The Camel, The Hare, And The Hyrax II

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I got my copy of R. Nosson Slifkin’s The Camel, The Hare, And The Hyrax. As is the author’s usual style, the book is beautifully done, with many pictures and a colorful cover. Unlike his other books, this one does not have enormous margins. This book is legitimately 200+ pages (albeit with a large font, but I attribute that to concern for readability). The book has three letters of approbation – one in Hebrew from R. Yisroel Belsky of Torah Vodaas and the OU (although his letterhead does not mention any position); one from R. Chaim Malinowitz, the general editor of the Artscroll Gemara series; and one from R. Mordechai Kornfeld, rosh kollel of Kollel Iyun Hadaf. The last two are in English but the first, which I find the most interesting, is in Hebrew. Below is my woefully inadequate translation of R. Yisroel Belsky’s haskamah (keep in mind that it was written in flowery rabbinic Hebrew):

Rabbi Nosson Slifkim showed me his great work on the identification of the gamal, arneves and shafan. I read it from beginning to end with an enthusiastic and joyful heart as I saw how much he deepened, expanded and enwisened to analyze the section of the Torah that is concealed from all eyes and hidden, and how he presented his explanations in a beautiful and clear way for the the eyes of the students who are thirsty for the word of God. The upright will see, rejoice and contemplate his pleasant words. This work has helped fulfill two important things:

The first is regarding what the Sages said (Hullin 42a): “It is taught in the school of Rabbi Yishmael: ‘This is the animal which you shall eat’ – This teaches that God took each species, showed it to Moshe and said to him, ‘This eat and this do not eat.'” It is clear that recognizing the species is an integral part of knowledge of the holy Torah. Until each species is identified we are missing from this knowledge, even if it has almost no practical ramifications. Regardless, knowledge of the Torah is inherently a mitzvah.

The second is that if what the author suggests is verified, that the issue of “ma’aleh gerah” is different from the simple understanding as found among the kosher species i.e. raising the food from its place of digestion – the stomach – back to the mouth, according to his view cecotrophy and merycism may also be considered “ma’aleh gerah“, the Rambam counted as a mitzvah among the positive commandments in the Torah (no. 149) to check the signs of animals. If so, one who only has a superficial knowledge in the explanation of this sign cannot properly fulfill this mitzvah. One can discuss this at length but this is not the place.

In addition to all the above, every additional explanation and understanding in the verses of the Torah is a great fulfillment in its learning. About the author and the readers of his work it is truly written, “I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” [Tehillim 119:15-16]

I will say a true thing – until I examined this book I had leaned towards the precious explanation that my friend R. Meir Lubin, one of the elderly students of the great genius R. Shlomo Heiman, innovated and passed on to me. According to his approach it is possible to understand “ma’aleh gerah” of the arneves and shafan simply. He also explained with this in an amazing way why the Torah distinguishes in its language – that regarding the arneves it speaks in the past tense “u-farsah lo hifrisah, regarding the gamal it speaks in the present tense “u-farsah einenu mafris” and regarding the shafan it changes to the future tense “u-farsah lo yafris“. However, the author overcame this with his proofs and demonstrations. Even though the matter is still undetermined, my view leans towards this approach. Despite that there is no conclusive proof, this is a very important view. However, he left a number of issues from the rishonim, the princes of Torah, as difficulties and one can still engage his words. Never the less, he correctly repelled the complaints of the instigators and showed with his clear mind that the Torah spoke uprightly. He invalidated like dust all of the words of the complainers and also explained in his writings a number of sayings of the Sages with good judgment and knowledge. Therefore, I say praiseworthy is the portion of R. Nosson Slifkin. May his wealth in the Torah be increased and may it please [God] that his words reach the world.

Signing on Thursday, the 8th of Shevat, 5764 in Brooklyn,

Yisroel HaLevi Belsky

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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