The Order of Kodashim that deals with the sacrificial service closes with a number of short tractates, among them Massekhet Kinnim, which focuses on the laws relating to sacrifices of fowl, which are usually a pair of birds that are offered (the Mishna refers to these as kinnim – literally “nests”). It consists only of Mishna as no Gemara has been compiled on this tractate. Many of these laws are found in the sixth and seventh chapters of Massekhet Zevaḥim; Kinnim concentrates on one specific element: What happens when these sacrifices are mixed together?
It is true that other animal sacrifices also can become mixed together, and the Gemara in Massekhet Zevaḥim discusses those situations, nevertheless this confusion is more commonly found in sacrificial birds. There are several reasons for this:
- In contrast with animal sacrifices where every sacrifice calls for a different type of animal (e.g., differences in type, age and sex), there are only two birds that can be brought as sacrifices – turtledoves and pigeons – and they are similar in appearance.
- Birds are harder to keep track of, since they fly and can escape very easily.
- Very often two birds are brought, one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and with those different sacrifices in such close proximity it is not easy to distinguish between them.
- Finally, it appears that there were more sacrifices brought from birds than from any other animal. These sacrifices were obligatory for a large number of everyday events, particularly for women (e.g. after childbirth). Furthermore, given the realities of the human condition, there are more poor people than rich ones, and sacrifices brought from fowl are usually brought by the poor.
It appears from the Mishna that many women would not bring their sacrifices immediately when they first needed to do so, but only, for example, after a number of births. The fact that a given woman may be bringing several “nests” of birds at one time can easily lead to confusion about the sacrifices.