Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Reeh

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,

Parashat Re'eh 5759/1999

The Dukhifat or Hoopoe

Yaron Seri

Department of Arabic

The dukhifat is mentioned twice in the Bible, in Leviticus 11:19 and in Deuteronomy 14:18 (this week's reading), at the end of the list of birds forbidden to eat. Today the dukhifat is identified with the Upupa epops.

Some people maintain that the name dukhifat, like its counterpart in other languages, is onomatopoeic: dukhifat in Hebrew, kakufa in Syriac, kufat in Coptic, epops in Greek, upupa in Latin, hoopoe in English, and hudhud in Arabic are all names that refer to the same bird--Upupa epops--even though there are phonetic differences between them.[1] This is because the sounds which the onomatopoeic names seek to imitate are perceived differently by the ears of people speaking different languages; hence the difference in the names. Only the Aramaic translations of Scripture did not render the word dukhifat onomatopoeically, rather descriptively, in a way that brings out its prominent characteristic: nagar tura[2] or tarnegol bara. Talshir showed that nagar tura [= mountain woodpecker] was the term current in the west, whereas tarnegol bara [=wild rooster] was used in the east.[3] The same can be seen from checking the cross-references in Talmudic literature.

The hoopoe has both of the characteristics represented by each of these names: it has a coxcomb and has the trait of pecking. Regarding the crest on its head, the Sages said (Hullin 63a): "Dukhifat -- [so named] because its majesty is double (kafut=kaful)," i.e., du-khifat.[4] Ralbag points out the pecking trait of the dukhifat:

So named because it has the trait of scratching at the rock, as if to say du kifat; which is to say that it makes two of the rock, for rocks and mountains are called kefim, as in, "They clamber up the rocks (u-va-kefim alu)" (Jer. 4:29).[5]

That the dukhifat's name is translated onomatopoeically is generally accepted, but the explanations given for its name are subject to controversy. Anan ben David and his Karaite followers deduced from the identification of the dukhifat as the wild rooster (tarnegol bara), that if this bird may not be eaten, then neither may the domestic rooster.[6] It is amazing that the Karaites accepted an identification for the dukhifat which stems from the Oral Torah, considering that they do not acknowledge the Rabbinic tradition. Identifying the dukhifat is a cardinal issue in understanding how the Karaites permitted birds and other animals to be eaten, since they deduced the fundamental laws regarding forbidden foods from the case of this bird. Since the Sages' criteria for kashrut of birds were not accepted by the Karaites, they deduced criteria of kashrut from the case of birds which are undeniably kosher: turtledoves and pigeons. Anan's approach was that anything that could be sacrificed was kosher; since turtledoves and pigeons are explicitly mentioned in the Torah, only they are permitted, and the case of other birds must be deduced from them. Close examination revealed that pigeons are characterized by their practice of drawing water into their beaks and giving it to their chicks to drink; this is the only criteria that Anan specified regarding permissible birds.[7]

Saadiah Gaon vehemently attacked this view in his long commentary on Leviticus, where he disproved the Karaite's arguments one by one.[8] Ibn Ezra also attacked them sharply: "The Sadducees [i.e. Karaites] said it [the dukhifat] is a hen; but they are the fools of the world, and who told them so?"

Rashi did not always translate dukhifat consistently; in Leviticus 11:19 he called it herufe [=heupe], i.e., Upupa, which is what we know as the hoopoe, but in his commentary on the Talmud (Hullin 63a) he held that it is "a large bird like a rooster, what we call paon salvage (=wild peacock). Moche Catane, author of Otzar ha-leazim, a listing and explanation of Rashi's French translations for words in the Bible and Talmud, thought that the French name cited by Rashi might have been "the popular name of this bird."[9]

Despite its magnificent looks, the dukhifat is known as the symbol of foul odor, since it builds its nest of feces and the odor adheres to it and its chicks.[10] Accordingly, the Moslems also forbid eating the dukhifat because of its odor and because it lives on worms.[11] Notwithstanding its bad smell, hurting this bird is forbidden in Islam[12] because of the special status it enjoys due to its closeness to King Solomon.[13] It is said that the crown on its head was given it by the Creator because of the good deed it does with it: when it dies, it puts its dead on its head, and this is why it smells foul.[14]

In short, there is uniformity in the way dukhifat is rendered in different languages, but there is variety in the ways the bird is identified: of particular interest is the Karaite interpretation of dukhifat as referring to the rooster.

[1] D. Talshir, Shemot Ba'alei ha-Hayyim ba-Targum ha-Arami shel ha-Shomronim, doctoral dissertation, Jerusalem 1981, p. 144, n. 3. It is surprising that the Arabic rendition, hudhud, an obvious example, is not included in the list of names given by Talshir, nor does he mention it at all later on.

[2] There is also a Samaritan variant, nakar tura.

[3] Talshir, p. 146.

[4] In his commentary on Hullin 63a, Rashi explains: "It has a thick crest, as if it were doubled over into its head and fastened there" (Tosafot).

It is interesting that Catane (Otzar Laazei Rashi [see note 9 below], p. 10), believes that "the word huppe in modern French, which derives from the Latin upupa, was influenced by the verb keruper (=to stand on end), because the dukhifat is known for its peaked crest."

[5] Ralbag, Commentary on the Torah, II, 135.1.

[6] Y. Kafih, Perushei Rav Sa'adiah Gaon la-Torah, Jerusalem 1984.

[7] Anan is cited in the commentaries of Yefet ben Ali, Abu al-Faraj Furqan and others. The texts are still in manuscript form, but passages have been published by Pinsker in Likkutei Kadmoniyot, Vienna 1860; Y. Kafih, Perushei, pp. 123-124.

[8] Kafih, Perushei, ibid.

[9] M. Catane, Otzar ha-Laazim: Hamillim ha-Zarfattiyot shebe-Perushe Rashi al ha-Tanakh, Jerusalem 1991, p. 10. Mahar"i Landau rightly notes on the Talmudic reference: "Precisely because it's name includes an attributive, paon chelavier, i.e., peacock of the woods; but simply paon without any attributive is a kosher bird."

[10] Abu Othman Amru ibn al-Bahr al-Jahiz, Kitab al-Hayawan, 2, Beirut 1955, p. 318.

[11] Al-Damiri, Kitab al-Hayawan al-Kubra, 2, Beirut 1994, p. 518. He also cites an opinion there (Al-Shaf'i), saying that it may be eaten since it can be used for redeeming, and according to his understanding only that which may be eaten may be used for redeeming.

[12] Al-Jaht, p. 526; ibid., 4, p. 17.

[13] Based on the Koran, sura al-Naml, vv. 16-43.

[14] Al-Jaht, 3, p. 510-511.

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