By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
Recently, the media was abuzz about a newborn puppy named Skipper. It was a puppy that was born with six legs.
The media stated that, like other newborn puppies, Skipper likes to eat, drink water and go to the bathroom and that it was a border collie and Australian shepherd mix is unique from the rest of her litter: She was born with six legs.
Neel Veterinary Hospital in Oklahoma wrote on its Facebook page on February 21. “She has survived longer than we suspect any other canine has (at just 4 days old – published research does not indicate one has been born alive) with her combination of congenital conditions. You might notice she looks a little different – 6 legs!”
Skipper was born naturally — along with eight brothers and sisters — on February 16 in Oklahoma during a big snowstorm, Dr. Tina Neel, owner of the Neel Veterinary Hospital, remarked.
Our question, however, is: If it wasn’t a dog, but rather a kosher animal, would a six legged animal be 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.
MISSING ONE OR TWO LEGS
What then would be the status of a kosher calf or sheep 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 the topic. 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 such an animal. 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 THE HALACHA COME FROM?
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.
FRONT LEGS OR BACK LEGS?
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-dependent.
Thus, an extra hand, or even two extra hands, would not render the calf non-kosher. So what is the status of Skipper – if it were a kosher animal? Skippers hind legs are the extra ones. It would not be kosher.