Hullin 80a-b - An animal whose identity is difficult to pin down

September 14, 2011


In the context of discussing animals that are produced from the mating of different species (see yesterday's daf, or page), the Gemara introduces a koy  an animal that has the features of both a wild animal and a domesticated one. At first, the Gemara assumes that the koy is the result of a union between a deer and a goat, but on today's daf Rav Yehudah suggests that it is a beriah bifnei atzmah it is a unique creation about which the Sages could not conclude if it is a wild animal or a domestic animal. The Gemara points out that this is a disagreement that hearkens back to the time of the Tannaim, quoting a baraita where Rabbi Yossi echoes Rav Yehudah's position that the koy is a unique species, while Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel testifies that it is a domesticated animal the family Dushai would raise flocks of them.


Identifying the koy is a difficult task. Even though it is mentioned many times in the Mishnah and Talmudic literature, that is not because it is a common animal, rather because its status between a wild and domesticated animal allows it to serve as a test case for many halakhot. The disagreement as to its identification began in the time of the Mishnah, when some of the Sages argued that it is the offspring of a deer or similar animal with a goat. Others claim that it is a unique type of animal an Ayal ha-bar.


The Ayal ha-bar can be identified with the ovis musimon, which, according to many, is the forerunner of domesticated cattle. It is distinguished by its short hair and grey color, and it lives in mountainous regions, where it is a nimble climber - today mainly in uninhabited areas in Europe. It is likely that the clear similarities between a koy and a sheep, together with its being a wild animal, led to the Sages' confusion about its classification.


Its name, "koy" and even the pronunciation of the name, are themselves the subject of disagreement.


This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud. To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.

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