www.shiluachhakan.com (whose name follows the popular mis-vocalization of shiluach hakein; while it's KAN tzippur, it's shiluach haKEIN). It offers that "For a nominal fee one can achieve the blessing of the Torah (Devarim 22:7) and receive PROSPEROUS DAYS AND LONGEVITY." The website continues to note that if take advantage of this opportunity, you are "guaranteed" by the Midrash to find a spouse, conceive children, buy a new house, merit livelihood, avoid harm while traveling, and bring mashiach. I have also heard of institutions that actually transport groups of people on buses to the forests to chase birds, in return for substantial contributions to their causes; one such institution has been renamed Yeshivat Tzaar Baalei Chaim by its various detractors.
While the mitzvah of shiluach hakein presents itself as a simple, innocent and charming mitzvah, it is not at all straightforward. Tracing the exposition of this mitzvah through Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, Rishonim, and Acharonim, we encounter extraordinary perspectives that turn the simple understanding upside-down. These relate to the understanding of the purpose of the mitzvah - some seeing the goal as minimizing a bird's distress, others as creating such distress - as well as the logic behind its rewards. It also has halachic ramifications regarding whether it is an optional mitzvah which applies only in a case where one wants the eggs, or if one is obligated (or at least recommended) to do it even if one does not want the eggs, and even praised for actively seeking out opportunities to do so. Shiluach hakein highlights the profound, irreconcilable differences between the rationalist and mystical schools of thought, and shows how they result in radically different notions of what doing mitzvos is all about.
Shiluach HaKein: The Transformation of the Mitzvah is a comprehensive study of this important topic. You can download the document after making a donation to The Torah and Nature Foundation, the non-profit foundation that funds The Biblical Museum of Natural History. The recommended amount is $5. But if you want to take this opportunity to express your gratitude for the RationalistJudaism website, OR, if you want to support the museum's project of teaching about Torah and the natural world, it would certainly be appropriate and appreciated to give a larger donation!
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I. Rationalist Approaches 7
In the Midrash 7
In the Rishonim 8
II. The Mishnah: No Speaking Of Mercy 10
Explanation #1: Anti-Christian Measures 10
Explanation #2: Highlighting Inequalities 12
Explanation #3: A Decree, Not God’s Mercy 12
3a. An Incomprehensible Statute 12
3b. Medieval Rationalist Interpretations 14
Explanation #4: Cruelty, Not Mercy 15
III. Mystical Approaches 17
Esoteric Reasons 17
Benefits of Cruelty 17
The Cruel Engineering of Compassion 18
IV. Optional, Recommended or Obligatory? 21
Relating the Halachah and the Rationale 21
Determining the Halachah 22
1. Optional - Only if one wants the young 23
2. Obligatory, Recommended, or Praiseworthy 26
A Mitzvah to Seek Out? 28
V. Rewards and their Logic 31
Good Days and a Long Life 31
Midrashic Rewards 32
Highlighting Anti-Rationalism 34
Modern Anti-Rationalists 35