Beasts of Bird-en: Shemini 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What is your oddest personal habit? Did you start that habit on your own, or were you imitating others around you? Have you considered trying to change that habit? What caused you not to change it?

When the Torah introduces the species we are not permitted to eat, we can only guess why we must follow these culinary habits:

The Pitch: “The following you shall abominate among the birds—they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination … the stork; herons of every variety; the hoopoe, and the bat.” – Leviticus 11:13a, 19

Swing #1: “[The stork is unclean] because it is kind only to others of its species but will never give food to a creature not of its own kind.” – Rabbi Isaac Meir Alter

Swing #2: “[This bird] feeds on dunghills, has a filthy nest, and the smell of its flesh is rank. … [Words for this bird in other Ancient Near Eastern traditions] stand for the hoopoe and onomatopoeically represent its sound.” – Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16

Swing #3: “However we evaluate the text, it does evince the efforts at eliminating access for a hungry or covetous person to a large group of birds. But why? Were all these animals known to be flesh and carrion eaters, so that an Israelite conscious of purity concerns might have become infected indirectly through them with the corpse odor of impure animals? Although this thesis does exhibit a certain degree of plausibility, it would de facto also require a prohibition against eating many other species of birds as well.” – Erhard S. Gerstenberger, Leviticus

Late-Inning Questions: What do you make of our commentators’ theories as to why certain birds are permitted for consumption while others are not? Are any convincing to you? In your religious observance, how much do you rely on logic to direct your behavior? How much do you rely on your personal feelings?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: In an effort to enable our congregants to welcome Shabbat with joy and ease, Friday night services at Emanu-El will now begin each week at 6:00PM*. For the most part, services will last no more than 40 minutes. Please stay tuned for more announcements of special programming surrounding Friday night services!

(*There will be some exceptions in the coming months due to prior commitments on the Synagogue’s calendar.)

The Big Inning at the End: Of all the absurd “hot takes” in the sports media, one of the strangest was the notion that Major League Baseball was happy that a fight broke out at a recent Yankees-Red Sox game. I know rivalries can add richness to the game, but I still like to think that baseball is a gentleman’s game, even if the players aren’t always gentlemen themselves.

Shabbat Shalom!