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Two Headed Creatures


Tes Vov Sivan, 5777

Among Animals   

Installment 2 of 5

As mentioned in the first installment, a reference to a two-headed creature can be found in a possuk in Chumash:

The Torah lists the animals that are not kosher in Parshas Shemini, and again in Parshas Re'eih. Why does the Torah list them twice? The Gemara (Chulin 63b) explains that there are a couple of new dinim we learn from Parshas Re'eih. One of them is the din that an animal called a shesuah (mentioned in Re'eih 14:7) may not be eaten.

What is a shesuah?

The Gemara (Nidah 24a, cited in Rashi to Re'eih ibid.) quotes Rav Chanin bar Aba, who identifies the shesuah as a creature with two backs and two spines. This description itself is a matter of dispute between Rav and Shmuel (Nidah ibid., as explained by Rashi): According to Shmuel, a shesuah is a unique species of animal with two backs and spines, while Rav is of the opinion that a shesuah is a two-backed calf (or other type of otherwise kosher animal) born to a regular cow.

[Interestingly, some posit that the two-backed species the Torah is referring to (according to Shmuel) is the peccary, a South American pig-like animal that has a groove along its back, giving it the appearance of two backs (see Malbim to Shemini 11:4).]

Having two backs and two spines does not necessarily equal having two heads. However, the Targum Yonasan ben Uziel translates a shesuah as an "unborn fetus that possesses two heads and two spines," giving us a clear source in Torah to a two-headed creature.

Targum Yonasan explains that the reason such a fetus is forbidden is because it cannot survive. Indeed, although there are recorded instances of animals that were born with two heads, most of them died within a few days. (One such instance, of an unborn two-headed calf discovered in its mother's stomach in London in the year 5630/1870, was recorded by the shochet R. Avraham Zusman in his sefer Vayaas Avraham, p. 118.)

According to one explanation, this was also the form of the egel hazahav: an animal with two backs and two heads, one that appeared like a calf, and the other, like a donkey (R. Chaim Vital in Etz Hadaas Tov, Chukas 19:2).

In the ninth century (during the era of the Geonim), an individual named Eldad HaDani arrived in the city of Kairouan, Tunisia. He claimed he hailed from the tribe of Dan (hence his name, HaDani), who lived together with the tribes of Naftali, Gad, and Asher near the river Sambatyon. He repeated a number of halachos kept in his hometown, each one reputed to have been stated by Yehoshua bin Nun in the name of Moshe Rabbeinu. Some of these halachos are cited (and sometimes refuted) by the Rishonim, with varying approaches as to whether or not his story was credible (see, for example, Ibn Ezra to Shemos 2:22).

One of these halachos reads as follows: "How should an animal or bird with two heads be slaughtered? The right head should be placed above, and the left head below. If the right head was slaughtered incorrectly, it is unfit, but if the left head was slaughtered incorrectly, it is kosher" (Eldad HaDani [Epstein ed.], p. 87).

Assuming this halachah is correct, how can it be reconciled with Targum Yonasan, who states that a two-headed animal may not be eaten? A possible answer is that only an animal with two heads and two spines is forbidden, but an animal with two heads and one spine is permitted.

Now that we have seen what Torah has to say about two-headed animals, let's see what Torah says about two-headed people.

To be continued, bli neder...