Giraffe Burgers and Mesorah

by Rabbi Alex Chapper

There’s a common misconception that the reason we don’t eat giraffe, despite it being a kosher animal, is that, since its neck is so long, we don’t know where on it to perform the shechitah.

However, the halachic basis for not eating giraffe is because, in addition to needing the physical criteria for kosher animals to be met, the Torah also requires, what’s called, mesorah – a continuous tradition of eating the specific species in question.  Since we don’t have a mesorah of eating giraffe, it means that giraffe burgers remain off our menu.

This exclusion isn’t only directed at giraffes and the centrality of mesorah isn’t just limited to kashrus, in fact, Rav Soloveitchik explained that it’s at the core of Jewish practice and of how mitzvos are to be approached.

To understand what that’s the case, we need to grasp the fact that mesorah relates to that which is beyond our local perception and that it even lacks codification, to the extent that it’s virtually inscrutable and isn’t at all apparent to someone standing on ground level.

At the same time, we also have to accept that the inability to discern mesorah doesn’t negate its existence and it remains in force through tradition, and that’s why halachah has accepted and embraced mesorah as part and parcel of the binding Torah system.

This concept is encoded in the very first Mishnah in Pirkei Avot which teaches that “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai, u’masra – and passed it to Yehoshua.”  The language is precise and indicative, Moshe wasn’t just given and didn’t just take the Torah, he received and accepted it in its entirety.  With a sense of duty and respect for mesorah, he then passed it on to his successor in a deliberate way which ensured that all aspects of G-d’s teachings are preserved for future generations in an unbroken chain of tradition.

However distant we may be from the original act, respect for mesorah requires humility, as it informs us that there’s much more beneath the surface and behind the scenes, and that we shouldn’t dismiss and discard that which we can’t readily perceive due to our natural human limitations.

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