Beth Berkowitz headshot


On November 26, 2021, Beth Berkowitz, professor and Ingeborg Rennert Chair of Jewish Studies, published a paper in the journal Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology, titled “Birds as Dads, Babysitters, and Hats.” In it, Professor Berkowitz evaluates the dominant perspective on the mother bird mitzvah and its association with good luck, bad luck, and compassion. Mitzvah is a Hebrew word that literally means “commandment,” but is often used to refer to a good deed.  

An analysis of rabbinic texts from Mishnah and Babylonian Talmud Hullin Chapter 12 reveals that birds are presented as ingenious builders, fathers and mothers, queer parents, altruists, rebel spirits resisting death, and co-inhabitants that share our Earth. 

In her paper, which reflects the spirit of anti-anthropocentrism, Berkowitz draws on Matthew Calarco’s notion of indistinction while examining Deuteronomy 22:6–7, which commands that one scare away a mother bird before before taking her young or her eggs (a Jewish law known as shiluach hakan).