Where the Deer and the Antelope Play

Question #1: Home, home

“Are there any ‘take-home lessons’ I can learn from split hooves?”

Question #2: On the range

“Is there a variety of wild pig that chews its cud and is kosher?”

Question #3: Where the deer

“May I eat the fat of a reindeer? What about the impala, the dik-dik and the kudu?”

Question #4: And the antelope play

“Is the American pronghorn a kosher species?”

Foreword

In two places, first in parshas Shemini, and then again in parshas Re’eih, the Torah explains which species of animals, fish and birds are kosher. Since all of our opening questions are about the status of various kosher mammals, this article will limit itself to defining which of them is kosher and various other halachos that result.

Presumably, you noted that I used the word “mammal” rather than “animal” or “beast.” To the best of my knowledge, there is no word in Tanach or Mishnaic Hebrew for “mammal.” The Modern Hebrew word used is yoneik, which simply means “that which nurses,” certainly an accurate definition of what separates mammals from other members of the animal kingdom. I am using the word “mammal” as an easy and accurate way to distinguish what the Torah calls “animalsthat are upon the ground” from the birds, fish, sea animals, creeping creatures, locusts, insects, invertebrates and reptiles whose halachic status is discussed in the Torah.

Introduction

The Torah writes, “Hashemspoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying to them: ‘Speak to the Children of Israel, saying, these are the beasts from which you may eat. From the animals that are upon the ground: Whatever has a split hoof that is separated completely and is ma’aleh geirah [usually translated as “ruminating” or “chewing its cud”] among the animals: Those you may eat'” (Vayikra 11:1-3). The Torah then lists three animals, the camel, the shafan and the arneves [intentionally not yet translated] as being non-kosher because they do not have fully split hooves, although they are ma’aleh geirah. Finally, the Torah mentions that a pig is not kosher, even though its hooves are completely split, because it is not ma’aleh geirah.

Thus, the Torah defines any land animal with a totally split hoof that chews its cud as kosher. These two signs are possessed by sheep, goats, giraffe, deer, antelope, cattle, buffalo, bison, yak and okapi. The okapi lives in deep forests in the Congo, has a skull almost identical to that of a small giraffe, and, indeed, possesses split hooves and is a ruminant.

Does it ruminate too much?

“Ruminating” means that an animal has many stomachs (sometimes described as a stomach with several chambers) and chews its food in two stages. First, it harvests grass, leaves and/or other vegetation which it deposits into the first chamber of its stomach, the rumen, where it is fermented and begins to decompose. The partially digested food, now called “cud,” is regurgitated back to the mouth, where it is chewed again to further break down its cellulose content, which is difficult to digest. The chewed cud then goes directly to the second chamber of the stomach, the reticulum and, eventually, to the last two chambers, the omasum and abomasum, where further digestion is assisted by various microorganisms that reside in the ruminant’s stomach. This is Hashem’s way of having grass, leaves, bark and tree roots (which the human stomach cannot digest), converted into products that can now benefit mankind in the forms of milk, cheese, meat, wool and leather.

The term ma’aleh geirah might include other processes that are not the same as chewing cud. Ultimately, the question is how we translate the non-kosher species that the Torah teaches are ma’aleh geirah but do not have fully split hooves. The Torah mentions three: the camel, the shafan and the arneves.

The camel chews its cud. Although its stomach has only three chambers, it still digests its food in a way similar to the four-chambered ruminants.

Hyrax?

The other two animals that the Torah describes as ma’aleh geirah are shafan and arneves. We are uncertain as to the identification of these two animals. In Modern Hebrew, the word shafan sela is used to mean hyrax, sometimes called the rock hyrax, a rodent-like mammal commonly found in wooded areas in Eretz Yisroel. I often see them in the wild, a ten-minute walk from my house. It is called the rock hyrax because they often stand on rocky areas in forests, and hide in holes between the rocks. The posuk in Tehillim (104:18), sela’im machseh la’shefanim, rocks are a refuge for the shefanim, indeed implies that shafan is indeed a rock hyrax. However, the difficulty with defining the shafan as a hyrax is because the hyrax is not a ruminant.

Hare or rabbit

Arneves is usually identified as a rabbit, a hare, or both. Hares and rabbits are similar to, but are not, rodents, and in modern science are categorized as lagomorphs. The main difference between hares and rabbits is the stage of development at which their young are born. Newborn hares are able to function on their own within hours, whereas newborn rabbits are blind and completely helpless. In any case, neither the rabbit nor the hare are considered ruminants.

Will the real shafan please stand up?

In a teshuvah on the subject, the Seridei Eish (Shu’t Seridei Eish 2:64) mentions several attempts to identify shafan and arneves. One approach insists that shafan and arneves cannot be hyraxes and hares, since neither of these species ruminates, but that shafan and arneves must be species that indeed ruminate and yet are not kosher. These would be species that, like camels, have partially, but not fully split hooves and are therefore called cameloids. However, the only species currently known to man, other than the camel, that fit this description are native South Americans of the llama family: the domesticated llama and alpaca, the vicuna, and the guanaco, which are collectively called lamoids. Since shafan is mentioned in Tanach several times as a commonly known animal, it is highly unlikely that it refers to a South American native that was unknown in the Fertile Crescent until well after the Europeans invaded South America in the beginning of the sixteenth century.

There are also descriptions of arneves in the Gemara (Megillah 9b) that indicate that, in that era, they were very certain how to identify an arneves, again making lamoids a very unlikely choice.

Another option is that shafan and arneves refer to Bactrian (two-humped) camels, native to China and other parts of Asia. However, this is also a difficult approach to accept, since the differences between the one-humped dromedary (also called Arabian camel) and the two-humped Bactrian are not distinctive enough to imagine that they would not both be called gamal by the Torah. I would like to note that the Gemara was well aware of the existence of dromedary and Bactrian camels, calling them Arabian camels and Persian camels, and insisting that they qualify as one species for halachic purposes (Bava Kama 55a). (Scientifically, they are treated as two separate species, Camelus dromedarius and Camelus bactrianus. By the way, Bactria was a country in today’s Afghanistan, bordering on Persia, so both the contemporary conversational term and the scientific terms for the two varieties of camel are identical to the way Chazal referred to them.)

Are you sure that you don’t ruminate?

The Seridei Eish also mentions a completely different approach, suggested by Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, that although shafan and arneves are not cud chewers, they appear to do something similar to ruminating. A hyrax has a three-chambered stomach containing special bacteria allowing it to digest leaves and grasses, similar to ruminants that can digest leaves and grass. It is also interesting to note that hyrax babies are born without the bacteria they need for digestion. For nutrition, they consume the waste matter of adult hyraxes until they are able to eat. Apparently, the adult’s waste contains enough live bacteria such that the baby hyrax stomach is eventually able to digest the cellulose itself, without relying on reprocessed food. Mah rabu ma’asecha, Hashem!

It is possible that either the digestive system of the hyrax or its method of feeding its offspring may be what the Torah means, when it calls them maalei geirah.

Arneves

Rabbits and hares are not classic ruminants and do not possess the proper physiology for rumination, but instead digest through a process called hindgut fermentation. These animals and some rodents digest in a unique way, by the formation of cecotropes. Their first swallowing does not complete the digestion process, and they produce two different kinds of droppings: little black round ones and softer black ones known as cecotropes, or night feces, which they then eat and re-digest. The cecotropes contain lots of essential vitamins and protein. It is very possible that this process is what the Torah refers to as ma’aleh geirah, although it is not what is usually referred to as “chewing the cud.”

On the range

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “Is there a variety of wild pig that chews its cud and is kosher?”

To the best of my knowledge, all members of the pig/hog family, including the boar, the South American peccary, the Indonesian babirusa, and various wild species that include the name “hog” or “pig” in their common name, such as the warthog, the bushpig, and the almost extinct pygmy hog, have split hooves, and are, to some extent, omnivorous. (Please note that hedgehogs and porcupines, despite the references to “hog” and “pork” in their names, are called this because they have long snouts reminiscent of pigs, not because they have split hooves.) Although South African rangers have told me that warthogs are exclusively herbivorous, research shows that they do scavenge dead animals and also consume worms and insects while foraging.

Several varieties of wild hog, among them the peccary, the babirusa, and the warthog, native to Africa, have more complicated stomach structures than does the common domesticated pig. Over the years, I have seen various news articles claiming that some of these animals are kosher, based on the assumption that they have both split hooves and ruminate. However, none of these species does, indeed, chew its cud; so, although they all have split hooves, as do all hogs, they are not kosher.

Although the posuk mentions only chewing the cud and split hooves as criteria for kosher animals, there may be additional reasons why wild hog species are not kosher. Based on a passage of Gemara, some authorities contend that any species of animal without any type of horn is not kosher (Shu’t Beis Yaakov #41, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 80:1), and the peccary, the babirusa, and the warthog have no horns. Although both the warthog and the peccary have tusks that look like horns, these are really oversized teeth and grow out of the mouth, not on the top of the head. By the way, many authorities disagree with the Beis Yaakov, contending that absence of horns does not define an animal as non-kosher (Pischei Teshuvah ad loc.).

Where the deer

The third of our opening questions began “Is the fat of a reindeer permitted?” Let me explain what is presumably being asked.

The Torah divides mammals into two categories, beheimah and chayah. Beheimah is usually translated as animal or domesticated animal, whereas chayah is often rendered as beast or wild animal. However, these translations of the terms beheimah and chayah are not entirely accurate. Although most domesticated species, such as cattle, sheep and goats, qualify as beheimos, there are species of beheimah, such as the African or cape buffalo, the Philipine tamarau and the anoa, a native of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, that cannot be domesticated. (See the dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema, Yoreh Deah 28:4, which relates to the Asian water buffalo, domesticated already in antiquity.) On the other hand, some species of chayah, such as reindeer, are domesticated and raised as livestock in the northern regions of Europe, particularly by the Lapps (the Sami), as are other varieties of deer in central Asia.

So, what is the difference between a beheimah and a chayah? The Gemara (Chullin 59b) explains that it depends on the type of horn it has. If it is branched, as are all deer antlers, it is a chayah. The major noticeable difference between antlers and horns is that antlers shed annually (are deciduous) and are extensively branched, whereas horns are permanent and unbranched. Moose and elk have massive, branched, deciduous antlers, and are varieties of deer. All antelope (a general category that includes dozens of species) have unbranched horns, and therefore one would need to examine the horns of each species to determine whether it is a beheimah or a chayah, as I will explain shortly. Kudu, eland, gnu, impala and dik-dik all have unbranched horns and are varieties of antelope. The same is true of the dorcas gazelle which is a common species in Eretz Yisrael, and the largest permanent resident of the wooded area near my house where I often go for relaxing walks.

There are some other differences between antelope and deer; for example, antelope have gall bladders and deer do not. So, you can rest assured that your pet moose cannot develop gallstones.

What type of horn?

But what type of horn am I looking for?

If an animal possesses an unbranched horn, the answer as to whether it is a beheimah or a chayah becomes more complicated: If the horn has all three features that the Gemara calls keruchos, haduros and charukos, it is a chayah; if not, it is a beheimah. There are different opinions among rishonim how to explain and define these three words, which is why I have not translated them, and depending on this answer is whether different varieties of antelope may qualify as beheimah or as chayah.

What difference does it make?

There are a few mitzvos of the Torah that apply to a beheimah and not a chayah, and vice versa. Among these mitzvos is the prohibition against eating cheilev, the forbidden fat that protects the posterior-lying organs such as the stomachs and the kidneys, which applies only to a beheimah, but this fat is permitted on a chayah (Mishnah Chullin 89b). Another mitzvah is that of giving the zero’a, lechaya’im and keivah to a kohein, whichapplies only to a beheimah but not to a chayah (Yoreh Deah 61:17). A third mitzvah is kisuy hadam,requiring covering the blood of shechitah, which applies to a chayah (and to poultry) but not to a beheimah (Mishnah Chullin 83b).

Whether the fat is permitted depends on whether a reindeer is a beheimah or a chayah. If it is a chayah, the cheilev is permitted. All deer are known to be chayah because of their antlers, and therefore “reindeer fat” is kosher, if the reindeer is properly shechted.

On the other hand, when we have no mesorah whether a species of animal is a chayah or a beheimah, we treat it stringently both ways (Shach and Pri Megadim, Yoreh Deah 80:1). Therefore, unless we have a mesorah as to whether a specific species of antelope is a chayah or a beheimah, we would prohibit its cheilev and perform kisuy hadam, without a brocha.

And the antelope play

At this point, we can discuss the fourth of our opening questions: “Is the American pronghorn a kosher species?” I suspect that most of our readers have no idea what a pronghorn is, let alone whether it is a kosher species.

Most species of antelope in the world are in Africa. There are some in Eurasia; none are native to Australia or the Americas. However, the various fauna native to North America include a species called a pronghorn, which possesses characteristics similar to that of a deer or antelope but also is different from both deer and antelope. It is a ruminant that has split hooves. Thus, it meets the Torah’s definition of a kosher species, although I admit that I have never tasted pronghorn chops.

The horn of a pronghorn is unusual in that it branches into sharp front and rear sections that are reminiscent of prongs, hence its name. As I mentioned above, deer have multi-branched antlers, which are deciduous. Antelopes have unbranched horns that are permanent. The horn of a pronghorn falls off annually, which is like a deer and unlike any antelope species. On the other hand, the pronghorn has a gallbladder, which antelope have, but not deer. For these and other reasons, the scientific community considers a pronghorn to be neither a deer nor an antelope. Nevertheless, the Europeans who came to America called it an antelope, and Brewster M. Higley, who, in 1872, wrote thelyrics to the poem now called and sung as “Home on the Range,” certainly meant the pronghorn when he referred to the playing of the “antelope.”

Home, home

At this point, let us examine our opening question: “Are there any ‘take-home lessons’ I can learn from split hooves?”

Although we can never explain why Hashem commanded us His mitzvos, we are permitted to explore what lessons we can derive from them, provided we realize that these are merely lessons and not a reason allowing us to decide when and whether we observe the mitzvah. It appears clear that the birds that the Torah ruled to be non-kosher are, for the most part, predators, whereas the kosher birds tend to be the pursued.

Can we possibly present a logical reason why the Torah restricted our mammal consumption to ruminants with split hooves?

The following lesson might be why the Torah permitted only ruminants with split hooves. In general, animals that have split hooves flee from opposition. For example, Africa has dozens of species of antelope; when confronted by a lion, they run. On the other hand, a zebra attacked by a lion will fight, as will a honey badger. Perhaps this is a lesson to learn from a ruminant, to run as far and as fast as we can from any machlokes.

Ma’aleh geirah animals spend a lot of time consuming their food. It takes a long time for their food to complete being digested. They learn patience. Thus, perhaps the lesson here is to be patient when we fulfill our basic needs (Shu’t Beis Yitzchak, Even Ha’ezer, Tzela’os Habayis 5:8).




Eat Kosher!

In chutz la’aretz, this week parshas Shemini is read, which includes much of the Torah’s discussion regarding which species are kosher. Although in Eretz Yisroel this reading was last week, none of the material in this article is outdated.

Eat Kosher!

Question #1: What’s gnu?

Zoe Oligist asked me: “If the wildebeest chews its cud and has split hooves, which of the ten kosher animals is it?”

Question #2: Food for thought

“Am I required to eat each of the kosher species?”

Question #3:

“Is a tzvi a deer or an antelope? For that matter, what is the difference between a deer and an antelope?”

Question #4:

“Must I check a fish for scales each time I purchase one?”

Introduction:

The Torah discusses which species are kosher and which are not in two places, in parshas Shemini and in parshas Re’eih. In parshas Shemini, the Torah introduces the topic as follows: “Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying to them, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying, these are the living things from which you may eat. From the animals that are upon the ground: whichever has a split hoof that is separated completely and ruminates among the animals, those you may eat'” (Vayikra 11:1-3). The Torah then explains that species that possess only one of the two kosher signs are not to be eaten, such as the camel, which chews its cud and has a partially split hoof, but is not kosher, since its hoof is not fully separated (Vayikra 11:4). The Torah then provides the rules governing which sea creatures may be eaten. Following this, it lists which birds we may not eat, and then provides the rules regarding which grasshoppers are kosher and which are not.

Parshas Re’eih includes a review of most of the basic laws of kashrus, including a reiteration of which species of animal, fish and bird are kosher for the Jewish palate. The instructions regarding kosher grasshoppers do not appear in parshas Re’eih, but only in parshas Shemini. In parshas Re’eih, the Torah begins its discussion by listing the ten types of beheimah that are kosher, without mention of their kosher signs until later. To quote the Chumash (Devorim 14:4-5): Zos habeheimah asher tocheilu: shor, seh kesavim, veseh izim, ayil, utzvi, veyachmur, ve’ako, vedishon, use’o, vazamer, “these are the animals that you may eat.” The ten that are listed are the only species of mammal that ruminate and have totally split hooves, indicating that they are kosher.

What are these species? We can readily identify some of them: shor is cattle, kesavim are sheep, and izim are goats. However, from that point, the going gets more confusing, since it is unclear whether ayil is an antelope and tzvi is a deer, or vice versa (see Tosafos, Chullin 59b s.v. Veharei Tzvi). (The difference between antelope and deer is that antelope have permanent horns, whereas deer have antlers, which shed and regrow every year.)

What’s gnu?

At this point, let us address one of our original questions. “Zoe Oligist asked me: ‘If the wildebeest chews its cud and has split hooves, which of the ten kosher animals is it?’”

Although I have invented the name of the questioner, this exact query is, indeed, genuine, and was asked of Rav Yehoseif  Schwartz, a unique gadol and poseik of the early nineteenth century (Responsa Rosh Hashoni #18). Most modern Torah authorities would refrain from providing positive identification of the species mentioned in the Torah, other than the five mentioned above. (See, for example, the translation of Rav Hirsch to our verse.) However, Rav Schwartz concluded that yachmur is the wildebeest, also called a gnu, a variety of large antelope native to central and southern Africa. (Whether you refer to this antelope as wildebeest or gnu depends on whether you prefer to use a name whose linguistic origin is Afrikaans, a language that began as a dialect of seventeenth-century Dutch, or Bantu, a family of languages of the native peoples of south and central Africa. From what I understand, the gnu does not mind being called a wildebeest.) Rav Schwartz based his determination on the following: He writes that he had positively identified the other nine species mentioned by the Torah, and he also knew that the wildebeest, being a ruminant with split hooves, is kosher and not one of those nine. Since he did not know what a yachmur is, and he knew that the wildebeest is kosher, simple deductive logic proved that the wildebeest and the yachmur must be the same creature. (By the way, he cites there, authoritatively, Rav Saadiyah Gaon’s identifying the zamer as the giraffe. Although I have read articles claiming otherwise, giraffes chew their cud and have fully split hooves; thus, they are kosher.)

Personally, I have difficulty with Rabbi Schwartz’s method of identifying the yachmur. According to my primitive research, there are 91 species of antelope known to man, all of which are ruminants and have split hooves. There are also many species of deer, all of which are split-hooved ruminants, and a wide variety of species of sheep and goats. In addition, the entire bovine family, including Western domesticated cattle, Indian zebu cattle, musk oxen, Asian water buffalo, African cape buffalo, European bison (also called the wisent), American bison (colloquially, but somewhat inaccurately, referred to as buffalo), and Himalayan yaks are all ruminants and have split hooves. Clearly, since we have enumerated here many, many times the ten species listed by the Torah as kosher, the Torah must be providing us with categories of kosher animals, not specific species. Or, in more accurate words, the Torah’s categorization of species probably varies considerably from that of the zoologist. Therefore, those venturing on an African safari may consider the gnu to be kosher, without necessarily knowing under which of the seven chayos it is classed.

Food for thought

Let us return to the second of our opening questions: “Am I required to eat each of the kosher species?”

To analyze this question, we need two introductions. The first is to try to understand how to translate the Torah’s word tocheilu. This word can be translated into English as You should eat or as You are to eat or as You may eat. If we translate it You should eat or You are to eat, does this mean that there is a requirement to eat each of the kosher species? The midrash halacha on this pasuk, the Sifra, provides one way of understanding these words. There it states, “This teaches that Moshe held each living creature and showed it to the Bnei Yisroel, instructing them: ‘This tocheilu, and this you may not eat’ (Vayikra 11:2, #62 in the Malbim’s numbering).” I deliberately did not translate the word tocheilu here, so as not to bias our understanding of a later passage of Sifra, which I will mention shortly.

The Ramban, in his commentary to the Sefer Hamitzvos of the Rambam, writes that it cannot mean that the Torah requires that we eat these species. And he is not alone. All halachic authorities dating back more than a thousand years assume that the Torah is not commanding that we eat kosher species. The Ramban notes that it is a machlokes between the Behag, who does not count these four mitzvos, and the Rambam, who does. The Ramban explains that the Rambam understood that one who violates the lo sa’aseh by eating a non-kosher species also violates the aseih. On the other hand, the Behag does not count them because there is no positive mitzvah. The Ramban explains that just as a repeated mitzvah does not get counted twice, repeating it as an aseih does not add to the mitzvah count.

Is it a mitzvah?

There is a dispute among the rishonim whether the mitzvah of tocheilu is counted among the 613 mitzvos. The Rambam, both in his Sefer Hamitzvos (positive mitzvos 149), his work on the listing of the 613 mitzvos, and in the Mishneh Torah, counts tocheilu as one of the mitzvos (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros, introduction and 1:1). He counts not only this mitzvah, but also three other mitzvos aseih, one to identify kosher fish, another to identify kosher grasshoppers and a third to identify kosher birds (Rambam positive mitzvos 150-152). According to the Sefer Hachinuch, three of these mitzvos are first mentioned in parshas Shemini and therefore counted there, and the last, identifying kosher birds, is mentioned only in parshas Re’eih.

Actually, the Rambam has strong sources in Chazal for his position, since both the Sifra  (Vayikra 11:4, #69 in the Malbim’s numbering) and the Sifrei (Devorim 14:4, #96 in the Malbim’s numbering) state the following: “‘Osah tocheilu, this you may eat, but you may not eat non-kosher animals.’ This teaches me that this is prohibited because of a mitzvas aseih; how do I know that there is a lo sa’aseh? The Torah teaches, ‘The camel, the rabbit, the hyrax, and the pig – from their flesh you shall not eat.’ This includes only these four species; how do I know that I may not eat other non-kosher species? I derive it logically: If there is a lo sa’aseh prohibiting the consumption of the varieties that possess one indication that they are kosher, certainly those that do not possess either indication… are definitely not kosher.” In conclusion, all non-kosher varieties are prohibited directly from the Torah with a mitzvas aseih, and a lo sa’aseh, by virtue of a kal vachomer.

Notwithstanding the above quotation from the Sifra, most other early authorities who count the 613 mitzvos, including the Baal Halachos Gedolos, Rav Saadiya Gaon, and the Ramban, omit these four mitzvos, apparently because they feel that their inclusion as a positive mitzvah does not add any halachic factors.

In order to understand this dispute better, we need to explain some background to the counting of the 613 mitzvos.

The Sefer Hamitzvos includes the Rambam’s listing and explanation of the 613 mitzvos, but also includes an extensive explanation regarding the rules that govern what is included in their listing. The Rambam explains in his introduction to the Sefer Hamitzvos, that he was planning to write a halachic work that would include all the laws of the entire Torah, but realized that before he began writing this sefer halacha, he first needed to explain extensively what is included in the 613 mitzvos and why. (Indeed, the Rambam did write this work, which is the Mishneh Torah.)

Baal Halachos Gedolos

The Rambam mentions that the accepted counting of the 613 mitzvos, prior to his own Sefer Hamitzvos, was that of the Baal Halachos Gedolos, a halachic work authored by Rav Shimon Kaira in the era of the Geonim. (Although the Behag is often cited as the work of an earlier gaon, Rav Yehudai Gaon, since the Halachos Gedolos quotes Rav Yehudai Gaon many times, he obviously cannot be the author.) Subsequent to the Behag’s list, many other authors followed this list, while others amended it in minor ways. In addition, it spawned many liturgical poems. However, it appears that until the Rambam penned his Sefer Hamitzvos, no one disputed the basic approach that the Behag used to determine what counts as a mitzvah.

Why the Sefer Hamitzvos?

The Rambam writes that he realized that if he listed the mitzvos before each section of his Mishneh Torah according to his own list, he would be disputing an accepted approach to Judaism. Thus, he was in a quandary. On the one hand, his Mishneh Torah would be incomplete without listing the mitzvos involved in each of its sections; on the other hand, people might reject his list of mitzvos, unless he explained its rules and why he disputed what had been, heretofore, accepted. For this reason, the Rambam explains, he wrote the entire Sefer Hamitzvos as an introduction to his Mishneh Torah, in order to explain the rules that determine what counts as a mitzvah and what does not.

What difference does it make whether something is a mitzvah or not?

Although many authors discuss what to include in the count of the 613 mitzvos, it is interesting to note that few of them discuss why it is important to know what are the 613 mitzvos.

On the other hand, the Rambam contends that it is essential to a proper perception of Torah to understand the relationship between the halachos of the Torah and the 613 mitzvos. As part of this understanding, the Rambam describes that he decided to structure the Mishneh Torah according to related mitzvah topics, rather than follow the order of the Mishnah. The Rambam then mentions that he decided to precede each section of the Mishneh Torah with an introduction, in which he would list the mitzvos included in that section.

But does it count?

How does this debate affect kashrus? What we have quoted, until now, appears to be a rather theoretical discussion. How does this affect what I eat? To explain this, we need to examine one of the points that the Rambam makes in his Sefer Hamitzvos.

For part II of this article, click here.