Friday, August 11, 2017

Chicken Shtick

Question: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Answer: To ask the posek if he needs a mesorah.

Many news outlets this week were reporting on the story of the Braekel chicken, an old breed from Belgium which has not historically been used for food. Some of the greatest charedi rabbinic authorities met this week and spent four hours discussing whether it is kosher. Rav Moshe Sternbuch said no, while Rav Nissim Karelitz said yes.

There are many people with great expertise in kashrus. And my friends Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky, Rabbi Chaim Loike and Moshe Rosenbaum are tremendous experts in the halachic history of unusual species of birds. However, it seems to me that nobody has yet studied the overall picture of Torah taxonomy, and how that impacts the evaluation of the kashrus status of different creatures.

I can't get into a full discussion here, but here are some brief points (and you can find extensive discussion in The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom). The Torah lists two dozen birds that are not kosher. Since we can't identify them with certainty, we only eat a bird if there is a mesorah that it is kosher. But how do you decide if a seemingly new bird is actually a new type, that is not covered within the existing mesorah?

There is no formal definition of min, the Torah term for "type." However, if we survey Torah classification in general, two things become clear. One is that min is generally a much broader classification than species. Another is that the more charedi you are, the broader the definition of min ought to be.

Allow me to explain. The Torah lists ten types of kosher land animals. There is a dispute in the Gemara as to whether this represents the sum total of kosher land animals. The generally accepted conclusion is that it does indeed represent the sum total. However, the modern science of zoology counts 172 species that are definitely kosher: thirty-eight species of deer, four species of musk deer, the giraffe and okapi, the pronghorn, twenty-four species of wild cattle, seventeen species of duiker, twenty-three species of grazing antelope, thirty-two species of gazelle and dwarf antelope, four species of chevrotain, and twenty-seven species of goat antelope. Can these all be included in the ten types mentioned in the Torah?

Most of these species, such as the deer, gazelles, antelope and cattle, can certainly be included in the Torah’s list without difficulty, simply by saying that min includes different species in the same genus. But some are very different and are thus more difficult to include in these categories. Some identify the giraffe as one of the ten animals in the Torah’s list, but then what about the okapi? Furthermore, it would seem difficult to classify the enormous, strange-looking moose, the tiny, tusked musk deer, and the even smaller chevrotain, as varieties of the types in the Torah’s list.

Now, I personally am comfortable with saying that the Torah's list is either not exhaustive, or that the "world" of the Torah is limited to a very small region. However, it can be safely assumed that most charedim would reject those approaches (and indeed, some of the opposition to my book The Camel, The Hare And The Hyrax was due to my advancing such views). Thus, in order to encompass all 172 species within the Torah's ten types, they must be taking a very broad definition of min indeed. Similar arguments can be advanced for how they would include all camelids and lamoids, and all species of pig, amongst the four animals listed in the Torah as possessing one kosher sign. With birds, there is further evidence that the Torah in general, and the charedi approach in particular, would have a very broad definition of min; I plan to discuss this in a future post about the kashrus of kiwis.

Thus, when it comes to rating the kashrus of a variety of chicken, with which even according to zoology's narrow definition, they are all the same species, and they can all interbreed, and they are all descended from Indian jungle fowl - kal v'chomer ben beno shel kal v'chomer that they are all the same min!

So why do some people say otherwise? Partly because they have not undertaken a broader analysis of the topic, as discussed above. But there are also other reasons why people make a fuss about these things. It will distract the discussion if I mention them now, so I will leave them for a future post. Meanwhile, if you will be in Israel in October, and you are interested in kashrus, come join our Feast Of Exotic Curiosities!


41 comments:

  1. "....are all descended from Indian jungle fowl..." Evolution! The horror! The horror!

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    1. LOL. Berel Dov seems to so revel in RDNS irreverence that he misses the irony (logical inconsistency) of RDNS statement; using "they all descended from" as a reason those who do not participate in his belief in that statement should use it in their method of psak

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    2. The point is that they are very closely related in the "tree of life", even if you think that the origin of that tree is not evolution. The such trees were constructed before Darwin.

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  2. Looking forward to your article about the Kiwi - although the Kiwi is certainly not closely related to any known kosher bird, and the Jewish community in New Zealand is less than 200 years old, so I don't see how you could argue that there is a mesorah (it is also endangered and not eaten so the argument is probably only theoretical).

    About 2 months Chief Rabbi Lau gave a local Shabbat Afternoon shiur about a question he received about a cow-like species from South America with Elephant-like skin (I have no idea what species he was talking about, and it was Shabbat so he didn't have pictures), apparently the animal has high quality meat and they want to start exporting to Israel.

    Rabbi Lau didn't give a Psak in the shiur, but it sounded like he was going to rule that the animal was in fact a type of cow and was kosher.

    He mentioned the debate around Zebu in passing, including the fact that there is a Mosaic in an Ancient Shul in the Galil which clearly has a picture of a Zebu, or at least some type of cow with a hump, but this hadn't been discovered at the time of the Zebu debate.

    (If you know what the elephant-like bovine is, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts)

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    1. The Torah NAMES which kinds of birds are forbidden to eat. So only birds that our ancestors could have had names for are forbidden. That excludes from the prohibition, and from the need for a mesorah, genera that were unknown in the Middle East at the time of Matan Torah. That includes turkeys, kiwis, penguins, and (IMHO) parrots, although the only ones on the list that I eat are turkeys.

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    2. Do you really think that was the Torah's intention? So any bird of prey unknown in the Middle East are OK? It fits literally, but I think that some process of generalization was expected as with other areas of the Torah (and as Chazal hold here).

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    3. Not necessarily true. The talmud says that Moshe picked up each variety and showed it to the Jewish People (hullin 42A). If every variety was shown, it includes all animals in all parts of the world.

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    4. Michael - to clarify my somewhat misleading statement, I will be discussing the kashrus of the kiwi to explain why it is NOT kosher!

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    5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiwifruit how could this possibly be not kosher? !

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    6. What kind of Teshuvah should be done by someone who jumped to conclusions and ate one on your advice? ;)

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  3. Is this more similar to a chicken than a dog to a wolf, which Halachically are Kelayim despite their genetic similarity.

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    1. It is about as similar to a chicken as a chihuahua is to a dog.

      That's why the whole thing is so weird. They are chickens. Not "almost chickens" (which somehow turkeys are). In the US, the campine chicken, which descends from breakel chickens, are a common source of eggs sold in boxed as chicken eggs.

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    2. gh500 raises a good point, which is why I wrote in my post that min is *generally* broader than species. There is a difference in a case where one is wild and one is domestic. However, that is not relevant to chickens.

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  4. Seems that you entertain two contradictory approaches. On the one hand, you seem to admit that a mesorah about an animal is needed in lieu of the Torah's concept of min (and simanim), which we do not know how to properly apply. On the other hand, you seem to advocate (and actually eat? - referring to your feast of exotic oddities) basing kashrus of an animal on your understanding of simanim and min? Which is it?

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    1. A mesorah is needed for birds, not in lieu of the Torah's concept of min, but because we don't know the exact identities of the birds of the Torah. However, a mesorah is not needed for a new breed of chicken, since it is a chicken!

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  5. The toes on the braekel are 2 forward, 2 back. So it differs from other chickens in a matter relevant to deciding kashrus. Not as badly as leghorn chickens, where the feet are closer to predator talons, and most American chicken eggs are leghorn. We decided they were kosher a long time ago.

    And the second leading breed of chicken egg in the US is from the campine chicken. Which is an American evolution of the smaller subtype of breakel. (In Europe, the two subtypes interbred until there was only one breed.)

    In other words, while rabbanim in Israel argue about the kashrus of braekel chickens, Jews in America have been eating their eggs for decades without a further thought.

    This willingness to pasqen without even knowing what I could learn from 10 min with google is embarrassing, frankly.

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    1. "The toes on the braekel are 2 forward, 2 back. So it differs from other chickens in a matter relevant to deciding kashrus." No, the 2+2 is not relevant. When the Gemara mentions that, it has owls in mind, not chickens. Hopefully I will discuss this in a future post.

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    2. I mentioned Leghorns to say just that!

      But at least we know why there was a topic to even discuss.

      Meanwhile, we've been eating campine eggs for years, and the only way RMS could have prohibited is because he didn't know enough about the metzi'us to know the issue has been considered a non-question not worth even addressing for well over a century. As I said, in 10 min of googling I learned that campine chickens are both common in the US and descend from braekel chidrens. AND, that American O Jews routinely eat their eggs.

      (But funnier -- most of our eggs are leghorn, and if those were okay, lo kol shekein...)

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    3. I agree fully and would add that the apparent ignorance of metziut by some leading poskim is reflected in a number of kashrut areas. Some years ago there was a tumult in Israel about the Zebu cow which looks different than the more familiar (to Ashkenazim) European cow (the Zebu is the Afro-Asian bovine variety with a hump). The leading Israeli Hareidi posek judged the Zebu non-kosher since there was no European mesorah about it and Rav Avraham Danzig (Chai Adam) had ruled that even animals require a mesorah. When confronted with the fact that Sefardi Jews had been eating Zebu for many generations, he argued that their mesorah doesn't count for Ashkenazim. It then turned out that interbreeding of Zebu and European cows had been long practiced so that the cow meat long eaten in Israel was partly Zebu. This realization caused the matter to be dropped. Of course, the Zebu is simply a variety of cow and one that was native to the region. If anything, the question should have been asked about the European cow when Jews first migrated there. It wasn't because the European fulfilled the Torah's 2 criteria for eating land animals.


      The Braekel chicken issue falls into that category. As you pointed out, its eggs have been eaten for quite some time without any question raised. It is also a chicken that fulfills the Talmudic simanim for a kosher non-predatory bird. If anything, it is more similar to 'ordinary' chicken breeds than the leghorn chicken - much less the turkey. The latter clearly had no ancient mesorah since it is native to the new world and probably can't interbreed with chickens (at least I haven't heard of a 'turchick' or 'chickey'). Yet, the vast majority of frum Jews have no problem with eating turkey since it fulfills the Talmudic simanim for a kosher bird.

      Y. Aharon

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  6. Rav Slifkin, wouldn't it be fair to speak to the rabbonim involved before publicizing your opinion of their opinion?

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  7. I recall that the "Lev Tahor" group (and perhaps others) will not eat chicken, due to concerns about the "mesorah" of modern chickens.

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  8. The halachos requiring a "mesorah" are a geder, and I see no contradiction if, according to the Charedi interpretation, these halachos have their own unique definition of min

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  9. hey. watch your mouth

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  10. This doens't seem to me to be an insurmountable problem.
    If you count...

    1. deer and musk deer
    2. giraffe
    3. okapi
    4. pronghorn
    5. wild cattle
    6. duiker
    7. antelope
    8. gazelle
    9. chevrotain
    10. goat antelope

    1. Chazir - all pig varieties
    2. Gamal - dromedary and bactrian
    3. Shafan - llama, alpaca, quanaco, vicuna
    4. Arneves - extinct (past tense!)

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    1. LOL. So just randomly assigning names with no concern about whether they are reasonable translations. And you forgot that three of the ten are cows, sheep and goats.

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    2. I saw an article in a 1980s AOJS journal that suggested that shafan is indeed in lashon asid to imply New World animals (like the llama). but that gamal is mafreses parsah in present tense to refer to the dromedary camel that lives closer to Egypt, and thus part of that generation's experience. And arneves is a bactrian, which would be what Terach or Avraham would have been aware of, as they're closer to Ur Kasdim. And thus, lashon avar.

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    3. Not sure what is so funny. You also did not include the cows/sheep/goats. But the point is, that all known kosher animals can be made to fit into the 10 catergories without using a shoehorn.

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    4. R. MIcha - I also saw that article and discussed it in my book. It was ridiculous. See Tehillim 104.

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    5. Ten-Four - Sure I did. Sheep and goats are in the family of goat-antelopes. But in the Torah's list, they are Seh Kesavim. And goats are Seh Izim. And cattle are Shor. So you only have seven left. Pray tell me how you fit all the other species into those seven.

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  11. With due respect to Rabbi Hoffman, he seems to be confused about who would be prohibiting here. He quotes the Chasam Sofer and the Avnei Neizer to prohibit, but they both say explicitly that the if the "new" bird can interbreed with a kosher bird, then it is Kosher. And they were talking about a case like the Muscovy Duck where the interbred offspring could be sterile. Here we seem to be talking about a case where they can continue to reproduce.

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  12. What's your position on turkey?

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  13. So why do some people say otherwise? Partly because they have not undertaken a broader analysis of the topic, as discussed above. But there are also other reasons why people make a fuss about these things.

    I too am sure there are other reasons, such as "people" are more knowledgeable and more careful in Halacha.

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  14. While the charedie position with regard to the definition of "min" seems to be contradictory, in essense it isn't. The position is that we don't know how to define a "min", and therefore we take the chumrah position with regard to each. If we are dealing with an issur, then we will take and expansive view of the word "min", and if we are dealing with heter, we will take a narrow definition of the word "min". This general approach is quite standard in halacha, where definitions are not exact.

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  15. But Chaim Twerskym where is the doubt to be playing szfe about? Jews have been eating braekel chicken and their eggs for centuries, and they are merely one breed of actual chicken.

    What makes this whole thing so odd is this "question" only exists if one is trying to pasqen without knowimg the basic facts of the situation. Didn't anyine tell R'S that Jews in Europe and the US treat them as what they are - a breed of chicken?

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  16. There are hundreds of chicken breeds. Are we going to go through this with all of them?

    Why are they focused on this one?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_chicken_breeds

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  17. Rabbi Slifkin, I have to take issue with your statement that the Baerkel (Campine in the United States) has "not historically been used for food". This statement is highly inaccurate. This breed has certainly historically been used for food, more so for its eggs but also for its meat. It's not been a preferred breed for egg or meat production for some time but historically it has certainly been used for egg and secondary meat production (i.e. roosters and retired laying hens).

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  18. Just saw a booklet in shul saying that the Eida Chareidis specially introduced the Barkel chicken to Israel because it is an original chicken strain unlike modern chickens which are of unknown origin.

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  19. Rav Moshe Shternbuch of the Eida Chareidis in Yerushalayim forbids it.Sorry but this seams to be a fake news, I spoke yesterday with a Cho’het who called Rav Toviah Weiss and RAv Sternbuch, nor the first neither the second did forbid this chicken. Besides all chicken descend from the jungle fowl and were domesticated and introduced some millenniums ago first in the middle east and later in Europa. Selection brought all the varieties (including the infamous naked neck) but they remain one species so that later crossing between two varieties can’t be considered Kilayim. furthermore if you aren’t sure ask the chicken, I mean males of different species don’t compete, but if you put together two cocks of different varieties they will fight, they know they are both chicken .

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  20. the Breakel are a crossing between local chickens of the campine regio of Flanders, the US campine is more close to the original variety, look at wikipedia for further details.

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  21. Am I the only person to notice that Rav Sternbuch looks like the wizard from Fantasia's The Sorcerer's Apprentice in this picture?

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  22. I think there are two issues here, not just what's a "min", but what's a "massorah." Neither of these terms are defined by the halachic system with any level of sophistication or specificity.

    Staring at a particular chicken will not help and does not address the underlying challenge.

    However, I can understand why that's what one would do when one is uncomfortable with researching something systematically.




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Chicken Shtick

Question: Why did the chicken cross the road? Answer: To ask the posek if he needs a mesorah . Many news outlets this week were reporti...