What is the difference between the term behema and chaya used in the torah and mishna?

Is it that one means domesticated animal while the other means wild animal?


4 Answers 4


There is a distinction between Behema Tehora (בהמה טהורה) and Behema Tmei'a (בהמה טמאה).

"Behema Tehora"

The definition is according to the Even Ezra in Bereshis (1, 24) - "Behema - that they are with people for their needs, to ride and to eat" (שהם עם בני אדם לצרכם לרכוב ולאכול).

"Behema Tmei'a"

The definition follows the Ramban's words in Bereshis (1, 24) "Behema are the grass eating species, whether in the desert or in the civil settlement. 'VeHaito Aretz' - the carnivore shall be called Chaya 'VeKolam Yitrofu' (בהמה הם המינים האוכלים עשב, בין ישובי בין מדברי: וחיתו ארץ - אוכלי הבשר יקרא חיות, וכלם יטרופו)

Common examples:

Chaya which we can eat include:

Deer, Gazelle, Addax, Bubalus

Chaya which we cannot eat include:

Cat, Dog, Lion

Behema which we can eat include:

Cows, Goats, Sheep

Behema which we cannot eat include:

Horse, Camel


From shaareihoraah.org, Parshat Re'eh:

Within the general family of land-dwellers, Halacha divides them into two sub-categories, Beheima and Chaya (generally translated as domesticated and wild animals respectively). The distinction between these classifications is trickier [than kosher vs. non-kosher] and quite complicated.

While both groups share the same defining characteristics to determine their Kosher status and must be split-hooved ruminants, there are two significant distinctions between them. A Beheima has a stringency that its Cheilev, forbidden fats, may not be consumed, while they are permitted in a Chaya. On the other hand, there is an obligation to cover the blood from a slaughtered Chaya, which is not necessary for a Beheima. Consequently, despite the difficulty involved, it is essential to determine the appropriate category for each animal.


Ibn Ezra and Radak explain that behemot are domesticated animals, which live among people, and have utilitarian uses for mankind (e.g., their meat is for consumption or they are used for transportation). Chayot, on the other hand, are wild animals, which live in the uninhabited wilderness. Ramban suggests that all behemot are herbivores, meaning that they are animals which feed solely on plants and other flora. By contrast, chayot are carnivores, that is, meat-eating animals. We can have an interesting discussion about deer and how their chayah status fits into these paradigms, see sources.

SOURCE: What's in a Word?, "Don't be a Behamah or a Chayah!"


The Lion is considered of Chayat Eretz (Gen 1.24), a wild beast, but we see it is strongest among the Behema (beasts)(Prov 30.30). I would say this is because ‘behema’ is being used as a general reference to all three categories of Behema, Remes, and Chayat Eretz, and so while the lion is of Chayat Eretz, it is strongest among all of the beasts of the Land.

Also the Wild Ox is referred to as originally from Behema and then some fled into the wilderness to become Chayat (Mishna Kilaim 8:6), but perhaps this is addressed in Gen 2:19 where Hashem makes the Chayat HaSadah (Beasts of the field). This seems to refer to those Chayat which are wild but eat of the grass. This would include the wild Ox as well as deer, gazelle, etc. These are a sub division of Chayat HaEretz.

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