Falconry in Jewish Art, Law, and Lore
Lecture by Leor Jacobi
Given at the ARS Judaica Conference, Bar Ilan University on September 11, 2012
Introduction: When I explain that I am studying the topic of Falconry in Rabbinic Literature, people are usually bewildered, or just plain shocked. “Jewish hunting? Is that Kosher? Are there really any sources?” I myself was initially dazed and confused by the foreign Persian terminology in the discussion of falconry in the Babylonian Talmud, and soon realized that I was not the first scholar puzzled by this “archaic” hunting method. As an urban modern, I was so removed from the realities of falconry which emerged from the halakhic and aggadic sources that a reliance on scholarly philological methods alone was inadequate. I began to seek out explanations from practicing falconers and representations of falconry close to the period and to the cultural climate of the sources. Inspired by the work of Daniel Sperber, I began exploring the study of period art to help visualize forgotten Jewish customs and legal opinions.
The cultural importance of falconry is supreme in its two main centers: Persia since antiquity and France in the Middle ages. The intimate connection of influential Jewish communities with these cultures should not be underestimated. I began gathering images of falconry art as a tool to penetrate obscure Rabbinic sources from these areas. Thanks to much assistance and guidance from Sara Offenberg of the Art Departments of Bar Ilan University, now the Jewish artistic representations of falconry can take center stage.
The puzzling and bewildering archaic laws, with their difficult Persian and French loanwords, have received little attention from modern scholars. About half of today’s talk focusing on art was adapted from a forthcoming article on Medieval Jewish Falconry in a new open access on-line academic journal of Rabbinics called Oqimta, edited by Shamma Friedman. I hope that the continued coupling of written textual sources with art, both Jewish and non-Jewish, will enable us to restore the rightful places of even more forgotten aspects of Jewish history.