neck-thickness, which is indeed a minor physical difference, it would not conflate two camelid species with a different number of humps. And therefore the gamal can have one hump, the arneves can have two humps, and the shafan can be the llama, with zero humps.

However, because Dr. Betech has conveniently left out all this information, the poor reader is unable to respond with anything.

Just a parting observation: I wonder whether, even if the gemara is indeed speaking of Arabian and Bactrian camels, whether their not being kilayim zeh bazeh means that they could not have been described by the Torah using three different names. Maybe yes, maybe no, but it is something that needs proving. Especially since Rabbi Tendler interpreted a gemara (Chullin 59b) that all these three were called by the term gamal. I would need to ruminate on this for a while.

Bli neder, further posts can consider other of Dr. Betech's six objections to the llama as shafan. Objections #2, #3, #4, and #5 can be rejected with a single blow, whether rejection can come from Rishonim who thought the shafan was a rabbit; I think Dr. Betech has stated, after publication of his book, that these should not be used to prove the validity of an identification; he left it unclear whether he admits that they may be used to prove the invalidity of an identification. And #6 can be rejected based what the book has about rabbits, in footnote 237 on page 99 and the main body text spanning from page 100 to page 101. However, I will have to expand on this (bli neder) in a further post.


Emmer said...

"Rabbi Dr. Levinger"

Who is Rabbi Dr. Levinger?

Or did you mean Rabbi Dr. Zeliger?

joshwaxman said...


thanks. yes, now corrected.

Wabbi said...

What doesn't make sense to me is that in the opening of chapter 2, Doctor Betech says that "Throughout history, the traditional translations of shafan and arnebet have been "rabbit" and "hare" respectively. Then he list 8 footnotes, which the reader would seemingly think that they agree with this statement. Surprisingly, this is where he quotes Dr. Zeliger!

So technically Dr. Betech is correct, because Dr. Zeliger probably says that the traditional translation has been hare and rabbit. But we are not told Dr. Zeliger's conclusion, that the shafan is of the camel family!

Wabbi said...

Endquotes should be placed after the word respectively, above.

Wabbi said...

With regard to rabbits hiding in rocks, Dr. Betech mentioned one type of rabbit that does this, but with regard to rabbits living in ancient Israel, Dr. Betech found one type that lived in Africa, hence the Israelites may have known it from their sojourn in Egypt. But is it the African rabbit the type that hides among the rocks?

Wabbi said...

Another question I'd like Dr. Betech to answer:

Did Chazal and the Rishonim know about cecotrophy, and if yes, what happened to that Mesora until the 19th century when this phenomenon was (re)discovered?

Wabbi said...

Also, on page 41 in listing the support for the idea that the shafan and arnevet are the rabbit and the hare, Dr. Betech quotes from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch. Yet again, this is not the best choice, as Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch notes in his commentary that this is a very problematic translation, since the Torah says that the shafan and arnevet chew the cud "which hardly seems to be the case" (with regard to the rabbit and hare).

Wabbi said...

Rabbi Josh, perhaps you can help with this one.

According to Rav Tendler, how did King David know of llamas and vicunas which only lived in the Americas?

What rationale would there be to split the llama, vicuna, (alpace and guanaco) into different Minim?

Wabbi said...

alpace = alpaca

joshwaxman said...

I don't really want to speak for Rabbi Tendler, because I personally think the whole idea of it being llama and vicuna is ridiculous.

Though I don't know what he would say, one could imagine that he would say that it was via ruach hakodesh.

As to the last question, I will answer as best I can, though I cannot be sure he would agree: Camelus, Lama and Vicugna make up three different genuses, which comprise the entirely of the Camelidae family. We are speaking of genus, not species. (The alpaca species is part of the vicuna genus; the guanoco is part of the Lama genus.)

We distinguish between these three in the same way that scientists have classified these into three genuses.

Wabbi said...

Are the bactrian and dromedary camels different genuses?

joshwaxman said...


Bactrian and Dromedary (meaning Arabian) camels are different species within the same genus, Camelus. The scientific name is genus + species, and they are respectively Camelus bactrianus and Camelus dromedarius.

For those who want to make the Bactrian and Arabian camel the first two, and the llama the third, they are motivated by a Malbim-like explanation of tenses, plus the obvious physical differences between the three camelids: one hump, two humps, zero humps. They would presumably group together all zero-humped camelids.

Nachum said...

Just a few points about that parsha sheet:

-It cites "Soncino and Hertz and The Jewish Publications [sic] Society of America" as translating shafan as "rock badger." It doesn't seem to realize that Soncino and Hertz both *use* the (old) JPS translation, so of *course* they're identical. (The New JPS uses "daman," which is another word for hyrax.)

-It then mentions badgers, seeming not to realize that "rock-badgers" are not related to badgers at all- they're hyraxes.

-It defines hyrax as "a kind of rabbit" when it is completely unrelated.

-It cites Artscroll and Hirsch:

-Artscroll is proudly unscientific.

-Hirsch is in German. The English translation is not his, so you can't exactly cite him.

-Artscroll- citing the example of Hirsch- does not translate animal names. Their list of birds is entirely in Hebrew, for example. (I'm not sure what they do about these four.) I don't know what Hirsch does, exactly, but if their cite is true, then neither is particularly concerned about pinning down exactly what it is.

-Of course, it doesn't discuss the possibility that the Torah may not be speaking scientifically, but that's kind of the whole point.

Nachum said...

Oh, one more thing:


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