Fat (prop. חֵלֶב, che'leb). [For the use of the word as a verb, SEE FATTED FOWL. ] The Hebrews distinguished between the suet, or pure fat of an animal (חֵלֶב), and the fat which was intermixed with the lean (מִשׁמִנֵּים, oily pieces, Ne 8:10). Certain restrictions were imposed upon them in' reference to the former: some parts of the suet, viz. about the stomach, the entrails, the kidneys, and the tail of a sheep, which grows to an excessive size in many Eastern countries, and is a special delicacy, were forbidden to be eaten in the case of animals offered to Jehovah in sacrifice (Le 3:3,9,17; Le 7:3,23). The ground of the prohibition was that the fat was the richest part of the animal, and therefore belonged to him (Le 3:16). It has been supposed that other reasons were superadded, as that the use of fat was unwholesome in the hot climate of Palestine (Maimonides, More Nebochimn, part 3, chapter 48). There appears, however, to be no ground for such an' assumption (Bahr, Symbol. 2:382). The presentation of thefat as the richest part of the animal was agreeable to the dictates of natural feeling, and to the analogy in dedicating the first-born and first-fruits to God. This was also the ordinary practice even of heathen nations, as instanced in the Homeric descriptions'of sacrifices (II. 1:460; 2:423; Od. 3:457), and in the customs of the Egyptians (Herod. 2:47), and Persians (Strabo, 15:732); Accordingly, Abel, who brought the first anfimal sacrifice, not only presented to the Lord "the firstlings of his flock," but "the fat thereof," which, by virtue of its being the best part, was as much the firstling of the animal itself as the animal was the firstling of the flock (Ge 4:4); or if the word here means the fattest of his flock, the same idea is essentially implied. Indeed, the term cheleb is itself significant of the feeling on which the regulation was based, for it sometimes describes the best of any production (Ge 45:18; Nu 18:12; Ps 81:16; Ps 147:14; compare 2Sa 1:22; Jg 3:29; Isa 10:16). With regard to the other parts of the fat of sacrifices or the fat of other animals, it might be consumed, with the exception of those dying either by a violent or a natural death (Le 7:24), which might still be used in any other way. The burning of the fat of sacrifices was particularly specified in each kind of offering, whether a peace offering (Le 3:9), consecration offering (Le 8:25), sin offering (Le 4:8), trespass offering (Le 7:3), or redemption offering (Nu 18:17). The Hebrews fully appreciated the luxury of well-fatted meat, and had their stall-fed oxen and calves (1Ki 4:23; Jer 46:21; Lu 15:23). This was, however, not a usual practice; and even at this day in the East, domestic cattle seldom undergo any preparatory feeding or fattening before being killed. Hence there is little fat in the carcase except that belonging to the parts specified in the prohibition, which is all more or less of the nature of suet. SEE FOOD.
The parts of the fat or suet of the victims which belong to God, and are especially to be appropriated to the altar, are given in Ex 29:13-22, and Le 3:3-5, as follows:
1. The fat which covers the entrails (הִחֵלֶב חִמכִסֶּה אֶתאּהִקֶּרֶב) = ἐπίπλους, as Josephus rightly has it (Ant. 3:9, 2); the omentum, which is only to be found in man and mammals, and is very fat in ruminants (comp. Aristot. Hist. Anim. 1:16; Pliny, Hist. Nat. 11:80).
2. The fat which accumulates around entrails (הִחֵלֶב אֲשֶׁר עִלאּהִקֶּרֶב), and is easily separated therefrom, i.e., the reticular adherings to the colon.
3. The two kidneys, with the fat on them, at the internal muscles of the loins (הִכּלָיֹת ואֶת הִחֵלֶב עֲלֵחֶן אֲשֶׁר עִל הִכּסָלִים שׁתֵּי), as the most fat accumulates near the kidneys (De 32:14; Isa 34:6), and to such an extent in sheep that they sometimes die of it (οἱ νεφοὶ μάλιστα τῶασπλάγχνων ἔχονσι πιμελήν, Aristot. De Part. Animn 3:9, and Hist. Anim. 3:16; Pliny, Hist. Nat. 11:81),
4. The יֹתֶרֶת, yothereth, which is taken by the Sept and Josephus (Ant. 3:9, 2) to mean ὁ λοβὸς τοῦ ἣπατος, the greater lobe of the liver, similarly the Syriac and Chaldee (חצרא דעל כבדא); and is explained by the Talmud (Chulin, 49:6), Rashi, Kimchi, Solomon ben-Melech, etc., as טִרפּשָּׂא = τρἀπεζα, whereby the Greeks, according to Hippocrates, understood the greater and thickest of the five segments of the liver (Bahr, Symb. 2:354). This meaning of יוֹתֶרֶת is ably defended by Bochart (Hieroz. lib. 2, c. 45), and followed by Le Clerc, J.D. Rosenmuller, Kalisch (on Ex 29:13), and others. But the Vulgate, Luther, Tyndale, the Bishops' Bible, the Geneva Bible, the A.V., Piscator, De Wette, Knobel, Furst, etc., take it to denote omentum minus, which is preferable, for the lobes have no accumulation of fat.
5. The tail (אִליָה alyah', A.V. "rump") of a sheep (Le 7:3), which, in a certain species (ovis laticaudata), contains a great quantity of fat. It is for this reason that the eating of fat is forbidden (Le 3:17). It affords a delicate marrowy substance much used in pillaus and other messes which require to be lubricated by animal juices. The Rabbinical Jews maintain that the prohibition of it is restricted to the sacrifices, while the Karaite Jews regard the eating of the tail as absolutely forbidden. SEE SHEEP.
One of the metaphorical senses of "fat" (in the Hebrew) is noticed above. By a natural figure,"fat" is occasionally put in Scripture for a dull and torpid state of mind, as if the heart were covered with thick fat, and therefore insensible (Ps 17:10). SEE OIL.