The War of the Chicken Breeds – A Halachic Analysis

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(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman For The 5 Towns Jewish Times)

It is a halachic issue that is achieving near viral status and is at the center of a great Kashrus debate happening throughout the Kashrus agencies of Eretz Yisroel.  The OU is watching the issue carefully, and has not issued an opinion on it.  Thus far, however, it is only an issue in Eretz Yisroel and Europe.

The first media mention of the issue appeared on Yeshiva World News.  Then it was picked up by Arutz Sheva.  Now it has even reached the non-Jewish poultry news sites.  The veritable war concerns a halachic debate about whether a specific breed of chicken called, “Braekel” – has a halachic Mesorah (tradition) to permit its consumption in terms of Kashrus.  The Braekel, primarily used for egg consumption, originated in a section of Belgium where there were no Jews.  It was not commercially exported either.  It was a lone solitary chicken.  Does this mean that it is considered a chicken without a Mesorah – a tradition that allows us to consume it?  Rav Nissim Karelitz of Bnei Brak permits the Braekel.  Rav Moshe Shternbuch of the Eida Chareidis in Yerushalayim forbids it.

What is the background behind this debate?

The Torah gave us a list of Tameh birds that also are non-kosher. This list is found in Parshas Shmini (Vayikra 11:12-19). Technically, if not for another rule found in the Ramah, if a bird is not on the list it would not be forbidden.

The Mishna in tractate Chullin gives us four signs in regard to the list of birds in the Torah.

  • It says (sign #1) that every bird that is a dores “a predator” is not a kosher bird.
  • It also says (sign #2) that every kosher bird has an extra toe.
  • It also says (sign #3) that all kosher birds have a zefek, a crop – (in scientific language it is called “ingluvius” in the Torah it is called “more’eh.” See Vayikra 1:16). The crop is an expanded, muscular pouch near the gullet or throat. It is a part of the digestive tract, essentially an enlarged part of the esophagus. As with most other organisms that have a crop, the crop is used to temporarily store food.
  • All kosher birds also have a peelable korkuvan, or a gizzard (sign #4). This is called a “pupik” in Yiddish.

Nonetheless, based upon the ruling of the Ramah, we only consume birds that we have a tradition to eat from the past.

What about newly discovered birds?  Although we had no tradition for the turkey, when it was discovered in the New World, the Poskim permitted it either because either

  1. They classified it as a type of chicken (Dvar Halacha #53 p. 74), and there was no concern that it was a cross-fertilization from the list of forbidden birds or
  2. Because it was discovered prior to the adoption and spread of the ruling of the Ramah (Shoel UMaishiv YD III 1:15).

The truth is that the Gemorah in Chullin 62b states that there is one particular chicken called a Tarnegolah d’agma (a lake chicken), which is actually not kosher because it is predatory (see Rashi).  This is indicative that a Mesorah for sub breeds is necessary.

PROBLEM

The fact is, however, all chicken breeders in modern times do need to introduce fresh bloodlines into the chickens because otherwise the breed will dwindle and die out.  Halachically, however, we may not rely upon the testimony of non-Jews or even the organizations in charge of certifying chicken breeds that the “fresh bloodline” originate from a kosher bird with a Mesorah.  How then does it work that we can consume chickens and eggs of the breeds that we do eat?

NO DETECTABLE CHANGE

The answer is that if after the introduction there is no detectable change in any of the limbs of the chicken that changes its appearance significantly from the chicken that we have a tradition of eating it is still considered kosher.  This is based upon a responsum of the Chasam Sofer (Yore Deah #75 “ul’didi”).  The Chasam Sofer says that there is no need for a Mesorah on each and every chicken, rather, all chickens that appear like a breed that we do have a tradition for is acceptable – unless there is a demonstrable difference that may indicate that they are two different breeds.  Then we would require a separate tradition for that breed.  This is a crucial Chasam Sofer that lies at the heart of the debate between the two sides.

The Avnei Naizer (75:2) cites the same criterion as the Chasam Sofer.

TWO DIFFERENT BRAEKEL BREEDS

It is interesting to note that non-Jewish breeders and historians write that originally there were two different breeds of Braekel chicken.  There was the one of the Flanders region of Belgium and the one from the Kempen region slightly south.  The Kempen Braekel was a bantam version of the larger Flanders version.  The Braekel first appears in the goyish literature in 1416 (see the French journal Annual Journal of Veterinary Medicine 2012, Vol. 156, pp 37-65).  Eventually, both Braekel breeds merged together to form one current breed.

SIZE IS NOT A DIFFERENCE

The Arugas HaBosem #16 writes that differences in size of various chickens is not considered a deficit in this regard because all chickens vary in size – some are bigger and some are smaller.  It is interesting to note that the Flanders region is a much more fertile area of Belgium than is the Kempen region, and this probably explains how they were originally of a different size.

This issue is qualified by the Daas Kedoshim (cited in Toras HaOf page 30) that if the size difference is one of limb proportion – then it is considered a problem. If the legs of one breed are disproportional to the chicken than that of the other breed – then the disproportional one requires its own Mesorah.  This is also the view of the Maharsham in Siman 16 of the Darchei Shalom section of his Daas Torah volumes.

There was also something that we may call, “The Great Leghorn Scare of 2004.”   Leghorns are primarily used for egg-laying purposes as well.  Apparenty, someone discovered that the leghorns individually spread their chicken feet.  This is a sign of a predatory bird and if it is predatory then it would be considered non-kosher according to the Ramah!

An investigation of the matter took place.  According to the author of the Torash HaOf, the investigation revealed that a] these chickens grasp individually but not in the manner that true predatory birds do and b] it is only the cooped up chickens that grasp, but the free0range leghorns do not grasp.  The matter was also ruled upon by Rav Fishel Hershkowitz zt”l – the Klausenberger Dayan as well as the Knei Bosem Vol. IV #46.

Leghorn chickens were deemed halachically permitted.

This author reached out to Rav Shternbuch’s son and Gabbai who said that there are some six or seven differences between this chicken and other breeds that do have a Mesorah.  This week a live chicken was brought to Rav Shternbuch and others so that the issue can be examined.  Thus far, the BaDatz of the Eida Chareidis has not permitted it.

One difference is that the legs are rounder than other kosher breeds.  The wing shape is also slightly different.  But are these considered significant differences?  It seems that the Eida Chareidis’ concern is not that they disagree with the Chasam Sofer and the Avnei Naizer, but rather are these differences considered to be significant enough to make a difference.

A decision from the Eida Chareidis may be issued as soon as tomorrow.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com


14 COMMENTS

  1. The only time in the last 2000 years in which there weren’t any Jews in Belgium (at least openly) was for a few years during World War II. This suggest someone doesn’t know what they are talking about.

  2. About 18 years ago, I went to Rav Shmuel Wosner, (Shlita) z”L in Bnei Brak, as  I was contacted by the Israeli Katz family that developed the “kabir-breed” chicken.
    First I asked Rav Wosner re:the chickens we use in America. As they are cross breeds[not pure breds]  from Italy among some other countries.

    My question was “we don’t have a “Mesorah” on these cross bred chickens.
    Rav Asked what I could tell him about what I know.
    I said my Zaida was a shoichet in Europe in early 1900’s, and he shechted and ate these American cross bred chickens.
    Rav Wosner said the following; If it looks relatively similar to the chickens he remembers from der heim, and this is the chicken they ate in American in the lae 1880’s early 1900’s.
    Does it look significally different?, does it crow the same as the chickens he remembers?, then we can eat without any question.
    I followed up with:
    Why did Rav Wosner not approve (he assered) the Kabir bred chicken.
    It’s very resistant to disease, therefore does not require shots.
    The Kabir breed does not have feathers on the neck where one “shechts”.
    It had feathers on the legs that come down lower than the standard chicken.

    So he said the Kabir breed had significant differences 1)  no feathers in neck area, 2) Feathers go down lower on the legs, 3) very resistant to infections, 4) grows taller that the regular chicken, etc. 

    Rav Wosner therefore asked the Katz family with what birds was it cross-bred?, they said it’s a secret. Rav Wosner told them it’s not a secret that it’s not permitted to use.

    So there are significant changes.
    I did not allow the Katz family to distribute the Kabir breed in the USA.
    Based on what Wosner, OB”M told me, I don’t think he would have allowed the Brakel breed.

  3. The OU can’t get their act together about the Muscovey Duck, who cares what they”ll say here. They”ll probably ”chicken” out again

  4. Yasher koach to Rav Hoffman for illuminating and explaining a complicated kashruth issue that has thusfar been reported in abstract and confusing terms…..the photo of the Rav with the chicken sitting on the table in front of him is priceless….

  5. #2 what difference does it make if Jews lived in the country or not. If they were cross bred by gentiles in a specific region they have no mesorah.

  6. Akuperma,
    “originated in a section of Belgium where there were no Jews.”

    Please read carefully before posting disparaging remarks anonymously about a named and identified person.rabbi yair even left you an email address for clarification. Send him an email and he’Il surely respond and clarify what you didnt understand. It doesn’t give a good impression to just post.

  7. Having raised a few breed of chicken and being well reed in the area, I know a thing or two about birds. The Leghorn scare was Jewish yellow journalism. The ace of egg laying is the white leghorn, the almost exclusive producer of commercial egg ops. The bird are kept in wire cages for their entire career and without the ability to walk about and scratch, their nails grow long and lead to toe spreading. They don;t live long enough for this to be a problem to the producer. The hens are spent after 18 months or so, and are trashed, or ground into a ” low grade protein product”. The most unfortunate minority, given seasonal match are those shmatta birds trucked to kapporos locations.

    Yellow journalism #2 In EY, the meat chicken of choice is bred to be featherless altogether and with short legs. (legs cannot be sold, and no feathers cuts down climate control costs. Who gave the hechsher for these birds which when shecthed at 7 weeks are half dead before the shechita?

  8. 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 .

  9. all chicken breeders in modern times do need to introduce fresh bloodlines into the chickens because otherwise the breed will dwindle and die out. Right but this fresh bloodlines are other chickens not any other birds.

  10. Harav Wosner ztz”l is on record from about 5 years ago as having serious concerns about the kashrus of the chicken most of us eat today. He was mattir it with difficulty but strongly encouraged all efforts to find something lechatchilah kosher with a clear mesorah. He was later consulted about the Braekel and ruled that it has a mesorah and encouraged its production. This is all documented fact, attested to recently by the rav’s talmid, Harav Klein shlit”a.
    Furthermore, many reputable shochtim including the shochet of the Baba Sali ztz”l are on record as saying that they remember the Braekel and used to shecht it, decades ago.
    Chicken breeders today “need to introduce fresh bloodlines” if they are producing hybrids, but not if they are producing original strains such as the Braekel. This is why the currently popular chicken is so problematic. Everyone in the poultry business knows that many strains combine to produce modern-day broilers, but trying to find out what strains they are is like trying to find out what secret ingredient is in Coca-Cola. A lot of money is at stake here, for the non-Jewish companies guarding their trade secrets, and they couldn’t much care less about a bunch of frum Jews worried that maybe a non-kosher bird was one of the animals they used to cross-breed their product.

  11. First of all, saying it originated in a part of Belgium where there are no Jews is flawed in two ways: (1) as noted elsewhere, it came from two parts of Belgium, (2) after Belgium became part of the Austrian Empire, Jews did indeed live there. The Breakel chicken was available to German Jews for centuries. We’re talking about a bird R’ Ettlinger’s community must have encountered. R Bamberger, R Hirsch, etc… This isn’t a new question, and it scares me that our posqim are making decisions thinking otherwise.

    Second, in America, the Campine chicken was bred from the Braekel chicken. Another proof that thinking that just because the breed started off isolated it stayed that way. A sizable minority of eggs in the US are Campine chicken eggs, as Campine (and Leghorne) chicken eggs tend to have the white shells most American homes are used to. And if you don’t think Braekel chickens are chickens, then you can’t trust American eggs, which do not distinguish between Campine and other chicken eggs. Even with a hekhsher. Not just our eggs, our baked goods… anyone have any idea how common eggs are as an ingredient? (Ask someone with an allergy how difficult it is to avoid eggs.)

    In other words, the same posqim who wonder about the importing of Braekel chicken have already been eating for decades — if not their whole lives — foods that are only kosher if we assume that Breakel chickens are okay. Which is fine, since we’ve held that way for centuries.

    The fact that this is being opened up as some kind of question scares me. It means our posqim really are unaware of the facts on the ground to which they’re applying halachic theory. It means they are even unaware of what questions to ask their experts about those facts.