A Fatal Error
We are all familiar with the Torah prohibition of treifa from a different verse in the Torah: “And you shall be holy people to Me, and you shall not eat an animal torn in the field.” (Shemot 22:30) Rashi comments: If you (the Jewish People) are holy and separate yourselves from eating the meat of a neveila (an animal that dies without shechita,due to illness or fatal injury) or the meat of a treifa (a mortally ill or injured animal that had shechita), then you are Mine; and if not, you are not Mine.”
This philosophical concept taught in Rashi’s commentary is actually one of the reasons offered as explanation for why the Torah prohibited eating a treifa. This prohibition relates to one’s spiritual well-being, since consuming treifa food products (eggs and milk as well as meat) harms the purity of one’s intellectual spirit and increases impure desires. Another reason offered for the prohibition of treifa is a medical one: the meat may contain a poison or a dangerous contaminant that might be passed on to the consumer.
According to Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish’s teaching, a treifa will not live. The simple meaning of this opinion is that the wounded animal is not viable and will not recover from its injury or illness. It will likely die within twelve months. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish sees a hint to a treifa’s lack of viability from the verse in Vayikra 11:2, “This is hachaya that you may eat.” The word hachaya is interpreted by him to mean “viable” — a kosher animal that has been mauled but will still live and not die from this injury. In this was the verse is saying: An animal that will continue to live, you may eat; but an animal that will not continue to live is a treifa, and you may not eat it. It is forbidden to eat even if it had a kosher shechita. This same concept that a treifa is not viable is also found at the end of our mishna. It states that “This is the rule: any animal that suffers a wound, which a healthy animal that would suffer a similar wound and would not be viable afterwards — is a treifa.”
The Rambam, however, appears to learn that a treifa animal is one that is not viable from a different source. He derives this in his Mishneh Torah, in chapter 4 of the Laws of Forbidden Foods. The animal mentioned in the verse that was “torn in the field” and is called a treifa cannot be one that was killed in the field since then it would be called a neveila and not a treifa. It can also not be injured in a way
that it would recover since the verse would not say about this scenario “throw it to the dogs.” Therefore, concludes the Rambam, the definition of a treifa is an animal that has sustained a mortal injury, to the extent that it is only fit for throwing it to the dogs. This shows that a treifa will not live, in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish. (It is important to note that although the verse speaks about a treifa as resulting from being torn in the field, a treifa status also occurs if the injury occurred “at home” or even as a result of illness. The Torah speaks about an animal torn in the field since that is the most usual cause of a mortal infliction.)
Our mishna, which begins the third perek of our masechet, lists numerous types of injuries that render an animal as a treifa, and other signs of treifa are taught throughout this perek and are codified in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 33. Perhaps the most “famous” sign of an animal being a treifa is having a hole in its lung. The halachot that teach about if and when there is a need to check an animal after shechita for any sign of being a treifa, and the rules for how to conduct the check, are written in detail in the Shulchan Aruch and in many responsa from the Poskim.
Permit me to share a personal story about checking chickens for treifa signs, one that occurred some 40 years ago. Soon after our marriage, a question arose regarding which kashrut certification we should rely upon when buying chickens for our home. I was aware of the hechsher given by one organization, which involved checking the lungs of every chicken. But it was more expensive than the chickens prepared by the Yeshiva where I ate lunch at the time, which carried a hechsher from a reputable organization that checked every third chicken. Not being sure what to do, I went to a place in Meah Shearim where Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, zatzal, was available to answer questions. When I explained the two options (including our budget), he told me that it was perfectly fine to rely on the less strict hechsher. I thanked him and rose to take leave. Rav Eliyashiv then took my hand warmly and added that although it would be fine for us to rely on this kashrut certification, I should realize that if in fact the truth would be that we had eaten from a chicken was a treifa, there would be a need for teshuva. Therefore, if our budget should increase and allow for purchasing only chickens that were individually checked, it would be the correct thing to do.
· Chullin 42a