Clean and Unclean Animals By : Emil
G. Hirsch Henry Hyvernat Executive
Committee of the Editorial Board.
Distinction Between "Clean"
Theories of Distinction.
—In Rabbinical and Hellenistic Literature:
Reasons for Distinction
Distinction Between "Clean"
—Animals ceremonially pure and fit
for food, and such as are not.
The distinction between clean and
unclean animals appears first in
Gen. vii. 2-3, 8, where it is said
that Noah took into the ark seven
and seven, male and female, of all
kinds of clean beasts and fowls,
and two and two, male and female,
of all kinds of beasts and fowls
that are not clean. Again, Gen.
viii. 20 says that after the flood
Noah "took of every clean beast
and of every clean fowl, and offered
burnt offerings on the altar that
he had built to the Lord."
It seems that in the mind of this
writer the distinction between clean
and unclean animals was intended
for sacrifices only; for in the
following chapter he makes God say:
"Everything that moveth shall
be food for you" (Gen. ix.
3). In Leviticus (xi. 1-47) and
Deuteronomy (xiv. 1-20), however,
the distinction between "clean"
and "unclean" is made
the foundation of a food-law: "This
is the law . . . to make a difference
between the clean and the unclean,
and between the living thing that
may be eaten and the living thing
that may not be eaten" (Lev.
xi. 46-47). The permitted food is
called "clean," "pure"
tahor): the forbidden food is not
simply not clean, but is positively
unclean, polluted, impure (,
ame), "an abominanation"
shekez). The terminology "clean
and unclean" in the food-law
has to a certain extent a different
implication from that borne by the
same terms as used in the sacrificial
law (see Sacrifice).
The clean animals were:
All quadrupeds that chew the cud
and also divide the hoof (Lev. xi.
3; Deut. xiv. 6); for instance,
the ox, the sheep, the goat (i.e.,
the sacrificial animals), the hart
and the gazel, the roebuck, the
wild goat, the pygarg, the antelope,
and the chamois(Deut. xiv. 4-5).
Among other forbidden animals, the
camel, the rock-badger (see Coney),
the hare, and the swine were excluded
by name (Lev. xi. 4-7; Deut. xiv.
7-8), probably because used as food
or for sacrifice by the neighboring
Fish proper; i.e., "whatsoever
hath fins and scales . . . in the
seas and in the rivers" (Lev.
xi. 9; compare Deut. xiv. 9).
Birds. Here the Law proceeds by
way of elimination. From the rather
lengthy list of forbidden birds
(Lev. xi. 13-19; Deut. xiv. 11-18)
it may be concluded that all the
birds of prey and most of the water-fowl
were considered unclean. The bat
closes the list.
The winged creeping things "that
go upon all four" which "have
legs above their feet to leap withal,"
of which four kinds of locusts are
named (Lev. xi. 21-22). All the
other creeping things (see Animals)
are most emphatically and repeatedly
forbidden and held up as the greatest
abomination (Lev. xi. 20, 31-38,
42-43). A list of creeping things
to be avoided includes the weasel,
the mouse, four kinds of lizards,
and the chameleon (Lev. xi. 29-30).Restrictions
were also placed on the use of the
flesh of clean animals: it was forbidden
to eat it when the animal had been
torn in the field by a carnivorous
beast (Ex. xxii. 30), or when it
had died a natural death, or had
been carried off by disease (Deut.
xiv. 21). Although, however, the
use of such meats rendered people
unclean, strictly speaking, their
prohibition belongs to the law concerning
Theories of Distinction.
For the distinction between clean
and unclean animals various origins
have been suggested; though few
of them seem to have fully satisfied
any one but their own originators.
Omitting the most ancient ones (Origen,
"Contra Celsum," iv. 93;
ed. Migne, xi., col. 1171; Theodoret,
on Lev. ix. 1, ed. Migne, lxxx.,
col. 299, and others, analyzed in
Vigouroux, "Dict. de la Bible,"
i. 615 et seq.), only the most popular
ones in our own day need be mentioned.
According to Grotius, on Lev. xi.
3; Spencer, "De Leg. Hebr.
Rit." i. 7, 2; S. D. Michaelis,
"Mosaisches Recht," iv.,
§ 220, etc., the distinction between
clean and unclean animals is based
on hygiene: it is a sanitary law.
According to others, the law was
a national one, intended to separate
Israel from the neighboring nations,
Arabians, Canaanites, and Egyptians
(Ewald, "Antiq. of Israel,"
pp. 144 et seq.), and partly a sanitary
one (Rosenmüller, "Scholia
in Vetus Testamentum"—Leviticus).
According to Keil, "Handbuch
der Biblischen Archäologie,"
pp. 492 et seq., the law is a religious
one, intended to deter men from
the vices and sins of which certain
animals are the symbols, which view
is a mere variation of the allegorical
interpretation proposed by Philo
Of these explanations the first
two have been refuted by Sommer
in his "Biblische Abhandlungen,"
i. 187-193; Keil's opinion has been
opposed by Nowack, "Lehrbuch
der Biblischen Archäologie,"
i. 117, and others. The most popular
theory at the present day is perhaps
that offered by the late W. Robertson
Smith, in his article "Animal
Worship and Animal Tribes Among
the Ancient Arabs" ("Journal
of Philology," 1880), according
to which the unclean animals were
forbidden because they were totems
of the primitive clans of Israel.
This theory has been accepted by
Cheyne ("Isaiah," i. 99;
ii. 123-124, 303) and Stade ("Gesch.
Israels," i. 408), but by Dillmann
is either entirely and without discussion
rejected ("Genesis," p.
382), or restricted to the prehistoric
times of Israel, as being a survival
of the old totem-worship and totem-clan
organization, resembling in historic
times the case of the horse in England,
which anthropologists say is not
eaten because it was once sacred
to Odin, and thus tabooed (Joseph
Jacobs in his "Studies in Biblical
Archeol." p. 89, and similarly
Salomon Reinach, "Les Interdictions
Alimentaires et la Loi Mosaïque,"
in "Rev. Etudes Juives,"
xli. 144). See Blood; Food; and
Bibliography:Zapletal, Der Totemismus
und die Religion Israels, in Jew.
Quart. Rev.April. 1902;
idem, Der Totemismus, 1900;
Levy, Du Totémisme chez les Hebreux,
in Rev. Et. Juives, lxxxix. 21-24;
Cheyne, The Prophecies of Isaiah,
1880-81.E. G. H.H. H.
—In Rabbinical and Hellenistic Literature:
The distinctions between clean and
unclean animals, as described in
the Scriptures, are more fully drawn
in the Halakah. To chew the cud
and to have split hoofs (Lev. xi.
3) are the marks of the clean tame
and the Talmudic traditions add
that an animal without upper teeth
always chews the cud and has split
hoofs (see Aristotle, "Natural
History," ix. 50), the only
exceptions being the hare and the
rabbit, which, in spite of having
upper teeth, chew the cud and have
split hoofs, and the camel, which
has, in place of upper teeth, an
incisor on each side (). Even the
meat of the clean and the unclean
animals can be distinguished. The
meat of the former below the hipbones
can be torn lengthwise as well as
across, which, among unclean animals,
is only possible with the flesh
of the wild ass. These differences
apply also to clean wild animals
() as against unclean wild animals
(). In order, however, to distinguish
clean wild from clean tame animals
attention must particularly be paid
to the horns. The horns of the former
must be forked, or, if not forked,
they must be clear of splinters,
notched with scales, and be ("round"),
or, as others read, ("pointed").
It is important to distinguish the
clean wild animals from the clean
tame animals, because the tallow
of the former may be used, while
that of the latter is forbidden,
and the blood of the clean wild
animal must be covered up (Lev.
xvii. 13), which is not the case
with that of other animals (Hul.
It was hard for the rabbinical authorities
to distinguish clean from unclean
birds, as the Scripture (Lev. xi.
13-19) enumerates only the birds
which shall not be eaten, without
giving any of the marks which distinguish
them from the clean birds. This
is all the more important as the
names of some of the birds mentioned
in the Scriptures are followed by
the word "lemino" or "leminehu"—i.e.,
"after its kind"—and it
is therefore necessary to recognize
certain fixed distinguishing characteristics.
The following rules are fixed by
the Talmud, by which a clean bird
may be distinguished. It must not
be a bird of prey; it must have
a front toe, if that be the meaning
of ; but according to most explanations
the hind toe is meant. Although
most birds of prey have the hind
toe, the toes of the clean bird
are so divided that the three front
toes are on one side and the hind
toes on the other, while the unclean
bird spreads his toes so that two
toes are on each side; or if it
has five toes, three will be on
one side and two on the other (compare
Hul. 59a, and Nissim
b. Reuben on the Mishnah to this
The clean birds, furthermore, have
craws, and their stomachs have a
double skin which can easily be
separated. They catch food thrown
into the air, but will lay it upon
the ground and tear it with their
bills before eating it. If a morsel
be thrown to an unclean bird it
will catch it in the air and swallow
it, or it will hold it on the ground
with one foot, while tearing off
pieces with its bill (Hul.
59a, 61a, 63a). As this distinction
is not found in Scripture, opinions
differedgreatly during and since
Talmudic times. According to the
Talmud (Hul. 62a, 63b), only
the twenty-four kinds of birds mentioned
in Scripture are actually forbidden.
If certain birds are positively
known as not belonging to these,
no further investigation as to characteristic
signs is necessary, and they may
be eaten. The marks of distinction
are laid down only for cases in
which there is doubt whether the
species is clean or unclean. Authorities,
especially in Germany, would only
permit the eating of such kinds
as have always been eaten (). Accordingly
some birds are permitted to be eaten
in certain countries, but not in
others. There are many controversies
in the casuistic literature concerning
this matter. Menahem Mendel Krochmal
No. 29), for instance, declares
the wild goose forbidden, while
Eybeschütz ("Kereti u-Peleti,"
§ 82) permits it. When the turkey
was brought to Europe Isaiah Horwitz
forbade it to be eaten; and although
his opinion did not prevail, his
descendants refrain from eating
it even to-day.
In regard to clean and unclean fishes
the authorities of the Talmud have
also made some additions to the
regulations in the Scriptures. While
it is stated in Lev. xi. 9 that
only those fishes are to be considered
clean which have scales and fins,
the Mishnah (Niddah vi. 9) declares
that all fishes with scales have,
doubtless, fins also. According
to this all fishes having scales
but no fins may be eaten, as under
that opinion it may be taken for
granted that all scaly fishes have
fins; apparent exceptions are accounted
for by the supposition that sometimes
fins are so small or rudimentary
that they can not be distinguished.
On the other hand, a fish with fins
may be without scales and thus be
unclean. The formation of the spinal
cord and head also affords means
of distinction. The clean fishes
() have a perfect spinal column,
and a head of a more or less flat
projection; the unclean fishes have
no spinal bone, and their heads
end in a point ('Ab. Zarah 39b,
40a). There is a difference in the
form of the bladder and roe in clean
and unclean fishes. In clean fishes
the bladder is blunt at one end
and pointed at the other; while
the unclean have the ends either
both blunt or both pointed. Whether
these marks can be depended on when
the scales and fins are absent,
or when the actual condition can
no longer be positively ascertained,
has been much discussed by old authorities
(compare Jacob b. Asher, Ṭur
Yoreh De'ah, 83). As a "cause
célèbre" of modern times may
be mentioned the controversy of
Aaron Chorin with many Orthodox
rabbis concerning the eating of
sturgeon, which Chorin declared
permissible, contrary to all former
Concerning the use of the four kinds
of locust permitted in the Scriptures
(Lev. xi. 21-22) the Mishnah (Hul.
iii. 8) says that a clean locust
must have four feet, two of which
are for jumping, and four wings,
which must be long and broad enough
to cover the whole body. But it
is still subject to the restriction
that, to be eaten, it must belong
to the species , and there must
be a reliable tradition recognizing
it as eatable. Later authorities
(compare Samuel b. David ha-Levi
on Yoreh De'ah, 85) forbid its use
entirely. Very rigorous are the
rules set down by the Rabbis concerning
the eating of "creeping things
which crawl upon the ground"
(Lev. xi. 41). According to the
Rabbis only such "worms"
are permitted for food as do not
live in an isolated condition, but
are found only in other substances;
for instance, the maggots in meat,
fruit, fish, drinkingwater, etc.
But even in such cases the eating
is forbidden if the worms have been
removed from the place in which
they originated, or if they have
left that place and returned to
it, thereby practically excluding
all worm-eaten food (Hul.
67a, b). The conditions concerning
the enforcement of these rules are
very complicated (compare Yoreh
De'ah, 84), but it may suffice to
point out the following: Fruit and
vegetables must be thoroughly examined
before use to see whether they contain
worms, and Orthodox families pay
strict attention to the fact that
should the food, after cooking,
be shown to have been worm-eaten,
it is not fit for consumption (compare
Danzig, "Hokmat Adam,"
pp. 35, 22).
Reasons for Distinction.
There was much speculation as to
the reasons why certain species
of animals should be allowed as
food and others forbidden. In the
Letter of Aristeas (lines 144-154)
it is explained at length that "these
laws have been given for justice'
sake to awake pious thoughts and
to form the character." It
is especially emphasized that birds
of prey have been forbidden, to
teach that man shall practise justice;
and not, depending upon his own
strength, do injury to others. The
marks which distinguish the clean
animal are allegorically explained,
as shown in the following instance:
To have two feet and split hoofs
signifies that all actions shall
be taken with consideration of the
right and wrong (compare Allegorical
Interpretation). The martyr Eleazar,
in IV Macc. v. 25, answers the king,
who ridicules the laws forbidding
unclean animals, "Whatever
is congenial to our soul He permits
us to eat; the use of obnoxious
meats He forbade us." In this
is apparently expressed the same
idea which is stated later on by
Zarza in the words:
"All these things are forbidden,
because they deprave the blood and
make it susceptible to many diseases;
they pollute the body and the soul"
(Mekor Hayyim, "Tazria',"
The prolix allegories of Philo concerning
the clean and unclean animals (compare
"De Agricultura Noe,"
xxv.-xxxi.) have been far surpassed
by the Church Fathers (Irenæus,
"Adversus Hæreses," v.
8; Clemens Alexandrinus, "Pædagogus,"
iii.; Origen, Hom. 7 in Lev.; and
many others), and for this reason
in many Jewish circles no exposition
of the law whatever would be heard.
One should not say "The meat
of the hog is obnoxious to me,"
but "I would and could eat
it had not my Heavenly Father forbidden
it" (Sifra, Ḳedoshim,
end). In Talmudic-Midrashic literature
no attempt is made to bring these
laws nearer to human understanding.
It was feared that much defining
would endanger the observance of
them, and all were satisfied "that
they are things the use of which
the Torah forbids" (Tanḥuma,
Lev. ed. Buber, Shemini, iii. 29),
although they were not capable of
explanation.Beginning with Saadia,
the Jewish commentators started
to explain the Biblical laws either
rationalistically or mystically.
It is remarkable that Saadia's theory
bears great resemblance to the modern
theory of totemism. He asserts,
namely, that some animals which
were worshiped as divine were declared
eatable as a protest against that
worship, and for the same reason
others were declared unclean ("Kitab
117, bottom; Hebrew translation,
iii. 2; ed. Slucki, p. 61). Ibn
Ezra is of the opinion that the
flesh of unclean animals has been
forbidden because it is impure and
obnoxious, and the substance swallowed
and digested goes into the flesh
and blood of those who have eaten
it (commentary to Lev. xi. 93; concerning
other passages of lbn Ezra compare
Maimonides ("Moreh Nebukim,"
iii. 48) finds in these ordinances
mainly sanitary, and partly esthetic,
principles. Similar is the opinion
of the great French exegete Samuel
b. Meïr, in his commentary on Leviticus.
Nahmanides agrees only partly with
these theories, and mentions only
one sanitary reason concerning fishes.
The clean, he argues, get nearer
the surface of the water, and therefore
possess a degree of heat which drives
away too much humidity; while the
fishes without fins and scales,
which stay in the deep water, and
especially those in swampy water,
possess a degree of cold and humidity
which acts mortally. It is different
with the birds, which, with exception
of the "peres" and "'ozniyyah,"
two species of eagles, are all birds
of prey, the black and thick blood
of which causes a marked inclination
to cruelty. Concerning the quadrupeds,
Naḥmanides wavers between
ethical and sanitary reasons, and
refers to non-Jewish physicians
to maintain the objections to the
flesh of the hog (commentary on
Lev. ix. 13; compare his "Derasha,"
ed. Jellinek, p. 29). The explanations
which Bahya b. Asher (on Lev. xi.)
gives concerning the forbidden animals
are mainly taken from Nahmanides.
He adds the new explanation that
this law is merely an expansion
of the rules of the cult of sacrifice,
so that many animals which can not
be used for sacrifice shall not
be eaten (idem, 163d. ed. Riva di
Trento). Isaac Arama is especially
opposed to sanitary reasons ("'Akedat
Yizhak" part 60, ed. Pollak,
iii. 33b), and acknowledges psychological
and ethical motives only. "The
unclean animals," says Arama,
"cause coarseness and dulness
of the soul." Arama, evidently
referring to Abravanel, but without
mentioning his name, gives other
theories of Jewish scholars. In
his remarkable polemic against the
rationalistic explanation by Maimonides
of the laws regulating food, Viterbo
tries to show the untenableness
of the sanitary grounds ("Ta'am
Zezenim," ed. El. Ashkenazi,
Like the Jewish religious philosophers,
the mystics have stated their speculations
concerning the grounds of these
laws. According to the Kabbalistic
theory which makes the negative
Sefirot the cause of the existence
of evil in the world, the Zohar
(Shemini, iii. 41b) explains that
the unclean animals originate from
some of these negative Sefirot,
and therefore they are forbidden
as food; but as with the arrival
of the Messiah all will become purer
and nobler, these animals will then
be permitted as food (Yalh. Hadash,
Lihhutim, 36, 79). In this manner
the mystics explained the idea,
expressed in Midrash Tehillim to
cxlvi., that in the future God will
declare the unclean animals clean.
This Midrash caused Abravanel and
other Jewish scholars much embarrassment
(see Buber, ad loc.), so that several
of them did not hesitate to declare
it a Christian interpolation; but
without reason, as similar opinions
have been held and expressed in
the remotest time (compare Antinomianism),
and probably had their origin in
pre-Christian times. Regarding the
view taken by Reform rabbis and
by modern Bible exegetes of clean
and unclean animals, see Dietary
Laws; Purity; Reform; Totemism.
Bibliography:Cullin, 59a, 66b;
for the old Halakah, Torat Kohanim,
Sifre, Deut., 100-104;
Caro, Shulḥan Aruk, Yoreh
idem, Bet Yosef, Yoreh De'ah, 79-86;
Lewysohn, Zoologie des Talmuds,
Wiener, Speisegesetze, pp. 298-328