Purpose of the Laws of Hybrids


Curious Commands

Both Vayikra 19:19 and Devarim 22:9-11 contain various laws relating to prohibited mixtures, including the prohibition to crossbreed animals, sow a field or vineyard with seeds of diverse species, wear a garment made of wool and linen, and plow with an ox and donkey together.  As each of these actions seems fairly innocuous, with no obvious harm being inflicted on others, the reason for the prohibitions is not at all self-evident. Why should Hashem care what materials make up one's clothing or whether two different species are planted together?  Is there some lesson to be learned from the prohibitions?  Last, do all the prohibitions listed in the verses share a common purpose, or is each law independent of the others?

Additional Questions

The verses raise several additional questions:

  • כִּלְאַיִם – The Torah refers to the crossbred animals, diverse seeds, and mixed fabrics as "כִּלְאַיִם".  What does this term mean? Does the fact that the term is not applied to plowing with mixed animals suggest that this law differs from the others?  If so, though, why is it sandwiched between the other prohibitions of kilayim?
  • שַׁעַטְנֵז – The garment of mixed materials is called shaatnez.  What does this word mean and might it bear any light on the nature of the prohibition?
  • Exceptions – There are two exceptions to the laws of shaatnez: the priestly clothing was made of a mixture of wool and linen1 and tzitzit may be made of them as well.2 What is the logic behind these exemptions?
  • "אֶת חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ" – In Vayikra 19, the various prohibitions are introduced by the phrase, "אֶת חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ".  What distinguishes a "חוק" from any other law?  Why are these specific commandments so termed?
  • Context – In Vayikra 19, the laws are followed by the prohibition to have relations with a maidservant who has been pledged to marry another. In Devarim 22, they follow the command to make a fence on one's roof lest one fall, and they precede the commandment of tzitzit. Is there any significance to the juxtaposition of the various laws?  Can the context teach the reader anything about the purpose of the different prohibitions?