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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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Q & A: The Hoopoe


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QUESTION: Why is the hoopoe (lapwing) bird, known in the Bible as the duchifat, considered unclean (see Leviticus 11:19 and Deuteronomy 14:18)? It does not seem to be a bird of prey or a carrion- eating bird. There’s a purpose for everything G-d commanded us and I would like to understand the reason for this law.
Robert A. Weiler
Blue Grass, IA
ANSWER: You are correct when you state that there is a purpose for everything that G-d commands us. But we must understand that at times the reasons are not clearly stated in the Torah. These are chukim, laws for which the reasons are not specifically explained.We find an example in Parashat Chukat (Numbers 19:2). The verse states: “Zot chukat haTorah asher tziva Hashem lemor, Dabber el Bnei Yisrael ve’yikchu elecha parah aduma temima asher ein bah mum asher lo alah aleha ol – This is the ordinance of the Torah which Hashem has commanded, saying, Speak to the Children of Israel that they bring to you a red heifer without defect, on which there is no blemish and on which a yoke has not come.” The Torah then proceeds to explain how Elazar the Kohen is to slaughter the red heifer and sprinkle its blood on the altar, as well as the entire procedure until the gathering of its ashes and the Kohen’s ritual cleansing of his garments.

Rashi ad loc. (19:2 s.v. Zot chukat haTorah) explains the word chukah. He says that Satan and the nations of the world vex Israel, saying, “What is this command and what is its reason?” Therefore, it states, “It is an enactment - chukah” before Me, Hashem, and you have no right to question it.

On the other hand, in our case of the duchifat we might argue that there is a reason to be understood by us as, the verse clearly states (Leviticus 11:13), “Ve’et eleh teshaktzu min ha’of lo ye’achlu, sheketz hem - And these you shall abominate from among the birds, they may not be eaten, they are an abomination…” The reason we are not to eat these birds is that they are an abomination.

You seek to take a closer look at the reason for the sake of better understanding the Torah.

What is interesting is that only in regard to fowl is there no mention in the Torah of identifying signs which denote their being prohibited, unlike animals, fish and insects, for which the Torah furnishes identifying signs of kashrut.

Though the Torah does not provide this information, the Talmud does, as we find in Tractate Chullin (59a, Mishna). The Sages state that the following are signs that distinguish between kosher and non-kosher fowl: “Any bird that claws [holds down its prey with its claws as it eats, see Rashi ad loc.] is tamei, unclean. Any bird that has all of the following: an extra toe [behind, raised higher on the foot than the other toes, Rashi ad loc.], a crop (crest), and a gizzard (gullet) that can be peeled, is clean [and may be eaten].”

We note (ibid. 61b-62a) that R. Nachman rules that for one who is an expert in the matter of checking, finding even one sign [of kashrut] is sufficient.

Rambam (Hilchot Ma’achalot Asurot 1:16-19) rules that if a bird has one of those signs and does not claw, and we have a masoret [a tradition from previous generations of this bird being kosher], then it is kosher.

R. Yosef Caro (Yoreh De’ah 82:1-2) rules that a bird that exhibits all three signs and, of course, does not claw, and is also part of a masoret, is considered kosher. He adds that if the bird has a broad beak and the palm of its foot is broad, like geese (even though we may not have observed yet whether that bird claws or not), we assume that it surely does not claw and is surely kosher, provided it has the other three signs.

The Rema, however (in his Darchei Moshe on the Tur ad loc.), clearly states that one should, nevertheless, not rely on this and should only eat those birds for which we have a masoret.

Now that we know the identifying signs of non-kosher birds, from the first listed in the Mishna, “any bird that claws,” we might see a reason why Hashem prohibited the other birds: Tosafot (Chullin 61a s.v. “Hadoress”) state that these birds claw at their prey and eat it alive, without waiting for it to die.

Ramban, in his commentary on Parashat Shemini (Leviticus 11), explains that all the animals and birds that claw and catch their prey in this way possess the terrible trait of brutality (and we are what we eat…). Therefore the Torah wished to distance us from these categories of animal life as a source of food lest our hearts acquire such a brutal nature.

In order to identify the forbidden birds, including the duchifat, we refer to our commentaries with some of their translated texts that we are fortunate enough to possess today.

In the Linear English Chumash (S.S.&R. Publishers) we find each of the described unclean birds with (for the most part) names we can recognize. The nesher is translated as the “great vulture”; the peres as the “bearded vulture”; the da’ah as the kite; the ayah as the falcon; the orev as the raven; the bat haya’anah as the ostrich; the tachmas as the night hawk; the shachaf as the sea mew (seagull); the netz as the hawk; the kos as the “little owl”; the shalach as the cormorant; the yanshuf as the “great owl”; the tinshemet as the “horned owl”; the ka’at as the pelican; the racham as the “carrion vulture”; the chasida as the stork; the anafa as the heron; the duchifat as the hoopoe; and the atalef as the bat.

The ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash correctly questions the translation of these names and, in its commentary, notes the inconsistencies in determining which birds they are. In its English
translation, ArtScroll chose to only transliterate the names, and in its commentary notes it cites the various views as to what birds they might be.

In the Linear Chumash, on the other hand, we notice an obvious difficulty in their translation of Rashi. In verse 11:18 “tinshemet” is translated as “horned owl,” but in the translation of Rashi’s text it is referred to as “kalbashuritz” and “chauvesouris” (old French), which is similar to a mouse that flies at night, namely, the bat. It is obvious from Rashi’s text that we cannot accept the translation of tinshemet as a horned owl.

Thus we see how difficult it is to accurately describe these birds and translate their names. Yet Rashi does give us a description of the duchifat. He refers to “tarnegol habar” (lit. “wild rooster”) whose comb [crest] is doubled over, and in old French [it is referred to as] herupe; and why has its name been designated as duchifat? Shehodo kafut, because its splendor is tied, and that [its splendor] is its comb [crest]. The duchifat is called nagar tura, carpenter of the mountain, by Targum Onkelos because of its characteristics, as our Rabbis explained in Tractate Gittin (68b):

The Gemara there discusses King Solomon’s dilemma. He wished to build the Holy Temple but was restricted from using cutting tools to cut the large stones from the quarries into smaller building blocks.

The Gemara relates how Solomon encountered the demon Ashmedai (Asmodeus), who told him of the shamir, a small worm that possessed the unique ability to cut stone. Ashmedai further said that the only creature that might bring him the shamir was the tarnegol habar, the wild rooster or wild cock (as translated by the ArtScroll Schottenstein Edition of the Shas.)

The key element of this description is that the wild rooster or duchifat utilizes its clawing ability to pick up the shamir.

We now refer to the Encyclopedia Judaica - though it is somewhat at odds with this description due to certain discrepancies, particularly the illustration – where we find another aspect of this bird that makes it unfit for kosher consumption (Vol. 8:970):

“HOOPOE (Heb. duchifat; AV ‘lapwing’), bird included in the Pentateuch among the unclean birds (Lev. 11:19; Deut. 14:18). The hoopoe was confused by Karaites with the chicken, for which reason they prohibited the eating of the latter (see Ibn Ezra on Lev. 11:19), even though the two are in fact distinguished from each other by many characteristics. Because of its crest, which is no more than an erectile tuft of feathers, the hoopoe is called ‘the wild cock’ in the Talmud (Git. 68b). Smaller than a dove, it feeds on insects, and is distinguished by its beautifully colored plumage. Its flesh exudes an offensive smell which is particularly strong near its nest and repels anyone trying to approach it. This perhaps was the reason certain legends associated with it, such as that it guards treasures in its nest, and was entrusted with transporting the shamir, the miraculous worm that split the stones of the Temple, the use of an iron tool for the purpose having been prohibited (Deut. 27:5; Hul. 63a).”

Thus we see that the duchifat is indeed considered a bird of prey, and as such we can begin to understand the reason that the Torah prohibited it to us.

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.


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