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Just prior to the start of Yom Kippur this year, a young child corrected me when I mentioned Yonah's whale and said that, "it wasn't a whale; it was a Dag Gadol."

I had to admit, this was good teaching on the part of the teacher. Or was it?

I understand that today's classification of animals categorizes a whale not as a fish but as a mammal. But does this mean that Yonah's "Dag Gadol" necessarily wasn't what we would today call a whale?

I don't mean to ask for a definitive answer as to what species of sea creature swallowed Yonah. I am just trying to find out if anyone has written anything convincing (or widely accepted theologically), of which I'm unaware, that states, "No, it was not a whale; it was a Dag Gadol."

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  • @ShmuelBrin, Thanks, yeah, I saw that. Not interested in what it might have been (unless some source says was it definitely was). I just want to know if someone notable says it definitely wasn't a whale. – Seth J Sep 15 '13 at 3:58
  • I've heard whales are not kosher because they lack scales, not because they lack split hooves. – Double AA Sep 15 '13 at 4:56
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    I have heard that before from people trying to sound knowledgeable, but as I demonstrate below, Dag Gadol can clearly mean a whale. – רבות מחשבות Jan 4 '18 at 1:15
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    I interpreted the correction as "not specifically a whale but any kind of dag gadol", as opposed to "not a whale". That is, by saying "whale" you're being more specific than the text, and while a whale would fit there might be other candidates too (even more if the creature is not natural). – Monica Cellio Jan 4 '18 at 2:12
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The only Rishon I saw who identifies the Dag Gadol in his commentary is [R Eliezer of Beaugency to Yonah 2:1][1], and he identifies it as a "בַלְיינְא וכיוצא בו", which is a baleine (etc.) in French (see also here) or a whale in English. Therefore, I find it very hard to believe that there is any issue with explaining it as such, and I would recommend that if anyone makes a point of disqualifying this understanding, you should point this out to them.

Ahh, but it gets better. The Rosh to Bechoros 1:8 in his own language identifies a whale as a Dag Gadol:

...ומכאן מתירין הרנג"ש הנמצאין במעי דג גדול הנקרא בלונ"א...

Maaseh Rokeach (to Hilchos Maachalos Assuros 1) quotes this, (as does Beis Yosef YD 83, although with a different Laaz word, which I cannot find the translation for).

Thank you @ba for the correction to the above.


The only mention that I found of someone saying Dag Gadol implies "not a whale" is here in this article, which says "ולא לויתן", but notes that Ibn Ezra refers to the leviathan as a Dag Gadol (see for example Tehillim 104:26), so I'm not sure what the source is.

Some Mefarshim have explained Dag Gadol to mean "old fish", and suggest that there may be larger fish around, which might also imply that it was not a whale. R"B in Kad Hakemach (Kippurim) quotes this view:

וימן ה' דג גדול, אין הכונה להיותו דג גדול בגופו כי יש בים דגים רבים גדולים ממנו. אבל הוא גדול בשנים שהיה ממונה לזה מששת ימי בראשית

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