(Lev. 11:5-6) Do these animals chew the cud or not?

CLAIM: The Bible claims that these two animals (the rock badger and the rabbit) “chew the cud” (v.5). However, today we know that neither of these animals chew regurgitated food. Isn’t this a plain contradiction?

RESPONSE: Biologically, to be a ruminant (chew the cud), an animal needs to have four stomachs, regurgitating their food and chewing what they swallowed. While the rock badger and the rabbit do not ruminate over their food in this sense, to an observer, they both perform a chewing motion. In fact, this is so convincing that even Linnaeus (1707 –1778) classified at first classified both of these animals as ruminants![1] Our modern definition of a ruminant should not be projected back onto the text. Instead, the definition Moses used was different. In other words, this expression (“chew the cud”) should be taken to mean that they both chew –even if they do not ruminate over their food. While the expression is not scientifically correct by modern standards, it was practically useful for the Israelites, who were trying to distinguish animals for their purposes.[2] Moreover, if we want to get technical, rabbits do something very similar to rumination, which is called refection. That is, it eats its own dung and chews this over again. This could have been what Moses had in mind.

[1] Kaiser, Walter C. Hard Sayings of the Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988. See Leviticus 11:5.

[2] Harris writes, “The description is not scientifically precise but one of practical appearances… The practical result of outlawing the rabbit was to protect the nation from tularemia.” Harris, R. L. Leviticus. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 2: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1990. 571.