I was hoping you could give me a good answer why in Leviticus 11:6 the
Lord told Moses that the rabbit also, for though it chews cud, it does not
divide the hoof, it is unclean to you. Technically a rabbit does not chew
the cud like a cow because it only has one stomach. On bible.org it says
because a rabbit chews its food so much it looks as though it chews cud.
Do you think that is a good explanation of that Scripture? This question
has bothered me since I read the definition of chewing the cud in the
dictionary after I read an Amazon.com review by an unbeliever of a
Christian evidence book that pointed out this apparent inaccuracy.

Yes, I have heard of this one before. I would say that if
this is the best example of a significant contradiction or “mistake” in
the Bible, then that alone would be evidence that the Bible is an amazing
book! The answer to the question is that the Hebrew word translated as
“chew the cud” is not a technical term. The translation “chew the cud” is
probably about the closest translation of the Hebrew word as we have in
English. The fact is that rabbits do rechew their food, but not from an
extra stomach. Rather than create the false impression that I am an
expert about this question, I list below a link, as well as copying and
pasting an answer to this question from the cited web site.

John Oakes

Lev. 11:6 And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the
hoof; he is unclean unto you. (See also Deut. 14:7)

This is one of the most popular objections in the skeptical book, and it’s
basically this: Rabbits are not ruminants; they practice refection.
Refection is a process in which rabbits eat their own dung mixed with
undigested material. The Hebrew does not use the word for “dung”.
Therefore this passage is wrong. (The objection is also registered against
the verses mentioning the coney, or hyrax; however, the identification of
this animal is uncertain — we will assume it to be an animal that refects
as well.)

Two issues are at hand: the definition of “cud” and that of “chewing.”
Let’s take a close look at the Hebrew version of both. Here is the word
for “cud” according to Strong’s:
gerah, the cud (as scraping the throat):–cud.

There are a few factors we need to keep in mind here. First, this word is
used nowhere in the Old Testament besides these verses in Leviticus and
Deuteronomy. We have only this context to help us decide what it means in
terms of the Mosaic law.

Second, refection is a process whereby rabbits pass pellets of partially
digested food, which they chew on (along with the waste material) in order
to give their stomachs another go at getting the nutrients out. It is not
just “dung” that the rabbits are eating, which is probably why the Hebrew
word for “dung” was not used here.

Contrast this with what cows and some other animals do, rumination, which
is what we moderns call “chewing the cud.” They regurgiate partially
digested food in little clumps called cuds, and chew it a little more
after while mixing it with saliva.

So then: partially digested food is a common element here. We therefore
suggest that the Hebrew word simply refers to any partially digested food
— the process is not the issue, just the object.
“Yeah, right, Holding! So are you more of an expert in Hebrew than all
those Bible scholars like Strong who decided that ‘cud’ was the best word
to use here? Get real!!!”

More of an expert in Hebrew, no — the problem is that those Hebrew
experts aren’t experts in animal biology. It’s commonly noted, in a weaker
defense of this verse, that rabbits look like they chew cud, such that
even Linneaus was fooled by them and classified them as ruminants — and
even many modern books on rabbits have no reference to it. Everyone sees
rabbits chewing and might come to the same conclusion, but few know about
refection — least of all experts in Hebrew who spend most of their days
indoors out of the sight of rabbits.
“Just shot yourself in the foot, Holding! You admitted that few people
know about refection. Tell us why! It’s because rabbits do it at night and
underground. Isn’t it more likely that Moses made a big fat mistake like
Linneaus, based on appearances?”

Rabbits actually do this mostly at night and underground — not always;
and the reason for this is that the behavior usually takes place 3-8 hours
after eating. Now catch this: One reason so few people know about this
behavior today is because we spend so much time indoors — and because
when we are outdoors, we tend to stomp around and scare the jeebers out of
timid creatures like rabbits. So little wonder we don’t see it much! And
even rabbit owners don’t see it because they of course feed their bunnies
on their schedules — so that refection happens while they are asleep!

In contrast, the ancients lived mainly outdoors and many of them were
pastoral sorts who spent hours in the field. So — don’t think for a
moment that this wasn’t something the average ancient wouldn’t have known
about. They were a lot more observant than we are (because they needed to
be to survive!) and spent a lot more time in places where they could see
this behavior. (At the same time, it would be rather foolish — and an
argument from silence — to make the point that refection is not mentioned
in any other ancient documents. For this objection to have merit, one must
produce a surviving ancient documentation that should have mentioned it,
but didn’t — and that’s rather a hard row to hoe!)
“That’s only half the problem, Holding! You forgot the other half — the
verse says ‘bring up’ the cud — sounds like regurgitation to me!”

Our other key word here is ‘alah, and it is found in some grammatical form
on literally every page of the OT. This is because it is a word that
encompasses many concepts other than “bring up.” It also can mean ascend
up, carry up, cast up, fetch up, get up, recover, restore, take up, and
much more. It is a catch-all verb form describing the moving of something
to another place. (The literal rendering here is, “maketh the gerah to

Now in the verses in question, ‘alah is used as a participle. Let’s look
at the other verses where it is used this way (NIV only implies some of
these phrases; where in parentheses, the phrase is in the original,
sometimes in the KJV):

Josh. 24:17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our fathers
up out of Egypt….

1 Sam. 7:10 While Samuel was sacrificing (offering) the burnt offering…

Nahum 3:3 Charging cavalry, flashing swords (lifted), and glittering

Isaiah 8:7 …therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty
floodwaters of the River…

2 Chron. 24:14 When they had finished, they brought the rest of the

Ps. 135:7 He makes clouds rise (up) from the ends of the earth…

2 Sam. 6:15 …while he and the entire house of Israel brought the ark of
the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. (Similar quote, 1 Chr.

So: the Hebrew word is question is NOT specific to the process of
regurgitation; it is a phrase of general movement. And related to the
specific issue at hand, the rabbit is an animal that does “maketh” the
previously digested material to “come” out of the body (though in a
different way than a ruminant does) and does thereafter does chew
“predigested material”! The mistake is in our applying of the scientific
terms of rumination to something that does not require it.

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