This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Rachel Farbiarz.
Parshat Emor’s many directives on ritual sacrifice include one that applies to all animal slaughter—be it for human or Divine consumption. “[A] bull or sheep,” the parshah instructs, “you shall not sacrifice it [oto] with its young [v’et b’no] on the same day.” ((Leviticus 22:28.)) As elsewhere, it is not only this commandment’s substance that preoccupies the rabbinic tradition. It is also its textual casing—the timbre and pitch of its words, its grammatical quirks and peculiar phrasings—that begs for the sages’ interpretation.
Thus do the commentators fixate here on a textual discomfort of their own making. The ostensible maleness of the not-to-be-killed parental beast—reflected in the verse’s use of the words “bull” and “sheep” (as opposed to “cow” and “ewe”) and the masculine conjugations for the pronouns for “it” (oto, b’no)—rankles the rabbis. The text does not mean what it says, they conclude, but rather, what it does not say: A female animal must not be killed on the same day as her offspring. Other flesh—including, permissibly, that of a sire and his offspring slaughtered simultaneously—will be required to sate God’s or man’s hunger. ((Rashi on Leviticus 22:28; Babylonian Talmud, Chullin 78b.))