Q. Here in outback Australia, the ostrich industry is thriving. Why is it that ostriches are not considered kosher?
Called in Hebrew bat haya’anah, ya’en or kenaf r’nanim, it inhabited deserted and lonely places and was known for its melancholy cry (bat haya’anah is literally “daughter of wailing”) and its speed.
It was not very intelligent: “God has deprived it of wisdom, neither has He imparted to it understanding” (Job 39:17).
It was cruel (“The daughter of My people has become cruel like the ostriches in the wilderness”: Echah 4:3), because it hurt its young and abandoned some of its eggs to be eaten by newly hatched chicks.
That it is not a kosher bird is explicitly stated in Lev. 11:16 and Deut. 14:15. All birds are kosher except 20 species, but as we cannot always identify the various species, Jews eat only those domesticated birds that are traditionally accepted as kosher, e.g. chickens, turkeys, etc.
Rabbinic literature contains references to the ostrich being bred as an ornamental bird and to vessels made from its egg shells. It was known to swallow anything, even a set of tefillin.
The ostrich played a large part in South African Jewish history from as early as 1880, when the ostrich feather industry began to flourish, especially in and around Oudtshoorn.
In their history of South African Jewry, Saron and Hotz point out that most of the Jews had never before seen an ostrich, even in a zoo, but they quickly saw the potentialities of the industry and not only did many make fortunes from feathers but they created a vibrant Jewish community.