The Mitzvah of Shiluach ha-Kein
The mitzvah of shiluach ha-kein is quite difficult to understand: If one
happens upon a nest where a mother bird is roosting on her young birds or
eggs, he should not take the eggs or young birds while the mother is
roosting on them. Instead, he should send the mother away and then take the
young birds or eggs for himself. While the Torah says that fulfillment of
this mitzvah is “good for you and will prolong your days,” the Torah does
not explain the rationale behind it, and indeed, Chazal 1 tell us
that it is a gezeiras ha-kasuv, a Torah decree that we do not understand.
The Rishonim, however, offer a number of possible explanations as to why
the Torah would command us to perform shiluach ha-kein. Among them:
• Rambam2 explains that shiluach ha-kein shows God’s mercy on
His creations, similar to the prohibition against slaughtering a mother
animal and her offspring on the same day — as animals instinctively love
their young and suffer when they see them slaughtered or taken away.
• Ramban, 3 who rejects Rambam’s explanation, writes that the
concern is not for the animal’s feelings, but rather to inculcate compassion
in people; to accustom people to act mercifully to each other.
• Rabbeinu Bechayei4 writes that this mitzvah symbolizes the
concept that people should avoid doing anything that will destroy a species,
for to slaughter mother and children on the same day is akin to mass
• The Zohar5 explains that this mitzvah is meant to awaken and
intensify Hashem’s mercy on His creations. The pain which the mother bird
suffers when she is sent away and forced to abandon her young “awakens the
forces of mercy in the world” and releases an outpouring of mercy from the
heavens above which alleviates all kinds of human suffering.
While the explanations cited above give us some insight into the rationale
for shiluach ha-kein, we are still left with many unanswered questions: If
someone happens upon a nest but has no interest in the young birds or eggs,
should he still send away the mother and take the eggs? Should one search
for such a nest so that he may fulfill this mitzvah? What if the nest is in
a tree in one’s back yard? These and other issues will be discussed below.
Question: How does one fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach ha-kein —
sending the mother bird away from her nest — correctly?
Discussion: When one observes a mother bird roosting on one or more
eggs (or young birds), one fulfills the mitzvah by performing the following
1. Sending away the mother bird. The Rishonim debate whether or not the
mother bird must be lifted by its wings and then cast away, an act which is
extremely difficult to perform, or if it is sufficient to scare her away by
banging on the nesting area with a stick, throwing a stone in her direction
or raising one’s voice, etc. The basic halachah6 and the
prevalent custom7 follow the lenient view that it is sufficient
to drive off the mother bird by scaring her away. 8
2. Taking the eggs or the young birds. While some poskim hold that taking
the eggs or baby birds is not mandatory, 9 other poskim rule
that one does not fulfill the mitzvah if the eggs or baby birds were not
taken, 10 and the prevalent custom follows their view. After
taking the eggs or baby birds and establishing halachic ownership of them,
one is not required to keep them; they may be returned to the nest or
Question: Is the mitzvah of shiluach ha-kein obligatory or optional?
In other words, if one observes a mother bird roosting on a nest but has no
need for the eggs (or the young birds), is he still obligated to cast away
the mother bird and take the eggs in order to fulfill the mitzvah?
Discussion: A minority view holds that even one who has no need for
the eggs (or young birds) is obligated to send the mother bird away and
establish [at least temporary] halachic ownership of them. 12
According to this view, the mitzvah of shiluach ha-kein is an obligation
similar to the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah, returning a lost item to its
owner. 13 But most poskim reject this approach and rule that one
is obligated to send away the mother only if he wishes to keep the eggs or
baby birds. 14
Still, while we rule that one is not obligated to send the mother bird away
if he has no interest in the eggs or young birds, many poskim recommend that
one do so nevertheless. 15 In addition to fulfilling a mitzvah
for which the Torah promises the reward of longevity, there are many other
additional benefits and rewards that Chazal associate with the proper
fulfillment of the mitzvah. Being blessed with children, 16
finding the proper shidduch17, being blessed with the means to
buy or build a new house, 18 and hastening the arrival of
Mashiach 19 are among some of the rewards that are promised to
those who fulfill this mitzvah properly.
Question: Does one recite a blessing when performing the mitzvah of
shiluach ha-kein? Does one recite the blessing of shehecheyanu?
Discussion: Although there are several opinions on this issue,
20 the majority view21 and the prevalent
custom22 is not to recite any blessings when performing this
mitzvah. One who wishes to do so may recite a berachah without invoking
Hashem’s name23 using the following text: Baruch Atah Melech
ha-olam, asher kideshanu bemitzvosav le-shaleiach ha-kein. 24
Question: Does the mitzvah of shiluach ha-kein apply to all roosting
Discussion: No. A number of conditions must be met before this
mitzvah can be fulfilled:
• The mother bird must be of a kosher species, e.g., a sparrow, a dove, or a
Question: Does the mitzvah of shiluach ha-kein apply to birds that
• The mitzvah applies only at the time that the mother bird is actually
roosting on the eggs or the young birds. The mitzvah does not apply to a
mother bird who is hovering over or feeding the young birds, but is not
roosting on them. 26
• While the father of the eggs or young birds also roosts on the nest,
usually during daytime hours only, the mitzvah of shiluach ha-kein applies
to a mother bird exclusively.
• One does not fulfill the mitzvah if the eggs broke before the mother bird
was cast away. 27 If the eggs broke during the performance of
the mitzvah, it is questionable whether one fulfilled the mitzvah.
• On Shabbos (and Yom Tov), shiluach ha-kein is not performed. 29
Discussion: No, it does not. Birds that are raised domestically, such
as chicken or turkey, are exempt from shiluach ha-kein, as the mitzvah
applies only to birds that do not have an owner who cares about them.
Contemporary poskim debate whether or not one fulfills the mitzvah with a
nest which is found on one’s private property. Some poskim rule that the
mitzvah cannot be performed, since one’s private property “acquires” (kinyan
chatzer) the nest on his behalf and it is no longer ownerless. 31
Others, however, hold that since the owner has no interest in owning the
nest or eggs, his private property does not automatically “acquire” the nest
on his behalf and the mitzvah can still be fulfilled. 32
Question: Based on the above information, how is the mitzvah of
shiluach ha-kein actually performed?
Discussion: As soon as eggs or young birds are observed in a nest,
one should prepare himself to perform the mitzvah. The mitzvah can be
performed anytime there are eggs or young birds in the nest as long as the
mother is still roosting over them. If the mother is no longer roosting over
the young birds but is merely feeding them, usually five to nine days after
they are hatched, then the mitzvah can no longer be performed. 33
In order to be sure that the mother is the one roosting over the nest and
not the father, shiluach ha-kein should take place between sunset and
sunrise, since it is the mother who roosts on the nest in the evening and
night hours. 34
After ascertaining that the mother bird is of a kosher species and that the
nest does not belong to anyone else, one should quietly35
approach the nesting area36 and gently37 chase the
mother bird away from the nest by using one of the methods described earlier
(15 Elul). If the mother bird comes back repeatedly before the eggs are
taken, she must be shooed away repeatedly.
Once the mother is gone, a wooden spoon should be used to carefully lift
the eggs out of the nest, making sure not to break them. One should then
lift up the spoon approximately ten to twelve inches, in order to
halachically “acquire” the eggs. [If the nest contains young birds, one
should use his hands to gently lift them out. 38 He may then
return the eggs to the nest. The mitzvah has been completed.
1. Berachos 33b.
2. Moreh Nevuchim 3:48.
3. See also Rashbam, Ibn Ezra and Chezkuni for a similar approach.
4. A similar explanation is offered by Sefer ha-Chinuch (545) and Ralbag.
5. Quoted by Rabbeinu Bechayei and by Chavos Yair 67. See explanation
in Beiur ha-Gra to Mishlei 30:17 and in Imrei Noam, Berachos 33b.
6. Chazon Ish, Y.D. 175:2.
7. Many contemporary poskim, among them the Satmar Rav, Harav Y.Y.
Kanievsky, Harav Y.Y. Weiss, Harav S.Z. Auerbach, Harav E.M. Shach and Harav
S. Wosner were all seen performing shiluach ha-kein by banging on the nest
with a stick until the mother bird flew away. See also Teshuvos v’Hanhagos
8. If, however, no action was taken to cast the mother away but she
flew off on her own, the mitzvah is not fulfilled.
9. Chacham Tzvi 83. See also Aruch ha-Shulchan Y.D. 292:3-4. Harav
Y.Y. Fisher rules in accordance with this view (Even Yisrael on Rambam
Hilchos Shechitah 13).
10. Beis Lechem Yehudah, Y.D. 292; Chasam Sofer, O.C. 100; Chazon Ish,
Y.D. 175:2; Harav C. Kanievsky (Shaleiach Teshalach, 3rd edition, pg. 50).
11. Harav Y.S. Elyashiv and Harav C. Kanievsky, quoted in Shaleiach
Teshalach, pg. 54.
12. Chavos Yair 67 and Mishnas Chachamim, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah,
Y.D. 292:1; Birkei Yosef, Y.D. 292:8; Aruch ha-Shulchan, Y.D. 292:1-2.
13. In other words, just as one may not ignore a lost object that he
happens to see but rather is obligated to return it to its owner, so, too,
one who happens to see a mother bird roosting on her eggs or young birds is
obligated to send it away and take ownership of her offspring.
14. Chasam Sofer, O.C. 100; Avnei Nezer, O.C. 481; Chafetz Chayim
(Sefer ha-Mitzvos 74); Meromei Sadeh, Chullin 139b; Chazon Ish, Y.D. 175:2;
Chazon Yechezkel, Tosefta Chullin, pg. 39.
15. See Birkei Yosef, Y.D. 292:6 and Aruch ha-Shulchan 1.
16. Midrash Rabbah and Tanchuma, Ki Seitzei 6:6.
17. Yalkut Shimoni, Devarim 925.
18. Midrash Rabbah and Tanchuma, Ki Seitzei 6:6. See Keli Yakar, ibid.
19. Yalkut Shimoni, Devarim 930.
20. See Pe’as ha-Shulchan (Eretz Yisrael 3-20) and Aruch ha-Shulchan,
Y.D. 292:10, who rule that a berachah is recited. See also Pischei Teshuvah,
Y.D. 292:2 who mentions that some recite shehecheyanu as well.
21. See Pischei Teshuvah, Y.D. 292:2 and Binyan Tziyon 14.
22. As recorded by all of the contemporary poskim mentioned in note 59.
23. Beis Lechem Yehudah, Y.D. 292 and Maharam Shick 289-291.
24. Harav C. Kanievsky, quoted in Shaleiach Teshalach, pgs. 40-41.
Aruch ha-Shulchan, however, quotes the text of the berachah as al shiluach
ha-kein, while Maharam Shick writes al mitzvas shiluach ha-kein.
25. Y.D. 292:1.
26. Y.D. 292:11.
27. Rabbeinu Bechayei, Ki Seitzei 22:7.
28. See Shaleiach Teshalach, pg. 60, for the various views on this
29. Chasam Sofer, O.C. 100.
30. Y.D. 292:2.
31. Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Minchas Shelomo 2:97-26); Harav Y.S.
Elyashiv, quoted in Shaleiach Teshalach, pg. 68; Harav S. Wosner (Mi-Beis
Levi, Nissan, pg. 90). [In the atypical case where the mother bird did not
leave the nest for even one moment from the time she laid the eggs, then all
views agree that shiluach ha-kein could be performed with a nest which is
found on one’s private property; Y.D. 292:2.]
32. Igros Moshe, Y.D. 4:45; Harav C.P. Scheinberg, Harav N. Karelitz
and Harav C. Kanievsky, quoted in Shaleiach Teshalach, pg. 67-68.
33. Chazon Yechezkel, Tosefta Chullin, pg. 38; Harav Y.S. Elyashiv and
Harav C. Kanievsky, quoted in Shaleiach Teshalach, pgs. 62-63.
34. According to experts, this is true of most kosher birds, with the
notable exception of the American Robin, where the male does not have an
incubation patch and the female is the sole incubator of the nest.
35. So that the mother bird does not fly off before you have a chance
to send her away.
36. Some recite a special l’sheim yichud before performing the
mitzvah; see text in Kan Tzippor, pg. 138.
37. Otherwise the mother bird may panic and break the eggs or take
them away with her.
38. If the young birds fit snuggly into one’s hands, there is no need
to lift them up ten to twelve inches, since, halachically speaking, one’s
“hand” acquires the young birds for him; Beiur Halachah 366:9, s.v. tzarich.
Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Torah.org.
Rabbi Neustadt is the Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Harabbonim of Detroit and the Av Beis Din of the Beis Din Tzedek of Detroit. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org