Shabbat B' Shabbato
1524: Bechukotai 17th of Iyar 5774 17/05/2014
|Nature and the Torah portion|
|The Desert Partridge / Dr. Moshe Raanan, Herzog College and the Jerusalem College for Women|
"Like a partridge hatching chicks it did not bear, so is one who gathered wealth unfairly. After half of his life it will abandon him, and he will be known as a scoundrel near the end of his time." [Yirmiyahu 17:11 – from this week's Haftora].
In this article, we will deal with two elements that are necessary in order to understand Yirmiyahu's parable in the above verse: (1) Just what is a "korei," translated above as a partridge? (2) What is special about the way it hatches its young? It is important to identify this bird correctly because it has a special status with respect to the mitzva of "shiluach haken" – sending away the mother before removing the eggs or the chicks from a nest. There is a dispute in the Mishna about this matter. "One is not obligated to send away an impure bird. If an impure bird sits on the eggs of a pure bird or a pure bird sits on the eggs of an impure bird, there is no obligation to send the mother away. If it is a male 'korei,' Rabbi Eliezer requires it to be sent away, and the Chachamim do not require it." [Chulin 12:2].
Among the commentators there are two different opinions about the identity of this bird. One of the definitions includes two close relatives which are both pure birds, while the other definition is an impure bird. The Chatam Sofer felt the two definitions are not a matter for a dispute but that there are two different birds which are both called a "korei."
In Shmuel I it is written, "... for the King of Yisrael has gone out to search for one flea, just as the korei goes in pursuit in the mountains" [26:20]. Rashi explains that this "is a bird called korei, in a foreign language 'perdritz,' as is written, 'a korei hatches chicks which it did not bear.' It searches for the nests of other birds and sits on their eggs." Perdritz is both a sand partridge (korei in Hebrew) and a rock partridge (choglah). Both of them are ground-feeding birds from the pheasant family which are included in the order of Galliformes. Both species are stable and widely distributed in the Land of Israel, and there is an established tradition that they are both kosher.
In his commentary on the Mishna about the male korei, the Rambam writes, "The korei is called alhajel (in Arabic – this is similar in sound to choglah), and in this species the males hatch the eggs just like the females. That is why there is a dispute (for shiloach haken) if a male bird is found on the eggs. But for the male of all other species, there is no obligation to send it away. And the halacha follows the opinion of the Chachamim." Rav Ovadia Bar-Tanura comments: "Korei – in Arabic this is called shunar, and in a foreign language it is perdritz." In modern-day Arabic, when the two species live together, the korei is called alhajel and the choglah is called shunar. These definitions identify the korei as a choglah, and they evidently did not differentiate between the two close species, which have the same name in Greek and Latin (Perdrix). It is clear that the korei must be considered a pure bird, since the mitzva of shiluach haken does not apply to impure birds.
In contrast to the above identification, Rashi himself gives a different interpretation in the above verse in Yirmiyahu, "Like a korei hatching chicks it did not bear..." He writes, "this is kuku glontzant in a foreign language," which is the name of the cuckoo bird. On the other hand, in Chulin 140a Rashi refuses to equate the korei with the cuckoo. "Rabbi Eliezer insists that the adult bird must be sent away, even if the eggs do not belong to it, since its custom is to sit on other eggs. And this is a pure bird, not the one called the cuckoo." This explicit comment contradicts what Rashi wrote in his commentary in Yirmiyahu. The Tosafot also reject this identification: "It is said that the korei is a cuckoo but that is not so, because the cuckoo is considered impure, while a korei is a pure bird. This is clear in the matter of shiloach haken, where Rabbi Eliezer sees it as an obligation, and the reason that the rabbis disagree is because it is not hatching its own eggs. But everybody agrees that the korei bird is a pure one." [Chulin 63a].
Hatching by a Male
The descriptions of the behavior of the korei that appear in our sources can help us pin down the exact species involved. According to Felix and Ahroni (quoted by M. Dor), the meaning of the above verse, "Like a korei hatching chicks it did not bear," is that sometimes several sand partridges lay their eggs in a single nest, and that one dominant bird takes over the task of hatching them all. This bird cannot cover all the eggs at once, and some of the eggs therefore do not hatch.
According to M. Dor, since the verse in Yirmiyahu is written in the male gender, the disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer and the Chachamim is based on whether the mitzva applies to a male bird. In his opinion, the verse in Yirmiyahu and the passage in the Talmud perfectly describe the hatching process of a choglah, both in nature and in captivity. The mother bird lays two batches of eggs and gives the first batch to the male bird. The female takes care of the second batch, and the two groups join together after they all hatch. The dispute in the Talmud about the obligation of the mitzva for a male "korei" as opposed to other types of birds is due to the fact that in this case the task performed by the male is very similar to that of the female. The male goes beyond simply replacing the female for short times and in fact sits by himself on the entire first batch of eggs. This explanation corresponds very well to the approach of the Rambam which was quoted above: "In this species the males hatch the eggs just like the females."