It seems from Re'eh 14:18 that Torah considers BATS as birds. Though scientists classify them as mammals. I'm preparing a class on this Parsha and would like to hear comments about this difference.

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    "The Torah spoke in the Language of the People" – Josh K Aug 9 at 5:37
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    Because they have wings and can fly. – Joel K Aug 9 at 5:39
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    Where does it say "bats" there? – Double AA Aug 9 at 11:46
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    @DoubleAA Rashi thinks it does (although of course others translate תנשמת differently) – Joel K Aug 9 at 11:56
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    Please provide the original text to judge and what do you think a bat is and what a bird is. – Al Berko Aug 9 at 11:58

Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin, director of The Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh has an article on this in his Rationalist Judaism blog, here.

The paragraph that probably answers your question is:

A system of classification has no independent reality. It is simply a means by which we measure and describes the animal kingdom, depending upon our purpose. For the purposes of science, the animal kingdom is evaluated on its own terms, based on anatomy. For the Torah’s system of classification, the animal kingdom is presented in terms the relationship between animals and human beings, and their perception by the common person. Neither system is more correct than the other; they are just serving different purposes. In the Torah, anything birdlike is classified as ohf - including bats. This is not a scientific error, just a different system of language.

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    As an analogy, domestic animal is a useful category for daily life, but not a scientific category. – TRiG Aug 9 at 10:08
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    While this is still an answer, the other answer judaism.stackexchange.com/a/94568/501 by user15464 is better. – Danny Schoemann Aug 9 at 12:26
  • Slifkin is a good source for this! I don't get why so many people dislike his work. – DanF Aug 9 at 16:20
  • "A system of classification has no independent reality." I take it Slifkin has never heard of natural kinds? Even if he were to argue that bats and birds are not natural kinds, that first sentence still suggests an ignorance of one of the corner stones of metaphysics. – Not_Here Aug 9 at 18:34
  • @Not_Here to quote from your link, "To say that a kind is natural is to say that it corresponds to a grouping that reflects the structure of the natural world rather than the interests and actions of human beings." In a system of law that human beings have to follow, the interests and actions of human beings are the entire point! See TRiG's comment above - for legal purposes it's more useful to group goats with cows than with mountain goats. – Heshy Aug 9 at 18:38

The Passuk (Vayikra 11,13) uses the phrase ואת אלה תשקצו מן העוף לא יאכלו when describing all birds bats and insects

The word עוף essentially means "a being that flies"

This is proven from Tehilim where Dovid Hamelech says:

ואמר מי יתן לי אבר כיונה אעופה ואשכנה
And I said If only I would be given wings like a dove I would fly...

So if one classifies everything that flies into one category everyone would come to the same conclusion to include mammals that fly.

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    Except that the word used in Devarim 14 is צפור, which for sure means bird. – ezra Aug 9 at 14:06
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    @ezra Actually, I think the Torah is being very precise with its language. 14:11 says that כל צפור טהור may be eaten. 14:12 begins with “These you may not eat from them” and lists a bunch of birds through 14:18, concluding with the bat and the assertion in 14:19-20 that כל שרץ העוף טמא הוא...כל עוף טהור תאכלו. Once the bat is thrown onto the pile, the category name changes. – DonielF Aug 9 at 15:28
  • It might question that if עוף includes anything that flies, why are all the flying insects classified differently? – DanF Aug 9 at 16:22
  • @Danf שרץ העוף implies it's in the flying creature category but has unique characteristics that are native to שרצים – robev Aug 9 at 17:59

Torah considers BATS [to be] birds.

That doesn't make sense. Was the Torah written in English? If the Torah refers to something that is translated as "bat" with a word that is translated as "bird", that is a fact about the translation, not about the Torah. If you're asking why Ancient Hebrew had a word that refers to both birds and bats, that's not a question about Jewish law, that's linguistic question. Languages develop categories according to what their speakers find pertinent. Presumably, ancient Hebrews found flight to be an issue more pertinent than whether something is a mammal. Biologists, on the other hand, have a strong preference for classification based on common ancestry.

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya! Please take a moment to see our tour so you can get a feel for how the site works. The verses in question have a word that is commonly translated as “bat” and uses a word commonly translated as “bird” to refer to it. The main answer here seems to be the final two sentences - the rest is just semantics that doesn’t really address the question. – DonielF Aug 9 at 23:55

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