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Kashrut of a Giraffe

There is a misconception that it is halachically forbidden to eat the meat of a giraffe because we do not know the precise point on the neck where the Shehita (slaughtering) should be performed. In truth, however, from the standpoint of Shehita, the giraffe actually poses fewer problems than any other creature. The giraffe’s neck is generally around six feet long, and the Shehita may be performed at any point on the neck. This is contrast to the cow, which has an area of only approximately 12 inches for the Shehita, and the pigeon, which has an area of just 2 inches or so. Thus, Shehita is certainly possible on a giraffe, no less than other animals.

Some suggested that a giraffe might be forbidden for consumption because it does not have split hooves, as is a required for an animal to be deemed kosher. Although the giraffe’s toes are indeed separate from one another, a thin layer of spongy tissue sits beneath the toes and attaches them one to the other. The giraffe resembles in this regard a camel, which the Torah (Vayikra 11:4) does not consider to have split hooves, despite the fact that its toes are partially split, because of the spongy tissue beneath the toes. It should be noted, however, that the tissue in giraffes is thinner than that in camels.

Others claim that we should not eat giraffe meat because we do not have a tradition of treating it as a kosher animal. In truth, however, the Torah in the Book of Debarim (14:5) lists among the kosher animals a creature called “Zemer,” which Rav Saadia Gaon translates as “camelleparadus.” The ancients believed that a giraffe was the product of a cross-breed between a camel and a leopard, and therefore called it by the name “camelleparadus.” The fact that Rav Saadia Gaon identifies the Zemer as a giraffe may likely suffice as a tradition establishing the kosher status of a giraffe.

In truth, the most likely reason for why we do not eat giraffe meat relates to the pragmatic and financial issues entailed. It would be very difficult to hold down a giraffe for Shehita, and, additionally, its skin is very thick and heavy, thus making the skinning process very difficult and costly. Furthermore, the giraffe meat is, in all likelihood, not particularly tasty, which is probably why its meat is not marketed even in the non-Jewish world.

Summary: Although some Halachic authorities raised some question about the kosher status of a giraffe, it is likely a kosher animal and can be properly slaughtered. However, it is not commonly eaten because of pragmatic reasons, and because it is not considered a delicacy even among gentiles.