“The following creatures of the air are to be detestable for you — they are not to be eaten, they are a detestable thing: the eagle, the vulture, the osprey, the kite, the various kinds of buzzards, the various kinds of ravens, the ostrich, the screech-owl, the seagull, the various kinds of hawks, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the horned owl, the pelican, the barn owl, the stork, the various kinds of herons, the hoopoe and the bat.”-Leviticus 11:13-19
We are in the thick of studying the kosher food laws and from verse 10 are now introduced to a NEW and kind of SUPER category of unclean animals.
In Hebrew this category is SHEKETS.
In English, SHEKETS is usually rendered as “an abomination” or “detestable”, something to be avoided at all costs.
Recall when we were studying the animal sacrifices, we learned that the rituals worked according to a hierarchy of animals from the least valuable to the most valuable offered up based on the type of sin committed.
Well, we see a similar kind of hierarchical ranking with UNCLEAN animals.
Some animals are LESS CLEAN and others are MOST UNCLEAN.
This term SHEKETS is used to describe the MOST UNCLEAN things.
Whenever we come across something the Lord calls “detestable” or “an abomination”, we should really sit up and take notice.
Because an abomination is the worst sort uncleanness from God’s perspective.
So from verse 13, the Torah shifts quickly into describing those creatures whose natural habitat is in the “air sphere”.
Given that there are several kinds of flying creatures, the Lord begins with the most obvious type of flying animal: BIRDS.
Contrary to how the Lord handed down the rules for LAND ANIMALS and SEA CREATURES, rather than focusing on the CLEAN characteristics of those birds fit for human consumption, he instead describes the characteristics of UNCLEAN birds.
The idea being communicated is that those flying creatures NOT mentioned are okay to eat for food.
The Lord has decreed the following to all be SHEKETS or “an abomination”:
certain species of owls,
Keep in mind that all of these creatures are not just merely UNCLEAN, but SUPER DUPER UNCLEAN, an abomination!!!
They are SHEKETS.
Now some of you may be thinking, why in the heck is a “bat” included in this list of birds?
A “bat” isn’t a bird.
Now technically you are right, a bat is not a bird.
However, according to Middle Eastern tradition, both Hebrew and Arab cultures put bats into the “bird” category, most likely for the obvious reason that bats fly.
Besides the characteristic of being able to fly, there is another common point between all of the creatures listed above.
They are all birds of prey.
In other words, they all kill and eat other living creatures.
And some even feed off of carrion (dead animals) like vultures.
However, because of this, do NOT jump to the conclusion that the characteristic of eating other living creatures is what makes this list of birds UNCLEAN.
For instance, there is one super kosher animal that will eat practically anything including rodents!
And in spite of this, this animal is enjoyed as fine dining by Jews everywhere.
It is roasted, fried, and stewed, and absolutely delicious.
I’m talking about CHICKEN.
As you probably are well aware of, chickens were NOT considered unclean animals.
The takeaway here is to be careful to NOT assign a reason for something being unclean if the Bible hasn’t specifically given us a reason to do so.