On the Wings of Eagles – or Perhaps I Have the Wrong Bird
In am sending you this article in honor of Parshas Shmini.
Question #1: My chavrusa and I are studying Chullin, and we recently discovered a Tosafos who states that a nesher is not an eagle; yet every Chumash I have seen translates kanfei nesharim as the “wings of eagles.” Are all these translators ignorant of this Tosafos?
Question #2: While camping in Western Canada, we saw thousands of wild, roaming, land birds called “prairie chicken,” that are clearly different from the common, familiar chicken, but appear similar enough that I was tempted to bring one to a shocheit to prepare for us. Halachically, could I have done this?
Question #3: On a tour in Israel, I visited a kibbutz where they raise a variety of duck, called the Muscovy duck, for its kosher meat and liver. Yet I was told that several prominent rabbonim prohibited eating this bird. What are the halachic issues involved in the kashrus of this bird?
To answer these questions accurately and thoroughly, we need to explain the background how one identifies kosher and non-kosher species, and the differences in halachic practice that have developed.
The Torah describes the exact indicators that render fish and animals kosher, providing us with relatively clear simanim, indicating signs, to determine whether a species is kosher or not. However, regarding birds the Torah simply inventories a list of non-kosher varieties, implying that all other birds are acceptable for the Jewish palate (Vayikra 11:13- 19; Devarim 14:11- 19). Indeed, the Gemara notes that there are countless kosher bird species (Chullin 63b). After analyzing the Torah’s list, the Gemara concludes that 24 varieties (or possibly, categories) of bird are non-kosher, the remaining species all being kosher (Chullin 61b). Thus, someone who can identify all 24 species of non-kosher fowl could indeed shecht and eat any other species of bird he discovers. Furthermore, the Gemara rules that a hunter who recognizes all 24 non-kosher species may teach other people which species are kosher (Chullin 63b).
On this basis, why do we restrict ourselves to eating only familiar species? Also, is there any way that a non-hunter can identify whether a bird is kosher?
KOSHER BIRD SIMANIM
Are there any signs that indicate whether a variety of bird is kosher?
The answer is yes and no.
The Mishnah, indeed, lists four simanim that identify a bird as kosher. However, before introducing and explaining the four simanim, I need to clarify a major difference between the function of simanim in identifying kosher birds as opposed to those of fish and land animals. Any animal that possesses both simanim, that is, it has both fully split hooves and chews its cud, is kosher; any animal possessing one siman but not the other is definitely non-kosher. In the case of fish, the Torah rules that any species that possesses both fins and scales is kosher; and the Mishnah teaches that there are no species possessing scales that do not possess fins. Thus, any species of fish possessing scales is kosher, and any without scales is not.
In the case of birds, however, a bird containing all four kosher simanim is definitely kosher, and a bird that possesses none of the four simanim is not kosher. Concerning birds that possess some of the four signs but not all, some are kosher and some are not. The Gemara teaches that of the 24 species mentioned by the Torah, only the nesher lacks all four simanim. (Rashi explains that any bird variety lacking all four kosher simanim is considered a sub-category of nesher. We will see shortly why I have not translated the word nesher.) The peres and the azniah, two of the 24 non-kosher varieties, each possesses only one of the kosher simanim and lacks the other three. The oreiv, usually identified as the raven (see Tosafos, Chullin 62a s.v. mipnei who discusses whether this identification is accurate) and the zarzur each has two kosher simanim and lack the remaining two, and the remaining 19 types of non-kosher bird each has three of the simanim and lacks only one. (This follows the approach of most interpretations of this passage of Gemara.)
However, there are many varieties of kosher bird that only possess some kosher signs and lack others. For example, geese contain only three of the four kosher simanim, and yet are 100% kosher!
Any bird possessing some, but not all, of the simanim is still kosher if it is not one of the 24 species listed by the Torah. Since this is true, how can one tell whether a bird containing some kosher signs is indeed kosher? Only if one knows all 24 types of non-kosher birds mentioned in the Torah, could one thereby identify the remaining kosher varieties. This is exactly what the expert hunter of the Gemara does. Furthermore, he may educate others that a specific species is kosher. However, those of us without access to his expertise would not be able to consume birds unless we had a mesorah, an oral tradition, that this is a kosher bird, in which case one could eat it even if it does not have all four kosher simanim (Chullin 63b).
IDENTIFYING KOSHER WITHOUT A MESORAH
According to the Mishnah, someone who finds a variety of bird for which he has no mesorah may still eat it based on the following rules:
“Any bird that is doreis is not kosher. Any that possesses an “extra claw,” and has a crop, and whose gizzard can be peeled is kosher (Chullin 59a).” I will shortly explain what these simanim are.
According to Rashi, the Mishnah is teaching that if we can identify a bird that has all four of the simanim, that is, it is not doreis, it possesses an “extra claw,” has a crop, and has a gizzard that can be peeled, the bird is definitely kosher. The Gemara records that all the varieties of dove mentioned by the Torah as korbanos have these four indicating simanim. Thus, according to Rashi’s understanding of the Mishnah, one may only eat a variety of bird that has no mesorah if it possesses all four simanim. (It should be noted that most other Rishonim interpret the Mishnah differently, and indeed rule that, under certain very specific circumstances, one may eat certain birds based on some, but not all, of the simanim.)
Although a bird may have only some of the four simanim and still be kosher, any bird with all four simanim is unquestionably kosher according to the Mishnah.
What are the four simanim?
I. Any bird that is doreis is not kosher. Thus, the kosher siman is that a bird is not doreis.
People often mistranslate the word doreis as predator. However, this is inaccurate, since chickens, which the Mishnah teaches are kosher, are technically predators since they feast on worms and insects.
The Rishonim debate what the word doreis means; here are five different interpretations:
A. The bird lifts its prey from the ground with its claws when feeding (Rashi, Chullin 59a s.v. hadoreis).
B. It grips and restrains its food while eating (Rashi, Chullin 62a s.v. vehani milei).
C. It preys on smaller birds or rodents, which it devours while they are alive (Rabbeinu Tam, cited in Tosafos Chullin 61a s.v. hadoreis).
D. It poisons with its talons (Ran, Chullin, page 20b in Rif, as explained by the Aruch HaShulchan 82:5) (A talon is a claw, but the word “talon” is typically used only for predators.)
E. It pounces on its prey with its talons (the above-quoted Ran, as explained by the Shach, Yoreh Deah 82:3).
Thus, by observing a bird’s feeding and clawing behavior one may be able to determine that it is non-kosher.
It must be emphasized, that although all birds that are doreis are non-kosher, the inverse is not true. There are varieties of fowl that are not doreis, yet nevertheless are not kosher.
The Gemara does not state that a bird must be doreis frequently to qualify as such. Rather, it implies that a bird is non-kosher if it is ever doreis (Chullin 62b). Thus, it may be difficult to easily identify a bird as a non-doreis, a fact with major ramifications.
INDICATIONS OF DOREIS
The Mishnah records an alternative method of verifying whether a bird is doreis: Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Tzadok rules that any bird that splits its talons, two before and two behind, when it grips a rope, is doreis and therefore not kosher (Chullin 59a, as explained there by the Gemara 65a). (Note that the halachic authorities all quote this opinion as definitive [Tosafos Yom Tov ad loc.].)
It is noteworthy that an early halachic authority cites a different mesorah for identifying a bird that is not doreis. Any bird with a wide beak and webbed feet is not doreis (Baal HaMaor). The Rishonim quote this approach and it is recorded in Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 82:3).
Tosafos raises a question: How did Chazal research that not one kosher species anywhere in the world is doreis? How can the Gemara confidently say that none of hundreds of kosher bird species is doreis? Tosafos rules out the explanation that this was an oral tradition communicated to Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai (halacha leMoshe miSinai) because if that were true, the Torah need not have mentioned all 24 varieties of non-kosher bird in order to identify all non-kosher varieties. Instead, it could have succinctly taught that all birds that are doreis are non-kosher, and in addition, listed the remaining small list of non-kosher birds that are not doreis.
Tosafos concludes that Noah, who knew which birds are kosher and which are not, observed that none of the kosher varieties were doreis (Chullin 61a s.v. kol of). Thus, the siman that a doreis is not kosher is an oral tradition dating back to Noah.
So far, we have identified one siman that identifies some non-kosher birds, which is based on avian feeding behavior. The other simanim are all anatomical features, two internal and one external. One of these simanim is the crop such as is found in doves, chickens, and most, but not all, varieties of bird that we are accustomed to consider kosher.
What is a crop?
The crop is a very interesting part of a bird’s digestive system. It is essentially a storage bag for undigested food that Hashem provided for smaller birds to enable them to survive in the wild. A brief description of the life of a small bird will help us understand the chesed Hashem performed for these birds.
Smaller birds always need to worry that they are potential lunch for larger ones. As such, they must be careful to expose themselves to harm very briefly before returning to their safe hideouts. What happens if a small bird finds a plentiful supply of seeds that would keep it satisfied for a while, but the seeds are located in a place where a leisurely feast could easily render the bird into an available dinner for a predator?
Hashem came to the rescue of the smaller bird and provided it with a crop! The crop does not digest the food, but functions as an expandable storage pouch allowing the small bird to gobble its food quickly. Once the gizzard and crop hold as much as they possibly can, the bird escapes to its safe cover, secure from predators. At this point, the gizzard grinds the seeds inside it, and when empty receives more from the crop. This way the bird gradually turns into nutrition what it quickly gobbled without having to reach for a bottle of Tums to recover from the huge indigestion that afflicts humans when they eat too much at one time.
REASONS FOR A CROP
Although we cannot be certain of the reasons for the Torah’s mitzvos, the commentators conclude that we should attempt to understand why the Torah commanded us concerning the mitzvos. Perhaps the crop is a siman of kosher birds since smaller birds that eat seeds usually possess this organ in order to protect themselves from predators. Thus, although man usually lauds the large, impressive birds such as the eagle, falcon, and condor, the Torah is teaching that its message is better conveyed through the smaller birds that protect themselves by fleeing. We find this idea in a Midrash, which points out that the only bird kosher for the mizbayach are doves, which are hunted by larger birds of prey.
ONE CAN PEEL ITS GIZZARD
One of the four simanim of a kosher bird is that one can peel off the inside of its gizzard. We are all familiar with a chicken’s gizzard, although many of us know it by its Yiddish name, the pupek. The hard muscle of the pupek grinds the food, which begins its digestive process. A bird swallows its food whole, which means that its gizzard must accomplish what humans achieve with their teeth and saliva.
How does the toothless bird “chew” the seeds it eats? Hashem, who provides food even for the young raven (Tehillim 147:9), provided all birds with the ability to digest their food in incredible ways. The bird swallows pebbles which are held in the gizzard. The powerful gizzard muscles grind the food with these pebbles.
The special lining of the gizzard protects the gizzard itself from becoming damaged by these stones. In birds containing all four kosher simanim, this lining of the gizzard can be peeled off the gizzard (obviously, only post-mortem).
BY HAND OR BY BLADE?
The Gemara discusses eight varieties of bird that have uncertain kashrus status. In all eight cases, the birds were not doreis and may have been kosher. However, these birds’ gizzards can be peeled only by a knife, and not with one’s fingernails. The Gemara was uncertain whether this qualifies as a kosher siman. Since we cannot positively identify these eight varieties of bird as kosher, and we have no mesorah identifying them as such, we must treat them as non-kosher (Chullin 62b).
AN EXTRA CLAW
One of the four simanim that can identify a bird as definitely kosher is the possession of an “extra claw.” Where is this extra claw located?
The Rishonim disagree, some understanding that this claw points in the opposite direction from the other claws of the birds; whereas others explain that in addition this claw must protrude at a higher point on the leg than the other claws. A third approach understands that the claw is on the same side of the bird’s leg as the other claws but protrudes outward farther than the others.
Although these differences seem rather technical for those of us who are not habitual bird watchers, there is a significant nomenclature concern that results from this discussion. Is a nesher indeed an eagle?
Chazal tell us that of the 24 non-kosher birds identified by the Torah, only a nesher lacks all four kosher signs. This means that only a nesher is doreis, does not possess an “extra claw,” is crop-less, and has a gizzard that cannot be peeled. Any bird that has some of these simanim, but not all, may indeed not be kosher, but it is not a nesher.
IS THE NESHER AN EAGLE?
“Everyone” knows that a nesher is an eagle. However, Tosafos notes that an eagle possesses a talon that is opposite the other claws on its leg, and on this basis he concludes that a nesher cannot possible be an eagle since a nesher should not have this sign (Chullin 63a s.v. neitz). Those of us distressed to discover that the United States national bird is not a nesher will find solace in the explanation offered by the Aruch HaShulchan – that the kosher siman is that the opposing claw must also be raised higher than the other claws — whereas an eagle’s opposing claw is directly opposite the other claws (Yoreh Deah 82:3). Thus, our national pride indeed possesses no signs of kashrus!
All of this does not explain whether we can eat prairie chicken or Muscovy duck. To answer this question, we will have to wait for the sequel. (Click here to view the article.)