About Leviticus 11:5-6 & Deuteronomy 14:7
A number of biblical inerrantists have attempted to address the matter of rabbits chewing cud but I have never really found their answers to be satisfactory. It seems that most of the apologetics professionals around the web are basically regurgitating the same theories (bad pun intended). Nevertheless, let us read the passages at hand.
And the rock badger (hyrax), because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. 6 And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. (וְאֶת־הָאַרְנֶ֗בֶת כִּֽי־מַעֲלַ֤ת גֵּרָה֙ הִ֔וא) (Leviticus 11:4-6)
However, of those that chew the cud or that have a divided hoof you may not eat the camel, the rabbit or the hyrax. Although they chew the cud, they do not have a divided hoof; they are ceremonially unclean for you. (Deuteronomy 14:7)
The natural question to answer is whether or not rabbits chew the cud.
Deconstruction of the Hebrew
I have read a number of poor deconstructions of the Hebrew text by people who don’t actually read Hebrew but are likely familiar with the Strong’s Concordance or other types of resources. Below is a sampling of such articles. I cannot claim to be a Hebrew professional but I did take two years of it in undergrad and two more in seminary. I have also studied other semitic languages. Personally I don’t find the Strong’s concordance useful for studying Hebrew. I usually start with the Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) Lexicon, which is free at this link <Brown Driver Briggs>. However, I always move from the BDB to newer and better lexicons. These are expensive tools that sadly I am not able to provide on this site. It is important to remember that just looking up words in a dictionary is not the same as being able to read a language.
[SIDE NOTE] It is worth noting that on ALL of the websites listed, NONE of them allow comments. In my personal opinion, people who want to produce articles but don’t want a comment section (so people can challenge the premises laid out) are actually afraid that their thesis might not hold water. When this site was first created I made the purposeful choice to allow comments on all articles and posts because all ideas and opinions that worth holding should be able to withstand a vigorous debate. In fact, I have had my own mind changed on a few issues over the years because of great comments and observations made on articles.
Some well-meaning apologists have tried to massage the Hebrew a bit to make it appear that the Hebrew is not just referring to cud chewing animals. However, I think that is a fool’s errand. The key words for the purpose of this study are “כִּֽי־מַעֲלַ֤ת גֵּרָה֙” which gets translated as “because [it] chews the cud.” Apologists claim that the broader meaning of כִּֽי־מַעֲלַ֤ת גֵּרָה֙ just means to chew/eat something again. How the food/cud is eaten or “brought up” is downplayed. The general thesis is that since rabbits eat their own feces (cecotropes) that they qualify as cud eaters. But can the Hebrew support such a theory? I don’t think it does. Below is a breakdown of the Hebrew text used in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy. I highly recommend reading one of the articles above before diving into my deconstruction.
כִּֽי־מַעֲלַ֤ת is a conjunction of כִּֽי and מַעֲלַ֤ת. The word כִּֽי means “for” or “because”. It’s the qualifier in the sentence “because it chews it’s cud.” The word מַעֲלַ֤ת is a Hifil participle form of the word עָלָה, which is a verb that means to “go up”, “rise” or “ascend.” For those who don’t know Hebrew grammar, a Hifil verb is both causal and active. For those who don’t know any grammar, a participle is a verb that is usually on-going, such as “running” or “chewing”. A participle can also be a verb that is being used as an adjective, such as “finished” or “cooked”. In English we can distinguish between the two types of participles because one ends usually in “ing” and the other ends with a past tense modifier, “ed” usually. Hebrew does not have the same functionality. In Hebrew the context must supply the reader with the intended functionality (I.E. whether or not the verb is on-going or purely descriptive). However, in Hebrew its nearly always being used as an on-going verb, such as the “ing” verbs in English. The Hifil verbs being causal means that the subject is causing the action. With the grammar all put together, a literal rendering of this phrase would be “for, she/it (the rabbit) is causing cud גֵּרָה֙ to ascend.” In English we would probably gloss that phrase to say “for, she/it (the rabbit) causes cud גֵּרָה֙ to ascend.” We would gloss it like that because the context of the sentence does not require the reader to think that the action is happening in the present tense. The participle verb is being used to describe the actions of the rabbit, not tense of the verb.
However, there is more to the phrase. We really need to break down the word גֵּרָה֙ “cud”, not “the cud” which some translations read. Hebrew words are not usually monolithic. גֵּרָה֙ is a noun that comes from the root word גָּרַר which is a verb, not a noun. The meaning of גָּרַר is to drag or drag away. It is also used to refer to sweeping or scraping. However, the word used in Deuteronomy and Leviticus is a noun, גֵּרָה֙, which takes on a slightly different meaning. This noun format shows up in the OT in two ways. The most frequently used meaning is as a measure of grain or currency. Later it was known as a 20th of a shekel. However, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy it is translated as cud.
Thus, a better literal rendering of the whole phrase would be “for, she/it (the rabbit) causes a measure of grain to ascend.” It is clear that the Biblical writer assumed the rabbit’s constant chewing to be the same as a cow or any other that chews their cud. The writer could have easily said that the rabbit eats it’s feces but they did not. They used a word affiliated with grain in the undigested format.
Another animal that does NOT chew the cud but is implicated alongside the rabbit….is the hyrax. This animal is often overlooked because people are not familiar with the hyrax (הַשָּׁפָ֗ן). Some English translations refer to the hyrax as a rock-rabbit or rock-badger but the hyrax is not related to the rabbit. The hyrax shows up as a cud chewer in Leviticus 11:5 and Deuteronomy 14:7. The hyrax is not like the rabbit in that it does not re-digest it’s feces. It also does not regurgitate its food to chew it a second time. In fact, it is physically impossible, given it’s anatomy, to regurgitate its food (source). It does, however, chew low nutrition foods for a long period of time, just like the rabbit. A video of the hyrax chewing can be viewed at the following link (chewing hyrax). Once swallowed, the food enters a multi-chambered stomach for further breakdown. The reason why the hyrax and the rabbit are classified as chewing the cud is because they mimic the same chewing habits as animals that DO chew the cud. It looks like they chewed the cud. Animals like the rabbit and hyrax were believed to chew cud for so long that it wasn’t until after the medieval period that people realized that rabbits actually did not chew the cud, much like the pervasive belief that the earth had a firmament.
It is at this point, that even if one accepts the argument that the rabbit might still fit into the Hebrew definition of “taking grain up again”, it must be admitted that the hyrax, in no way, re-digests it’s food. One must conclude that the food laws of the Pentateuch were either tampered with, not original to the Mosaic law, or that they were just man’s attempt at placing words in God’s mouth. I won’t tell you what to believe because that is not the point of this article. My point is, that rabbits don’t chew cud and neither does the hyrax. Does that mean the Bible is all wrong? Of course not. It just means that the text we hold in front of us today has a discrepancy. However, I would expect a text transmitted by imperfect beings to have some imperfections.