I'm looking for Rabbinical/Kabbalical explanations for the resemblance between animals and humans, especially mammals and apes.

This is [partially only] influenced by the series of question on the 613 body parts vs 613 Mitzvos. Does this likeness relate to the similarity in souls, obligations etc vs humans and Jews?

  • sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.109a.5?lang=bi
    – Joel K
    Dec 6, 2018 at 10:00
  • @JoelK Could you please be more specific?
    – Al Berko
    Dec 6, 2018 at 10:08
  • Some apes are said to be humans from the time of Migdal Bavel who were turned into monkeys. As such, it is not surprising that they would resemble humans.
    – Joel K
    Dec 6, 2018 at 10:10
  • @JoelK Interesting, how about למינו? Is this a new מין? A new creation?
    – Al Berko
    Dec 6, 2018 at 10:14
  • Good questions. I have no idea...
    – Joel K
    Dec 6, 2018 at 10:25

3 Answers 3


If you’re looking for practical ramifications of the resemblance between humans and apes, then consider R. Yose’s opinion in Kilayim 8:5:

וְאַדְנֵי הַשָּׂדֶה, חַיָּה. רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אוֹמֵר, מְטַמְּאוֹת בָּאֹהֶל כָּאָדָם.‏

The adnei hasadeh is a wild animal. R. Yose says, it[s carcass] imparts impurity in a tent, like a human.

What is this adnei hasadeh creature?

Tiferet Yisrael ad loc.:

בר נש דטור. נ"ל דר"ל וואלדמענש הנקרא אוראנגאוטאנג והוא מין קוף גדול בקומת וצורת אדם ממש. רק שזרעותיו ארוכים ומגיעין עד ברכיו ... מיהו ת"ק ס"ל דאע"ג דדומה לאדם בפרצופו ואבריו. אפ"ה כשמת דינו רק כשאר נבילות. ואמ"ט באהל.‏

This refers to the “mountain man”. It appears to me that it means the “wildman” which is called orangutan. This is a type of large ape, of the actual size and appearance of a human, except that it has long arms which reach to its knees ... However, the Tanna Kamma holds that although it is similar to a human in its face and limbs, nevertheless, when it dies it is subject to the same rules as other animal carcasses, and does not impart impurity in a tent.

So, according to Tiferet Yisrael, R. Yose holds that carcasses of orangutans (and maybe other great apes as well?) have some of the same laws of impurity as human corpses (and which do not apply to other animals) owing to their physiological similarities. The other sages, in contrast, believe that orangutans' similar appearance to humans is not sufficient cause for their carcasses to impart impurity in the same way as humans corpses do.

  • How do you know the Tumah is due to the physiological similarities? Maybe it's due to shared ancestry? Or Gezerat Hakatuv?
    – Double AA
    Dec 7, 2018 at 11:56
  • 1
    @DoubleAA Tiferet Yisrael explains opinion of TK as מיהו ת"ק ס"ל דאע"ג דדומה לאדם בפרצופו ואבריו אפ"ה כשמת דינו רק כשאר נבילות. Sounds like for R Yose that is the key criterion. Will bli neder edit into post after shabbat.
    – Joel K
    Dec 7, 2018 at 13:09
  • 1
    @DoubleAA And I’m not sure I understand your suggestion of shared ancestry. If you go back far enough, we have shared ancestry with every animal (according to current scientific thinking).
    – Joel K
    Dec 7, 2018 at 13:10
  • @JoelK Current scientific thinking also says we have shared ancestry with single-celled organisms, but humans' relation to orangutans is certainly closer
    – b a
    Dec 9, 2018 at 10:25
  • @ba Very true. But my point is that if DoubleAA's suggestion is going to work, we're going to have define some (pretty arbitrary) point in time and say that any animal with which we share a common ancestor that lived after that time will impart tumat ohel, but if the common ancestor lived before that time, then it won't. It seems much more likely to me that the defining feature would be morphological rather than genetic/evolutionary.
    – Joel K
    Dec 9, 2018 at 10:36

R. Chaim Vital, Etz Chaim 42:1:

מ"ש חכמי הטבע כי בין הדומם והצומח הוא הקורא"לי הנקרא אלמוגים ובין הצומח והחי הוא אדני השדה הנזכר במסכת כלאים שהוא כמין כלב גדל בקרקע וטבורו נשרש בקרקע ויונק משם וכשחותכין הטבור שלו מת ובין החי והמדבר הוא הקוף.‏

[T]hat which the scientists wrote that intermediate between inanimate matter and plants there is coral, and between plants and animal life there is the adnei hasadeh (mentioned in Masechet Kilayim) which is a kind of dog that grows from the ground and which is umbilically connected to the ground from which it is sustained and if one cuts that cord it dies, and intermediate between animals and humans is the monkey.

So, if apes are viewed as an intermediate category between animals and humans, it makes sense that they would resemble the human form in certain ways.

  • "כמין כלב גדל בקרקע וטבורו נשרש בקרקע ויונק משם" - seriously? Harry Potter? Just leave the last words.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 6, 2018 at 11:50
  • I meant, what's the נ"מ of such resemblance? Do they have Mitzvos? Is that a resemblance of souls - נפש, נשמה?
    – Al Berko
    Dec 6, 2018 at 11:51
  • you probably wouldn't like this Mishna either @AlBerko
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Dec 6, 2018 at 12:00
  • @Dr.Shmuel I truly don't know how to deal with such statements.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 6, 2018 at 12:34
  • @AlBerko Please take note that Rabbi Chaim Vital was quoting what the biologists of his day were reporting. Rabbi Vital was trying to identify where within Torah those creatures are discussed. So what biologists were calling 'coral' is referred to in Torah as 'almogim'. Similarly, the creature called 'Adnei HaSadeh' (Foundations of the Field, like the 'Adnei HaMishkan') in Kilayim is what biologists called the 'Prairie Dog'. This was a little known creature at the time. See Journal of Jewish & Clark: lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu/item/lc.jrn.1804-09-07 Dec 6, 2018 at 14:40

To give you my own opinion, a similar resemblance between mankind and animals is what we would expect if there was one Creator God. This can be related to how a painter has his own style of painting and that style is reflected across his creations. Similarly, with one Almighty Creator God we should expect to (and we do) find similar characteristics not only shared within the animal kingdom but across all of creation mind you with each aspect of creation having their variously assigned functions and purposes.

  • This is a nice idea, but it seemingly contradicts the basic worldview of Judaism. The very idea I mentioned of the man being the highest creature resembling G-d and therefore having 613 Mitzvos against each body organ should "invalidate" the resemblance to animals, that have no Mitzvos and bear no resemblance to G-d and angels.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 8, 2018 at 16:28
  • @AlBerko How basic is this comparison, in fact? R. Simlai in Makkot 23b links the 248 positive mitzvot to the 248 eivarim, but not the 365 negative mitzvot to the gidim. Where do we first see that correspondence made?
    – Joel K
    Dec 9, 2018 at 10:43
  • @JoelK A Q on its own to ask. But do you agree with my line of thinking, that the physical resemblance must be translated into a spiritual one?
    – Al Berko
    Dec 9, 2018 at 10:48
  • @AlBerko I don't know about 'must'. But anything is possible...
    – Joel K
    Dec 9, 2018 at 10:56

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