And onto clean and unclean birds

To: Philip Veerman <>, "" <>
Subject: And onto clean and unclean birds
From: Robin Hide <>
Date: Wed, 8 Feb 2017 19:05:42 +0000

For those interested in this esoteric topic, may I recommend the following paper (which includes a list of identifiable birds in Leviticus – copy of Table 1 attached*)  by the late Ralph Bulmer, anthropologist and a major figure in the field of New Guinea ethno-biology (especially ornithology - and co-author with Saem Majnep of the classic book Birds of My Kalam Country 1977 Auckland Univer. Press):


Bulmer, Ralph. (1989). “The Uncleanness of the Birds of Leviticus and Deuteronomy.” Man 24(2): 304-321


Abstract: This article attempts to clarify the semantics of uncleanness by reference to a long-standing minor problem of Old Testament scholarship. Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 specify

twenty kinds of 'birds' as unclean to the ancient Hebrews but provide neither taxonomic rules for distinguishing these from clean birds nor explanations for their uncleanness. The

prevailing scholarly view is that the listed birds were 'ritually unclean' on account, in all but two cases, of a diet of flesh or carrion. It is here argued that: (i) there was for the

Hebrews no sharp line between ritual and everyday uncleanness; (ii) though carrion and the unbled flesh of creatures also consumed by humans were indeed a source of uncleanness,

so was a diet that conspicuously included small creatures that were themselves regarded as highly polluting; (iii) an unclean diet was in any case only one of the possible reasons for

a bird's uncleanness, some birds with relatively clean diets being prohibited if they deviated in other ways from the avian norm. Thus Mary Douglas's original argument in Purity and

danger (1966) may be nearer the mark than her later acceptance of the conventional view of O.T. scholars.



*The full paper is too big (2 Mb) to send as an attachment to this list- if you’ld like a copy, please email )


Robin Hide



From: Philip Veerman [
Sent: Wednesday, 8 February 2017 11:39 PM
Subject: [canberrabirds] And onto clean and unclean birds


Also at the COG meeting tonight was a curious lot about Jewish customs on the whiteboard (when we came in). Richard Allen asked about it and I know it is all described in great detail in Leviticus (O.T.). It is actually hard to decipher as the bird names used are somewhat unclear. For anyone interested there is of course many websites that describe these, of which this seems to be a good one. From which I will copy some bits here. Mammals are easier to describe as to what is “clean”, they are the ruminant artiodacyls (such as cows), perissodactyls (such as horses) or it appears any other mammals are unclean and not for eating by people (or at least adherents to Jewish custom). As for birds my memory is that the list of exclusions suggests mainly meat or carrion eaters, though the definition of taxa is pretty obscure e.g. it includes bats. “It is especially emphasized that birds of prey have been forbidden, to teach that man shall practise justice; and not, depending upon his own strength, do injury to others.”  I have never understood how the phrase "after its kind" works. Does that mean just a species or what we would think of a genus, family or even order of birds....... The below suggests that clean birds have the standard toe arrangement of 3 forwards and one hind toe. In other words no zygodactylous such as owls or syndactylous such as dollarbirds, bee-eaters, and similar footed birds......... One wonders why it matters......... Although our culture still in general keeps to the same list as to the sorts of birds that we typically eat., although that is mostly more for reasons of domestication and the types of “game birds”: quail, pheasant, ducks, etc that are often hunted. Though some countries eat a far wider range. .




The clean animals were:

·         (1) All quadrupeds that chew the cud and also divide the hoof (Lev. xi. 3; Deut. xiv. 6); for instance, the ox, the sheep, the goat (i.e., the sacrificial animals), the hart and the gazel, the roebuck, the wild goat, the pygarg, the antelope, and the chamois(Deut. xiv. 4-5). Among other forbidden animals, the camel, the rock-badger (see Coney), the hare, and the swine were excluded by name (Lev. xi. 4-7; Deut. xiv. 7-8), probably because used as food or for sacrifice by the neighboring tribes.

·         (2) Fish proper; i.e., "whatsoever hath fins and scales . . . in the seas and in the rivers" (Lev. xi. 9; compare Deut. xiv. 9).

·         (3) Birds. Here the Law proceeds by way of elimination. From the rather lengthy list of forbidden birds (Lev. xi. 13-19; Deut. xiv. 11-18) it may be concluded that all the birds of prey and most of the water-fowl were considered unclean. The bat closes the list.





It was hard for the rabbinical authorities to distinguish clean from unclean birds, as the Scripture (Lev. xi. 13-19) enumerates only the birds which shall not be eaten, without giving any of the marks which distinguish them from the clean birds. This is all the more important as the names of some of the birds mentioned in the Scriptures are followed by the word "lemino" or "leminehu"—i.e., "after its kind"—and it is therefore necessary to recognize certain fixed distinguishing characteristics. The following rules are fixed by the Talmud, by which a clean bird may be distinguished. It must not be a bird of prey; it must have a front toe, if that be the meaning of; but according to most explanations the hind toe is meant. Although most birds of prey have the hind toe, the toes of the clean bird are so divided that the three front toes are on one side and the hind toes on the other, while the unclean bird spreads his toes so that two toes are on each side; or if it has five toes, three will be on one side and two on the other (compare Rashi to Ḥul. 59a, and Nissim b. Reuben on the Mishnah to this passage).

The clean birds, furthermore, have craws, and their stomachs have a double skin which can easily be separated. They catch food thrown into the air, but will lay it upon the ground and tear it with their bills before eating it. If a morsel be thrown to an unclean bird it will catch it in the air and swallow it, or it will hold it on the ground with one foot, while tearing off pieces with its bill (Ḥul. 59a, 61a, 63a). As this distinction is not found in Scripture, opinions differedgreatly during and since Talmudic times. According to the Talmud (Ḥul. 62a, 63b), only the twenty-four kinds of birds mentioned in Scripture are actually forbidden. If certain birds are positively known as not belonging to these, no further investigation as to characteristic signs is necessary, and they may be eaten. The marks of distinction are laid down only for cases in which there is doubt whether the species is clean or unclean. Authorities, especially in Germany, would only permit the eating of such kinds as have always been eaten ( Accordingly some birds are permitted to be eaten in certain countries, but not in others. There are many controversies in the casuistic literature concerning this matter. Menahem Mendel Krochmal ("Ẓemaḥ Ẓedeḳ," No. 29), for instance, declares the wild goose forbidden, while Eybeschütz ("Kereti u-Peleti," § 82) permits it. When the turkey was brought to Europe Isaiah Horwitz forbade it to be eaten; and although his opinion did not prevail, his descendants refrain from eating it even to-day.




From: Kevin Windle
Sent: Wednesday, 8 February, 2017 10:10 PM
Subject: [canberrabirds] pettichaps


Those who heard Suzanne's very interesting talk this evening about John Clare's bird poetry may like to know that 'pettichaps' or 'pettychaps' in Lancs & Northants = Garden warbler (Sylvia borin). The name was first recorded in 1674 and was still current in the early 20th century. At one time 'lesser pettichaps' was applied to the Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita).


'Bum-barrel' = Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus). The name refers to the distinctive nest.


Source: W. B. Lockwood, The Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names, OUP 1993.



Attachment: Bulmer 1989 Table 1 Leviticus Birds.pdf
Description: Bulmer 1989 Table 1 Leviticus Birds.pdf

Attachment: ATT00001.txt
Description: ATT00001.txt

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