Monday, March 17, 2014

Shadal, that rabbits ruminate and hide in rocks

On Vayikra 11:5, regarding the shafan and arneves,

ShaDaL writes:
"The shafan: It is the coniglio, and it dwells in rocks (Tehillim 104:18, M
ishlei 30:27). And so too in Latin, cuniculus, which means shafan, its meaning is as well "burrowing in the dirt". And perhaps also in Hebrew the word shafan comes from צפן, so named because it is hidden (נצפן) and concealed in the cracks of rocks. And know that Scheuzer in his book Physique sacree as well as Valmont de Bomaf in the book Dictionnaire d'Histoire naturelle say that the coniglio is a ruminant.
The arneves: It is the lepre, and it is a ruminant, and so wrote Linnaeus and others. Even though it does not have a doubled stomach like other ruminants."
This is mystifying, at first glance.
  1. He says it is the coniglio, which appears to be the contemporary Italian for rabbit.
  2. He gives the Latin etymology, which shows it burrows in dirt; this matches the rabbit.
  3. Yet he cites pesukim in Mishlei and Tehillim that it hides in rocks, which does not match the rabbit.
  4. And he conjectures a Hebrew etymology based on the pesukim, that it is concealed in rocks, which does not match the rabbit.
  5. He ends by citing naturalists that the coniglio is a ruminant. These naturalists were speaking of the rabbit.
This is not mystifying at all, of course. Shadal was no zoologist. He relied on books, and scientific experts of his day. The discrepancy between hiding in rocks and burrowing in the dirt was not one that would be obvious to a non-expert. Especially if Shadal was unaware of any other candidate, such as the hyrax, which unlike the rabbit was native to Eretz Yisrael and does hide in rocks, next to the ibexes in Ein Gedi.

This is a good example, I think, of how you cannot simply rely on descriptions of habits given by non-expert rabbinic persons.

We should not take this as evidence that rabbits ruminated in his day, or hid in rocks in his day (and nishtaneh hateva).

One of the two naturalists he mentions, by the way, is Valmont de Bomare. I posted what I think is the relevant quote last year:
On prétend qu`ils ont , ainsi que le lievre, la propriété de ruminer. 
Or, in English:
It is claimed that they [rabbits] have, and the hare, the property ruminating.
See my brief discussion there.

Jean Jacques Scheuchzer
The other author is Jean Jacques Scheuchzer, a Swiss scientist. The work, Physique Sacree, appears to be a running scientific commentary on the Bible (that is, Tanach plus the Christian books). I could not find the volume for Vayikra online, and thus was unable to find the precise quote.

Anyone reading this post is welcome to try to track this down. Maybe I could make this into another post.


AryehS said...

definitely looks like a rabbit to me in Physique Sacree...

joshwaxman said...

thanks for the reference!
i tried and tried last year, when I wrote this up, and for some reason wasn't able to locate this.

joshwaxman said...

though note that the image on the page you linked to is not for shafan but for arneves, that is "Arnebeth, Lepus"

joshwaxman said...

indeed, scroll up a bit to the cuniculus / mus alpinus section, and it looks like rabbit to the left and some other badger-like creature to the right.


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