At the behest of two Bar Ilan University researchers, Israel's Chief Rabbi has declared the water buffalo a kosher animal. A different animal, the American bison, has long been considered kosher.
The two researchers - Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky, a Bar Ilan University neuroscience researcher, and Dr. Zohar Amar, of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology - with the help of Dr. Ari Greenspan, a Jerusalem dentist, have been studying the topic of obscure animals and their kashrut status for years. Their research has produced much evidence that may lead to the granting of kosher status to pheasant, guinea fowl, partridge, and others - and now, the water buffalo is kosher due to their work.
Presented with a host of evidence indicating its kashrut, the Rishon LeTzion, Israel's Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, has now agreed to issue kosher certification for the water buffalo. This will enable water buffalo breeders to market the animal's kosher meat and kosher milk under the official authorization of the Chief Rabbinate.
Speaking with Arutz-7 today, Zivotofsky was first asked to explain the significance of Rabbi Amar's ruling, in light of the fact that buffalo meat in the United States has long been considered kosher. "It's two different animals," he said. "The animal in the States is what we call bison, while the one here is water buffalo, known in modern Hebrew by its Arabic name, jamoose. Some call it by its Hebrew Biblical name te'o, but the truth we can't be sure that it's the same thing."
A-7: "Is that lack of certainty not a problem?"
AZ: "No. The Torah mentions two signs of a kosher animal: It must chew its cud, and must have split hooves. In addition, as Rabbi Amar insisted on, another sign mentioned in the Talmud is that it must have no upper front teeth. We therefore found a skull for Rabbi Amar to examine, and he found that there were no front teeth. Another condition, required by the Chazon Ish, is that there be a tradition about its kashrut status. So after a lot of work and running around, we also found several shochtim [ritual slaughterers] and m'nakrim [those who remove forbidden veins and fats] who remember dealing with this animal. We showed them pictures of the buffalo, and they remembered it; the buffalo used to roam widely here in Israel in the Huleh Valley and elsewhere. Based on this evidence, Rabbi Amar ruled it kosher."
Buffalo are currently raised in Moshav Bitzaron, just east of Ashdod, having been brought over from Italy. Zivotofsky says that these buffalo are the same as those that used to live here in Israel. "The Italian Jewish community still uses these animals today for their milk and meat," he said.
"Another sign," Zivotofsky said, "though not a conclusive one, is that the word 'buffalo' appears in the Shulchan Arukh [the seminal Jewish law code] as a kosher animal. Where did author Rabbi Yosef Karo know this word from? The answer is that he was quoting Rabbi Isaiah of Terrani, Italy, and so it is likely that he is talking about the very same animal that came from Italy and that is now being raised in Bitzaron."
Water buffalo meat has market potential within Israel and abroad. Authentic mozzarella cheese is produced from water buffalo milk, which is also noted for its medicinal uses.
Zivotofsky said that his next project is to try to ascertain the kashrut of yak: "This will be much harder, for there is no tradition regarding it, but it appears to fulfill all the basic requirements of a kosher animal. If anyone can get us a yak skull, it would help us greatly."