It is said during the offering of a burnt sacrifice of a bird the Priest shall wring off its head and burn it,then shall drain its blood,remove its feathers,divide it and then finally burn it.

Leviticus 1:14 NIV ~ “‘If the offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, you are to offer a dove or a young pigeon. 15 The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off the head and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar.

What was the significance or symbolism of first wringing off the head and burning it?

  • Note that the Hebrew word "mālaq" (מָלַק) doesn't mean to twist, as "wring" implies. Strong's H4454 defines it as "verb nip, nip off (head of bird; without necessarily severing it from body …". The Septuagint translates it as "ἀποκνίσει", which also means nipping or pinching. Mar 21, 2022 at 21:02
  • @RayButterworth ... Yes... researching rabbinical commentaries I notice that they universally say "nip off" the neck rather than "wring off." Dec 11, 2023 at 22:54

4 Answers 4


There is perhaps no symbolic significance to this method.

I wondered why the head would be removed this way, rendering the meat unfit for consumption.

The Judaism.SE site offered one explanation for this unusual (unkosher) method of slaughter: Why is melika - not shechita - done on the bird korban? - Mi Yodeya.

The Sefer HaChinuch (13th century) explains that doves are offered only by the poor. Generally these people have little time for ceremony and must return to their work as soon as possible, so the possibly lengthy slaughtering was replaced by a much quicker method (humane, but not kosher).

Presumably, since the offerings were burned entirely and not for consumption, God would understand the reason and accept them.

Similarly, in Leviticus 5:7–11, two birds are offered:

But if one’s means do not suffice for a sheep, that person shall bring to יהוה, as the penalty for that of which one is guilty, two turtledoves or two pigeons — one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. The offerer shall bring them to the priest, who shall offer first the bird for the sin offering, pinching its head at the nape without severing it. He shall sprinkle some of the blood of the sin offering on the side of the altar, and what remains of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the altar; it is a sin offering. And the second bird he shall prepare as a burnt offering, according to regulation. For the sin of which one is guilty, the priest shall thus make expiation on behalf of that person, who shall be forgiven. — Leviticus 5:7-10 (JPS)

Notice that while the second bird was to be killed as in Leviticus 1, the second bird, to be eaten and not burned, is killed without totally severing the head.

The NASB20 translation describes this process more clearly:

He shall bring them to the priest, who shall first offer that which is for the sin offering, and shall pinch off its head at the front of its neck, but he shall not sever it.

This isn't the full kosher ceremony, but it approximates it, using the fingers in place of a knife.

  • Ray, I upvoted your answer, which more thorough than mine. I take it you would agree with my main point as quoted from the Talmud: "The verse distinguished between a bird sin offering and a bird burnt offering." Dec 11, 2023 at 23:27

Gill suggests that it is a type of Christ's death:

this wringing off the head, and wringing out the blood, denote violence, and show that Christ's death, which this was a type of, was a violent one; the Jews laid violent hands upon him, and pursued his life in a violent manner, were very pressing to have it taken away, and his life was taken away in such a manner by men, though not without his Father's secret will, and his own consent.


It was done to make sure there is no life in the bird. Then the priest cuts the neck so it attached to the body only by the skin of the neck. All the blood must be drained and then only it must be burnt.

  • There are many other ways one could do that other than cutting the head. One could cut the torso, the feet, the wings, and drain the blood that way, too. There is something symbolic about the head going on here
    – Robert
    Jun 21, 2021 at 0:09
  • Possible reasons for this choice. a. The neck is closer to the heart and blood pressure will be higher here than at the torso. b. squeezing out / pressing out the neck is much easier than a torso. c. If a bird's vascular anatomy is similar to humans'(I am not aware) there are 2 carotid arteries that supply large volumes of blood to the brain and are easily assessible than the other major arteries in the body that are much deeper and not easy to access.
    – Yeddu
    Jun 21, 2021 at 4:10
  • That is interesting, Yeddu. Why do you think the head was not severed? What's the relevance of keeping it attached via skin and explicitly stating the head must not be removed? Surely that can't have anything to do with efficient exsanguination
    – Robert
    Aug 18, 2022 at 21:28
  • The slaughtering had to be painless for the animal. When the sharp knife slits both the carotid arteries, the bird feels minimum pain as the brain is deprived of blood and does not send pain signals to the rest of the body. while the bird may wriggle, pain is minimized.
    – Yeddu
    Aug 19, 2022 at 13:26
  • But this doesn't answer why letting the head remain attached with only skin is more human than just chopping it off.
    – Robert
    Aug 19, 2022 at 22:54

The symbolic significance of the bird itself is that it represents a much larger animal for a wealthier person's livestock. Being much smaller, it requires special treatment. According to the Talmud, the removal of the head (by "pinching" rather than "wringing," for some delicate maneuvers are described) is done in such way as to distinguish between a sin offering and a burnt offering.

Chullin 21b:2

The verse (Leviticus 1:15) distinguished between a bird sin offering and a bird burnt offering...

The rabbinical debate about this is very involved and technical, having to do with the fact that birds here are offered in place of normal sacrificial animals. One rabbi mentions the head being burned separately as opposed to together with the other meat as in vs. 9. But either way, at least we have an partial answer the the OP's question: it was done in a way so as to distinguish between a burnt offering and a sin offering.

  • @ Dan Fefferman. Do you think removing the head fully, desecrated the body and therefore makes the sacrifice unfit or blemished. Therefore unacceptable to God. With something as small as a dove neck it would be very hard to use a knife and sever only the arteries without accidentally severing the whole head. Therefore wringing of the neck maybe allowed blood drainage without desecration of the body.
    – RHPclass79
    Dec 12, 2023 at 0:22
  • I don't think that the neck was wrung but "pinched." The rabbis mention the use of a thumbnail. The linked section of the Talmud does go into a lot of detailed discussion about doing it the right way. It could be the case that severing it this way allowed priest to add the sense of feeling as well as sight to the process, whereas using a knife alone would make it more difficult to get it right. Dec 12, 2023 at 1:09

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