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Kashrut of Exotic Animals: The Buffalo

By: Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky,** Ph.D.


1.See http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0798/kosher.html based on information provided by the consulting firm Integrated Marketing Communications. The Wall Street Journal, (Craig S. Smith, "A Colombo-Like Rabbi Certifies Food in a Land of Pork Lovers" 12/3/98) reported that sale of kosher food in the US was 3.25 billion dollars in 1997, which was, a 12% increase over 1996.

2.See Matthew Goodman, "Bringing Buffalo to New York with Relish", Forward, November 13, 1998, page 23, regarding a Manhattan restaurateur's plans to bring kosher buffalo to his restaurant. Over the last several years there was a kosher butcher shop in Brooklyn, N.Y. that was selling buffalo meat that had been slaughtered in Baltimore under Star-K supervision, and a number of years ago Levana's restaurant in Manhattan, N.Y. sold buffalo under Kof-K supervision.

3.Animals that chew their cud are known as ruminants and usually have four stomachs. While all four-stomached animals are ruminants, among three-stomached animals some are ruminants (infraorder Tragulina - such as mouse deer) and some are non-ruminants (infraorder Ancodonts - such as hippopotamuses).

While grazing, ruminants quickly swallow the raw food into the first stomach (rumen - keres) where it is partially digested and made into soft round balls - the infamous cud. When the animal has some free time this cud is ruminated back to the mouth where it is more completely chewed by the molars, and acted upon by copious amounts of saliva. This process occurs many times. It is then sent to the second stomach (reticulum or honeycomb bag - beit hakosot). There, it is further broken down and when it is finely ground and fermented it is sent to the third stomach (omasum or psalterium-hamses). Here the juices are squeezed out and it is passed to the fourth stomach (abomasum - kaivah) where it is acted upon by "normal" digestive juices and "true" digestive activity takes place.

4.See also comments 4 and 9 of Radal to Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezar, chapter 11.

5.The other two are the arnevet and shafan. Arnevet is often identified as hare or Lepus (European, common hare = Lepus capensis or Lepus europeaus; Mountain, blue or arctic hare = Lepus timidus). In modern Hebrew shafan is the arnav habayit - domesticated rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus; order Lagomorpha, family Leporidae). The biblical shafan may be the hyrax, Syrian coney (Procovia syriaca) or rock badger. None of these are true ruminants. They excrete moist pellets which they then eat, giving the appearance of chewing their cud. It is possible that this too is biblically regarded as chewing of cud or it is possible that all modern attempts at identifying these species are seriously flawed. On arnevet and shafan see Yehuda Feliks, Animals and Plants in the Torah (Hebrew), 1984, Jerusalem, pages 23 and 87 and Responsa of Rabbi Yitzchak haLevi Herzog, 1990 YD:1:23,24.

6.In other words, the adult camel and the other two biblical examples, while being ruminants nonetheless posses these "teeth" that are not found in kosher animals.

7.If it has horns it is definitely not a pig (Sefer haEshkol; Shulchan Aruch, YD 79:1) or a young camel (Kaf haChaim, YD 79:6).

8.In Hebrew arod. Its true identity is uncertain.

9.See Gra, YD 79:3. cf. the seemingly contradictory halacha in OC 586:1 regarding the unacceptably on Rosh Hashana of a shofar made from a non-kosher animal and how the later authorities dealt with this.

10.Before discussing buffalo, one important caveat needs to be mentioned: The biblical min ("species") is not the same as the taxonomist's. Thus, it should be clear that when "sheep" is listed as kosher it also includes wild sheep such as the European mouflon (Ovis musimon) and the North American bighorn (Ovis canadensis), which have split hooves and chew their cud, and not just domestic sheep (Ovis aries) (See Aruch Hashulchan, YD 79:4). Similarly, zvi, mentioned in the Bible (Deuteronomy 14:5) as a kosher species and usually translated as deer, would include not only the "common deer" but many of the other cloven-hoofed, cud-chewing deer, a not insignificant list of 38 different species. Similarly, probably all 127 species of antelope, cattle, goats and sheep found in the family Bovidae are kosher. Thus, although the Torah includes all kosher animals in ten minim (plural of min) it includes approximately 157 scientific species of cloven-hoofed ruminants.

11.There are two subspecies of bison - plains bison (Bison bison bison) and wood bison (Bison bison athabascae). The wood bison is on the verge of being bred out of extinction since the introduction of the plains bison to its region. For our discussion these two subspecies can be lumped together.

12.See Encyclopedia Judaica 4:1467.

13.See Jewish Encyclopedia (1903) 3:423. The re'em is mentioned in Psalm 29 which is recited every Friday evening as part of Kabbalat Shabbat. It is also used as part of an allegorical phrase in a special prayer for sustenance that may be inserted into the sixteenth blessing of the weekday shmone esrei. The phrase, taken from Shabbat 107b and Avodah Zarah 3b, implies that God sustains all creatures from the biggest to the smallest. The re'em symbolizes the largest, and it clearly refers to a large, powerful creature with long horns.

14.See Agur 1099 and Mordechai, Chullin 653. Our editions of the Mordechai have "rufloe", but it is undoubtedly a misprint of "buffalo". (I thank my friend Professor Marc Shapiro for pointing this out.)

15.Rav Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, says that the custom is to treat the buffalo as a behama -domesticated animal. The Ramo, living in Poland and geographically removed from the source of this halacha, may have been unfamiliar with the water buffalo of Italy. He was equivocal, and wrote that the buffalo is kosher but should be treated as a safek (doubt) and have the stringencies of both a behama and a chaya.

16.This is as opposed to birds which do require a mesorah. See Ari Z. Zivotofsky. "Is turkey kosher?" The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, 35:79-110, Spring 1998. It is posted on line with permission at http://www.kashrut.com/articles/turkey/.

17.I have been told by a reliable person that the Simlah Chadasha requires a mesorah on bedikas haray'a - the inspection of the lungs for pathologies that render an animal non-kosher. If true, this would be an halachik impediment to eating "new" species, such as American bison. However, I have been unable to locate the source for this assertion.

18.This prohibition is based on Deuteronomy 13:1. See Sefer haChinuch 454 and Encyclopedia Talmudit 3:326-330.

19.The females are fertile in the F1 generation, the males are infertile until the crossbreed is at least 86% pure, at which point males are also fertile.

20.To my knowledge no kosher beefalo is commercially available. Yet. I am unsure whether the following is halachikally significant. Most of these hybrids are with taurus males and bison females. When bison bulls impregnate domestic cows it rarely goes to term as a result of hydrops amnion.

21.I have been unable to find information regarding crosses between the African buffalo or the Asiatic water buffalo with known kosher species.

22.See V.V. Dung, et al, Nature 363, 443-445; 1993.

23.See Nature, 396, 410; December 3, 1998.

24.Nothing is known about its ability to hybridize.