By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
One was born very recently on a farm in Northeastern Spain. It became a local sensation and was featured in the New York Daily News. The black and white calf was born with six legs. A few months ago as well, Lilli, another six-legged calf was born in Weisenburg, Switzerland. Lilli too became a local sensation. Lilli is light brown and white and was also featured in the New York Daily News.
The question is: Are these six legged calves kosher?
There is a concept in the laws of Kashrus as explained in the Talmud (Chullin 58b) called “Yeser k’natul – an extra limb is as if it was removed.” In other words, we look at the limb as if it, was removed. Most authorities understand this to mean that we also look at it as of other limbs of its class were removed. The Rashash (Rabbi Shlomo Streisan), a 19th century Talmudic commentator, explains that the function of that particular organ is divided among all organs of that class and thus each of them are weakened and would be considered as if they were technically removed.
What then would be the status of a regular calf that had lost its limbs? The law regarding the legs of an animal is clear. An animal that was missing even one or two of its legs is considered a “Treifa” and would thus be considered non-kosher. We will soon see, however, that the jury is not out on our two famous calves. There is one caveat that could change the whole thing around.
Another question arises as to exactly which of the 18 or 19 categories of Treif that is found in the Mishna in Chullin it fits into. It would seem that the Rishonim (11th to 14th century Halachic authorities) actually debate about which of the categories of Treif apply to our sweet Lilli and her newly born peer. The Rashba in a responsa (Vol. I #98) explains that it is either Nekuvah (limb with holes) or Psukah (limb cut off). The Rambam (Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 6:20) indicates that it should be categorized as Chasurah (limb missing).
Where did this Halacha come from? The Rashba writes that we had received this tradition Halacha l’Moshe MiSinai – that Moshe Rabbeinu taught us this orally from the oral explanations he had received at Mount Sinai. Thus, the Rashba, who lived some 700 years ago, is describing these calves and explaining that over 3300 years ago, Moshe Rabbeinu discussed them and told us of their halachic status.
But now let’s get back to the meat of the issue (forgive the pun). The Halacha explains that if the limb was one that the animal’s life did not depend upon, for example, a spleen or one kidney, then most Rishonim are of the opinion that it is not to be considered a Treifa. Legs are life-dependent.
But therein is an essential difference. In English we say that an animal has four legs. But as Rav Huna explains in the Talmud, there is a difference between the forelegs and the hindlegs. In other words, Halacha only refers to the hind two legs of an animal as legs. The front two legs are actually called hands. From a halachic perspective, the hands of an animal are not life-dependant.
Thus an extra hand, or even two extra hands, would not render the calf non-kosher. So what is the status of Lilli and her newly-born peer? It seems that the extra limbs are located more toward the front of their bodies than toward the lower end of their bodies. The Daily News calves are, therefore, kosher!
Another fascinating point must also be pointed out. The distinction between the forelegs and the hindlegs of an animal may have been known to Rav Huna in the Talmud, but 21st century veterinarians did not know it. According to an article in Metro.co.uk, veterinarians initially predicted that Lilli would not make it.
The newspaper writes, “After being born with a rare genetic disorder which left the animal with two extra limbs, vets feared the worst for the baby calf.”
But subsequent paragraphs in the article bring out the truth of Rav Huna’s words:
“However,” the article continues, “it seems seven-week old Lilli is made of stronger stuff – despite having two extra limbs attached to her back – after being snapped running around a sunny field in the agricultural Swiss outpost of Weissenburg.”
“Farmer Andreas Knutti revealed he couldn’t bring himself to euthanise the animal because she was ‘so full of life’. ‘She was so alive, so impetuous,’ said the farmer. ‘Even if she is not a normal milking cow, I do not want to get rid of her. Perhaps we will find a zoo for her.’
[The article can be accessed at http://www.metro.co.uk/weird/894744-six-legged-calf-defies-survival-odds-to-become-swiss-national-treasure#ixzz1xrGkhI31]
While they may be kosher, and the milk Lilli may one day produce may be kosher, all is not perfect for them. These animals are kosher for consumption, but alas they would be unfit to be brought as an offering in the Beis HaMikdash. The Mishna in B’choros (40a) clearly rules that they would be considered unfit for use in the Temple.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.