On a walk through the ruins of Ashkelon National Park this past spring, I was fortunate to spot this beautiful Turtledove below, foraging through the rocky landscape. It was very early May, and surely around the time of year about which King Solomon wrote in the Song of Songs:
“12.The blossoms have appeared in the land, the time of singing has arrived, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.” יב. הַנִּצָּנִים נִרְאוּ בָאָרֶץ עֵת הַזָּמִיר הִגִּיעַ וְקוֹל הַתּוֹר נִשְׁמַע בְּאַרְצֵנוּ: (Shir HaShirim 2:12, Chabad.org)
The Turtledove is very similar to, though more beautifully patterned than, the Mourning Dove, with its unmistakable soft, low cooing sound. There are many references to this lovely bird in Jewish literature, including comparisons of both Ruth and the Jewish people to the dove, in Midrash and in the Gemara (Voice of the Dove, Commentary of the Dubner Maggid on the Book of Ruth, trans. David M. Zucker). Many wonderfully colorful descriptions of the festive procession to the Temple during the holiday of Shavuot, include the image of two Turtledoves tied to decorative baskets that were filled with the pilgrims’ First Fruit offerings.
The only birds permitted to be brought as offerings to the Temple in ancient times were the Turtledove, or a ‘young dove’ or ‘pigeon’, such as this Laughing Dove that I photographed in the Jerusalem Bird Observatory.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Archaeological Park at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel a number of times while visiting friends who live at Ramat Rachel. For me, one of the most fascinating discoveries at the site was the ancient buried Columbarium or dovecote, as illustrated in this link about the excavations: Ramat Rachel Archaeological Project.
There are debates about the purpose of the columbaria, but most believe that these niches, often carved into cave walls, were used for breeding doves, perhaps the Turtledoves or young doves used for Temple offerings in Jerusalem. Hundreds of doves were raised centuries ago in the Ramat Rachel dovecotes and in others that have been found in various locations throughout Israel. Columbaria have been unearthed at Beit Lehi, at the famous Bet Guvrin caves, and on Masada, as seen in this video: