Terefot of the Liver

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Parshat VaYeshevYoreh De’ah 41, Terefot of the Liver

Yoreh De’ah 41 takes up terefot of the liver, ways an animal’s liver can be damaged such that the animal cannot be rendered kosher even with proper shechitah. AH starts with the reminder that holes in the liver have no impact on terefah status (for other parts of the body, such as the lungs, holes are signs of tarfut); the liver can be full of holes, from end to end, and the animal will still be kosher.

How Much Liver Must Be Left, and Where

But it must still be there; should we discover the liver was removed during the animal’s life, it is a terefah. On the other hand, a Mishnah on Chullin 54a says even a kezayit, an olive’s worth of liver, suffices to sustain the animal’s kosher status, with the requirement of a Tosefta on Chullin 83, the kezayit be someplace where the liver could have rejuvenated.

Chullin 46a records a debate about where this place is, one opinion locating it near the gall bladder, the other at its place of chiyyut, where it gets its sustenance. Rishonim dispute the location of this last site, most holding it is where the liver attaches to the kidneys (Rashi, Rif, Rambam, Behag), but Rashi brought a second opinion, adopted by Mahari Weil and Rokeach, it’s where the liver attaches to the diaphragm.

The Gemara says the lasting uncertainty means we would need the animal to have two kezeitim of liver left before we would certify its kashrut, one in each of the named places. Since we have that further uncertainty about the definition of mekom chiyyut, its place of sustenance, we need three (in se’if seven, he says all those three need to be connected, not some unusual formation of liver).

Exercising Our Sfek Sfeka Muscles

In se’if nine, AH notes Kereti U-Pleti suggested that were we to have a doubt about whether the amount of liver connected to the kidneys or the diaphragm was the needed kezayit, we can still consider the animal kosher because of a sfek sfeka.

[Since it is a frequently used halachic idea, I thought it worth our while to remind ourselves how it works.] Usually, a questionable situation on a matter of Torah law requires us to rule stringently, to be as sure as possible we observe Hashem’s Torah. Here, the meat at that place might be the right kind and right amount, one safek, one unknown possible way for it to be allowed. In addition (and completely separately, an important qualification to be a sfek sfeka, a double doubt), it’s also possible this kezayit isn’t necessary, since rishonim were unsure of which place was the liver’s makom chiyyut.

With a sfek sfeka, we can ignore the doubt and declare the animal allowed.

Peri Megadim did not accept the idea fully, but added a key qualification AH ratified. The machloket about where that kezayit needs to be has a majority and minority view, with the majority holding the remnant must be connected to the kidneys. That he thinks is therefore the assumed place, and a doubt about it would just be a safek de-oraita, a doubt about Torah law. For the connection to the diaphragm, where only a minority of rishonim thought it necessary, he thinks we can act according to Kereti U-Pleti’s reasoning.

When we discuss an olive’s worth, AH points out, some sources think it is half an egg in size, some only a third, but we must be strict about that, because it is a doubt regarding Torah law.

Not Only Leftovers

In se’if twelve, AH is surprised that neither Tur nor Shulchan Aruch quoted Rambam’s view that these olives’ worth of connection had to be there regardless of how much other liver remained. So far, it had seemed that this is how much had to be left if all the rest of the liver was gone, leaving the possibility that if the liver was all there, these spots aren’t vital.

Rambam says not so, because these show the liver is still part of the functioning organism, and that is indispensable.

Adjustable Sizes or Not

These amounts are set, regardless of the animal’s size. For birds, Tur and Shulchan Aruch thought size did matter, which AH takes to mean smaller birds need less, but very large birds might need as much as an animal. However, he has not seen people rule that way, a fact that suggests to him even very large birds only need a leftover amount relevant to rejuvenating the liver for that type of bird.

Once we have the idea of a sliding scale, AH thinks we might have to apply such a scale to animals, too, that very large animals might need more than three olives’ worth, but he leaves it unsettled.

Liver or Gall Bladder

The sources all discuss the liver, convincing AH that is the issue, not the gall bladder (an important body part of its own). But if the liver is taken away, the presence of the ducts that led from the liver to the gall bladder will not help us, nor can those count towards our three olives’ worth.

On the other hand, in se’if ten, AH notes that a liver might be in an unusual place, might be mixed in with the membranes around the liver, but as long as it is all there, we also assume it is attached in the right places, and the animal will still be kosher.

Other Signs of the Liver’s Decrepitude

Any parts of the liver dried out enough that a fingernail scratch will tear or leave a lasting mark counts as no longer there, such that if the three crucial olives’ worth are dried in this way, the animal will also be a terefah, even if all the rest of the liver is fine (although what are the odds?).

Bach added hardening of the liver to our list, an idea Rema accepted, but that Shach thought might be ignored in cases of hefsed merubah, of great financial loss, an idea many other acharonim rejected. In se’if fifteen, AH says we cut open such hardened livers, because if the inside is ok, the animal is fine. With birds, wounds on the liver obligate us to check the intestines, since they often go together, and the intestines have other standards of being a terefah.

This idea fuels se’if sixteen as well, the presence of some puncturing item (sharp food or stone) in the liver tells us it likely went through the digestive tract and left holes there, where holes do make the animal a terefah.

The liver necrotizing, blood coming out of it, seemed to Rema a sign of being a terefah-level deteriorationeven if the crucial kezeitim still work. Shach and Taz held the animal to be still kosher if those two olives’ worth haven’t yet been hit by the necrotization, a view accepted by Pri Chadash and Tevu’ot Shor. AH thinks any parts of the liver that have these problems count as removed, and we can apply the halachah from there.

Worms in the liver, se’if eighteen tells us, are treated the same way. They can have made holes everywhere, as long as the two needed kezeitim are there, even with holes, because those holes would fill back in in a live animal (as we said at the beginning of the chapter). However, Re’ah held that if all we have left are those crucial parts of the liver, they have to be whole, and Tevu’ot Shor accepted his view.

Ge’onim Defining Terefah Without Traditions

I’m skipping almost all of se’ifim 19-38, because they are discussions of various other ways we might spot a terefah in the liver, none of them determined by either Torah law or Talmudic discussion. For just a few examples, AH in se’if nineteen struggles with Behag’s claim that a thickened liver requires us to check the lungs.

Ran thought we do not take account of this worry, but Bach thought we do (although he is an acharon and Ran a rishon, he is saying we should worry about a view of a Gaon, so he is not disagreeing with Ran, he is opting to accept Behag). AH did not understand the connection between liver and lung, and suggested Behag meant something completely different, if the liver is of a color we would treat as terefah were the lungs to turn that color, we do so for the liver as well (although that’s not what Behag says, and he concedes that a healthy goose liver tends to be white, a problematic color in lungs, because it is so fatty).

In se’if twenty-seven, AH reports another tradition of the Ge’onim, which Levush thought we had to follow, if the membrane of the liver was punctured all the way through, the animal is a terefah, because without repair, the liver would rot. However, in contrast to other punctures, were something to have sealed this one, the animal would not be a terefah.

Extra Parts to a Liver

The last se’if of the chapter presents a debate among rishonim about an Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai, a rule passed down orally from Sinai, that any extra parts on an internal organ are as if the organ wasn’t there. Rashi and Rambam thought it meant the entire organ wasn’t there, where Ramban thought it excluded only the spot to which it was attached.

An extra liver attached other than to the kidneys, diaphragm, or gall bladder would be the distinguishing example of these two ideas. AH thinks we follow Rashi and Rambam, but to me it is more interesting as another example of a debate about an oral tradition with no real sources to determine the answer.

Which is true of much of terefot. Rambam already pointed out that not all the wounds the Gemara includes in terefot necessarily kill the animal, and we know of others that do that are not on the list. He insists the list is a tradition we must follow, as everyone agrees is true, but it offers another good example of gray areas of halachah, where what we decide to do results from a long list of decisions by important but post-Talmudic authorities.

Next time, laws of yichud, making sure not to be in a position where illicit sexual relations are a possibility.

About Gidon Rothstein

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