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Laws of Religion

Laws of Judaism Concerning Food

 

6.  An Animal that Died by Itself or was Torn by Other Animals

 

from the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

and the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

 

An Animal that Died by Itself or was Torn by Other Animals

From the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

 

It is forbidden to eat anything that died by itself.[1] Meat torn by animals in the field is prohibited; it should be thrown to the dogs.[2] If an animal that is permitted for eating dies by itself, eating it or touching or carrying its carcass makes a person impure* until the evening[3] as does eating from an animal that was torn by other animals.[4]

 

After eating meat from an animal that died by itself[5] or was torn by beasts[6] an Israelite or a stranger shall wash his clothes[7] and, in another passage, also bathe in water[8] to become pure. Anyone who does not wash his clothes and bathe, as required, will bear his iniquity.[9]

 

It is permitted to give meat from an animal that died by itself to a non-Israelite resident in Israel or to sell it to a foreign non-Israelite.[10] The fat from an animal that died by itself or was torn by animals is forbidden for eating, but may be used for any other purpose.[11]

 

 

An Animal that Died by Itself or was Torn by Other Animals

Jewish Law (Halakha) from the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

Eating the meat of a clean* animal or bird that has died by itself (nebelah) is a violation of a negative commandment (Deuteronomy 14:21). Therefore, the punishment for eating a quantity of meat from such an animal or bird equal to the size of an olive is flogging. Any clean animal or bird that has not been killed in accordance with the rules of ritual slaughter is considered to have died by itself. Unclean animals do not come under the prohibition of nebelah; eating meat of such an animal incurs the punishment of flogging for eating from an unclean animal no matter how it died.[12]

 

Eating a permitted bird alive, even if that bird is smaller than an olive, violates the prohibition against eating birds that died by themselves. The punishment for this is flogging.[13]

 

If a person eats an olive-sized quantity of a part which has been torn (terefah) from a clean animal or clean bird by other animals or by a person but the animal or bird was not killed, the punishment is flogging. This is a violation of a negative commandment (Exodus 22:31, cited above). If the animal or bird was killed, then eating its meat is a violation of the prohibition against eating things that died by themselves (nebelah) rather than the prohibition against eating from things torn by other animals (terefah).[14] If the part torn from the animal is cut into pieces, all of which are smaller than an olive, then eating these pieces is not subject to punishment, even if the total amount eaten exceeds the size of an olive.[15] If the torn animal was of an unclean species, then eating it does not violate the terefah prohibition; eating meat of such an animal incurs the punishment of flogging for eating from an unclean animal no matter how it died.[16] Based on the prohibition in the Torah against eating from animals that were torn by beasts, the Sages said that an animal suffering from a fatal disease, injury or congenital condition is in that same prohibited category (terefah).[17]

 

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* We use the words "clean" and "unclean" to refer to animal species that are permitted (kosher) or forbidden for eating; other things or people are referred to as being "pure" or "impure" or, occasionally for more clarity, as "ritually pure" or "ritually impure." A separate section of this website is devoted solely to the issue of ritual purity in Judaism.

 

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Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.

 

Updated October 15, 2016

 

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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

Gen: The Biblical book of Genesis.

Exod: The Biblical book of Exodus.

Lev: The Biblical book of Leviticus.

Num: The Biblical Book of Numbers.

Deut: The Biblical Book of Deuteronomy.

MT:  The Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Code of Maimonides). The names of the specific books and treatises within each book are given according to the Yale University Press translation and also the Moznaim/Touger Hebrew transliterations to facilitate locating the texts posted here.

F:  indicates page numbers in the Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., translation of Book 1 of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, the Book of Knowledge.

M:  indicates page numbers in the relevant volume of the Moznaim Publishing Corporation’s Touger translation. (Some of the books of Mishneh Torah are published in several volumes by Moznaim, so the Moznaim volume numbers do not correspond to the Book numbers of Maimonides’ work.)

Y:  indicates page numbers in the translation of the Yale University Press Judaica Series.

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Judaism.

 



[1] Deut 14:21

[2] Exod 22:31

[3] Lev 11:39-40, Lev 17:15

[4] Lev 17:15

[5] Lev 11:40

[6] Lev 17:15

[7] Lev 11:40

[8] Lev 17:15

[9] Lev 17:16

[10] Deut 14:21

[11] Lev 7:24

[12] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 4, secs 1-2 (pages 316M 169-170Y)

[13] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 4, sec 3 (pages 316-318M 170Y)

[14] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 4, secs 6-8 (pages 318-320M 170-172Y); MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 4, sec 10 (pages 320-322M 172Y); Chapter 5, secs 1-3 (pages 328-330M 176-177Y)

[15] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 5, sec 4 (pages 330M 177Y)

[16] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 4, sec 2 (pages 316M 169-170Y)

[17] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 2 on Forbidden Foods, Ma’achalot Assurot; Chapter 4, sec 9 (pages 320M 172Y); MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 3, Laws Concerning Shehitah (Shechitah, Ritual Slaughter); Chapter 10, sec 9 (pages 604-606M 304-306Y)