Are Beheima and Chaya Groups or Elements?

Provided courtesy of Real Clear Daf

The answer to this question sheds light on Thursday’s daf (79) this week, which discusses hybrid animals.

The main topic of our perek is the prohibition against slaughtering an animal and its offspring on the same day. The Torah says, “An ox or se (goat/sheep), do not slaughter it and its offspring on the same day.” It is clear from the examples provided in the verse that the prohibition is limited to beheimos (which can be roughly interpreted as domesticated animals).

The Gemara explores the halacha of a koy, a hybrid between a beheima (e.g. goat) and a chaya (e.g. a deer). Would it be prohibited to slaughter a koy and its offspring on the same day? The Gemara cites a dispute of Tannaim on this matter. As the discussion ensues we also learn that the halachik uncertainty surrounding a koy  pertains to other halachos where the beheima/chaya distinction is a determining factor such as the mitzva of giving parts of a beheima to a Cohen, and the obligation to cover the blood of a slaughtered chaya.

When discussing the law of a koy with respect to the Cohannic portions, the Gemara makes the surprising statement that the owner is only obligated to give half of the Cohannic portions. Similarly, in the context of the prohibition against breeding different species the Gemara suggests that the Halacha views a mule as possessing both the identities of both a horse and a donkey!

The notion that the Halacha considers a koy to be both a beheima and a chaya is something that seems hard to conceptualize. For doesn’t logic dictate that the beheima/chaya question is a binary one? A koy should either be judged as a beheima or a chaya (or neither), but not as both!

But it appears from our Gemara that beheima and chaya should not be understood as categories but as elements. Thus the problem with koy is not which group to put it in, but rather how to deal with the mixture of elements that it possesses. Perhaps the rationale for this understanding is that in contrast to how the Torah assigns different statuses to people of different ancestral roots (e.g. Cohen vs. Yisroel), where clearly it is a binary question of either being in that group or not, the dietary laws that are assigned to various animals do not lend themselves to a concept of belonging to a particular group. Instead it’s more a question of: “What kind of meat are we dealing with here?” When viewed from this lense, a koy is really just two pieces of meat of different statuses mixed together.