, , ,

"אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם, אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְמִצְרָיִם; וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל-כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים, וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָי."
"Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto Myself."
Exodus/Shemot 19:4

"כְּנֶשֶׁר יָעִיר קִנּוֹ, עַל-גּוֹזָלָיו יְרַחֵף; יִפְרֹשׂ כְּנָפָיו יִקָּחֵהוּ, יִשָּׂאֵהוּ עַל-אֶבְרָתוֹ."
"As an eagle that stirreth up her nest, hovereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her pinions–"
Deuteronomy/Dvarim 32:11

Rashi says in his famous comment (translation from Chabad):
“All other birds carry their young in their talons, out of fear of a larger predator attacking them from behind and above. The eagle, however, fears no other bird, only man. For this reason it carries its young on its wings, reasoning that if it is attacked by arrows, it would suffer the injury, not their young. When the Egyptians attacked the Jews at the Red Sea, G‑d sent angels to situate themselves between the camp of Israel and the Egyptian camp, and the Divine clouds absorbed the missiles and arrows.”

This is truly a very beautiful image and I can definitely relate to the idea that G’d carries us on his wings.

But the old sceptic in me asks: Is it true literally? Do eagles really carry their young on their back?

I am no zoologist, but this is what I found:

  • Several Jewish and Christian pages have this citation and discuss the theological ramifications (just search for "do eagles carry their young"
  • Some of these pages, e.g. Zoo Torah (about halfway down the page), bring reported observations of parent birds that let their young rest on their back.
  • There seems to be a discussion about what species exactly "nesher" refers to, an eagle or maybe a vulture or some more general animal category.
  • Zoologist or bird enthusiansts seem to be very sceptic to the claim, e.g. Ask a Scientist.
  • Among other things, young eagles seem to weigh more than their parents, which would it make very hard for the parents to carry them.

So I tend to say no, but of course it is not easy to prove that something can not happen. It might always happen when we are not looking…