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FOWL PLAY

by Ezra Cohen    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Only certain animals are fit to be kosher. To qualify as being kosher, the animal must have cloved hooves and chew its cud. For fish to be classified as kosher, they must own fins and scales.

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Only certain animals are fit to be kosher. To qualify as being kosher, the animal must have cloved hooves and chew its cud. For fish to be classified as kosher, they must own fins and scales.

However, concerning fowl there are no guidelines. Instead, the Torah delineates all the fowl that can not be eaten. Such an extended list of non-kosher fowl is quite necessary. With regard to animals, an outward obvious sign is adequate for identification purposes. However, with regard to fowl the disqualifying ingredient is not so obvious. It is a behavioral factor that invalidates the bird. As the Rambam, one of the leading Torah scholars of the Middle Ages (also known as Maimonides), points out, the disqualifying characteristic of the fowl is the attribute of cruelty. He derives this from a verse in this week's Torah portion (Leviticus 11:13) which states: "These shall you abominate from among the birds, they may not be eaten -- they are an abomination. . . ." In other words, fowl that are cruel are not eligible to be kosher. One will not always find an inherently cruel fowl exercising cruelty. It would therefore be difficult to positively identify a specific bird as being unfit. Therefore, the Torah must list all the fowl that are unsuitable for eating.

Among the fowl that are listed as being unkosher is the chasidah, the white stork. What cruel character trait does the stork possess? Rashi, a popular commentator on the Torah, mentions that the reason it is called a chasidah is because it does chesed (kindness) with its friends regarding the food it finds. Apparently, what Rashi intended as an explanation to disqualify seems at first glance to be a praiseworthy virtue of the stork. If it is the character of the stork to act kindly with its food, why is it then disqualified as being kosher?

A possible answer to this difficulty is given by the Chidushei Harim, a Chassidic 19th century Talmudic scholar, in which he explains the nature of the stork. He says that the fact that the stork only shows its kindness with its friends defines its cruelty. A fowl who is not in the circle of the stork's good buddies cannot expect to get any help from him in finding food. It is this character trait of differentiating between close friends and others when it comes to providing food that makes the stork non-kosher.

The valuable lesson of the stork is one which all of us can take to heart. To do kindness for ones friends is nice, but it is a kindness which one is expected to do and will surely be reciprocated. But a true act of kindness is one done for a stranger, someone who is beyond our circle of friends, someone who will surely not expect and might not even reciprocate the kindness. It is the attribute of unsolicited kindness which will unify the Jewish people and propel us towards the day of our ultimate redemption.

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Ezra Cohen, a native Atlantan, is currently a senior at Yeshiva University in New York.

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