15 March 2012

Birds of a Religious Text Described

A lifelong study of the religious text of the Torah has led to a book describing the species and their significance.

"As I child I knew about birds and wanted to know about those I was reading about in the Torah," said Rabbi Pinchus Presworsky, of New York City.

Many years later, his book "Birds of the Torah" readily accomplishes this goal. It includes many color illustrations, typically of historic provenance, of the species discussed.

The Torah is the named for the first five books of the Jewish bible. According to tradition, it was given to Moses at Mount Sinai, in the Jewish year 2448, or about 3760 years before present.

Example page from "Birds of the Torah."

There are four sections to this volume:

1). a pictorial guide to the birds of the Torah, with an illustration of each of the twenty major groups of non-kosher birds;
2). a detailed description of the signs of kosher and non-kosher birds;
3). a discussion of the birds were specifically identified; and
4). a demonstration of the "parallels" between different sorts of kosher and non-kosher animals.

Six types of birds are identified as being kosher, "with a tradition of being eaten" and they include the quail, pigeon, goose, chicken, mallard and turkey.

There are 24 types of non-kosher birds, some which are included in this category because of their physical characteristics or type of species, such as being a raptor.

The bird identity chapter is especially intriguing, as it presents the a graphic of the particular bird type, an English name and a discussion of how an identification was determined.

It must have taken many hours by Rabbi Presworsky to evaluate the clues and sort through them to determine an identity.

"Everything I found during my research was exciting," Rabbi Presworsky said. "I marveled at every one of God's creatures," especially noting how the swift spends so much of its time living in the sky.

During his decades long research, he made notes, made more notes and even more notes. Particular highlights were visiting with different ornithologists and visiting the Museum of Natural History to see the bird specimens.

"I am always trying to work on bird history in the context of the Torah," Rabbi Presworsky said. If new or additional details are found, he plans to update his book.

If there are any quibbles, they pertain to relatively minor details.

On page 10, there is reference to the Pas'yon, which is identified as the pheasant. A footnote indicates a spoken word source for this attribution. As the list of species known from Egypt does not include any species of pheasant, it is probable that the term actually applies to one of the several species of sandgrouse known from the area. In the early written chronicles, the term pheasant was regularly used when referring to a grouse.

On page 59, in a discussion of the screech owl, a great horned owl is included as an illustration. There is a paradox in referring to the screech owl that "screams at night" and then mentioning how the owl is "renowned for its nocturnal hooting." The screech owl does not hoot.

On Page 10, among the pictures of birds considered non-kosher, an Accipiter hawk is used to illustrate the montion of the sparrow hawk, whereas an actual kestrel would have been more suitable.

"Birds of the Torah" is a finely presented study of birds of an ancient era, and well worth locating -- buy your own copy or Worldcat lists the libraries where it is available -- and enjoy reading about how birds were had so much importance as to be mentioned in an essential religious text.

This book is significant not only because of its detailed investigation of a document thousands of years old, but also as it conveys how a close evaluation of a particular source can contribute to the ancient history of wild birds.