Monday, May 16, 2022

Chicken Wars: Return of the Zealots

The Chicken Wars started back in 2017, when there was warning of "The Bantam Menace." A group of zealots argued that no chickens sold today are kosher, since they have been hybridized with unknown types that lack a mesorah. They formed a Braekel Alliance, claiming that the Braekel - an unusual and expensive heritage breed - is the only kosher type. Naturally, the entire kosher poultry empire decided to strike back, insisting that not only are regular chickens kosher, but also that Braekels are not kosher. The Braekel Alliance was crushed.

But the zealots were not finished. Within the last few weeks, it's all started up again. This time there is no attempt (that I know of) to push for the Braekel, but there is a concerted effort to ban all chicken. There are pashkevilim and flyers and booklets and letters being circulated, all insisting that today's chickens are not kosher. The zealots have amassed support from a growing list of rabbonim, headed by Rav Moshe Shaul Klein, who runs Rav Wosner's Beis Din and is a major Posek Halacha in Israel. 

It's easy to ridicule this, but it is no laughing matter. I've met people who haven't eaten chickens or eggs or anything made with egg derivatives (such as mayonnaise) in years. Many people are very easy to frighten about kashrut risks, and it's always easier to be strict than to do something that risks being perceived as lenient.

The problem is that virtually nobody really understands this topic. The zealots are indeed correct that all commercially available chickens have been hybridized with unknown types. To understand why this doesn't have any ramifications for kashrut requires a thorough understanding of three things: scientific taxonomy, chicken history, and halachic taxonomy. And almost nobody has studied these three things and how they interact with each other.

Consequently, I am very keen to get my booklet Chicken Wars: The Raging Controversies over Kosher Chickens into circulation, in both its English and Hebrew versions. They are now available as a free digital download on the website of The Biblical Museum of Natural History, but we are also looking for someone to sponsor the printing and distribution of them. It's important to spread correct information about this before it gets any more out of hand. If you'd like to be involved in this project, please write to advancement@BiblicalNaturalHistory.org.


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35 comments:

  1. It's very interesting! I've never heard about this controversy (I live in France), for me, the only chicken problem was and still is the conditions of life of the chicken...I hold with the opinion that forced feeding of geese is forbidden (and their meat is trefa) as well as the treatment of calves. In this logic, "classical" treatment of chicken (in 56 days they have to grow to 1,5-2 kg, stress induced by high concentration of chicken in small closed space...) leads to meat which I don't consider kosher. So I look for bio or equivalent labels (+kosher, of course) which is not easy...

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  2. The Farce Awakens

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  3. Are the believers in this mostly pescetarian? Surely they can't afford to regularly eat red meat.

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    1. Remember that a bunch of them are also going along with incredibly restrictive rulings that whole classes of formerly-kosher fish are now treif. And further, that in opposition to thousands of years of Jewish tradition fish aren't automatically considered properly schechted. They have to come from specific grifters who coincidentally support the rabbonim making these rulings

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  4. A lot of animals we have today didn't exist back in the day, at least in their current breeds. The cows of Tanach and Chazal were obviously different than ours. Few if any even *ate* chicken until well after the time of Tanach. Modern domesticated turkeys can't even survive in the wild. (Of course, turkey opens a whole other problem.) And don't even get started on dogs...this is breeding. It's always happened, and always will.

    (It's also a good riposte to vegetarians. If we all stopped eating animals, millions of cows and chickens would have nowhere to go and just...die, probably. Add to that that they wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for humans. Doesn't mean we shouldn't be nice to them, but it puts it in context.)

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    1. What is "obviously" different about our cattle? Not arguing; I legitimately am curious. I would only guess that cattle used to be smaller due to the cost of bringing a bull today as a korban must be very high!

      (I know about the aurochs, but I didn't think that that qualified as domestic cattle. And if domestic cattle descended from aurochsen, then they presumbaly were BIGGER than they eventually became, thus negating the previous paragraph...)

      And wise, moderate vegetarians might say that sure, don't everyone stop eating meat overnight, but phase it out over a generation so that the industry doesn't implode and the animals don't die unnecessarily. Insert joke about finding such a person...

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    2. Presumably "stopping eating animals" would happen over a period of years, rather than overnight, and the numbers of chickens, cows, etc. bred and raised for their meat would decline accordingly.

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    3. If God didn't want us to eat animals, He wouldn't have covered them all in meat.
      GP

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    4. The only breed of chicken we can be sure existed back then is the Red Jungle Fowl, the ancestor of modern chickens. None of the breeds of sheep, cattle, domestic pigeons, ducks, geese, squabs, etc. that existed during Biblical times exist today in exactly the form they did then. Wild-type animals and fowl? Yes, allowing for genetic drift, but not the domestic ones.

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  5. One of my mechutanim doesn't eat chicken - although he does eat turkey. He insisted that at the wedding we only serve beef and turkey (and he insisted on paying the extra expense himself). All of his children DO eat chicken, however.

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    1. what is his shita on turkey vs chicken?
      kt

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    2. Religious boredom is a terrible thing.

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    3. Weaver has hit it on the head. These movements rise out of an obsessive need to find more nuances in Jewish life. Life is too easy and performing mitzvot is too easy. We procure a perfect shofar, a perfect esrog, perfect matzot, etc... without a second thought. Historic halachic issues such as what to do if there isn't enough money for Chanukah candles are obsolete. What's left to fulfill the spiritual obsession? Crackpot movements intended to show that only they follow authentic Judaism.

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    4. Weaver & SZ, exactly. But apparently it is unavoidable. And universal enough to extend even to secularists. It thus manifests itself in the religious component of liberalism, like having mercy on sharks. At the other spectrum it manifests itself in Chumrahs. "Unfortunately" ;), life is easier than other times in history and people have all this unused energy. Be very careful what you take away from people if you don't know what they will replace it with. In the worst case scenarios, people have been weaned from cigarettes, which were their emotional crutches, and when the cigarettes were gone, the people committed suicide ....

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  6. Amshanover chasidim eat turkey and no chicken at all...

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    1. I'm mystified why someone would eat turkey and not chicken. My understanding has always been that the kashrut of turkey was based on a mistake by poskim, who thought turkey (unknown till brought from the Americas) was a peacock! But that it was subsequently allowed despite the initial error.

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  7. Does those rejecting the commonly available chickens eat turkey?

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  8. People shouldn't eat animals, period.

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  9. Wasn't April Fools last month?

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  10. I'm having trouble downloading the book

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  11. There is a halachic maxim that kosher animals cannot interbreed with non-kosher animals. Thus even hybrid chicken varieties must be kosher.

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    1. unless chicken itself is unkosher

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    2. But no-one claims that.

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  12. This is about as big as a controversy, and equally dangerous, as the burka ladies. That was nothingburger of a "controversy", and so is this. There are always going to be some people with unusual customs. R. Hershel Shachter doesn't eat turkey, and is one of the most influential poskim in the world today, certainly at least among the more MO, and yet how many people have actually followed his lead? Not that many.
    GP

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    1. R. Shachter isn't campaigning for other people not to eat turkey.

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  13. “...kashrut requires a thorough understanding of three things: scientific taxonomy, chicken history, and halachic taxonomy...”
    What an irrational thought. The architect of our incomprehensible, unimaginably complex universe wants you to concern yourself with whose chicken kashrut compliance is approved of? What rubbish! It takes something like this to exhort folks to go OTD.

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  14. Also the pdf doesn't download for me either and if I put it into a cart I get charged ₪360

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    1. Strange, there have been innumerable successful downloads. Maybe try a different computer.

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    2. What is promo account?

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    3. I had no issues downloading the document. You have to go through the process of adding the book to the shopping cart, etc. and they want your name (but no credit card info). After completing the order there was a button that appeared saying "Download". Very simple.

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  15. Will the title of the your Hebrew booklet be called "Kuntrus מלחמות עוף"? It has to sound frum, you know : )

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  16. Re: story you quote from R. Loike involving RAK. I assume neither of you speaks Yiddish?
    "The shochet pointed to one of the yungeleit (members of the Kollel), who like many members of the Kollel at that time was clean shaven. “What’s that?” asked the shochet. Surprised, Rav Kotler responded that it was a yungeleit. “That’s a yungeleit?!” said the shochet. “In Europe, that is not what the yungeleit looked like!” In end, the chicken was slaughtered."

    'Yungeleit' (or yungerleit) is plural, the singular form is yungerman. Also the last quoted sentence should read "In the end etc."

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  17. RNS and other Rabbis have to speak out against those religious who are turning Orthodox Judaism into an unbearable and unlivable religion for the vast majority of religious Jews or Jews who want to remain or become religious. Cult behavior, Extremism in food, dress, purity, yom tovim, …… I am certain my great grandfather and grandfather both esteemed Orthodox European Rabbis would be repelled by what is taking place. Chicken IS KOSHER, my grandfather slaughtered them and paskined Sheila’s about kashurus. What is not Kosher are the people advocating Chicken is not Kosher. BTW Turkey is also kosher. ACJA

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  18. There was a yeshiva in Europe where the students were shaven!

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