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Biblical expression for the carcass of an animal, and sometimes for a dead human body(I Kings xiii. 24; Isa. xxvi. 19; Ps. lxxix. 2). The Mosaic law contains a prohibition against eating, carrying, or touching the carcass of an animal (Lev. xi.; Deut. xiv. 8). By touching a carcass one becomes unclean; by carrying it one's garments also become unclean. In three passages "nebelah" (carcass) and "ṭerefah" (that which is torn) are mentioned together (Lev. xvii. 15, xxii. 8; Deut. xiv. 20). According to some of the Biblical critics this prohibition was at first limited to the priests (but comp. Lev. xxii. 8; Ezek. xliv. 31 [where it is limited to the carcasses of birds]), but later on it was, like other laws of sanctification, extended to the whole people. This would explain why Ezekiel, in that he was a priest, says of himself that he had never eaten of that which had died of itself (i. 3, iv. 14).

On the other hand, it is clear that in most of the passages this prohibition is general (Lev. xi., passim; xvii. 15; Deut. xiv. 8), so that even critics of the advanced school see in Lev. xxii. 8 the interpolation of the priestly redactor who rearranged the Priestly Code after the Exile, while Ezek. iv. 14 is merely an emphatic statement that the prophet has always strictly observed the laws of purity, without reference to his character as a priest (see the commentaries of Dillmann, Baentsch, Bertholet). It is certain that this, like all other dietary laws, was followed strictly by the whole people, at any rate from Maccabean times (Dan. i. 8; II Macc. vi. 18-30; Acts x. 14, xi. 8); and even the old Judæo-Christian community observed the prohibition of nebelah (τοῦ πυικτοῦ = "strangled things," Acts xv. 20), while naturally the more advanced school of the nascent Christian Church was strictly opposed to this as to all other dietary laws (Col. ii. 16), or at best merely tolerated it (I Cor. viii. 8; Rom. xiv. 13 et seq.).

In Rabbinical Law.

Talmudic exegesis explains nebelah, in contradistinction to Ṭerefah, as that which has not been killed in accordance with the laws of Sheḥiṭah. Says R. Jeshebab in the name of R. Joshua: "Whatsoever has been rendered unfit by [improper] sheḥiṭah is considered nebelah; where the sheḥiṭah was proper, though another fact had caused the thing to become unfit for eating, it is ṭerefah"; this explanation was accepted by R. Akiba (Ḥul. iv. 2).

The opinion of R. Joshua seems to have led Maimonides to the following explanation of the principle of nebelah, which is accepted by most of the legal authorities: "The ṭerefah which is mentioned in the Torah [Ex. xxii. 30] is an animal torn by a wild beast or a bird torn by a bird of prey. Thou canst not say that it was torn and killed, for this would make it nebelah, as there would be no difference between the animal that died a natural death and one killed by the sword or by a lion; consequently Scripture speaks of an animal that was torn and is not dead. So thou seest that Scripture prohibited the dead animal, which is called 'nebelah,' and that which is fatally wounded, although it is not yet dead, which is called 'ṭerefah'" ("Yad," Ma'akalot Asurot, iv. 6-8; Ṭur Yoreh De'ah, 29; Yom-Ṭob Lipmann Heller, in "Tosefot Yom-Ṭob" to Ḥul. iii. 1).


Maimonides gives the following presentation of the law of uncleanness: "A carcass is one of the 'fathers' [principal categories] of uncleanness." "Its flesh, if of the size of an olive, imparts uncleanness to man and to vessels by contact, and to earthen pots by being suspended within their area, although not even touching their sides" (Sifra, Lev. xi. 33). It communicates uncleanness to the garments of one who carries it. The meat of animals, both permitted and forbidden, if of the size of an olive, imparts uncleanness. The meat of clean animals that have been properly killed remains clean, although it may be unfit for eating for some other reason (e.g., being "ṭerefah"), while the meat of unclean animals remains unclean, even though the animal may have been killed according to the laws of sheḥiṭah. The blood, as a liquid, can not impart uncleanness (see 'Eduy. viii. 4), although rabbinical law has extended the prohibition to touching the blood of a carcass. The fat of the carcass does not impart uncleanness, because it is written, "and the fat of the beast that dieth of itself . . . may be used in any other use: but ye shall in no wise eat of it" (Lev. vii. 24). Hide, horns, hoofs, bones, sinews, and even flesh if it be so far putrefied that it is no longer fit to be used for food, do not possess the quality of uncleanness ("Yad," She'ar Abot ha-Ṭum'ot, i.).

Other uses of nebelah, except eating, are permitted, according to the generally accepted principle of R. Abbahu. "Every prohibition of eating includes every other use, with the exception of nebelah, about which Scripture [Deut. xiv. 21] has expressly stated the contrary" (Pes. 21b). Another opinion (Sheb. vii. 3) places nebelah among those things which may not be made articles of commerce. The Talmud (Yer. Sheb. 37c) derives from this law the principle that things which are forbidden by the Mosaic law may not be made articles of commerce, while things prohibited only by the Rabbis may. This view is generally accepted in the codes ("Yad," Ma'akalot Asurot, viii. 16; Yoreh De'ah, 117, 1), and contradiction is avoided by explaining that the prohibition against dealing in forbidden things is limited to such as are exclusively used for eating and to commerce when followed as a regular vocation (ib.; see especially Ṭure Zahab ad loc.).

Handling a carcass is the most despised of all occupations; therefore Rab advises R. Kahana: "Skin a carcass on the street for hire and say not I am a great man and the work is repulsive to me" (B. B. 110a; with some slight variations also Pes. 113a). In Judæo-German parlance "nebelah" applies to anti-Semites.

  • Wiener, Die Jüdischen Speisegesetze, pp. 220-245, Breslau, 1895.
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