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In certain cases, the Torah prescribes the bringing of a pair of birds as an offering, one as a chatat and the other as an olah. See Lev 12:8, Lev 14:22, Lev 15:14, Lev 15:29, and Num 6:10.

The governing principle of mix-ups of birds is that we do not allow birds to be offered (a priori) if there is a possibility that we might accidentally offer both birds of a pair as olot or both as chataot, and if a group of X pairs is entirely mixed with a group of Y pairs, then we can bring min{X, Y} pairs from the X+Y birds. See Kinnim 1:3 (1:4).


The mishna Kinnim 2:2 describes what happens if two sets of four birds get mixed up (translation edited from Sefaria):

שתי נשים, לזו שתי קינים ולזו שתי קינים--פרח מזו לזו, פוסל אחד בהליכתו; חזר, פוסל אחד בחזירתו. פרח וחזר, פרח וחזר--לא הפסיד כלום: שאפילו הן מעורבות, אין פחות משתיים.

If there are two women, this one has two pairs and this one has two pairs and one bird flew from this woman's [pair] to the other woman's [pair], it invalidates one bird by its leaving. If it then returned [to its original pair] it invalidates one by returning. If it flew back and forth multiple times it does not cause further invalidation since even if they are mixed up, there are at least two [valid] birds remaining.

Birds are flying back and forth (one at a time) between the two groups of four, ending with four and four. The mishna allows each owner to offer two of the birds in front of them. I glean from this mishna that the minimum number of pairs we are able to offer in this case (even after much mix-up) is equal to the the number we could offer if all birds were mixed into one group.

The next mishna (2:3) speaks of owners each with different numbers of birds (translation edited from Sefaria):

לזו אחת, ולזו שתיים, ולזו שלוש, ולזו ארבע, ולזו חמש, ולזו שש, ולזו שבע--פרח מן הראשונה לשנייה, לשלישית, לרביעית, לחמישית, לשישית, לשביעית, וחזר--פוסל אחד בהליכתו, ואחד בחזירתו: הראשונה והשנייה, אין להן כלום; השלישית, יש לה אחת; הרביעית, יש לה שתיים; החמישית, יש לה שלוש; השישית, יש לה ארבע; והשביעית, יש לה שש. פרח וחזר--פוסל אחד בהליכתו, ואחד בחזירתו: השלישית והרביעית, אין להן כלום; החמישית, יש לה אחת; והשישית, יש לה שתיים; השביעית, יש לה חמש. פרח וחזר--פוסל אחד בהליכתו, ואחד בחזירתו: החמישית והשישית, אין להן כלום; והשביעית, יש לה ארבע. ויש אומרין, השביעית לא הפסידה כלום. ואם פרח מבין המתות לכולם, הרי כולם ימותו.

If this one has one [pair of birds], and this one has two [pairs of birds], this one has three [pairs], this one has four [pairs], this one five [pairs], this one six [pairs] and this one seven [pairs], and one bird flew from the first [group] to the second [group] and one [from the second] into the third, and one [from the third] into the fourth, and one [from the fourth] into the fifth, and one [from the fifth] into the sixth, and one [from the sixth] into the seventh, and then one returned [to its previous group], it invalidates one pair [for each] when it leaves and one pair [for each] upon its return. The first and second [groups] have no valid birds left, the third has one [valid pair], the fourth has two, the fifth has three, the sixth has four, and the seventh has six. If it [= a bird] flew back and forth [again], it invalidates one set when it leaves and one set upon its return. The third and fourth [group] have nothing, the fifth has one [valid pair], the sixth has two and the seventh has five. If a bird flew back and forth [again], it invalidates one pair when it leaves and one upon its return. The fifth and sixth [groups] have no valid birds and the seventh [group] has four... If a bird that is left to die flew into their group they all must be left to die.

More simply (as far as I can tell), say we have two groups, where group A has two birds (= one pair) and group B has four birds (= two pairs), and a bird flies from A to B and then a bird flies from B to A. For this case, based on this this mishna, no bird that is currently in group A can be brought, and one pair from those currently in group B can be brought. If another bird then flies from A to B, then no bird can be brought (by the last clause of the mishna). From here we see that there is a case where we bring no birds, instead of the one pair we would be allowed to bring if all six birds were mixed together.

How do I resolve this contradiction? Am I incorrectly inferring rules from the specific cases? Do Kinnim 2:2–3 not hold by Kinnim 1:3?

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My (un-sourced) understanding is that the difference is that the end of Kinnim 2:3 is dealing with a case where an entire group of birds can no longer be offered. This means that they attain the status of chata'ot hametot, and then if one of them flies into any other group of birds the entire group becomes invalid. (See the last two comments of Yachin on Kinnim 2:3, who I think also makes this point.)

To consider the simplified case you constructed, after the first two flights, the whole of Group A become chata'ot hametot, since none of them can be brought. That is why if one of them were to fly into Group B it would invalidate the entire group.

This is different to the case in Kinnim 1:3 where no group is ever given the status of chata'ot hametot before they all get mixed together.

  • This is an appealing approach. Perhaps you want to include in this answer why a bird's disqualification is necessarily permanent. It would seem to be a disqualification based on doubt/fear of offering incorrectly, but the fear is obviated (in a certain sense) if they are all mixed together. – magicker72 Apr 16 at 6:09

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