By Michael Orbach
Rabbi Chaim Loike, rabbinic coordinator for the Orthodox Union, has been sighted on subways, busses and in and out of the office carrying an avian menagerie. If this sounds strange, it’s probably because you’re not familiar with the work Rabbi Loike does: Rabbi Loike is the informal bird expert at the OU. During his seven-year tenure at the OU, Rabbi Loike has raised dozens of birds, including quail, geese, ducks, partridges and finches as part of an ongoing effort, under the guidance of OU Posek Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, to document the mesorah of kosher birds. (The Torah lists twenty-four birds that are considered not kosher; however, since no one is exactly sure how to identify those twenty-four birds, much is dependent upon figuring out which birds are considered kosher through mesorah.) Rabbi Loike once helped prove that a wild turkey is the same as a domestic turkey and therefore kosher (the rambunctious turkey was not pleased with this development and flew around the office in a frenzy, destroying the rabbi’s keyboard).
“Rabbi Loike is among the world’s leading rabbinic experts on the kashrut of exotic birds,” said Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky, a Jewish Action contributor and a faculty member of Bar-Ilan’s Brain Science Program. “His passion is preserving both Jewish tradition and the variety in God’s natural world.”
A few years ago, the OU was trying to determine the kosher status of a number of breeds of domestic duck. Rabbi Loike acquired a small flock of white mallards that were raised by a veterinarian not far from Rabbi Loike’s home in Long Island, New York.
The veterinarian gave Rabbi Loike some of the eggs, but only one of them hatched. During Hurricane Sandy, the veterinarian’s office was flooded and the flock was destroyed. Rabbi Loike tried to obtain more white mallards but discovered he seemed to have one of the few remaining ones. “There might be a few white mallards here and there, but no one seems to be commercially raising them anymore,” says Rabbi Loike. “A lot of people claim they have a white mallard,” Rabbi Loike explains. “It’s not a mallard; it’s usually just a duck.” Rabbi Loike’s white mallard, a female, is now the family pet and is named Barvaz, Hebrew for duck.
At about the same time Rabbi Loike came to the realization that he possessed one of the few remaining white mallards, he received a phone call from painter Ken Gibson, who is widely respected for his accuracy in portraying avian species.
“We were schmoozing and I told him about the white mallard, and he was interested,” Rabbi Loike says. “And since he uses paints that are yolk-based, why not paint the picture with the yolk of the white mallard?”
Gibson recently paid a visit to OU headquarters in Manhattan, where he painted Barvaz using yolk taken from several unhatched white mallard eggs. Gibson and Rabbi Loike hope to sell some of the paintings to raise money to launch a conservation effort for the white mallard and other endangered birds.
“Making a painting out of the yolk of the endangered white mallard is a powerful statement,” Rabbi Loike says. “Species on our planet are vanishing and people have to take notice of it.”
Michael Orbach is a staff writer at the OU.
To hear an interview with Rabbi Loike, visit http://www.ou.org/life/food/birds-never-knew-kosher/.