Monday, June 27, 2011

Stay Home, Freebird

At the start of spring, a not very bright robin built its nest right outside the kitchen window, located right next to the parked car and the air conditioning unit. For months my family tried to accommodate  it; the window wasn't opened lest we startle it (despite the heat in the kitchen), we avoided that side of the house altogether unless getting the car, and thankfully it wasn't hot enough to put on the AC or else we would've been in a pickle.
But there was the beauty of seeing a mother bird devotedly parked over her blue speckled eggs, and so it was a shock when one morning we found the nest was empty. The eggs hadn't hatched yet to our knowledge, and I hoped it wasn't a predator, but rather she had enough with the crummy location and relocated her brood.

I was telling this story over to a middle-aged neighbor.

"You could have done shiluach hakan," she said.

I was confused. "Why? We don't need the eggs."

"But it's a mitzvah," she said.

"Nooooo," I replied, "One only does shiluach hakan if they need the eggs so the bird won't be saddened to see them taken away in front of her."

She kept on insisting. "It's a chok."

"No, it's not. It's a matter of tzaar baalei chaim; one doesn't shoo away a mother bird just for the heck of it. What would that achieve? Less baby birds in the world? No chok has us interfere with nature."

"That's not how I learned it," she persisted.

"That's how I learned it," I countered.

Eventually she conceded, or pretended to. But I was concerned; are there people out there unwittingly and unnecessarily causing pain to the animal world? 

I looked up shiluach hakan in the Chumash (Devarim 22:6) and the Rambam says that it is regarding tzaar baalei chayim, meaning it is not a chok

"If a bird's nest chance to be before thee in the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take the dam with the young; thou shalt in any wise let the dam go, but the young thou mayest take unto thyself; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days."

Firstly, it is if one happens upon a nest, not having one prepared (Rashi). Secondly, the fact that the law is to not take the mother with the eggs shows that one only takes the young if there is a purpose to removing the eggs or chicks, such as for food. 

Rabbi Nosson Slifkin is very much against current chicken kapparos because the birds are usually incredibly mistreated in the process (locked up in trucks without water on boiling-hot days, wings  and legs broken by too much force). This maltreatment  is cruel,  and renders them unfit to eat afterward, which defeats the purpose. 

Once, a farmer would take a chicken from his own backyard, then bring it himself to the shoichet to prepare for the poor.  Nowadays there are probably all sorts of laws preventing those chickens from being consumed, so money would seem to be a better option for the poor anyway.
My family happened to have never done chicken kapparos - a college classmate once asked me about the Jewish pastime of "chicken throwing." 

One should be very careful with the fowl.

Judaism was revolutionary because of its sensitivity to the pain of every living creature, man or animal. It would be incredibly disturbing if we give ourselves the image of the opposite.


inkstainedhands said...

I've also often heard about people making big deals out of the fact that someone saw a nest somewhere, so they can do the 'mitzva' of shiluach hakan. I hate that attitude -- when you're just causing pain to a family of birds, it's not a mitzva. You don't actually need the eggs, so why do it? And people start sending emails announcing that there is a rare opportunity to do this mitzva, etc. Um, no.

Thank you for writing about it.

Mystery Woman said...

I always wondered about that. It seems so cruel, but you hear so many stories of pretty great people who are so excited when they have the opportunity to perform shiluach hakan, and I assumed it was a mitzvah, whether you have a reason to chase the mother bird away or not. Are they wrong?

Princess Lea said...

MW - Would you happen to remember the names of those specific rabbanim? Sometimes I wonder how truthful those stories are. I would say it is wrong, because if we all did shiluach hakan, that would really limit the bird population.

Mystery Woman said...

I don't, but check out this site:
Look at the Gallery. I don't recognize any of those rabbanim, but they look pretty chashuv to me.
Also this one:
Another rav I don't know...

Amy said...

You make a compelling argument, but I'm not sure your facts are 100% correct. At least according to some opinions, one is allowed to perform the mitzvah, make a kinyan on the eggs, and then return the eggs to the nest. Also, to fulfill "ki yikareh", the nest has to be made hefker before the mitzvah is done. There are a lot of details to this rare and special mitzvah. It makes for interesting discussion but please double-check with an authoritative Rov before condemning a mitzvah d'Oryasa.

SiBaW said...

First off, the mitzvah is of shiluach hakan is probably one of the few “segulahs” that have a mekor in the torah. The stated reward for properly completing the mitzvah is nothing to balk at. I have a few friends who swear by it with regards to working for shidduchim, but that is of course arguable, but one of the rewards is having children so who knows...

I once had a similar situation with finding a robin’s nest and a few of the experts I asked said the real mitzvah of shiluach hakan is not with a robin, additionally, you can’t make a brucha on an shiluach hakanof a robin. Furthermore, the procedures of shiluach hakan are also complicated as well. The mitzvah is specifically to chase away the mother, but robins (and other birds) alternate their egg sitting duties. Stay at home dad syndrome I guess. However, chasing the father bird away is pointless which implies that there is some aspect of a chok here as well.

Regardless, the argument that one has to engage in cruelty to animals in order to perform the mitzvah is baseless. The mitzvah can be performed in a humane fashion. All one needs to do is chase away the bird temporarily. Thereafter one can be koneh the eggs by lifting them up with gloved hands. From what I understand if human hands come into contact with the eggs, the parents will not return. However, if one does shiluach hakan with gloves, the bird sitting on the nest will return once the activity around the nest has died down. Besides, I disagree with the point that the mitzvah is only if you want to take the eggs. What if you want the eggs just for the sake of being able to perform the mitzvah? Negating the animal cruelty issue, wouldn’t that suffice as a reasonable need for the eggs?

%Shocked% said...

I have to agree with SibaW on what he said about the mitzvah not being specifically to take the eggs. The way I learned it is that there is an inherent mitzvah in sending it away and "taking" the eggs. SiBaW's suggestion about picking up the eggs with a glove and putting them down sounds good. (Addendum: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology writes that mothers would return to their eggs because they have a poor sense of smell.) I mean, even if we do have a purpose for the eggs, that's a "good enough reason" that Hashem told us we can be cruel to animals?

I was once bothered by the point you're making of animal cruelty concerning shiluach hakan so I asked a rebbi of mine about it. Just in general, as I pointed out earlier the mitzvah sounds unusual. My rebbi quoted a Zohar (I think it was a Zohar) that said that the "cruelty" you're showing to the animal will be repaid infinitely. As we know, the שערי רחמים- gates of mercy- are never closed and can be opened with tears. We've also learned, that once the gates are pierced, they are forced open wide like a dam that has a small crack which quickly expands allowing torrents of water through. So because the eggs of the mother were stolen, she cries out to Hashem. The gates of tears are then opened. Once Hashem is bestowing His mercy on the mother, he distributes mercy to others as well. This may sound like a bit of a stretch but it's a Zohar.

Oftentimes what we see as cruel, can be an act of mercy. Not to say that we shouldn't attempt to cause more pain to the mother than absolutely necessary, but even aside from the zechusim of doing the mitzvah of shiluach hakan, the Zohar says that through this mitzvah, an enormous amount of mercy is bestowed on the world.

I found this website that talks about it a more in-depth. Hope it helps.

Princess Lea said...

I'm yanking at my hair in frustration here.

According to SiBaw and the article Shocked referenced, robins are not eligible, nor are nests on private property. Plus, one has to make sure that it's a female on the nest (how many of us can tell the difference, and last I checked, messing with a mother goose is suicide). There are so many things that have to line up, that if one factor is off than the mitzvah is invalid and unnecessary pain was caused to a living creature.

Next, travel used to be much different. There were no vending machines with OU potato chips. If one ran out of food, finding a bird's nest was hitting the jackpot.

I'm not sure how causing suffering to a creature needlessly heightens our compassion. I would say, rather it decreases it.

As for the Zohar - my family does not view it as a source for things to be done. Nice concepts, yes, but not in validating actions. I'd rather not piggyback on the pain of another creature to gain Hashem's ear. Hashem granted each and every one of us the ability to pray, and working on my own kavana my preference.

Shiluach HaKan is in the Torah as a mitzvah (not a segulah). You know what else are mitzvos that have amazing rewards? Honoring parents. Staying quiet when someone speaks to you unjustly. Redemption can be found in the everyday. Just because a mitzvah is rare, doesn't make it "better." In Judaism, the everyday is more important than the occassional - Shacharis has more power than Shacharis l'Shabbos, for instance.

I'm of the view that instead of going through the effort of finding a bird's nest on public property with a female on it and of the kosher categories and getting gloves to lift the eggs, I'd rather use that effort to work on myself. And use my own zechusim to be worthy of merit.

Amy said...

During the day, it might be the mother or father robin (not sure about other birds) sitting on the nest, but after shkiyah the mother bird returns for the night. (My mother even watched her return every day at dusk.) So the mitzvah can be performed after shkiyah. If the nest is on private property, the owner can be mafkir it in front of 3 men. Each person to do the mitzvah and be koneh the eggs/nest can do the same afterwards in order to allow for more people to do the mitzvah. From experience I can tell you that the mother bird does return even after the eggs have been touched by human hands. And a mitzvah performed without a bracha is still considered a mitzvah. ***Please consult with your Rov before taking the above statements as halachic fact!***

Chazal teach us that "Kol hamiracheim al ha'achzarim, sofo l'hisachzeir al harachmanim," which means that rachmanus/achzariyus (mercy/cruelty) that is misplaced is wrong according to Torah values. Remember the story in the Gemara where Rabbi ____ (I forgot who) saw an animal who was being led to the slaughterhouse and looked less than pleased. The Rabbi told him, "Lech, ki l'kach notzarta" - go, because this is the reason you were created. As far as I know, it is not a Jewish concept to think that we (including all creations here) exist for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We engage in all those things FOR THE SAKE OF leading lives al pi r'tzon Hashem. Kol ma shebara HKB"H lo bira'o ki im l'chvodo - Hashem created everything in the world for His sake.

I agree, a "rare" mitzvah does not mean it's "better." But it's a mitzvah nonetheless. Enough said. :)

May you be zocha to live a long and happy life to do as many mitzvos as possible and bring nachas ruach to Hashem.

inkstainedhands said...

I'm with Princess Lea on this one.

Amy -- You are ignoring an important part of the story in order to make it support your point. The story you are referring to is about Rebbi, and the result of him saying that to the animal being led to slaughter was that he physically suffered for a good part of his life because he had not shown greater mercy. There are a lot of other interesting aspects to the story and how his actions are viewed, but I suggest you know the full story before trying to use it to support your opinion.

SiBaW said...

I don’t know definitively about robins. Some say it can be done some say it can’t. As Amy said, there are ways to tell based on the time of day, but one can spot differences in the tail colors too. I guess if it’s applicable you have nothing to lose by doing it.

As far as what was said about the Zohar, from what I understand we do mitzvahs because G-d said so, not because of the reason that is purportedly behind the mitzvah. If we were to view Orthodox Judaism only based on commandments that are applicable today and still match the reason that was given at some point, our religion wouldn’t resemble anything close to what is describe as orthodox.

Your right, many other mitzvahs are praiseworthy and carry significant rewards, however, technically, mitzvah aren’t given to us for their reward... But how many single actions does the Torah tell us “L’man Yetav Luch” (that it may be well with thee, although the gemerah says that is only L’olam Haba)? Also, honoring thy parents is a lifelong goal; don’t you think one simple act is a lot easier?

It’s really not that difficult, complicated, or time consuming. It can be a bit pricy if you want to do it right. I know of a rabbi who specializes in doing this with pigeons in Brooklyn, although he isn’t exactly cheap. Email me if you want his info.

Just out of curiosity, do you have similar feelings when eating steak or veal? :-)

Anonymous said...

- Yes it is cruel, even if you just do it briefly and return the egg etc. Because fifty other orthodox people are parading in behind you. I've seen nests in Prospect Park with lines. Sometimes I wonder if those eggs even hatch, because the mother hardly gets to sit on them. They probably cool off and turn into dead chick.

- It isn't a never-fail for shidduchim. I know people who have been on those lines, and they're still single.

- I would think the language of the pasuk itself would show that it's not an order. The pasuk assumes you want to take the eggs, so it cautions you not to do so with the mother present. It doesn't say "take the eggs, but chase the mother away first." It says "don't take the eggs with the mother there."

%Shocked% said...

Sorry, I guess I wasn't clear enough with the point I was making concerning the Zohar. I'm not saying that you should do the mitzvah because the Zohar says what he says, I'm saying that the cruelty that we see being done, can be understood as an act of mercy. I know it gave me a bit more understanding into the mitzvah. Again, I find it to difficult to believe that G-d would tell us to do something that's cruel to an animal, or anything that's cruel to anyone, so this Zohar kind of explains it from G-d's perspective. Not that we need G-d to explain Himself, but it helped me wrap my head around the idea of how we could be cruel to animals.

And yes, an everyday mitzvah is better than a less common one, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have to be done. The question is, if you come across a place where all of the conditions are fulfilled, do you have to do it regardless of whether you need the eggs? I don't know why you wouldn't, because taking the eggs to use isn't an inherent part of the mitzvah. It's like any other mitzvah that comes your way. If you can, you have to.

> "Next, travel used to be much different. There were no vending machines with OU potato chips. If one ran out of food, finding a bird's nest was hitting the jackpot." That means nothing halachically as far as I know. Mitzvos aren't erased because specific circumstances are different. I believe the Gra makes that point, that even if stated reasons for doing something are now obsolete, the mitzvah is still in effect because there are other reasons for doing something but they weren't brought down for whatever reason.

Princess Lea said...

Now fistfuls of my hair are on the floor. Proverbially.

It appears that I do have some who agree with me (thank you, Instained and Bad4), and some who do not. Fair enough.

I could compose a few more arguments, but my points, I do not think, will be any better conveyed. Ah well. A gal can try.

I'll sign off with "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush."

Anonymous said...

See the Mishna in Berachos 5:3 that clearly says:"If one [in praying] says, 'May Your mercies extend to a birds nest,'(see Devarim 22:6)..... [because he attributes the commandments to God's
mercy, when in fact the real reason is
beyond human comprehension]

So to say that this mitzvah has anything to do with Tzaar Ba Lchaim is speculative at best... there are many reasons for each mitzvah and you cant reduce it to one specific thing as some are trying to do here

Princess Lea said...

The RAMBAM said it was tzaar baalei chaim, not me!

(Sobs softly into hands).

%Shocked% said...

The Rambam which you seem to be quoting says precisely the opposite of what you're saying. He says that we send away the bird to try and minimize the pain of the mother having its eggs taken away (Moreh Nevuchim 3:48). The Ramban (Devarim 22:6) says that the reason for this mitzvah is to actually eliminate a cruel heart from man and to teach him compassion and kindness.

I think I'm still missing your point :-/

Princess Lea said...

While we agree that this mitzvah is to teach us compassion, I am saying that it is done when the eggs are needed. If I don't need the eggs, then how am I acting compassionately? Then I am simply torturing a bird.

THAT is my position.

For weeks I was walking carefully around the bird's nest, not wanting to startle it, not opening a window. That was being compassionate, I thought.

%Shocked% said...

Ah, in that case, I think it's just a matter of knowing what the halacha is, not really whether you like the idea of it or not. As I said earlier, because needing/keeping the eggs isn't part of the mitzvah, you would have to do it if you came across it. But in your case, you wouldn't have to because you own the property.

I can definitely understand where you're coming from that perhaps you shouldn't go out of your way to try and fulfill the conditions that are required to in order to do the mitzvah, but I'm not sure if I agree with it lol.

Amy said...

Your comparison to kaparos is well-taken in regards to the "lines" of people Bad4 is reputed to have seen. It's important to differentiate between the mitzvah and the way it is sometimes exploited in the hands of people.