seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
[personal profile] seekingferret
Meeting Ann Vandermeer at Worldcon re-energized my desire to write a commentary on her wonderful Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, laying out the actual halachic sources for her conclusions about the kashrut of unicorns and chimeras and so on. I've been going through the relevant sections of Masechet Chullin and SA Yoreh Deah and the Rambam's Mishneh Torah to get back in the feel for the work, and I keep encountering a sort of fundamental problem with the effort that I'm going to need a general solution to.

There are several places where the commentators conclude that some ecological or anatomical niche must be completely filled by known animals based on the Torah. For example, the only animal mentioned in the Torah as having split hooves but not chewing its cud is the pig. Therefore, concludes Rabbi Yishmael, if you encounter an animal with split hooves and you know it's not a pig, you can be confident it's kosher.

These sorts of rules are important because the Rabbis were trying to develop a taxonomy that allowed unschooled people to easily determine the kashrut of animals without performing complex dissections and weighing fine anatomical distinctions. The Rabbis wanted easy rules, so that you could look at an animal and instantly tell if it's kosher. They're based on the idea that the Torah's listings of animal types are exhaustive, or in some cases that the Rabbis' knowledge of animal types is exhaustive 'based on a tradition'.

This starts to become a problem if imaginary animals are considered. A half-goat/half lion creature is probably not kosher, because the lion part is a predator, but it might well have split hooves and chew its cud. On the other hand, it's doubly excluded from existence: First, by Rabbi Yishmael's rule, and secondly by the Rambam's rule in Mishneh Torah that a kosher animal is biologically incapable of having offspring with an unkosher animal. So saying, fine, stipulating that the goat/lion is imaginary and this is a hypothetical, is it kosher? is tricky since one reason it's excluded from being kosher is BECAUSE it's imaginary and thus someone applying kosher taxonomy can assume it doesn't exist.


I think I have two general options for these rules: One is to disallow them as part of the game. In other words, say that since the game is hypothetically assuming imaginary creatures are real, we necessarily understand that any halachic principles based just on the knowledge that they're not real are not in effect. This seems like the most reasonable option, but at the same time rejecting fundamental kashrut rules from the Gemara feels like it kind of messes with the game.

The other general option is to try to taxonomize the creatures according to existing halachic categories, that is, to identify by fiat any clearly nonkosher animal that defies halachic taxonomic principles as belonging to some actual halachic taxon. Thus, some clearly unkosher animal with cloven hooves must necessarily be a pig for halachic purposes.

A third option that may be available in some circumstances is to create a distinguishment to avoid the dilemma. For example, a dog's paw has some sort of division, too, such that some commentators argue that it is like the pig in having a cloven hoof but not chewing cud. But most Rabbis distinguish the dog's foot as not being the sort of cloven hoof intended by the Torah, and thereby avoid contradicting Rabbi Yishmael's rule. Similarly, in the case of a half-horse/half-fish creature that might plausibly have the simanim of a kosher sea creature, I might conclude that the half-fish part was necessarily from a fish whose scales are not proper scales, in order to sidestep some of the halachic difficulty posed by Rambam's rule.

I may also mix and match these principles and not use one approach exclusively.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-27 09:41 pm (UTC)
kass: "Judaism is my other fandom." (judaism)
From: [personal profile] kass
I do not have an answer for you, but I am absolutely tickled by the seriousness with which you are approaching the question.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-09-02 10:16 pm (UTC)
lokifan: black Converse against a black background (Default)
From: [personal profile] lokifan
This post makes me so happy :D

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