Rashi brings down regarding the meaning of "I carried you on eagles' wings" (Exodus 19:4, see also Deut. 32:11) that an eagle carries its young on its back.

But, has anyone questioned the truth to this phenomenon? From what I understand, it's impossible for the young to hold on and not fall - nor do I know of any documentation of such behavior.

Is this more of a theoretical mashal (i.e. parable) than an actual fact?

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    Hello Zack and welcome to MiYodeya. Interesting question but it might be offtopic for this forum (see here) so don't get upset if it gets closed. You might also want to avoid making assumptions ("everyone knows") as many people reading this will not know. You might consider using sefaria.org to copy and paste the psukim in question (even better with their translation) to make it easier for everyone to follow what you are asking. Welcome again and stay learning with us !
    – mbloch
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 5:28
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    Note that Tosafos (Chullin 63a) points out that nesher does not refer to an eagle ("וכמו כן טועין גבי נשר שקורין אייגל"א ואינו דנשר יש לו ד' סימני טומאה ואייגל"א יש לו אצבע יתירה"). See also this article by Rabbi Natan Slifkin, which identifies the nesher as the Griffon vulture, the highest flying of all birds.
    – Fred
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 5:29
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    Following up on my previous comment: Note that the article excerpted in the answer below suggests that, in the context of these verses, the term nesher could be more broadly encompassing, including both eagles and vultures. Also, R' Slifkin notes that some opinions do identify the nesher specifically as an eagle (Sefer Ha-Itur, Chizkuni and Yalkut Me'am Loez). Read the articles in full for more detail. See also this article.
    – Fred
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 5:44
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    You're welcome. But if you want to ping someone in the comments, you have to put @ before their username (otherwise it is pure luck if they come back and see your comments :->) But if you do put @ then it pings them and they are sure to come back to read what you wrote
    – mbloch
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 17:41
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    Can you clarify the question? Are you asking if RaSh"I himself understood this literally (i.e. that eagles literally carry their young on their backs) or are you asking how to interpret the verse(s)? Note: Judging by his "Last seen" date, I don't anticipate getting an answer from @Zack anytime soon. If others have ideas, I'd be happy to hear them.
    – Lee
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 12:00

1 Answer 1


From: http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2016/02/on-eagles-wings.html

One ornithologist writes:

"Many ornithologists have thought that the Bible picture of an eagle carrying her young was merely figurative, but in recent years certain reliable observers have actually seen a parent bird let its young rest for a moment on the feathered back - especially when there was no other roosting place in sight. When an eagle nests on the ledge of a sheer-walled canyon, many feet above the earth, with no jutting tree or protruding rock to break the fall, the quick movement of a mother bird to offer her own back to a frightened fledgling may be the only way to let it live to try its wings again." (V.C. Holmgren, Bird Walk Through The Bible [New York: Dover Publications 1988] p. 98)

One report of this behavior is as follows:

"Our guide was one of the small company who have seen the golden eagle teaching the young to fly. He could support the belief that the parent birds, after urging and sometimes shoving the youngster into the air, will swoop underneath and rest the struggler for a moment on their wings and back. ... Our guide, when questioned, said that every phrase of the verse [Deut. xxxii, I I] (which was new to him) was accurate, save the first; he had seen it all except the stirring up of the nest." (W.B. Thomas, Yeoman's England [1934], pp. 135-6)

Another report concerning the golden eagle comes from Arthur Cleveland Bent, one of America's greatest ornithologists, on the authority of Dr. L. Miller:

"The mother started from the nest in the crags and, roughly hand-ling the youngster, she allowed him to drop, I should say, about ninety feet; then she would swoop down under him, wings spread, and he would alight on her back. She would soar to the top of the range with him and repeat the process. Once perhaps she waited fifteen minutes between flights. I should say the farthest she let him fall was a hundred and fifty feet. My father and I watched him, spellbound, for over an hour." (A. C. Bent, Bulletin of the Smithsonian Institution CLXVII [1937], 302)

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    Please edit to say clearly whom you're citing and to replace the long quotation with a summary, in your own words, of the pertinent points, using selective quotation as necessary. meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/75/…
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 15:45
  • Thank you Loewian, I have heard of this before however it's far from what Rashi is describing.
    – Zack
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 16:44
  • There are also reports from a published ornithologist, "A. LaBitte" who studied raptors (eagles and hawks) in a study of the Booted Eagle, whose habitat includes western Europe (Rashi could have seen them) that the parents, on occasion, carry the eaglets on their backs. digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/… books.google.com/… Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 14:27
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    It should also be noted, that according to most ornithologists, this is atypical behavior. It can happen, but is not common. Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 14:29
  • @YaacovDeane I don't see where they mention eagles in the article you link?
    – Loewian
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 16:35

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