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TEREFAH (Heb. טְרֵפָה; lit. "torn" by beast of prey), an animal whose death is due to physical defects or injuries is said to be terefah (Maim. Yad, Ma'akhalot Asurot, 4:8). The biblical prohibition, "Ye shall not eat any flesh that is torn of beasts (terefah) in the field; ye shall cast it to the dogs" (Ex. 22:30), applies to a clean animal that has suffered a mortal injury from wild beasts but is not yet dead, since if it is dead it is carrion (*nevelah). Such an animal, even ritually slaughtered before dying, is forbidden since it would have not recovered from its injury. The rabbis considered the scriptural verse merely as a particular instance of a general principle applying equally in the case of an animal sustaining a mortal injury from any other cause, or suffering from a fatal illness. It is terefah, whatever the cause of the defect (Mekh., Mishpatim, 20). The rabbis therefore laid down that "if an animal with such defect cannot live, it is terefah" (Hul. 3:1), i.e., any clean animal sustaining an injury from which death must result within 12 months (Rashi, ibid.) is terefah. An animal which is about to die from natural causes, such as age, is not terefah since the defect must be similar to that inflicted by a wild beast (Ḥul. 37a).

This broad concept of terefah is very old, being known already in the days of John Hyrcanus (second century b.c.e.). The Mishnah (Sot. 9:10) relates that this high priest abolished the "stunners," who, the baraita (Sot. 48a) explains, used to strike the sacrificial calf with clubs to bring it to the ground. Johanan asked them how long they would supply the altar with terefah (in that the clubbing might have caused a perforation of the membrane of the brain) and he thereupon installed rings to hold fast the animal's neck.

The Eight Types of Terefah

According to the Talmud, eight types of terefah were revealed to Moses at Sinai: clawing, perforation, deficiency, missing organs, severed organs, falling, tearing, fracturing (Ḥul. 43a). Their mnemonic is DaN ḤaNaK NeFeSh ("Dan strangled a soul" = Derusah, Nekuvah, Ḥaserah, Netulah, Keru'ah, Nefulah, Pesukah, Shevurah). The definitions of the types are as follows: (1) clawing, the clawing of an animal by a wild beast or of a bird by a bird of prey; (2) perforation, a perforation to the cavity of one of the following 11 organs: the pharynx, the membrane of the brain, the heart and its aorta, the gall bladder, the vena cava inferior, abomasum, rumen, omasum, reticulum, intestines, the lung and trachea; (3) deficiency, the absence from birth of one of the lobes of the lung, or one of the feet; (4) missing, the absence of converging sinews in the thigh, or the liver, or the upper jaw; (5) severing, the severing of the membrane covering the spinal cord whether the spinal column be broken or not; (6) falling, the crushing of one of the internal organs of an animal as the result of a fall; (7) tearing, the tearing of most of the flesh covering the rumen; (8) fracturing, such as the fracturing of most of its ribs.

All terefot are included in these 8 principal categories. The Mishnah (Ḥul. 3:1) adds 10 subsidiary forms of terefot, making 18 in all. They are further subdivided, and Maimonides (Yad, Sheḥitah, 10:9–13) lists in detail all the 70 terefot mentioned in the Talmud and concludes: "One may not in any circumstances add to this list of terefot, for in the case of any other defect in an animal, beast, or bird, beyond those which the sages of former generations have enumerated, and which the authorities have established, it is possible for the animal to continue to live, even if in the light of our own medical knowledge it cannot survive. Conversely, as regards defects that the sages have enumerated as terefah, even if according to present medical knowledge some of these are not fatal and the animal can survive, one must be guided only by what the sages have enumerated, as it is said, 'according to the law which they shall teach thee' [Deut. 17:11]."

See *Dietary Laws.


J.L. Katzenelson, Ha-Talmud ve-Ḥokhmat ha-Refu'ah (1928); J. Cohn, The Royal Table; an Outline of the Dietary Laws of Israel (1963); I. Grunfeld, The Philosophical and Moral Basis of the Jewish Dietary Laws (1961); H.L. Moled, The Book of Life; a Treatise on … the Laws … relating to the Torah … (1956); F.J. Simoons, Eat not this Flesh (1961); M.L. Schapiro, Jewish Dietary Problems (1919).

[Abraham Arzi]