In the context of animals, the noun גרה is commonly translated "cud". However, the meaning "cud" does not always fit. This can be explained by the fact that the meaning and usage of the words of a language can change somewhat in time. While the common understanding of the noun גרה is "cud", its original meaning must have been related but somewhat different. This article argues that the word גרה actually refers to a behavior of certain animals in which they chew without eating. Thus, the word גרה fits both the animals that may chew without any food in their mouths and the ruminants that chew their previously eaten food, that is, chew the cud. In this way the chewing cud interpretation can be applied in the context of animals that chew the cud (as in Lev 11:4) without any necessity to assume a reference to cud in other contexts. In order to examine the meaning of the verses that use the word גרה, this article contains also an analysis of the words used to describe the hoofs of cattle.
The word גרה has been associated with the meaning "cud" in 9 verses of the Bible. However, this meaning fits only 5 out of the 9 verses, namely, Lev 11:3, 4, 7, 26, De 14:6. Moreover, among these five verses, the "cud" interpretation of גרה in Lev 11:7 assumes a meaning of the verb גרר that is not found elsewhere in the Bible. The four verses in which the meaning "cud" does not fit are as follows. In De 14:8, ולא גרה is a clause in which one would expect a verb גרה, not a noun. Thus, the meaning "cud" does not fit well this verse. If a noun were meant, one might have expected the presence of לו, as in ולא נגה לו in Am 5:20 and ולא שם לו in Job 18:17. The other verses in which the meaning "cud" does not fit well are Lev 11:5, Lev 11:6, and De 14:7. Understanding שפן to denote the rock badger and ארנבת the hare or the rabbit, the meaning of גרה cannot be "cud", since these animals are not known to chew the cud. Even if one would deny the divine inspiration of these verses, he would still have to consider that it is impossible for people who were spending much time in the nature to fail noticing that some animals chew without any food in their mouths. If people from other generations have noticed this, would it be reasonable to assume that nobody in the generation of Moses was aware about it?
It would be natural to associate the noun גרה with the verb גרה "to stir, excite". One use of this verb is with the noun מדון "strife" in the context of stirring up strife (Pr 15:18, 28:25, 29:22). The verb appears also in the context of people stirring up themselves against others (De 2:5, 19, Dan 11:10) either by war (Dan 11:25, De 2:9, 24) or without violence (Pr 28:4). It is also applied to a person stirring up himself to his own harm (2Ch 25:19). If the noun גרה is related to the verb גרה, its meaning would be "stir, excitement". In the context of animals, the verb גרה appears in ולא גרה (De 14:8), while the noun גרה can be found in מעלה גרה (Lev 11:4, 5, 26, De 14:7), מעלת גרה (Lev 11:3, 6, De 14:6), and מעלי הגרה (Lev 11:4, De 14:7). Additionally, as will be shown later, גרה לא יגר (Lev 11:7) appears to use the verb גרה. Clearly, in the context of animals, גרה is used differently. However, it should be possible to relate the meaning "to stir, excite" to the common understanding that relates גרה to the chewing of cud. Just as people can stir up themselves against others, so also animals can display aggressive behaviors. Then, it would seem reasonable to assume that the verb could have been used also for animals with the meaning "to stir". Now some animals show their teeth when aggressive. This could have led to the application of the word גרה to animals that show their teeth. In particular, ruminant animals can show their teeth as they ruminate, so in this way the word could have become associated with the chewing of cud. Note that this explanation has nothing to do with the cud itself, but only with the chewing behavior. So it is proposed here that the verb גרה was used to denote chewing without eating, and not necessarily chewing the cud. Then, the noun גרה could be related to the infinitive absolute of the verb and would denote "chewing without eating". As will be shown below, this interpretation of the words fits perfectly all passages in which they appear.
The association of the noun גרה with מעלה can be explained as follows. The word מעלה has been used in reference to something that is brought, such as an offering (1Sa 7:10, Jer 33:18), clouds (Ps 135:7), flood waters (Is 8:7), armies (Jer 50:9), and health (Jer 33:6). Note especially Jer 33:6, indicating that the word does not have to refer to something physical that is brought, but can also refer to a condition or state of a living being. Thus, מעלה גרה (Lev 11:4, 5, 26, De 14:7) is understood as "bringing the state of chewing without eating", that is, manifesting the chewing without eating behavior. Moreover, מעלת גרה "bringer of the state of chewing without eating" (Lev 11:3, 6, De 14:6) and מעלי הגרה "bringers of the state of the chewing without eating" (Lev 11:4, De 14:7) are likewise interpreted as denoting animals that chew without eating.
In the context of animals, the verb גרה and the noun גרה appear in verses that differentiate between clean and unclean animals. Interpreting these verses requires also a good understanding of the words used in the description of hooves, since clean and unclean animals are distinguished based on the aspect of their feet. Animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats have two digits per foot, plus two more digits that normally do not touch the ground, which are known as dewclaws. The word "hoof" is commonly understood to denote the hard part of the foot of such animals. The word "hoof" is also understood to denote the hard covering of the digit tips, each digit having its own hoof. Neither of these meanings of the English word "hoof" fits perfectly the Hebrew word פרסה, which is commonly translated "hoof". One reason the meaning "hoof" does not always fit the word פרסה is that this Hebrew word is used also for animals that do not have hooves (Lev 11:5-6, De 14:7). Understanding the word פרסה to refer to the bottom side of the feet of animals, it seems better to translate it "foot". (Note that the word "sole" would not fit well, as it has been used to denote a region above the hoof of a hoofed animal.) The usage of the word פרסה could be explained as follows. The phrase מפרסת פרסה, traditionally translated "dividing the hoof", can be explained by comparing the hoof of the camel with the hoof of cattle, since about the camel we read that ופרסה איננו מפריס "but it does not divide the foot" (Lev 11:4). Note that the difference is that the camel does not have dewclaws. Thus, מפרסת פרסה must refer to the division between the main hoof region of the foot and the hoof region of the dewclaws. So in the context of מפרסת פרסה "dividing the foot", the noun שסע "cleft" (Lev 11:3, 7, 26, De 14:6) must refer to the space between the main hoof and the dewclaws. Then, ושסעת שסע שתי פרסות "and splitting the cleft of the two foot regions" (De 14:6) must refer to the case in which the foot has two digits and two dewclaws, so that one digit and one dewclaw is on one side of the foot, and the other digit and the other dewclaw on the other side, as illustrated also in the figure below. Note that this division of the digits and of the dewclaws divides also the cleft between the main hoof and the dewclaws, which explains why we read about "splitting the cleft of the two foot regions".
It will be verified next that the meanings "to chew without eating" and "chewing without eating" fit all verses in which the verb גרה and the noun גרה are used in the context of animals.
(De 14:6) וכל בהמה מפרסת פרסה ושסעת שסע שתי פרסות מעלת גרה בבהמה אתה תאכלו
"And any animal that divides the foot and splits the cleft of the two foot regions and chews without eating, that ye may eat."
(Lev 11:3) כל מפרסת פרסה ושסעת שסע פרסת מעלת גרה בבהמה אתה תאכלו
"Any animal that divides the foot and splits the cleft of the foot regions and chews without eating, that ye may eat."
(Lev 11:4) אך את זה לא תאכלו ממעלי הגרה וממפרסי הפרסה את הגמל כי מעלה גרה הוא ופרסה איננו מפריס טמא הוא לכם
"However, ye must not eat these that chew without eating or that divide the foot: the camel, for it chews without eating, but it does not divide the foot; the camel will be unclean to you."
(De 14:7) אך את זה לא תאכלו ממעלי הגרה וממפריסי הפרסה השסועה את הגמל ואת הארנבת ואת השפן כי מעלה גרה המה ופרסה לא הפריסו טמאים הם לכם
"However, ye must not eat these that chew without eating or that divide the split foot: the camel, the hare, and the rock badger, for they chew without eating, but do not divide the foot, so they will be unclean to you." Considering וממפריסי הפרסה השסועה "or that divide the split foot", the foot of cattle, sheep, and goats is split in the sense that there is one digit and one dewclaw on one side of the foot, and one digit and one dewclaw on the other side. Furthermore, the foot of cattle, sheep, and goats is divided because it has two distinct hoof regions, one of the digits and one of the dewclaws.
(Lev 11:5) ואת השפן כי מעלה גרה הוא ופרסה לא יפריס טמא הוא לכם
"And the rock badger, for it chews without eating but it does not divide the foot; it will be unclean to you."
(Lev 11:6) ואת הארנבת כי מעלת גרה הוא ופרסה לא הפריסה טמאה הוא לכם
"And the hare, for it chews without eating but it does not divide the foot; it will be unclean to you."
(Lev 11:7) ואת החזיר כי מפריס פרסה הוא ושסע שסע פרסה והוא גרה לא יגר טמא הוא לכם
"And the pig, for it divides the foot and splits the cleft of the foot, but it never chews without eating; it will be unclean to you." As indicated also above,ושסע שסע פרסה "and splits the cleft of the foot" is interpreted here as follows. The cleft is the space between the digits and the dewclaws. Moreover, as shown also in the figure above, the foot has one digit and one dewclaw on one side, and the other digit and the other dewclaw on the other side, with half of the cleft on one side and half on the other side. Now if גרה is parsed as an infinitive absolute and יגר as a qal imperfect third person masculine singular form of גרה, then והוא גרה לא יגר means "and it certainly does not chew without eating". In support of this interpretation, note the similarity of גרה לא יגר to the following: והצל לא הצלת (Ex 5:23), והמת לא נמיתך (Jdg 15:13), הידע לא נדע (Jer 13:12), ונקה לא אנקך (Jer 30:11), and בכו אל תבכו (Mi 1:10). As for parsing יגר as a qal imperfect 3ms form of גרה, we could note that apart from jussive and waw consecutive forms, examples in which the final heh of the root is omitted are rare. Three examples without the final heh and the waw conjunction are יגל in Job 20:28 , ישל in Job 27:8, and יכל in Job 33:21. An example in which והוא appears with the imperfect and infinitive absolute of a verb is והוא נחש ינחש בו (Ge 44:5). As for והוא in Lev 11:7, it is understood here as indicating a change in the aspect of the verb; while the previous verbs describe something always true (what the hoof looks like), the following verb forms describe something that is never true, not something that is not always true. (Something that is not always true does not have to be false in every case, but may be true in certain special cases.)
(De 14:8) ואת החזיר כי מפריס פרסה הוא ולא גרה טמא הוא לכם מבשרם לא תאכלו ובנבלתם לא תגעו
"And the pig, for it divides the foot, but it does not chew without eating; it will be unclean to you. Ye shall not eat their flesh nor touch their carcasses." Note that גרה could be parsed here as a qal participle.
(Lev 11:25) וכל הנשא מנבלתם יכבס בגדיו וטמא עד הערב
(Lev 11:26) לכל הבהמה אשר הוא מפרסת פרסה ושסע איננה שסעת וגרה איננה מעלה טמאים הם לכם כל הנגע בהם יטמא
"And anyone who carries any part of their carcass must wash his clothes and will be unclean until evening, if the carcass is of any animal that divides the foot but does not split the cleft or does not chew without eating. Their carcasses are unclean to you. Everyone who touches them will be unclean." Here, לכל הבהמה אשר "for any animal that" has been understood as restricting the kinds of animals considered in Lev 11:25, so it was translated "if the carcass is of any animal that".