Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mongoose Dung

The presence of excrement interferes with a person's ability to recite the Shema. But what kind of excrement? Human, of course, but what about that of animals? Here a difference is described between species:
ר' יוסי בר חנינא אמר מרחיקין מגללי בהמה ארבע אמות רבי שמואל בר רב יצחק אמר ברכים ובלבד בשל חמור ר' חייא בר אבא אמר בבא מן הדרך לוי אמר מרחיקין מצואת חזיר ארבע אמות ותני כן מרחיקין מצואת חזיר ארבע אמות ומצואת הנמייה ארבע אמות ומצואת התרנגולין ארבע אמות ר' יוסי בר אבון בשם ר' חונא ובלבד באדומים
- ירושלמי ברכות פרק ג הלכה ה
R. Yose bar anina said, “One distances onself from animal dung four amoth” [before reciting the Shema].
R. Shemuel bar R. Yitsaq said, “With soft excretions, and only then of a donkey.”
iya bar Aba said, “When it is arriving from a journey.”
Lewi said, “One distances onself from pig dung four amoth.” And that is what is taught: one distances onself from pig dung four amoth, and from mongoose dung four amoth, and from chicken dung four amoth.
R. Yose bar Avun said in the name of R. Huna, “As long as [the chicken dung is] red.”
- yBerakhoth 3:5
So pigs and mongooses are classed together with sick chickens and exhausted donkeys as especially noxious; outside these cases the akhamim (except for R. Yose bar anina) do not seem to require distancing at all. Now here is the similar approach of the Shulan Arukh:
צואת חמור הרכה לאחר שבא מהדרך וצואת חתול ונמיה ונבלה מסרחת דינם כצואת אדם
א"ח סימן ע"ח סעיף ג
‎The soft dung of a donkey after it arrives from a journey, the dung of a cat and of a mongoose, and rotting carrion follow the same [strict] law as human excrement.
Ḥ Siman 78 Seif 3
Again, this is as opposed to normal animal dung, the law of which is more lenient:

צואת שאר בהמה חיה ועוף... אין צריך להרחיק מהם אם אין בהם ריח רע
א"ח סימן ע"ח סעיף ד
The dung of other domesticated and wild animals and of birds... do not require distancing from them at all, unless they have a bad smell.
O.Ḥ Siman 78 Seif 4

Now my burning question while reading this was what is going on with the mongoose. With a little rural background it is easy to gain enough experience to understand why many of these animals have been singled out, as opposed to cows or sheep. The manure of cows and sheep is not so noxious; one can easily be socialised to mildly enjoy them, as hard or even disgusting as it is for one who has only known urban environments to understand. I remember as a child being told the smell would make my hair grow thick and curly. A connection was being made for me between the action of this manure on the ground, fertilising and enriching the earth, speeding and strengthening the plants, and my own person. The good of the soil must also be my good and so I should work on my perception until appreciation is reflexive. This socialisation is not possible with something as impossibly disgusting as human or pig feces.

But when it comes to the mongoose I have neither experience nor a serious possibility for experience. We can deduce from context that mongoose dung is especially smelly, of course, but one does not like to be lazy and uninvestigative enough to rely on that kind of reading.

Fortunately, a blogging field biologist can help us out.

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