Yesterday, we noted the halakha requiring a tradition affirming the permissibility of a species of bird to allow its consumption. As the Torah does not identify physical properties that render a given species of bird permissible or forbidden, we ascertain a species’ status only on the basis of an accepted tradition.
Some halakhic authorities, interestingly enough, apply this halakha also to animal species. The Torah in Parashat Shemini famously establishes that a species of animal is permissible for consumption if it both chews it cud and has split hooves (11:2-3). Seemingly, the specification of these two qualities makes it fairly simply to determine an animal’s status. Nevertheless, some halakhic authorities require a tradition to permit a species for consumption, on the basis of a comment made by the Shakh (Y.D. 80:1) in regard to the prohibition of cheilev – eating the forbidden fats of animals. This prohibition is limited to beheimot – domesticated animals – as opposed to chayot – non-domesticated animals. Meaning, the cheilev of a beheima whose meat is permissible for consumption is forbidden, whereas the cheilev of a chaya whose meat is permissible for consumption is permissible. The Shulchan Arukh (Y.D. 80:1) presents the guidelines for distinguishing between a chaya and a beheima in order to determine the status of an animal’s cheilev. The Shakh, commenting to this passage in the Shulchan Arukh, writes that he refrained from explaining and discussing this law because “now all we have is that which we have accepted via tradition.”
The plain understanding of the Shakh’s comments, as explained by the Peri Megadim, is that we do not eat the cheilev of a kosher species of animal without a tradition that this fat is permissible. Given the uncertainty surrounding the precise application of the halakhic guidelines for distinguishing between a chaya and a beheima, we rely only on tradition to determine a creature’s status as a chaya such that we may partake of its cheilev. This is also how the Kaf Ha-chayim (Y.D. 80:5) understood the Shakh’s remark.
Surprisingly, however, Rav Avraham Danzig, in Chokhmat Adam (36), explains the Shakh as referring to a tradition for the permissible status of even the meat of animals. According to this reading, although the Torah provided us with relatively clear guidelines for distinguishing between a permissible and forbidden animal, nevertheless, the Shakh maintained that we should partake of only meat from animals whose permissibility has been affirmed by tradition. This position was accepted by the Chazon Ish (Y.D. 11).
The Chazon Ish’s ruling was cited by some as a reason to forbid the meat of the zebu, which is imported to Israel from South America. Although the zebu resembles a cow, it is a separate species, and thus would, according to the Chazon Ish, require a tradition affirming its permissibility. Therefore, since no such tradition exists with regard to the zebu, its meat should seemingly be impermissible according to the view of the Chokhmat Adam, which is accepted by the Chazon Ish.
Rav Asher Weiss devotes a chapter to this subject in Minchat Asher – Vayikra, and dismisses this conclusion. He notes, for one thing, that observant Jewish communities in South America indeed had a time-honored tradition to permit the meat of the zebu, and their tradition is sufficient for other communities to rely upon, as well. When it comes to species of fowl, which require a tradition to be accepted as permissible, the Shakh (82:11) writes (as we mentioned yesterday) that if one community has received a tradition permitting a species, other communities may rely on this tradition unless they had a custom to specifically forbid that species. If they had no tradition regarding this species, such as if they were simply unfamiliar with it, then they may rely on the tradition of one Jewish community, and trust that it is authentic. This would certainly apply in the case of zebu, and thus, since the source for requiring a tradition to permit a species of animal is the Shakh, it follows that we may rely on the Shakh’s other ruling to permit the meat of the zebu based on the tradition of South American communities.
Moreover, Rav Weiss notes, the basis for this stringency is the Chokhmat Adam’s interpretation of the Shakh’s comments, and a careful reading of the Chokhmat Adam indicates that he speaks specifically of chayot – non-domesticated animals. The Chokhmat Adam wrote that chayot require a tradition to be permitted for consumption, but did not make this comment regard domesticated animals. Rav Weiss suggests several reasons for this distinction, including the fact that according to one view (cited in the Pitchei Teshuva, 89:1), a chaya requires an additional feature to be considered a kosher species (relating to the position of its horns), beyond merely split hooves and chewing its cud. As this could create confusion, the custom developed (according to the Chokhmat Adam) not to permit a non-domesticated animal for consumption without an accepted tradition. As a zebu clearly falls under the category of beheima (domesticated animals), it is permissible for consumption even according to the Chokhmat Adam.