Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 14 July 2007 / 28 Tammuz 5767

Kosher Giraffe

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll


From: Ben in Baltimore

Dear Rabbi,

Is giraffe kosher — and if so, why don’t we eat it? Does it have anything to do with the long neck?

Dear Ben,

The Torah clearly delineates the physical criteria for determining whether an animal is kosher or not. These are that it be a ruminant and have split hooves (Leviticus 11:2-8; Deuteronomy 14:4-8). The giraffe is not only the tallest cud-chewer but also has completely cloven hooves. It therefore fits the Torah criteria for being kosher. In fact, major Torah commentaries such as Rav Sa’adia Gaon, Rabbeinu Yona and Radak identify the zemer, listed among the ten types of kosher animals, as the giraffe (Deuteronomy 14:5).

Contrary to popular misconception, the reason we don’t eat giraffe despite its being kosher has nothing to do with the neck. This misconception is based on the idea that since the neck of the giraffe is so long, it is not known where on the neck to perform the shechita (ritual slaughter). This is incorrect. The Talmud (Chullin 27a, 45a) and halacha (Yoreh Deah 20:1-2) give precise parameters indicating the top and bottom of the neck that define the area within which shechita may be performed. Accordingly, the valid region for a pigeon is a few inches long; for a cow, over 12 inches; and for a giraffe, close to six feet!

The halachic basis for not eating giraffe is because, in addition to needing the physical criteria for kosher animals to be met, the Torah may also require a continuous tradition of actually eating the specific animal in question.

Commenting on the verse “These are the creatures that you may eat” (Lev. 11:2), our Sages noted: We learn from this that the Holy One, blessed be He, grabbed hold of each and every variety and showed Moses, saying, ‘This you may eat, and this you may not eat.’ (Babylonian Talmud, Chullin 42a). Moses then passed the tradition on to the Israelites by taking hold of each creature, saying to them, “This you may eat, and this you may not eat. The following you shall abominate among the birds [he then showed them]: These you shall abominate, and these you shall not abominate. The following shall make you unclean [not kosher, and he then showed them]: These are unclean, and these are clean” (Sifra, Shemini 2).

According to most halachic authorities, the need for such a tradition is essential only in the case of birds; as Rabbi Isaac said, “Birds are eaten by tradition” (Babylonian Talmud, Chullin 63b). As for beasts and animals, it appears from Maimonides that merely recognizing them as being kosher is enough (Ma’achalot Asurot 1.8). However, some Ashkenazi halachic authorities have ruled that these animals also require a tradition. Therefore, the giraffe, despite its signs of being a kosher animal and its long, shecht-able neck, would still not be permitted to eat without an uninterrupted tradition of its being eaten.

That being said, there are also practical concerns that make the consumption of giraffe meat prohibitive: Giraffe is probably a protected species and taking its life would be prohibited by law. There should also be a great concern of its consumption leading to extinction. Also, slaughtering an animal of that size is no easy chore, particularly when you consider that one kick of giraffe can kill a lion. Finally, even if methods of breeding and slaughtering could be found, the price of the meat alone would probably be exorbitant and most prohibitive. There might be some value in searching for a tradition of eating the giraffe and then (legally) slaughtering and consuming one in order to preserve the tradition given by G-d to Moses and the Israelites. Otherwise, it’s probably best to keep the noose off the giraffe’s neck.

Sources:
  • Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky Ph.D., “What’s The Truth About…Giraffe Meat!”
  • Dr. Zohar Amar, “Tradition, Tradition!”

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