It seems from Parashat Re'eh (Deut 14:18):

וְהַחֲסִידָה וְהָאֲנָפָה לְמִינָהּ וְהַדּוּכִיפַת וְהָעֲטַלֵּף׃

the stork, any variety of heron, the hoopoe, and the bat.

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" Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 5:37
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    Because they have wings and can fly.
    – Joel K
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 5:39
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    Where does it say "bats" there?
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 11:46
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    @DoubleAA Rashi thinks it does (although of course others translate תנשמת differently)
    – Joel K
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 11:56
  • 3
    Please provide the original text to judge and what do you think a bat is and what a bird is.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 11:58

5 Answers 5


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
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 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. Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 12:26
  • Slifkin is a good source for this! I don't get why so many people dislike his work.
    – DanF
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 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
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 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
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 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
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 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
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 15:28
  • It might question that if עוף includes anything that flies, why are all the flying insects classified differently?
    – DanF
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 16:22
  • @Danf שרץ העוף implies it's in the flying creature category but has unique characteristics that are native to שרצים
    – robev
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 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.

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    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
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 23:55

In the beginning of the Torah, the Torah describes various min - types or categories of animals. Each has a distinct definition - animals, birds, fish etc. The defining feature of all bird-like animals is that they fly and have wings. They come from the water but that's the definition. So if you find a winged creature that you don't know how to classify, you have to know if it flies and has wings. The question is really what animal has the potential to fly, and has wings - but doesn't - what is it's status. So an Ostrich is one such example. Then there is the duck-billed platypus that lays eggs is another example of an in-between species.

Rashi (Lev. 11:13) explicitly says that a single min includes various different species.

Acc. to Menachos 29a, it seems even Moshe Rabbeinu was not clear on which animal and species was what without prophetic help.

Often different types of animals share the same name because they have similar characteristics. (for example התנשמת) used in Lev. 11:18 and 11:30. See also Chulin 63a.

See also Rabbeinu Bachya Lev. 11:2 and Lev. 11:43 as well as the Malbim on Lev. 11:29.

So the Torah would easily consider bats to be birds for a number of reasons: 1. They both fly, and therefore can be considered to be under the same general category of winged-flying creatures. 2. They would have similar names for this reason. 3. We're not necessarily expert in the differences between animals and their names in the Torah, so it might well be that we're misunderstanding to which creature the name actually refers.

  • The question already has answers scored quite highly (+22 and +16). What did you find lacking in them that drove you to post this similar response to an old question?
    – Double AA
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 10:37

Here's the simplest solution:

"דברה תורה כלשון בני אדם"
The Torah spoke in the language of [lay]men

(lots of sources here)

The Sages have a simple explanation for numerous hoaxes found in the Torah - it was written for laymen in a layman language. So for people who don't care about biology or zoology, the simplest observational feature is "can fly". For example, the Moon is called מאור - a luminaria because it shines - so who cares if it's a planet or a star.

Sorry for my cynic language, but I think that should be our general approach to the Torah - there's nothing openly scientific in it.

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