Weekly Daf: Are beheimah and chayah groups or elements?


Are beheimah and chayah groups or elements?

Rabbi Shmuel Wise

The answer to this question sheds light on Thursday’s daf (79) this week, which discusses hybrid animals.

The main topic of our perek is the prohibition against slaughtering an animal and its offspring on the same day. The Torah says, “An ox or seh (goat/sheep), do not slaughter it and its offspring on the same day.” It is clear from the examples provided in the verse that the prohibition is limited to beheimos (which can be roughly interpreted as “domesticated animals”).

Our gemara explores the halachah of a koy, a hybrid between a beheimah (e.g. goat) and a chayah (e.g. a deer). Would it be prohibited to slaughter a koy and its offspring on the same day? The gemara cites a dispute of Tannayim on this matter. As the discussion ensues, we also learn that the halachik uncertainty surrounding a koy pertains to other halachos where the beheimah/chayah distinction is a determining factor such as the mitzvah of giving parts of a beheimah to a Kohen, and the obligation to cover the blood of a slaughtered chayah.

When discussing the law of a koy with respect to the Kohanic portions, the gemara makes the surprising statement that the owner is only obligated to give half of the Kohanic portions. Similarly, in the context of the prohibition against breeding different species, the gemara suggests that the halachah views a mule as possessing both the identities of both a horse and a donkey!

The notion that the halachah considers a koy to be both a beheimah and a chayah is something that seems hard to conceptualize. For doesn’t logic dictate that the beheimah/chayah question is a binary one? A koy should either be judged as a beheimah, a chayah, or neither—but not as both!

But it appears from our gemara that beheimah and chayah should not be understood as categories but as elements. Thus, the problem with koy is not which group to put it in, but rather how to deal with the mixture of elements that it possesses. Perhaps the rationale for this understanding is that in contrast to how the Torah assigns different statuses to people of different ancestral roots (e.g. Kohen vs. Yisrael), where clearly it is a binary question of either being in that group or not, the dietary laws that are assigned to various animals do not lend themselves to a concept of belonging to a particular group. Instead it’s more a question of: “What kind of meat are we dealing with here?” When viewed from this lens, a koy is really just two pieces of meat of different statuses mixed together.