Moses The Zoologist?
Adapted from Parasha U’Likcha by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
Written in English by Braha Bender
The Torah distinguishes between the animals that a Jew may slaughter and eat and the animals that a Jew is forbidden to eat:
“Everything among the animals that has a split hoof, which is completely separated into double hooves, and that brings up its cud – that one you may eat. But this is what you shall not eat from among those that bring up their cud or that have split hooves: the camel, for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split…and the hyrax, for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split…and the hare, for it brings up its cud but its hoof is not split…and the pig, for its hoof is split and its hoof is completely separated, but it does not chew its cud – it is unclean to you” (Leviticus 11:3-9).
The verses make clear that any animal possessing these two characteristic – split hooves and the bringing up of the cud – is permitted for the Jew to eat. They also make clear that any animal with neither of these characteristics is forbidden. What the Torah specifies in detail are the four animals that might be confused for either as they possess one, but not both, of the characteristics that would permit them for Jewish consumption.
The Torah states with certainty that there are only four animals on the face of this planet that possess one, but not both, of the characteristics that identify a kosher animal. The camel, the hyrax, the hare, and the pig are the only animals the Torah lists with no mention of the potential for new zoological discoveries. How could the author of the Torah have been so certain?
Since the early summer of 1313 BCE when the Torah was given to the Jews at Mount Sinai, new continents have been discovered containing a multitude of previously unimagined flora and fauna. Would you be surprised to hear that since the giving of the Torah no animals have been found bearing one, but not both, of the kosher characteristics except the camel, the hyrax, the hare, and the pig? Not a single one on the planet has been found.
Was Moshe (Moses) an international zoologist? How could he have known that the words he transcribed in the Torah would not be proven wrong? The Talmud answers succinctly: “From here is the answer for a person who claims, ‘There is no Torah from heaven’” (Talmud Chulin 60).
The laws pertaining to kosher fish don’t disappoint either. Only fish bearing fins and scales are permitted for the Jew to eat. The phrasing of this commandment in the Torah led our sages to conclude that any fish with scales will always have fins as well. Once again, since the giving of the Torah several millennia ago, many new bodies of water have been discovered. Countless new rivers, lakes, and seas have been found containing types of fish and sea creatures never seen before. However, has a fish been found bearing scales but no fins? Not in all the world.
The fact is that Moshe had access to extraordinarily clear, detailed information about the animal kingdom and certain characteristics therein.
The fact is that Moshe’s lifespan took place within a relatively small range of physical space including Egypt and the Sinai desert. He had certainly never visited continents that were not even known to humanity at that time. He had no sophisticated research tools at his disposal. Moshe had no means of diving leagues beneath the many oceans and seas in order to check the fins of all the fish in all the bodies of water in the world.
The fact is that over three thousand years ago Moshe knew what we have only recently had the technical means to confirm. None of our research or empirical proof, our thousands of years of experience and observation, our access to the entire globe and underworld of the oceans was at all available to him, yet he knew what we know nevertheless.
This knowledge was comprehensive, detailed, and entirely unavailable by natural means to mankind at that time. There is only one rational explanation for the source of Moshe’s information: G-d told him. The fact is that Moshe, and all the rest of our people, stood at Mount Sinai and received a Torah from heaven.