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Chicken Wars III: The Bantam Menace
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 chickensLater 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.