Kosher consumers, even the most tender of age, learn to seek out kosher symbols of the overseeing kashruth agencies on desired food products. If a product has a symbol of a recognized kashruth agency, it is deemed kosher. This makes sense, since most consumers obtain their food from stores, not from farms, ponds or the wild. Parashat Re’eh (Deuteronomy 14:3-21), along with parashat Shmini (Leviticus 11:1-30), however, remind us of the biological criteria we use to identify kosher food.

Foods that grow from trees or from the ground are inherently kosher (although one may need to check for insect infestations and to make certain that no planting prohibitions have been violated such as orlah and/or shmittah). An animal that both chews its cud and possesses fully split hooves is deemed kosher as are fish with fins and scales. The Torah does not provide symbols for the two other categories of potentially kosher animals: birds and insects. However, the Torah does provide a list of 20 species of birds that are deemed unkosher. Among them is a bird known as a chassidah. Rashi identifies this non-kosher animal as the stork, although some argue that the stork is kosher (see Beit Yosef, Yoreh Deah 82).

The Talmud (Chullin 63a) notes that the chassidah is so named, because it performs acts of loving kindness (chessed) toward its fellow species members. The Rizhiner Rebbe asked, if this is indeed the case, why would such a species with a name testifying to its virtue, be deemed a non-kosher bird? To the contrary, a bird with such a revered name should certainly be kosher! The Rebbe answered that the Talmud claims that it performs acts of kindness towards members of its own species only, but not to others. True piety means caring for those in our inner circle as well as for those more distant.

It was Hans Christian Andersen who popularized the fantasy that new babies are delivered by storks. But his short story, “The Storks” ends tragically. When a boy teased the stork, the stork responded by delivering a stillborn to the boy’s family. Centuries earlier, Greek mythology taught that storks stole babies. So perhaps our sages’ view of the stork’s limited kindness mirrored or even served as the premise for latter versions of the stork’s character.

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