Parashat Va-Yiqra 5766/ April 1, 2006
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading
by the faculty of
the Birds: Offerings of Fowl in the Late Second
Dr. Zohar Amar
Martin (Szusz) Dept. of Land of
In the beginning of Leviticus, at the outset of the laws of sacrifices, the Torah mentions turtledoves and pigeons as the only possible offerings from the family of birds (Lev. 1:14). In Maimonides’ opinion, one of the reasons was that turtledoves and pigeons were the most commonly-available birds in the land of Israel: “Since it is beyond the capabilities of most people to make an animal offering, He also commanded that offerings could be made of the most common, best, and most easily attainable birds in the land of Israel, and those were turtledoves and pigeons.” 
sources, mostly dating from the period prior to the destruction of the
greatest demand during the three pilgrimage festivals, since in many instances
people waited for the pilgrimage time to fulfill their accumulated sacrificial
obligations. The number of pilgrims
during each festival is estimated at several tens of thousands,
presumably every pilgrim either brought with him or purchased in
greatest number of pilgrims to gather in
pilgrims brought their bird-offerings along with them, but most celebrants,
especially those who came from far away, purchased their offerings in
Raising the Birds
were sold by people who raised them for a living, as well as by an organized
industry run by the priests. In the
For the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) it was
customary to bring first-fruits to the
A special person
person was placed in charge of all bird-offerings in the
The Essentials of Halakha
It was necessary to have a special person in charge of bird-offerings for several reasons. Firstly, the laws concerning bird-offerings were considered especially complex and difficult: “Bird-offerings and the laws of menstruation (niddah) are the essentials of halakhah.”  Thus it was necessary to appoint someone who was particularly expert in the details of the law. For example, if obligatory and voluntary bird-offerings became confused with each other, or bird-offerings brought as burnt-offerings were confused with those brought as sin-offerings, that might lead to all the bird-offerings becoming unfit, according to the mishnaic statement that “if a sin-offering were confused with a burnt-offering, or a burnt-offering with a sin-offering, even one among ten thousand, then all of them must be left to die.”  From this mishnah we learn that one of the ways a bird-offering could become unfit was by the birds themselves becoming interchanged because of the crowding among the people bringing the sacrifices and the great number of bird-offerings at the Temple, especially during the three pilgrimage festivals. Another possible reason a bird-offering might become unfit was mixing up the money that was set aside for their purchase,  hence extreme care was taken that the payment for them go into separate horns. 
Be that as
it may, we can easily understand why an entire tractate was devoted to the
subject, Tractate Kinnim.
This tractate as we have it today was redacted after the destruction of
reason a special person in charge of bird-offerings was necessary was economic.
We are dealing with an extensive and
complicated branch of commerce, which involved contacting suppliers, setting
prices, collecting money from the public,
managing a complex work schedule of sacrifices.
It appears that the public preferred to
buy their bird-offerings from the system under supervision of the priests in
the Temple, rather than from private merchants, since these bird-offerings came
with insurance and in the event that they might be declared unfit, one could
invoke the court stipulation that “unfit bird-offerings be replaced by those
that came from the public.”
Keeping the Prices Down
The increase in population and in demand for
bird-offerings in the late
of a pair of pigeons in
bird-offerings sold in the
depiction is only appropriate to raising pigeons, since the term berekhot
means a single breeding cycle,
with pigeons is relatively short.
Even if the quantities mentioned here seem an exaggeration, the general
picture that emerges from Talmudic sources is certainly reliable.
It is also supported by archaeological
findings from the same period, as well as by the descriptions of the
first-century B.C.E. Roman writer, Varro,
describes the practice of raising pigeons in columbarium towers that held as
many as 5,000 domesticated pigeons at any one time.
Remains of such towers were found in
* See Z. Amar, Massoret Ha’of: Collected Articles (Hebrew), Neve Tzuf, 5764.
for the Perplexed (Y. Kapah edition),
 S. Safrai, Ha-Aliyah la-Regel be-Yemei Bayit Sheni, Tel-Aviv 1965, pp. 71-74.
 B. Mazar, “Harifot Archaeologiyot be-Yerushalayim ha-Atikah,” Eretz-Yisrael, 9 (1969), pp. 168-170.
 A vessel with the work korban (sacrifice) on it is mentioned in the Mishnah (Ma’aser Sheni 4.10).
 Mishnah Keritot 1.7; Kinnim 2.3 (All further references are to Mishna, unless stated otherwise).
 Tosefta Sanhedrin 2.6; Jerusalem Talmud, loc. sit., 1.18d; Babylonian Talmud, loc. sit., 11a.
nesting season continues until August and can have as many as two or three
cycles of nesting. Pigeons in
 “Turtledoves – once they hatch, and even if they are old,” (Tosefta Hullin 1.15).
 For further elaboration, cf. Safrai, p. 148.
 Shekalim 6.5.
 Tosefta Shekalim 3.2-3.
3.5; Tosefta loc. sit., 2.11; S. Lieberman, Tosefta ki-Peshutah on
Weiss and E. Netzer, Havtahah u-Geulah, Psefas Beit ha-Knesset
 Shekalim 1.1.
 Avot 3.18.
 Kinnim 1.2.
 Kinnim 1, דגם בארץ [what on earth is this about?]
 Shekalim 6.5.
 Cf. M. Weiss, “Seder ha-Mishnah be-Masekhet Kinnim: Le-She’elat Pirkei Mishnah Toseftiyyim,” Sidra 13 (1997), pp. 61-91.
 Cf. Maimonides, Hilkhot Klei ha-Mikdash, 7.9.
 Shekalim 7.7; Jerusalem Talmud, loc. sit., 5, 50d.
 Keritot 1.7.
 Me’ilah 3.6.
 Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 44a; cf. Tosefta, Menahot 9.13.
 Cf. Bava Batra 5.3.
 Varro, Rerum Rusticarum III, 7.
Ziso, “Hafirot David Alon be-Hurbet Abu Haf bi-Shnat 1980 – Gilui Migdal
Columbarium,” in Yishuv, Civilizatzia ve-Tarbut – Divre ha-Kenes
le-Zikhro shel David Alon (A. Meir and
A. Barukh, eds.), Ramat Gan 2001, p.
177; A. Kloner, “Columbaria in