In Christopher Hitchens's memoir Hitch 22, this passage caught my eye:
In her preface to his collection of essays The Non-Jewish Jew Tamara Deutscher, widow of the great Isaac, relates the story of how her husband, future biographer of Leon Trotsky, studied for his bar mitzvah. Considered the brightest boy in any yeshivah for years gone by or for miles around, he was set to speak to the following question: somewhere in the looped intestines of Jewish lore there is mention of a miraculous bird which visits the world only at intervals of several decades and then only very briefly. On its periodic landings it delivers and leaves behind a beakful of bird-spit. This avian drool, if you can seize hold of even a drop of it, has wonder-working properties. Now comes the crucial question (surely you saw it coming?): Is the bird-spit to be reckoned as kosher or as treyfe? The boy Isaac spoke for several hours on the rival theories of this dispute, and on the competing commentaries on those rival theories, and of course on the commentaries on those commentaries.
This bird appears to be known as the "kikiyon"here, which quotes a claim that the Deutscher passage is conflating the term referring to a West African crypted with קיקיון, a plant which appears in the book of Jonah.
Now I've been unable to get my hands on a copy of The Non-Jewish Jew, and googling "magical bird+Judaism" hasn't gotten me anywhere. What exactly is this bird, what sources do we have for it, and is its spit kosher? (Or is this passage inaccurate about the magical spitting bird's existence?)
EDIT: I did manage to get my hands on The Non-Jewish Jew, and here is the passage which started it all:
Dressed in a new kapota of pure silk made especially for the occasion, little Iciu—as he was affectionately called' stood straight, collected his thoughts' and started on a two hour discourse on the theme of Kikiyon:
Once in seventy years a bird appears over the world. The bird is big and beautiful and unlike all other birds. Its name is Kikiyon. This curious name, probably Greek in origin, has never been explained. When the bird makes its flight once in seventy years-it spits on the earth, and it spits only once. This saliva is extremely precious; it has miraculous qualities, for it can cure any illness or deformity. What Isaac had to debate and give his most considered opinion on was this: Is the bird's saliva kosher or treyfe? In other words,. does it fulfil the requirements of the Jewish ritual with regard to food or not? Isaac quoted at length all that had been written on the subject before-all the commentaries, all the learned discussions that had been going on for millennia among the wisest of the wise. He showed command of his sources and a capacity to deal with the most abstruse details. His audience sat enthralled and in complete silence.They nodded their heads admiringly. Then, after a short consultation, they pronounced him, inevitably, fit and worthy to become a rabbi.