How to perform the Mitzvah of שילוח הקן
The Halachos of the Mitzvah of Shiluach Haken
Lately, many people seek out the opportunity of performing the mitzvah of shiluach haken (sending the mother bird away before taking the chicks or the eggs from the nest). The halachah is, in fact, that there is no need to actively pursue this mitzvah, but to do the mitzvah if we happen upon it. Although there are mekubalim who wrote that there’s merit to making an effort to do shiluach haken, there is no historical record of a movement which promoted seeking out this mitzvah until recently.
If one is to do this mitzvah, they must:
- Ensure that they are sending away the mother bird, and not the father bird;
- Ascertain that the birds are of a kosher species;
- Be motivated by a desire to keep the eggs or the chicks;
There’s a machlokes ha’poskim (a dispute among halachic authorities) about whether it’s a mitzvah to do shiluach haken if there is no such interest. Many are of the opinion that if in fact there is no interest one would be transgressing tza’ar ba’alei chayim (causing pain to creatures). However, in practice, if the intent is to follow the stringent opinion and perform the mitzvah even in the absence of such desire, one need not be concerned about tza’ar ba’alei chayim.
- Send away the mother bird;
There’s a machlokes whether one meets the requirements of the mitzvah if they do not physically remove the mother bird, but scare her away by making a loud noise, such as banging on an object.
- Take the eggs or chicks specifically for the purpose of eating, according to some poskim, or at the least the eggs or the chicks must be permissible to be eaten;
Accordingly, the time frame for performing this mitzvah is very limited: either right after the eggs are laid—since after several days when an embryo begins to form the eggs may not be eaten—or several days after the chicks are born, once they open eyes and grow wings and are kosher to be eaten after shechitah (ritual slaughter). Many poskim, however, reject this limitation to the mitzvah.
- The nest has to be chanced upon, not mezuman (prepared).
Therefore, if the nest is on one’s property, such as a windowsill, once the mother leaves the nest even once the nest belongs to the owner of the property, and does not qualify as “chanced upon”—and is therefore not eligible for the mitzvah of shiluach haken. Some modern-day poskim maintain that if one declared the nest hefker (ownerless), they may perform the mitzvah regardless. Others suggest having in mind not to be koneh (acquire them) before the eggs are laid. Some argue that none of the above is necessary: the fact that one never intended to take ownership of the eggs or the chicks, as is common nowadays, is sufficient to fulfill the mitzvah.
Bracha: It should be noted that there is a machlokes rishonim whether a brachah should be made upon performing this mitzvah. Due to the above, and to other doubts regarding this mitzvah, if one is nevertheless determined to do it, they certainly shouldn’t make a brachah.
From Halacha2Go Archives