The Torah lists numerous birds as “unclean” – forbidden for Israelite consumption. These non-kosher species of fowl include: kite, bustard, jackdaw, eagle, gull, hawk, owl, etc. All forbidden fowl appear to be scavengers or birds of prey.

The Hebrew of Leviticus 11:14 includes among these unclean birds the “da’ah.” The parallel text in Deuteronomy 14:13 gives the Hebrew as “ra’ah.” The initial letters of these two terms – dalet and resh, respectively – are almost identical… easily confused. To some, Deuteronomy’s divergent spelling suggests a copyist’s mistake… a scribal error. Sages of the Talmud, however, find unique meaning in the “ra’ah.” Presuming the name derives from the verb root ra’ah (“to see”), Chullin 63B comments: this unclean scavenger “stands in Babylonia and sees rotting carrion in the Land of Israel.”

This interpretation conveys a spiritual indictment of those who, from the comfort and safety of a distant Diaspora, vituperatively decry all they deem corrupt, unseemly, or objectionable about the Land (today, the State) of Israel. Surely, it is permissible to criticize Israeli public policy. But those who can see in the free, democratic, sovereign Jewish State neither the beautiful nor the miraculous, but only corruption and decay – political carrion – betray their own moral failing. Or as the Sages so presciently and picturesquely suggest…

It takes a self-righteous bustard.

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)


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