Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mor dror as musk

Mor dror?
Summary: A discussion of deer musk, according to medieval scientific conceptions, in medieval parshanim.

Post: The Torah, in parashat Ki Tisa, delineates the ingredients of the ketores. One of these ingredients is mor deror, commonly translated as "pure myrrh". But different meforshim translate it in different ways. Ibn Ezra, in particular, cites a tradition from Rav Saadia Gaon that this is muska, which is musk. Relying on contemporary zoological descriptions, he makes some incorrect assumptions about its genesis and initial form, and grapples with this. Ramban solves some of these problems, yet proves that musk could not be mor deror, based on descriptions provided by Chazal. I will analyze this.

The pasuk, at the start of Ki Sisa, reads:

23. "And you, take for yourself spices of the finest sort: of pure myrrh five hundred [shekel weights]; of fragrant cinnamon half of it two hundred and fifty [shekel weights]; of fragrant cane two hundred and fifty [shekel weights],כג. וְאַתָּה קַח לְךָ בְּשָׂמִים רֹאשׁ מָר דְּרוֹר חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת וְקִנְּמָן בֶּשֶׂם מַחֲצִיתוֹ חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם וּקְנֵה בֹשֶׂם חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם:

Rashi does not define it. But Rav Saadia Gaon translates, in his Tafsir, as follows:

Al-misk al-khalis. Now, khalis means pure (parallel to Onkelos' dachya) and al-misk means musk. Thus, "pure musk".

Ibn Ezra cites this:
ומלת מר 


והנה איננו מעצים, אף על פי שיש לו ריח טוב, אולי בעבור זה הפרידו הכתוב מהבשמים כי כתוב: אריתי מורי עם בשמי.
והנה הוא מלוקט. ואומרים המביאים אותו, כי הוא נעשה בגרון הצבי. והנה כתוב: וידי נטפו מר, אולי כן הוא בהיותו לח. 
"And the word mor is difficult; and the Gaon translates it as musk. And behold, this is not from wood {J: unlike the others}, even though it has a good scent. Perhaps because of this the Scriptures separated it from the spices. For it is stated {Shir Hashirim 5:1}:

א  בָּאתִי לְגַנִּי, אֲחֹתִי כַלָּה--אָרִיתִי מוֹרִי עִם-בְּשָׂמִי, אָכַלְתִּי יַעְרִי עִם-דִּבְשִׁי שָׁתִיתִי יֵינִי עִם-חֲלָבִי; אִכְלוּ רֵעִים, שְׁתוּ וְשִׁכְרוּ דּוֹדִים.  {ס}1 I am come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk. Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved. {S}

and behold, it is gathered. And those who bring it say that it is made in the throat of the deer. And behold, it is  written {Shir HaShirim 5:5}:
ה  קַמְתִּי אֲנִי, לִפְתֹּחַ לְדוֹדִי; וְיָדַי נָטְפוּ-מוֹר, וְאֶצְבְּעֹתַי מוֹר עֹבֵר, עַל, כַּפּוֹת הַמַּנְעוּל.5 I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with flowing myrrh, upon the handles of the bar.

And perhaps this is so when it is wet."

Ibn Ezra is grappling with evidence about Biblical mor from the pesukim, and making it work with the physical musk that he sees before him, together with the scientific reality as described by those who bring the musk.

Thus, he makes the assumption that mor is the same substance throughout Tanach, and that the two pesukim in Shir HaShirim indicate that it is gathered {"I have gathered..."} and that it is flowing {"my hands dripped..."}. Those who bring musk presumably don't say anything about gathering. But they do say that they get it from the throat of the tzvi, some sort of deer in this case.

Unfortunately, it seems that those who brought the musk did not know, or chose not to tell, the actual source of musk. (I recall reading this in a book about medieval science). It indeed comes from the musk deer, but not from the throat. There is a special musk gland in adult male musk deer, in a sac between the genitals and the umbilicus.

(Chavel, in his translation of Ramban, page 525, fixes this up. When he translates Ramban's citation of Ibn Ezra, he renders כי הוא נעשה בגרון הצבי as "that it is a substance gathered in a glandular sac under the skin of the neck of the deer". This glandular sac is not located on the neck, and nobody mentioned that it was a glandular sac. And indeed, Ibn Ezra didn't say that it was gathered in the sac, for that would possibly undermine his question that it is not something gathered -- although he means gathered by human hands.)

These are indeed secretions, and as such could be לח. Or the perfumer could make it into a לח substance, as part of the dilution process, as we shall see.

To cite Wikipedia:
 To obtain the musk, the deer is killed and its gland, also called "musk pod", is removed. Upon drying, the reddish-brown paste inside the musk pod turns into a black granular material called "musk grain", which is then tinctured with alcohol. The aroma of the tincture gives a pleasant odor only after it is considerably diluted. No other natural substance has such a complex aroma associated with so many contradictory descriptions; however, it is usually described abstractly as animalic, earthy and woody[3] or something akin to the odor of baby's skin.[4]

Thus, when it came to people, it is this black granular material called musk grain. Such a musk pod and musk grain is pictured to the right.

As I noted above, this is then diluted, and this dilution could make it drip. I wonder, though, whether it is really something one could gather. Unless the מור of Shir Hashirim is a different substance?

With a little bit of research, it indeed comes out that this musk is something one could gather, and which people do gather. Not the musk gland itself, but the secreted substance. To cite A history of the earth and animated nature, by Oliver Goldsmith, we discover that in most cases, people actually collected the secretions, for then it is a renewable resource, rather than killing the animal and extracting the musk gland. Thus:

If so, both verses in Shir Hashirim may be satisfied.

Ramban considers this explanation of Ibn Ezra, raises a few objections to it, answers those objections, but finally rejects the identification of mor with musk based on evidence that Chazal did not consider mor to be musk.

Ramban writes:
(כג): מר דרור חמש מאות - 
הסכימו המפרשים. והרב רבי משה (הרמב"ם בהל' כלי המקדש פ"א ה"ב): מכללם, כי המור הוא הנקרא מוסק.

ור"א השיב: 

כי איננו בשם אע"פ שריחו טוב. 
ואולי בעבור זה הפרידו הכתוב מן הבשמים. והוא הקשה כי כתיב (שה"ש ה א): אריתי מורי, שהוא דבר מלוקט, ואומרים המביאים אותו כי הוא נעשה בגרון הצבי. ועוד מן הכתוב (שם ה ה): וידי נטפו מר.
ואולי כן הוא בהיותו לח, ויתכן שיאמר "אריתי מורי" בעבור כי הוא דם נצרר בבטן החיה הדומה לצבי הידועה בארץ הודו, ובלכתה בין השיחים בימי החום הגדול מגרדת בנפח ההוא, והדם יוצא צרור ולוקטים אותו מן האחו. ואמר וידי נטפו מר, כי הכתוב ידמה ריחו כאילו ידיו תיטופנה מריח ההוא נטפי מים:

ואחרים (הראב"ד בהל' כלי המקדש פ"א ה"ג): אמרו איך יכנס בקטרת ובשמן הקדש דם חיה טמאה. גם זו אינה קושיא, כי הלחות ההוא הנאסף בה מרוב הדם ויזוב ממנה בחייה אין בו לא טומאה ולא מאוס.

ופירשו (הראב"ע בפירוש הקצר והרד"ק בספר השרשים ש' דרר): 

דרור מלשון וקראתם דרור (ויקרא כה י), שיהיה חפשי מן הזיוף והתערובת. 

ואולי נאמר שהצריך הכתוב להיותו חפשי, לומר שיוקח מן הצבי ההוא בהיותו חפשי מתהלך בין ערוגות הבשמים ומתענג כרצונו, כי כאשר ילכד ויעמוד ברשות אדם לא יעשה מור כי אם מעט ואיננו מבושם. וזה דבר ברור:

"The mefarshim are in consensus, and Rabbi Moshe (=Rambam in Hilchot Klei Hamikdash, perek 1 halacha 2) among them, that mor is that thing called musk. And Rabbi Avraham {Ibn Ezra} rejoined that it is not a spice even though its odor is good, and perhaps because of this the Scriptures separated it from the spices. And he asked that it is stated {in Shir Hashirim 5:1} 'I have gathered my mor", such that it is a gathered substance, while those who bring it state that it is made in the throat of the deer! And further, from the verse {Shir HaShirim 5:5} "and my hand dripped with mor", and perhaps it is so when it is wet.

And it is possible that it states "I gave gathered my mor" because it is blood gathered in the belly of the wild animal similar to the deer known in the land of India, and when it goes between the bushes in the days of the great heat,  it scratches against this mass {Chavel renders this as 'the sac' but he has no basis for this}, and the blood comes out as this thickened mass and they gather it from the meadow. And it states "and my hands dripped with mor", for the verse compares its scent as if one's hands dripped because of that scent, with globules of water {Iyov 31:27}.

And others {=the Raavad, in Hilchot Klei HaMikdash, perek 1 halacha 3} say: how could the blood of a non-kosher wild species enter into the incense and the holy oil? This is also no question, for this wetness which is gathered in it from the abundance of blood, such that it flows from it in its lifetime has neither ritual impurity nor disgusting aspect.

And they explain {the Ibn Ezra in his short commentary and the Radak in Sefer HaShorashim, shoresh DRR} that deror is from the language {Vayikra 25:10} "and you shall proclaim deror", which is that it is free from forgery and admixture. And perhaps it may be said that the Scripture requires that it be "free" to say that it should be taken from the deer when it is free, traveling between the beds of spices and enjoying itself in accordance with its will, for when it is captured and stands in the domain of a person, it only makes a little mor and it does not  have {such an} odor. And this is something clear."

It seems to me that this is all speculation, based on pesukim and reports. I am basing myself on reports as well, but think that we have access to better information nowadays. And above, we have answered these questions.

It is not a mass of congealed blood in the throat of the musk deer, but a glandular liquid secretion. That the Rishonim had it as a solid is likely due to it being the gland itself removed from the musk deer and treated in various ways. And people indeed gathered the secretion, and hands could drip with it. One need not reinterpret the pasuk in this poetic, non-literal manner. Ramban is apparently correct about the scraping against things, though what would leave would not be this solid thickened mass of blood.

We can also speculate the mor over and mor deror means free-flowing, as opposed to the gland itself extracted from the dead animal. We then don't need to reinterpret deror as unadulterated or forged.

In terms of the Raavad's objection, it is now not blood! And it is also not necessarily from a non-kosher wild animal. We shall turn to consider the kashrus of the musk deer in a moment.

The Baal HaTurim, in his lengthy commentary, summarizes the Ramban as supporting this identification of mor as musk. See the image to the right. This is actually somewhat misleading, since if we continue reading the Ramban, we see that he then attacks this identification as being at odds with Chazal, who understand musk as a different entity. I likely won't cover this portion of the Ramban in this post, because it is already too long.

Now, what of the Raavad's point, that the musk is a chayah temei'ah? The Ramban, in rejecting it, simply says that this blood flowing from it in its lifetime has no ritual impurity nor disgusting aspect. Is the musk deer, though, kosher?

To cite Wikipedia:
Musk deer may be a surviving representative of the Palaeomerycidae, a family of ruminants that is probably ancestral to deer. They first appeared in the early Oligocene epoch and disappeared in the Pliocene. Most species lacked antlers, though some were found in later species. The musk deer are however still placed in a separate family.
Thus, they are ruminants, meaning they chew their cud. From what limited research I could do, it seems that they also have split hooves:

Though if someone has access to better pictures or other evidence, I'd appreciate it.

If so, they should be kosher. On the other hand, they have tusks, which appear to be fangs. (See image to the right.) Fangs would seem to be an impediment to a species being kosher. This, based on the Gemara in Chullin 59a:
תנו רבנן אלו הן סימני בהמה (ויקרא יא, ג) כל בהמה מפרסת פרסה וגו' כל בהמה שמעלת גרה בידוע שאין לה שינים למעלה וטהורה וכללא הוא והרי גמל דמעלה גרה הוא ואין לו שינים למעלה וטמא גמל ניבי אית ליה והרי בן גמל דניבי נמי לית ליה ותו הרי שפן וארנבת דמעלת גרה הן ויש להן שינים למעלה וטמאין ועוד שינים מי כתיבי באורייתא אלא הכי קאמר כל בהמה שאין לה שינים למעלה בידוע שהיא מעלת גרה ומפרסת פרסה וטהורה וליבדוק בפרסותיה כגון שהיו פרסותיה חתוכות וכדרב חסדא דאמר רב חסדא היה מהלך במדבר ומצא בהמה שפרסותיה חתוכות בודק בפיה אם אין לה שינים למעלה בידוע שהיא טהורה אם לאו בידוע שהיא טמאה ובלבד שיכיר גמל גמל ניבי אית ליה אלא ובלבד שיכיר בן גמל לאו אמרת איכא בן גמל איכא נמי מינא אחרינא דדמי לבן גמל לא ס"ד דתני דבי ר' ישמעאל (ויקרא יא, ד) ואת הגמל כי מעלה גרה הוא שליט בעולמו יודע שאין לך דבר מעלה גרה וטמא אלא גמל לפיכך פרט בו הכתוב הוא

Or, in English:
(e) (Gemara - Beraisa): These are the Simanim of Tahor animals: "The hooves are split..." - any animal that chews the cud surely has no upper teeth, and is Tahor.
(f) Objection: This is not always true - a camel chews the cud and has no upper teeth, but it is Tamei!
(g) Answer #1: A camel has two upper teeth (or tooth-like protrusions.) (Tosfos - this answer is incomplete, it does not answer for rabbits (the Gemara later asks about rabbits). Rashba - we currently understand the Beraisa to say 'Any animal that chews the cud *and* has no upper teeth is Tahor', this answer is complete.)
1. Objection #1: But a young camel (chews the cud and) does not have any upper teeth (and is Tamei)!
2. Objection #2: But rabbits and Shafanim chew the cud, have upper teeth and are Teme'im! (Some identify Shafan with a hare, rock-badger, or a kind of woodchuck.)
3. Objection #3: The Torah does not say that Taharah depends on upper teeth!
(h) Answer #2 (to all questions): The Beraisa means, if an animal has no upper teeth, it surely chews the cud and has split hooves and is Tahor.
(i) Question: Why must we look for teeth to know about the hooves - one can see whether or not the hooves are split!
(j) Answer: This rule is needed when the hooves are cut off; it suffices to check the mouth.
1. (Rav Chisda): If one finds an animal in the wilderness whose hooves are cut off, he checks the mouth; if there are upper teeth, it is Tamei; if not, it is Tahor;
i. He may rely on this only if he knows that the animal is not a camel.
ii. Question: Camels have two upper teeth, the rule works for camels!
iii. Correction: Rather, he must know that it is not a young camel.
iv. Question: Just like young camels are exceptions to the rule, perhaps there are more exceptions!
v. Answer (Beraisa - Tana d'Vei R. Yishmael): "The camel, for it chews the cud" - the Torah lists the only Tamei animals that chew the cud, all others that chew the cud are Tehorim.
vi. (Chazal knew that any animal without upper teeth chews the cud. Seemingly, we should be concerned for exceptions to this rule, for the Torah did not teach it! Perhaps it is impossible to chew food sufficiently without upper teeth, unless it has been partially digested in a stomach.)
Perhaps these tusks would be considered upper teeth, just like the fangs of the camel. Yet this was a general rule of Rav Chisda, and perhaps he was unaware of the particulars of the musk deer.

I'll close with the following quote, about a machlokes about the kashrus status of musk, in a debate between the Rosh and Rabbenu Yonah:
The question of when an ingredient is nishtaneh (changed) and becomes a new ingredient was the basis of a dispute between the Rosh and Rabbenu Yonah regarding musk, an aromatic substance that originates from the blood, or other secretion, of the male Musk Deer, the Rosh contends that an ingredient that changes its identity remains assur, and the Rabbenu Yonah is lenient. The Pri Megadim in Orach Chaim 216 concludes that if the aissur is a d’rabbanan, then it is appropriate to be lenient; if the aissur is prohibited min ha’Torah, then it is appropriate to be machmir. The degree to which something must be changed to qualify for nishtaneh was not precisely defined in earlier generations, but somePoskim have noted that both a chemical change and a change in the taste is required (see Teshuvos Shevat HaLevi, 5, 56).
We should really trace all these sources, inside. It would seem that this is based on a similar assumption to that of Ramban above, that musk is really blood (which would be non-kosher) which was changed in the animal. Yet, it turns out that this is not what musk is, and so it should not be non-kosher, even according to the Rosh (assuming that musk deer are kosher). Perhaps I'll explore these sources in the future.


Natan Slifkin said...

Musk deer are most definitely kosher. The upper teeth rule is a rule-of-thumb to help identify split-hooved ruminants. It's a siman, not a sibah. As a rule-of-thumb, it's perfect for the olam of Chazal, and pretty good elsewhere.

joshwaxman said...

thanks. the rule of thumb bit is what i figured. i suppose the Raavad just didn't see the musk deer and made this assumption. and perhaps he relied on the Rambam, who does not even say that it is like a tzvi, just that it is a chaya which lives in India.


yaak said...

Rav Zevihi, in his book on the Ketoret, quotes the Ariza"l's matching each spice of the Ketoret to the 10 Sefirot (with the Levona corresponding to the אור מקיף). The spice "Mor" corresponds to the Sefira of Hessed. As an explanation for this, he quotes someone (I forgot who) who says that based on those Rishonim who say Mor comes from animal blood, we can say similar to a nursing woman's דם נעכר ונעשה חלב - that blood, which represents דין, now turns into a fragrance and נתמתקו הדינים. This is how "Mor" corresponds to "Hessed".

I know that throwing in some Kabbala on this blog with Rabbi Slifkin watching will always be entertaining. :-)

Anonymous said...

The biggest issue with Musk deer is that they have no horns. Chayos, wild animals generally require horns to be Kosher. Also, the genetic makeup of Musk is different than regular deer in a number of ways. The Raavad seems to have actually seen the Musk, unlike most Rishonim, and he felt it was nonkosher probably b/c the lack of horns and the fangs (fangs are also unusual to most deer). You cannot say Rav Chisda did not know about Musk because Musk deer have been around since the time of Moshe Rabbeinu (according to the Rambam and many others) and b/c the Gemara itself has a specific name for Musk. So when he made his rule he certainly had musk in mind. Also, the Rambam specifically says in his Peirush HaMishna to Krisus (like R' Saadia and the Radak say) that the Musk must be pure, meaning unadulterated, not mixed with anything else. this is based on the passuk "Mor D'ror". So I don't know why you were creating your own peshat. There's an article on all this in Koveitz Etz Chaim (#11 and the notes in the back)

joshwaxman said...

thanks. please choose a pseudonym, since it makes it easier for me and other commenters to track who is saying what.

indeed, besides the fangs (really, tusks) i mentioned, they have no horns, and the gemara in Chullin 59b gives it in a brayta as a siman for a kosher chaya. but again, this would appear to be a siman, rather than a siba, as rabbi slifkin above writes.

i would be surprised if the Raavad, living in medieval France, would have seen the actual musk deer whose habitat is only in India. There is no indication that he traveled there. As I'll lay out in my next post, my suspicion is that he was basing himself upon the explicit words of the Rambam: הַמּוֹר--הוּא הַדָּם הַצָּרוּר בַּחַיָּה שֶׁבְּהֹדוּ. Unlike Ibn Ezra, Rambam makes no mention that it is, or is akin to, a kosher chaya, so he made the contrary leap; and Rambam makes mention that it is (initially) dam, so he argues against that aspect as well.

"You cannot say Rav Chisda did not know about Musk because Musk deer have been around since the time of Moshe Rabbeinu (according to the Rambam and many others) and b/c the Gemara itself has a specific name for Musk."
But that they know of the name musk, as that the gemara itself declares that musk comes from a chaya does not mean that they traveled to India and observed this deer itself. Rather, it was likely imported by others, and they relied on the reports of others for any sort of zoological information. Or Rav Chisda was only giving a siman effective for where people would be likely traveling. Or, if you examine the gemara firsthand, he only speaks of upper teeth, not of camel fangs, which are entirely different. It appears to be the setama degemara which brings these in. And tusks, which could not really be used for chewing, might not even be considered upper teeth in this regard.

So when he made his rule he certainly had musk in mind.
I'd be caution about using the word "certainly".

Also, the Rambam specifically says in his Peirush HaMishna to Krisus (like R' Saadia and the Radak say) that the Musk must be pure, meaning unadulterated, not mixed with anything else. this is based on the passuk "Mor D'ror".
which Mishna, please. also, you were not clear whether Rambam explicitly says that this is based on the pasuk, or whether you are surmising this on your own.

what are they basing themselves on? onkelos, and the gemara's quote of that Onkelos in the context of a Penteteuchal source for Mordecha? or something stronger? or is it speculation in the absence of better evidence?

So I don't know why you were creating your own peshat.
you could ask the same on Ramban, another Rishon who created his own peshat in this, and from whom i took my cue.

basically, dror means free. how does free get you to pure, especially as the Torah already has words like "zach" it uses in this context for pure. thus ramban says free range deer and i note mor over in shir hashirim where it means flowing, and where such a distinction accords with what we now know of the realia. im kabbalah hi nekabel v'im ledin yesh teshuvah.

There's an article on all this in Koveitz Etz Chaim (#11 and the notes in the back)
thanks. i'll try to find it to read up upon.

kol tuv,

joshwaxman said...

see also the discussion here:


Susan Burns said...

I think mor is ambergris. It was thought to come from the throat of a "great fish", used as a fixative in perfume and nose of wine. It was gathered on the beaches of the Red Sea in antiquity. Although it is not produced by the whale shark, this great fish inhabits the Afar rift where ambergris is gathered. It was not known that sperm whales were the source until the 1800's.


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