Thoughts on Judaism

Friday, August 19, 2011

Traifot - the Drusa

Chulin 53a gives a story following the discussion of traifot, when a cat claws a bird. We discussed this in relation to the Daat Emet's essay on the subject, but the daf yomi just passed by it, so I want to record it while it is fresh in my mind. The universal underlying assumption is that many animal claws, lions, martens, alley cats, hawks, wolves, foxes and others use their front claws to inject poison into the victim prey. This can be discerned by the bodek if he examines the body cavity and sees redness. That is a telltale sign that it was clawed with poison and is treif. So, I was happy enough to say that they decide the law based on what they saw, and the incorrect underlying fact is simply backstory and irrelevant to the law. Even the idea that in order to inject poison, the predator must retract the claw can be reconciled this way.

However, the Talmud gives a case where one of the Rabbanim saw a cat strike a door in anger and he claims he saw five red marks, indicating that the cat had injected poison in the door. So there can be no doubt that the redness they were discussing above was not the damaged tissue and blood, but the poison itself. Even if I chalk it up to empiricism in the case of the examining the animal, how to I regard the eyewitness account of a legal authority to something that we strongly suspect does not exist?

The primary answer is very weak. One might relate the "poison" to the bacteria responsible for "cat scratch disease". The germ infects the animal turning the inside red as the infection manifests in the body cavity. I might even presume that other predators convey the same cat scratch disease. However, what do I do with red poison presented in a wooden door? The bacteria would not turn it red, unless it reacts with the wood somehow. What did the Rabbis see? Was it the remnants of the cat's last kill? That would refute his point for bringing the story, namely the decision of when the cat injects the poison. Also, with regard to the windpipe, the Talmud sates that a cat scratch in any measure forbids the prey, whereas normally, the puncture of the windpipe require a larger measure, an issar or rov. However, the poison continues to burn, so it will get bigger. This might happen with bacteria, but I do not know. The Talmud says "zihara".

It is also a clear halacha that the claw poison is only injected with the will of the animal. That would not be the case with cat scratch bacteria.

Empiricism has to rule here, since that is all we can base a ruling on, but the facts of the Talmud are very hard to "shtim", and they leak dangerously close to the halacha.

Well, I am sure that there will be a full discussion of this in "The Coming Revolution 2". It is right up his alley after all. (NOT!)


  • Considering all the other non-venomous animals referred to as "poisoning" their prey, cat scratch disease seems unlikely. I suspect that it's simply pathogens contracted from diseased blood on the animal's claws; the presence of blood after scratching the door indicates that the cat pushed its claws in far enough to deposit diseased blood. (The gamara refers to blood on the door, not poison.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:17 AM  

  • The gemora is referring to the red marks that indicate the injection of poison. Otherwise, the point of the argument makes no sense. (Note the halacha refers to searching the body cavity for redness, since the poison is red. I say taht they saw redness and assumed poison. That contention is hard to defend here.) Also, it is clear that the poison is only injected at the retraction of the claw. This would not be the case if we were talking about blood borne pathogens.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 4:44 PM  

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