“The following you shall abominate among the birds–they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, and the black vulture…” (Leviticus 11:13).
The portion of Shemini deals with animals, birds, and fish permitted for consumption. We have written a separate article about the animals (see Pamphlet 3) and we are preparing another article which will soon be published. We have come now to speak about the birds. Before we look at the sages’ knowledge of birds, we should emphasize that this portion was duplicated by Moses in chapter 14 of Deuteronomy, with slight changes.
We have already cited, in the portion of Tzav, Ibn Ezra on Exodus 20:1, that Moses duplicated the sections of the Torah and was careful only to maintain the sense of the words and was not careful to quote G-d’s statements verbatim.
What have Chazal said about this duplication?
Bechorot 6b: “Rabbi Simeon said, ‘it says camel twice’ [Rashi: once in Leviticus and once in Deuteronomy]. One is a camel born from a female camel and one is a camel born from a cow [both of which are prohibited for consumption. According to the sages’ opinion, a camel born of a cow is permitted for consumption! Any reasonable person understands that there is no such thing as a camel born of a cow]. But now [that we’ve learned a new rule from the duplication] why are the hyrax, hare, and pig duplicated? [What can you explain about them? (Rashi)] As the Baraita says: ‘Why were they repeated? In the animals because of the shesua [an imaginary animal which “has two spines and two backbones” and is not mentioned in Leviticus; Chazal added this imaginary animal, which does not really exist, and thereby even distorted the Scripture] and in the birds because of the ra’ah [which appears in Deuteronomy and not in Leviticus]. Camel is also repeated for the same reason, and why learn from it? [The camel is also repeated because of theshesua, and why does Rabbi Simeon learn from it a prohibition against a camel born of a cow?] It is a rule that what can be explained should be explained.”
The duplication–“hyrax hyrax,” “hare hare,” and “pig pig”–from which we learn nothing, we attribute to the shesua, but the duplication of “camel camel,” from which something can be learned and explicated, we explicate.
This is evidence that the learning of the sages, even on those things which make up the main body of the Torah, are from their own opinion, for were it from Sinai, why would there be a rule to explicate everything that can be explicated? For about things from Sinai there can be no such explication–what was said at Sinai was said. And understand this well, for there are many such things.
In Medrash Tanaim on Deuteronomy 14: “Why were these things duplicated in Deuteronomy? The animals [were duplicated] because of theshesua, and the birds because of the ra’ah vulture–to teach you that a person should not be ashamed to say he had forgotten. It is an inference from minor to major–if Moses, the wisest of sages, father of the prophets, was not afraid to say he forgot, one who is not even one of a hundred thousand, of a million of his disciples’ disciples–how much more so should he not be afraid to say ‘I forgot’.”
We have found something amazing in this Medrash! Moses wrote the section about the animals again because he forgot the shesua and thera’ah which G-d told him to write in Leviticus. When he remembered them, he decided to write them in Deuteronomy. So we learn that when it says “G-d said and Moses wrote” (Baba Batra 15), it does not mean he wrote it immediately at Sinai, but later on, and from memory. Some things he completely forgot to write and only later, when he remembered, did he repeat them in Deuteronomy. But who will reveal to us what he forgot and never did remember? The wise one will again be silent.
Let us return to the matter of birds. In Leviticus 20 birds are listed, but in Deuteronomy there are 21 (the ra’ah is the bird Moses forgot to write about in Leviticus). But Abaye, in Hulin 63b, gives a different explanation: The da’ah in Leviticus is the ra’ah of Deuteronomy. And yet another thing said Abaye: “And the dayah and ayah of its kind” are the same bird. Why did Moses repeat the names? As we have learned in the Baraita: “Rabbi says: ‘the Scripture saysayah, why does it also say dayah?’ [Rashi: it would have been enough to call it an ayah, for that is a dayah, so why also call it a dayah?] So that there should be no opening to dispute, so that one should not call it an ayah and another adayah–you’ll see written dayah and he’ll see ayah. Therefore in Deuteronomy it is written, “and the ra’ah and the ayah and dayah of its kind’.” (Therefore, according to Abaye, only 20 birds are listed in Deuteronomy.)
But Rabbi Abahu has another opinion: “The dayah, the ra’ah, the da’ah, and the ayah are the same (and so, in his opinion, there are only 19 birds). On this strange and puzzling issue it is enough if we mention the question of Rabbi Jonah, brought in Ibn Ezra on Leviticus 11:13, “How is it possible to say ‘beware the aryeh and layish [both: lion]’.” (If they are one and the same, why do we have to be warned about the ayah and also the dayah?) Ibn Ezra’s explanation cannot be reconciled with the words of Chzal; see Rav Saadiah Gaon’s commentary, where he explains that the ra’ah, ayah, and dayah are three separate birds.
But how can you imagine that the sages were expert on birds? They state about themselves that they are not expert and that they didn’t even bother to check; they speak only from learning in the study hall and did not go out into the fields to see the birds. As Tosfot writes on Hulin 61a, second reference: “And if you say, “How was it clear to the rabbis [that each bird of prey is impure]; were they hunters or bowsmen who checked all the kosher birds and found no bird of prey?’…It may have been a tradition from the days of Noah, who sacrificed from every type of kosher bird and checked them all, and he handed this tradition down through the generations, that there is no kosher bird of prey.”
We have already written in many places that our rabbis, when they had no source or reason, said, “it is a tradition given to the sages,” and really, they had no such tradition, but, as the Tosfot themselves prove, “it may have been a tradition.” So a doubtful tradition became an explanation.
If this is not enough, the Gemara in Hulin 63b says: “A hunter can be trusted to say ‘this bird is kosher, as taught to me by my teacher.’ Rabbi Johanan said: ‘if he is expert in them and in their names.’ Rabbi Zira asked: ‘Is this “teacher” a rabbi or a hunting teacher?’ This is the answer; Rabbi Johanan had said that were ‘If he is expert in them and their names’ were spoken of his hunting teacher, it would be clear, but were it spoken of his rabbi–we may suppose he had learnt the birds’ names, but how can he be expert in the birds themselves?” This means that a sage may be indeed expert on the names of the birds, but cannot identify them in the nature. This is as we say, that Chazal had determined halacha without checking reality, and did not bother to go out to the field and check the birds with their own eyes.
Therefore the Shach ruled, in Yoreh Deah 82, section 101: “[One may say,] ‘This bird was permitted me by my hunting teacher,’ but he is not trusted to say, ‘This bird was permitted me by my rabbi’.”
You have here an explicit halachic ruling that we should not rely upon the sages, who are not expert in birds, but upon hunters or contemporary zoologists who for many years research the types and species of birds and animals.
Therefore the Gemara also brought an incident in which the sages erred in permitting the eating of fowl–Hulin 62b: “Rav Papa said, ‘male water fowl is forbidden, female water fowl is permitted’…Mareimar learnt that the female water fowl is forbidden also, for it was seen killing its prey and eating it.” (From the words of the Gemara it seems that the male of the species is forbidden while the female of the species is permitted, though they are the same species. About this strange matter see the Tosfot in Niddah 50b, second reference.)
So we find that Rav Papa did not know that the water fowl tarnegolta is also a bird of prey, and mistakenly permitted her. That is why Rashi wrote on Hulin 62b, based on this incident: “And we do not eat any bird except one our fathers have told us is pure; those they did not tell us about we doubt.”
To illustrate the confusion in the identification of birds, come see what happened when they decided to check things against reality. We will quote the words of the Chazon Ish in Yoreh Deah section 13, “We must wonder why the Tosfot (on Hulin 62b, second reference) wrote that the Ribam checked the crow and found an extra protrusion and a pouch, and its gizzard cannot be whittled, while the Ran writes that crow has an extra protrusion and its gizzard can be whittled, but it does not have a pouch. It seems the bird the Ribam meant was a starling, and the one the Ran meant was a swallow. We also have to wonder why the Tosfot (Hulin 62b, second reference) checked a bird, similar to an owl, which has jaws like a person, and found in it an extra protrusion and a gizzard which can be whittled, but the Ran wrote in the name of the Ramban that the gizzard cannot be whittled…it is possible that the one the Ramban checked was of a different species.”
The Chazon Ish himself did not bother to close the Gemara, go outside and check, ask the zoologists about the different species, and thus, scientifically, determine halacha. He sat in his study hall and through pilpul and learning wrote, “It is possible that the one the Ramban checked was of a different species.” He also mixes up the crow with the starling and the swallow, showing a complete lack of knowledge, simply because he saw in Hulin 62a that the starling has a pouch and the swallow’s gizzard can be whittled.
After these words, we can do nothing but accept the words of Dr. Moredchai Broyer (and the opinion of Rabbi Shmuel HaCohen) brought in the journal “Megadim,” volume 14, 5751.
In that journal there is an article by Rabbi Yaakov Meidan, an introduction to H. Hefetz’s article on the kingdom of Persia and Media. Even though the topic there is the knowledge of the sages in chronology and the discussion is about the disappearance of 170 years at the time of the kingdom of Persia (see what we have said in our article on Shemita), the matters there are also relevant to the knowledge of the sages about animals.
“Dr. Mordechai Broyer published his article, ‘Teaching history and the faith of the sages” (“Shma’atin,” volume 9 , issues 36-37) in which he claims that Chazal did not mean to pass down through the generations historical information, but to teach us a world view, and in any case we may skip over the opinion of Chazal when learning the chronology and history of the Persian kingdom…This is the approach adopted even by Rabbi Shmuel HaCohen in his book, ‘An Introduction to the Books of Return to Zion in the Scriptures’ in which he wrote: ‘Chazal saw that the words of the Prophets and Writings as ethical teachings intended to straighten the hearts of the people of Israel and their ways…Chazal did not investigate history and chronology and their words were said for educational reasons and based on a special view of historical events, different from the way simple people would see it’.” (See also the notes of Rabbi Meidan, who disagrees with them.)
Our opinion is as theirs, not only on matters of history but also in all things connected with scientific research and zoological knowledge, for their words were not said as zoologists, or, as the Tosfot say: “And were they hunters or bowsmen that they checked all the birds?” They determined halacha from learning alone. We find that the world of the study hall is miles away from the real world.
We will bring a wonderful example of this and you can draw the analogy to the rest.
The Mishna, in Hulin 42a lists the treifot, and one of them is “the heart is punctured to its chamber.”
The Tosfot, second reference: “About a removed heart and the lungs, it did not need to be repeated, for it is one of the punctures.” Through learning they forbade an animal whose heart was removed, and thus, without checking the facts, the Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah 40, section 5, ruled: “If the heart is removed, whether by hand or by disease, it is treifah.” Only someone who has never lifted his eyes from the parchments to see reality could make such a mistake, to think an animal lives without its heart!
The Yad Yehuda wrote about this in section 40, “It is clear as the sun that it is impossible for anything living to live without its heart, for it is the source and the first of all organs…therefore a woman who comes and says there was no heart found in the chicken is lying.”
We learn that the Shulchan Aruch forbade what he did through learning and not through examining and checking reality, and it is clear as the sun that the Yad Yehuda checked reality in his decision making.
But we will stand desolated. How is it that the sages determined halachot which have no standing at all in reality? It’s one thing when the matter is completely given over to man, things like tefillin or tzitzit which have no independent reality in nature. But matters of birds and animals, earth and the skies, anatomy and physiology–all a person has to do is to open his eyes and use his brain, to look and understand. Anyone who builds castles in the air and learns about reality from striking letters against each other and hitting verses together should not be surprised if the ground suddenly disappears from beneath his feet.
Words of True Knowledge.