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In Mishpatim (and perhaps elsewhere), the Tora refers to an animal incurring or causing damage, and calls it a shor, שור, commonly translated ox.

In Pin'chas (and Achare and perhaps elsewhere), the Tora refers to an animal being brought as a sacrifical offering, and calls it a par, פר, commonly translated bull.

In English, ox refers to a castrated adult male that's used for pulling something, and bull refers to an adult male that hasn't been castrated. Is that, in fact, the difference between a שור and a פר: that a שור has been castrated and a פר has not? Or what is the difference between a שור and a פר? And why is the word שור used when discussing damage and the word פר used when discussing offerings?

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Tehillim 69:32 hmmmm –  Double AA Feb 16 at 3:44
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he.wiktionary.org/wiki/… –  Michoel Feb 16 at 9:49
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Wait, castration wouldn't count as a blemish that invalidates the korban? I never really thought about what "ox" really means; good question. –  Monica Cellio Mar 25 at 13:11
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4 Answers 4

In Rosh Hashanah 10a defines Par, פר, it's at least 2 years old and one day.

In Bava Kamma 65b Rava says that a Shor, שור, can even be a newborn.

A Shor can do damage at any age and be liable, but the Korban needs to be a certain age.

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As well as Rosh Hashana 10a, see רש"י חולין ס. ד"ה בקומתן נבראו –  Zvi Mar 25 at 19:26

In English, when we say "ox" we mean a male bovus that was bred and trained for use as a work animal; in general society they were usually also castrated, but the Torah clearly forbade this. When we say "bull" we mean a male bovus bred for its meat, or to sire more offspring.

(Further proof that the oxen in the Torah weren't castrated: the letter aleph means "ox", and the paleo-Hebrew symbol for it looked like one. Yet the Torah blesses "sh'gar alafecha", the offspring of your oxen.)

So what would be choice meat? A "bull." What would you have working around your farm (and hence more likely to trample the neighbor's rose bushes)? An "ox." It's all about what traits they were bred for, and how they were trained and used.

Note in the high holiday liturgy we refer to prayers and repentance as "better than a shor par, an "ox bull." Same species, same gender.

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It appears from the commentaries, and from context from relevant Biblical quotations that the word שר is a generic term applying to all types of animals that are of potential danger to man. Rashi, commenting on Exodus 21:28 -- "if a bull gores a man or woman ..." says that the term applies "either [to] a bull or any domestic animal, beast, or bird, but the text spoke of what usually occurs [i.e., bulls usually gore]. -[citing Mechilta, B.K. 54b].

In contrast, where a specific species of animal is required to be listed, such as a bull, the Torah uses the word פר, for example Exodus 29:1, the Torah teaches "[a]nd this is the thing that you shall do for them to sanctify them to serve Me [as kohanim]: take one young bull [פר] and two rams, perfect ones."

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שור means an ox of either gender, whereas פר refers exclusively to a male. See Leviticus 22:28, where שור is used to mean a female (see Rashi).

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@DoubleAA Either way, doesn't everyone agree that שור could refer to the mother? –  Ypnypn Mar 25 at 18:00

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