Sunday, September 10, 2017

Chicken Wars III: The Bantam Menace

The Braekel
Episode III of Chicken Wars: Over Shabbos, I had the dubious pleasure of reading through the kuntrus/manifesto put out by Mesoras Taharas Ohfos (a.k.a. the Braekel Alliance, formed of representatives from the Wosner and Karelitz families, along with others) - the group claiming that all the chickens being sold over the last few decades, from bantam to Brahma, are not kosher, and that everyone has to buy the newly-rediscovered Braekel variety (at a premium price).

It's clear that the Braekel Alliance have invested enormous resources into all this. They've been working on this for years - sending people all over the world for research and specimen acquisition, raising vast flocks of Braekels, recruiting support. (The rabbinic letters included in the manifesto calls on everybody to respect the Braekel Alliance's monopoly on the only kosher chicken for at least fifteen years!) Still, it's also clear that their logic is deeply, deeply flawed.

The arguments put forth by the Braekel Alliance are as follows:
1) There are many thousands of minim of birds, including hundreds of minim of chickens.
2) Most types of birds are not kosher (for which they name "the Rishonim on Chullin" as a source).
3) The chickens that have been commercially sold for the last few decades were developed with unknown types of unknown lineages.
- Hence, it is overwhelmingly likely that commercial chickens are not kosher.

Point 1 is false. Point 2 is likely not to be true. Point 3 is technically true but highly misleading.

1) There are many thousands of species of birds. But there are very few minim. (See my post Chicken Shtick.) And with chickens, there are only four species (in the Gallus genus) and almost certainly only one min.

2) The Gemara (Chullin 63b) says that there are more kosher birds than non-kosher. The Rishonim raise the question that if so, why can't one rely on that for eating eggs of unknown origin? Various answers are given. Some Rishonim say that actually there are more sub-types, or more individuals, of non-kosher birds. But Ramban and Ran stay with the straightforward meaning of the Gemara and give other reasons as to why one can't eat unfamiliar eggs. And Darchei Teshuvah discusses at length how there are indeed more kosher types (and gives reasons as to why one cannot simply rely on that to eat any unfamiliar bird). Also, it's pretty clear that the non-kosher birds are birds of prey, and fishing birds, and other aberrant types (like ostriches and bats). They are not game birds, like pheasants and quail and partridges and chickens.

3) It is true that the chickens that have been commercially sold for the last few decades were developed with unknown types of unknown lineages. But these unknown types were all chickens! They were simply different varieties of chickens, all being the same min.

The red junglefowl, ancestor of all domestic chickens
Later in the manifesto, there is a section dedicated to refuting objections. One of the objections is presented perfectly (and is entirely correct) - namely, that all chickens are descendants of wild junglefowl (genus Gallus), and are merely different mutations. The Braekel Alliance attempt to refute this in two ways.

First, they claim that it is impossible for all chickens to be descended from wild junglefowl, because the Gemara in Niddah 50b (actually, they cite 2b, but it's a typo and they mean 50b) says that "wild chickens" are not kosher. But this is completely mistaken. When the Gemara says that the "tarnegol d'bra" is not kosher, this does not refer to a wild Gallus species, none of which lived anywhere close to Chazal's region. Rather, it refers to some other species of bird which shares some rough similarities to chickens.

Second, they argue that the claim that all chickens are descendants of junglefowl is "nonsense" which stems from "the heresy of gentiles" - "that man was created from monkeys, and other such things - dust in their mouths!" I am not going to get into details of rebutting this. But suffice it to say that the fact of chickens being domesticated from junglefowl (in particular, the red junglefowl, Gallus gallus, with some grey junglefowl mixed in) is very well established indeed, and it only took place a few thousand years ago, not millions of years ago.

Chickens are chickens are chickens. They are all descended from junglefowl. They can all interbreed. And they are all kosher.


  1. according to wiki, chickens make an appearance first 7,400 years ago in china

    this may be a theological problem for some.

    the paper also states that the earliest undisputed domestic chicken remains are bones associated with a date of approximately 5,400 BC from the Chishan site, in the Hebei province of China.

    1. Given that the Jewish world goes back only as far as 3761 BCE, and likely a few years beyond that, these citations have no impact on halacha.

    2. @DOC "..Hebei province of China..." See those are the Hebrews (spelled Hebei in Chinese) who domesticated the first chicken. That is why chickens are kosher. :)

  2. When the Gemara says that the "tarnegol d'bra" is not kosher, this does not refer to a wild Gallus species, none of which lived anywhere close to Chazal's region. Rather, it refers to some other species of bird which shares some rough similarities to chickens.

    Do we know what this was?

    1. Very difficult to say but one of the sign being "cholek raglav" one can risk to say some semi-zygodactyl birds like the osprey,interesting enough most diurnal bird of prey are anisodactyl and thus no "cholek raglav".

  3. Their are also archaeological evidences that the fayuma breed was imported by some pharaoh from Sri Lanka together with the subspecies of jungle fowls they descend from, and it's possible that some "baladi" (local in Arabic) chickens resembling the Braekel are related to the fayuma (in fact "baladi" isn't a breed they are the local bred chickens with origin can't surely not be traced, rational agriculture beeing foreign to the local farmers), there are some says that the breakel in descended from fayumas brought by the romans in Belgium but this is controversial and can't be confirmed without DNA profiling, besides colour isn't much relevant to trace ancestry because it depends on recurrent mutations, with the chicken genome project completed it is possible to retrace the history of chicken introduction in the Middle East and Mediterranean first and then in Europa and USA, but it is complicated by the multiple crossing that occurred in thousands of years of breeding.

  4. I'm not sure that "interbreeding" is a halachic criteria for determining the "min" of an animal.
    If you've grown up on biology, it may be hard to think otherwise, but halachically, who is to say that interbreeding is at all a relevant criteria?
    For instance, our concept of work would forbid us from schlepping heavy benches on Shabbos. But halchically, this is not melacha, whereas writing scribbling two letters on a sheet of paper is!

    1. It is, indeed, one of the halakhic criteria.

    2. " It is, indeed, one of the halakhic criteria. "

      Can you expand on this?
      R. Slifkin's point here is that all chickens are one min, or part of one min, so interbreeding shouldn't matter because whatever can interbreed is the same min. So it would be interesting to see halocho say different. I realise Rav Landa shlit''a paskened the other way, and this seems to reflect a much narrower perspective on what is a min.

  5. I presume that all chickens have a crop and an extra finger. Do they all have gizzards that are peelable by hand?

  6. Just a small comment regarding the Torah's usage of the word "min": It seems that each of the animal names is meant to be a broad category that includes several "minim" within it: The Torah adds the word "lemina" or "lemino" or "leminehu" after some of the animal names (at least by the birds [Lev. 11, Deut. 14] and the locusts [Lev. 11]).

  7. So my great grandfather and grandfather two rabbinic giants of the litvak-misnaggid tradition ate treif chicken - I am pretty sure they did not only eat Braekel ? And my extended orthodox Jewish family have been eating treif ? Oh, come on. Some sane Rabbi's have speak out against yet another expensive gimmick to get into heaven. I would thank Rabbi Slifkin, but people may hold that against him

  8. > all the chickens being sold over the last few decades, from bantam to Brahma, are not kosher,

    And a few years ago, IIRC, one of the Eidensohn brothers wrote that he could prove that pretty much every get issued in the US over the last few decades is posul. So if we're mostly a bunch of treif eating mamzerim, why bother keeping up the facade of observance?

    1. Because I haven't eaten chicken for 30 years and never been divorced! Nor do I care what anybody says in B'nei Brak or equivalent.

    2. "He could prove" is probably not halachically relevant. Halacha has it's own rules, and once a get has been done with a competent authority it is valid. IMHO.
      It seems obvious to me that the reason the Braekel elicited such a response (after all it does seem to be just another chicken) is this claim that everyone has been eating non kosher chickens, which is a chutzpah to say the least, and the consequent attempt to corner the market at a premium price.

  9. And just to nitpick, your first post should have been: Chicken Wars IV: A New Cluck. Your second should have been Chicken Wars V and this one Chicken Wars without a number.


    So is a duck a duck?

    Dr. Taylor said a student of hers put it best: “The whole idea of speciation is like a mountain range. It’s easy to tell the differences between peaks, but saying where one starts and another begins is very difficult.”

  11. They are all descended from junglefowl\\
    Jungle ancestors

    Once, there were no chickens. Instead, there were just their wild ancestors – jungle fowl. The untamed descendants of these birds still live in the bamboo forests of what are now India and South-East Asia.

    They run across the forest floor like miniature velociraptors, kicking aside the fallen leaves with their strong legs and pecking at whatever they find with their powerful curved beaks.

    Jungle fowl roost up in the trees, heads under their wings, and, if disturbed, protest noisily. Their enemies include cats, pythons and hunters; rumour has it they taste like chicken.

    And yet, unlike many other tasty gamebirds and ground-dwelling crakes and rails, they survived and have roamed these forests for millions of years. They have made it by dint of a surprising intelligence, their fecundity and – like any of us – luck.

  12. The sad reality is that money and investment lie at the root of much of the kosher industry and the scare-mongering of Judaica (e.g. esrogim, vegetables, gelatin, etc.) It's been that way for a long time, and I mean back to the times of the Gemara. I had a longer post written with much more detail, but the whole thing is just do disheartening, I didn't have the heart to put it out there.

    Suffice it to say, never subcontract out your common sense. Don't be fooled by halachic fear-mongering. Don't be afraid to buy something or eat something that companies or men with competing interests tell you is treif. Don't worry about Yenem. And recognize that even ostensibly the most religious people - even Dayanim in the time of Moshe - can be perverted by money.

    And that's all I'm going to say.

  13. While I am not that familiar with Israeli Chareidi culture, I am surprised by all this. Aren't they suggesting that (among many others) the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rav and Rav Shach, and the Steipler and all the other Chareidi Gedolim of the past few generations were eating treif chickens? Does that really play well in Chareidi society in Israel? I wouldn't have thought so. And I would have thought that the obvious Negios of offering a psak coupled with a demand for a monopoly would cause raised eyebrows.

    1. I assure you that they didn't eat those treife chickens. Did you ever see them eating them? No.
      Does anyone else remember seeing them?
      If those chickens are now treife then they have always been treife and it is impossible that the gedolim ate them.

      Remember, who controls the present controls the past and future.

  14. There is no question in my mind that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews will continue eating the same chicken they have been eating for the last century without any qualms. The Braekel chicken will also be eaten by the majority of Jews if the price is right. If the price is inflated, then only the small minority of the followers of Rabbi Landa and Rabbe Karelitz will be eating them.


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