Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Chicken Wars: The Monograph

I am pleased to release my latest monograph, Chicken Wars: The Raging Controversies Over Kosher Chickens. It is a discussion of the great chicken controversies of both the 19th and 21st centuries, along with discussion of bird kashrut in general and turkeys.

Much research went into this publication. If you feel that your or others benefit from it, please make a donation to The Biblical Museum of Natural History, at this link. We need your support in order to continue in our work of teaching adults and children across the spectrum of society about the relationship between Torah and the natural world. Thank you!

You can download the monograph at this link (5mb PDF). Share and enjoy!


  1. Yaasher Koach! This is exactly what the Torah world needs right now - halachic analysis informed by this thing called "reality".

  2. This monograph ignores the one thing I keep on harping on in reponse to your previous posts about the Braekel chicken controversy.

    Regardless of halachic theory or precedent in other breeds or species of birds, the whole existence of a controversy is only possible in ignorance of or willfully ignoring the history of Jews and the Braekel chicken itself.

    The Braekel chicken was a popular bird (or more precisely: popular pair of very similar gene pools) in Central Europe. In 1416 it was already described as a commonly raised farm bird in Brakel, Belgium.

    Current Braekel chickens are the product of interbreeding between those two lines. As are Campine chickens, here in the US. (Named for the Kempesche Braekel, the side of the gene pool that was lighter, from Kempen, Belgium.)

    This means that we're asking about the kashrus of a bird the Maharil and the Mahari-Weil, whose names probably appear in every siman in the Rama, had no problem with. And Jews have been eating both their meet and their eggs continuously for the past 500 years.

    What mesorah question? The only reason why Bnei Braq even can push back on this is the willful ignorance of the realities of this world that are rife in their community. Chareidikite has gotten to the extreme where it's interfering with the ability to pasqen. To my mind, that's the news story.

    R Wosner's original question is just a simple example of a common problem -- the evaporation of the mimetic tradition leading to unprecedented textual chumeros.

    1. Haym Soloveitchik would be proud :)

    2. Well, sort of. The loss of memetic tradition is a huge problem. (As I often joke, everything always leads back to Rupture and Reconstruction.) But other times it is nothing more than money. It happens often in kashrus situations, and that's exactly what appears to be the case here. You have an organization with a lot of money and time vested in their particular chicken product. But they obviously believe "negative campaigning works", and so they have to convince the public that chicken A is treif, while only theirs, chicken B, is kosher.

      As noted before, the claim that vegetables - which we've all eaten for millennia - are "infested" only took on steam when a rabbi in Lakewood started a vegetable-selling company. Now, of course, there's a whole industry associated with it, including competing heimishe brands, "bug-checking lights" and trainers. Its up to the public to not be fooled by the scare-mongering.

    3. Mesora does not mean a tradition on the existence of the bird, rather on the fact that they actually ate it.

      The Maharil is not on the record as having eaten this bird, why would its existence in his time prove anything?

    4. Actually, I took it for granted that if 1/4 (or even far fewer) of the "hinder" in your region were treif, someone somewhere would have had to pasqen about it -- or at least warn the masses.

      Much like my assumption about Campine eggs. Did you ever hear of an American rav requiring that someone check the source of a chicken (or, if you prefer "chicken") egg, rather than just buying a carton in the store? Of a hekhsher requiring the breed of chicken to be checked before putting their trademark logo on an egg carton?

      I know the Maharil ate Braekel chickens the same way I know that Rav Moshe Feinstein must have eaten Campine chicken eggs.

    5. Do we have any complete literature of the times of the Maharil? Do we have a complete picture of his times?

      Your argument seems extremely frivolous. As they say in Yeshivos "would you be mattir an agunah on such a flimsy sevara?" Would you invest money on the idea that everything that made waves in the 15th century has been passed down through the generations?

      I actually don't think the Braekel is Ossur, but your argument does not seem to be correct.

    6. I don't think there are any eggs with a hechsher (except for shelled eggs, etc)

      When I visit Hong Kong, I saw eggs I presume are not kosher (they look weird). Then I go into a fruit store (called vegetable store all over the world, e.g., chanut yerakot, not chanut perot. But in America, say vegetable store and people think you're weird.) And I find eggs in a Styrofoam package product of Lakewood (not heimish, Lakewood is an old chicken farm town, a few left in the area. I'm told the host of the Lakewood carlebach minyan inherited such a farm. Note, carlebach yarzeit this motzei shabbat Sunday.)

    7. Sholem Berel: I wasn't talking about the days of the Maharil -- I was talking about 5 or 6 centuries of Central European Jews. Including, very notably, the Maharil. (Given the Maharil's influence on the Rama, and thus Ashkenazi pesaq.)

      Breakel chicken was refers to as an old breed there in 1416, and was common in that reigion until the inter-war period a little under a century ago. And Campine chicken eggs, which is the American variant of Breakel (bred from Kempishe Braekel chickens) are still to this day a sizable percentage of eggs in the US -- eaten by *all* the famous posqim who do or did live here.

      I don't need records from the Maharil's day -- their permissibly has been a continually active pesaq.

  3. It would have been nice had you provided any references to the scientific literature regarding your claims about what modern science has to say on the topic (the lineage of chickens, etc.).

  4. Thanks for the interesting monograph. While I largely found it convincing, I am not anything like a posek, so don't really get an opinion in the matter.

    The main thing that I thought was missing is a convincing argument that min is necessarily broader than species in all cases. In particular you state that any animal that interbreeds and bears fertile offspring must necessarily be the same min, but don't really bring any argument or convincing source for that opinion. I know you brought sources that say that if they breed they are the same min, but those were disputed sources. There was no broader source for your contention that if the offspring are fertile then all agree that they are the same min. Notwithstanding the seeming logic of this position, it would be good to know if there are undisputed sources that state it.

    As an aside, presumably were one to wish it would be possible to selectively breed a chicken that has none of the signs of a kosher bird or positively has signs of non-kosher birds (I guess it would be pretty difficult to breed a predatory chicken, but who knows). Were one to do such a thing would you say it was a kosher or non-kosher bird. What if it was selectively bred so far to make it no longer breed with "normal" chickens (again I don't know how hard this would be to actually do; presumably very difficult but theoretically not impossible).

    1. I think that's an extremely hypothetical question. I don't see how cross-breeding various chickens with the three kosher signs could produce one without them, except maybe through freak mutations or direct genetic engineering. But I would assume that if you did produce such a creature, it would not be kosher.

      Of course, I can imagine arguments going the other direction as well.

      This sort of reminds me of the controversial "kosher pig" from 30 years ago. I remember, in the 80's, that a group in China somehow bred (or claimed to have bred) a pig that chewed cud. At least that's what I remember from the news at the time. There was a lot of discussion about whether such a creature would be considered kosher or not. I don't remember the outcome, but I assume the decision was that it is not kosher (possibly after looking more closely and discovering that it isn't really chewing cud) since I've never heard of anyone serving it.

  5. A few comments and questions.

    1. Was the dispute over the Leghorn chicken part of the dispute you discuss in the monograph?

    2. What is the earliest source for the Shelah's chumra not to eat turkey?

    3. Were there other machmirim besides the Maharam Schick in the controversy over the Cochin?

    4. I also thought at first that the broadside you refer to was comparing questionable chickens to rats. However, it has become clear through subsequent broadsides that it was really about a completely different topic: women getting degrees to advance their careers. Maybe that could be your next post.


  7. Despite your attempt to hype up this controversy with Lucasfilm references, I think this is really a tempest in a teapot as far as the average kosher consumer--even in Israel--is concerned.

    You claim that "the issues raised in this controversy are leading many people to avoid eating the commercially available breeds of chicken."
    Really? "many people?" I haven't heard of any such trend.

    You claim you are publishing this research because it pains you to see that people are needlessly refraining from eating chicken.

    You casually accuse the various sides on this controversy of not simply trying to find the breed of chicken with the highest standards, but also having an agenda to either retain or take over control the kosher chicken industry for financial reasons.

    But I suspect that you have an agenda of your own--to show to your readership that once again, the Chareidi world which rejected you is displaying ignorance of the basic truths of science and is egregiously misinformed when it addresses the interface between halacha and the natural world.

    You no doubt derive great personal satisfaction from showing up what you believe to be the ignorance of the greatest poskim in the chareidi sector.

    So please don't insult our intelligence by professing that those poor chareidim who aren't eating chicken is what moves you.

    1. Classic Kornreich. After ten years of running a blog in which he incessantly tried to distort R. Slifkin's positions and always interpret him in the worst light possible, he's at it again.

      R. Slifkin, who has spent years writing on all different aspects of Torah and animals, writes on one more aspect of this topic, which happens to be immediately relevant. But Kornreich can only see nefarious intent.

      Classic Kornreich.

    2. I think that it's actually a rather milquetoast comment. Can't object much to the substance; instead, it's that the conclusion is so obvious that no one really disputes it, so it is not important.

  8. Thank you for this informative article.

  9. Excellent chicken article. 2 minor points.

    (1)You say (page 13) the netziv would permit breakel and all chicken breeds. However the netziv permits turkey based on wide spread acceptance and the breakel has not been widely accepted.

    (2) You say many others follow the shulchan oruch and rema in their adoption of rashi's stringency that a mesorah is needed to permit a new type of bird.

    Is there an implication that those who permit turkey/cochin have to disregard shulchan oruch, ?

    but as you say not all those who permit turkey/cochins say they are disregarding the shulchan oruch, there are those who say the shulchan oruch would agree that turkey/cochin is permited because of hybridization or long term observation.

    so really there 3 categories when it comes to turkey/cochin. (1)those who permit despite rema,(2) those who permit and interpret the rema as permitting and (3)Those who forbid and interpret the rema as forbidding.

    1. (1)You say (page 13) the netziv would permit breakel and all chicken breeds. However the netziv permits turkey based on wide spread acceptance and the breakel has not been widely accepted.

      I need to reread the article, but it certainly has been widely accepted that all breeds of chicken are kosher even though they differ from those in the past (at least ones that look chickens to the untrained eye). The Braekel thing is new (going both ways).

    2. but it certainly has been widely accepted that all breeds of chicken are kosher

      silkie chicken is widely accepted as kosher ?

    3. Netziv would permit all chickens not because they have all been eaten (silkie hasn't), but because he accepts the hybridization principle.

    4. Braekel chickens are NOT new. They're new to Israel, but they were common for centuries in Central Europe.

      See my comment posted October 25, 2017 at 8:57 PM, at
      Hopefully my latest response to that thread and this comment will be approved in the same round.


      the netziv in the first paragraph starting ivra he asks that a wild goose is not kosher even though it can hybridize with geese. then concludes nevertheless that if the turkey can hybridize with each other even when there are males and females from 2 types of geese together it is evidence that turkey is of same type (of goose)

      I do not understand what is he saying. anybody care to explain?

  10. A friend asked me how Rabbi Landau's opinion could be so easily dismissed. He insists that Rabbi Landau is both very familiar with scientific inquiry and is not overwhelmed by authoritative pressure. Have you looked into his position on the subject?

  11. I don't recall seeing this Midrash quoted in the monograph, but it's a great and relevant illustration of the degree of empirical research required for establishing Kashrut:

    בִּימֵי רַבִּי חִיָּא רַבָּה עָלָה זַרְזִיר אֶחָד לְאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲתוֹן טְעִינִין לֵיהּ לְגַבֵּיהּ, אֲמָרוּ לֵיהּ מַהוּ דְּנֵיכְלִינֵיהּ, אֲמַר לוֹן אַזְלוּן יַהֲבוּ יָתֵיהּ עַל אִגָּרָא, וְכָל עוֹף דְּשָׁכַן עַל גַּבֵּיהּ מִן מִינֵיהּ הוּא, אֲזַלִין יַהֲבוּ יָתֵיהּ עַל אִגָּרָא וַאֲתָא הָדֵין עוֹרְבָא מִצְרָאָה שְׁכַן עַל גַּבֵּיה, אֲמַר מְסָאַב הוּא דְּמִן מִינֵּיהּ הוּא דִּכְתִיב: וְאֵת כָּל עֹרֵב לְמִינוֹ. אָמֵרוּ לֹא הָלַךְ עוֹרֵב אֵצֶל זַרְזִיר אֶלָּא שֶׁהוּא מִינוֹ.

    In the days of R. Chiya Rabba, a single Zarzir (bird similar to a raven) came up to Israel. The students brought it to R. Chiya Rabba and said to him, "what is the law, can we eat this?" He said to them, "Go place it on the roof, and any bird which perches next to it is clearly of its' species.." They went and placed it on the roof, and an Egyptian raven came and perched next to it. He said, " it is clear that it is of the same species (and therefore not Kosher), as it says "and every raven to its' species" meaning to say, the raven only went next to the Zarzir because they are of the same species.

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