Thursday, January 20, 2011

A tale of fowl language

If you have followed me around the Web on various sites, you probably noticed that I use the ID "rooster613" in a lot of places, including this blog and my eBay store, The Happy Rooster, which is located at  This ID has a history dating back over 20 years -- so here goes:

When my wife Caryl (pronounced "Carol") and I moved to Sandstone, MN in 1988, we got a pet rooster. At the time, it was legal to have backyard chickens in town, but one of my neighbors didn’t like me very much, and kept calling the city administrator to complain about the rooster crowing.

As any rural resident knows, if you sneeze on one side of town, somebody will say "Gesundheit" on the other end. The fact we were Jewish --the only Jews in town and, in many cases, the only Jews many people here had ever met -- made us doubly interesting subjects of local gossip.  It seemed like everything we did was picked apart in detail, often very inaccurately, but that's a whole other blog...  Anyway, I got known around town as that guy with the darned rooster. My wife and I, in turn, argued that we were within our rights. Which we were.

Meanwhile, Internet access came to town. I began setting up my personal website. When the ISP rep asked what ID I wanted, I said "rooster" out of pure cussedness.  (So beware of angry roosters - -they use fowl language!)  Thus was my nickname born. Even after we moved to our little hobby farm outside of town, (where chickens are no problem), I kept the Rooster ID because, by now, the website was linked all over the Internet.  It also related nicely to the Hasidic parable by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, about the mad prince who thought he was a rooster.  (Read my re-telling of the story.)  Or, some say, he was a turkey -- but I first heard it as a rooster... Besides, I'm not about to call myself a TURKEY!

The original reference in Yiddish was to the "Indian Cock,"which some scholars claim is the turkey (because people apparently mistook it for a peacock) and others say it is the Red Jungle Fowl of India, which is believed to be the original ancestor of all breeds of chickens.  (Wouldn't this make a really great Purim debate -- was it a turkey or was it a rooster???? We Jews can agree on the big things, such as One God, Ten Commandments... it's those annoying little details that really get us going. )

 Then again folk tales do have a habit of mutating. Did you know that the "goose that laid the golden egg" was originally a chicken, too? So nu, what is this? A revisionist plot to deny chickens their rightful place in history? There's fowl play afoot, that's for sure... Not to egg you on about this, but if you really want to pursue this profound dilemma, then check out the history of the turkey and the origins of the domestic fowl (chicken).

Anyway, the exact species of barnyard bird doesn't really affect the story, which I frequently tell, and which is my personal model for teaching Yiddishkeit (Judaism).  Plus, my wife and I like chickens, which we keep as pets on our farm. (Wec are vegetarians.  We do not slaughter our birds, although we do eat the eggs.)

Not long after I got online, came out with their Associates program and I decided to join. To my dismay, the “Rooster” ID was already taken on their system. So, I added “613" to my Amazon ID. Why did I choose that number? Because I’m an Orthodox Jew, and “613" has a special significance to religious Jews. It refers to the 613 mitzvot (pronounced “mitts-vote,” meaning “commandments”) in the Torah. (NOTE: They are communal rules -- no one person can do all 613 mitzvot, because some are for men, some for women, some for farmers, teachers, merchants, priests, soldiers, etc. Altogether, the Jewish community as a whole has the 613 commandments. Many are common-sense social rules we all follow anyway.  Others are connected with specific rituals and ceremonies.)

Nowadays, "613" has become a shorthand way that many Jews use on the Net to let each other know that they are Orthodox or Hasidic, similar to the way that Christians use WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) to identify themselves to each other. There’s even a site called with an extensive audio-video library of talks by various rabbis. Now granted, the number 613 doesn’t have a meaning to everybody, but at least it has a back story that people might remember once they hear it. My guess is that you will remember it now and that’s a whole lot better than using my age or my Zip Code.

When I later came to eBay, "rooster" was already taken there, too. So I carried over my "rooster613" theme. By now, I also owned the domain name which used to point to my personal website and now goes  to my eBay store, The Happy Rooster. (My website is located at

However, we should note that not every "rooster613" ID online is really me.  There is some woman using it on a dating site who definitely is NOT me!  I emailed her once about changing it, but got no answer.  It's not exactly identity theft, since she clearly is somebody else and not claiming to be me, so this was probably just a random coincidence.  But it's a good idea to actually read the material in question and be sure you are actually talking to Rabbi Yonassan Gershom.  Conversely, if you don't want to get a lot of rabbincal questions and/or hate mail about Israeli politics (and I'm a PACIFIST yet!  Some people just target any Jew they find with their rants...)  then it is a good idea not to call yourself "rooster613."


MojoMan said...

Here in the suburbs of Boston, it's legal to keep hens, but not roosters in town. A dislike for a close, inconsiderate neighbor with a rooster might have more to do with being awakened unwillingly every day at the crack of dawn than with religion.

Rooster613 said...

It wasn't just the rooster, mojo -- he harrased us about a lot of other things, too. And he never complained about the dog on the same block that barked a whole lot more -- and in the middle of the night -- than a rooster. (Frankly, I was more annonyed by the church bells that rung all night every quarter hour. Not to mention the guy with the hopped-up noisy car on the same block.)

The same neighbor came to our house one day not long after we moved in, and told me my cat was hurt, then without another word, walked into his house and slammed the door, not even telling me where the cat was. She was hurt, all right -- I found her in his yard with her lower jaw broken. The vet said a wound like that usually came from kicking her under the chin. I always suspected the neighbor guy did it himself but could not prove it.

I wrote a letter to the editors about the incident and about animal cruelty, not naming anybody, but after that, this particular neighbor never talked to me again. Was it because we are Jews, or because he hated cats, or was he just a mean SOB we happened to move next to???? Hard to say.

Rooster613 said...

And then there was the SWASTIKA incident the first year we were there, the teenagres who shouted "Heil Hitler!" when they went past our yard -- and that was long BEFORE we got the rooster. I'd say that swastika sent a pretty clear message that WAS about religion. Not to mention all the missionaries banging on our door, the "Jews for Jesus" pamphlets people mailed us incessantly, the time I almost got beaten up in the men's room, the THREE TIMES I was stopped by cops for no good reason right after 9/11 (I guess my head covering and beard made them mistake me for a Muslim)... you bet it was about a whole lot more than just a chicken crowing. But it was not my intent to tell THAT story. I was just trying to be humorous about my online handle.

Any by the way, Mojo, the hens can be just as noisy as the rooster -- sometimes even more so. They cackle VERY loudly right after they lay an eggs, which is often VERY early in the morning. And if something upsets them, thew whole flock will cackle together for ten minutews or more --thier way of alerting each other to a predator or other danger.