By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
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 Yisrael. The OU is watching the matter carefully, and has not issued an opinion on it. Thus far, however, it is only an issue in Eretz Yisrael and Europe.
The first media mention of the topic 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.
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 Eidah Chareidis in Yerushalayim forbids it.
The Torah gave us a list of tamei birds that also are non-kosher. This list is found in Parashas Shemini (Vayikra 11:12–19). Technically, if not for another rule found in the Rema, if a bird is not on the list, it would not be forbidden.
The Mishnah in tractate Chullin gives us four signs in regard to the list of birds in the Torah:
- Any bird that is a dores, “a predator,” is not a kosher bird.
- Every kosher bird has an extra toe.
- 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 peel-able korkuvan, or a gizzard. This is called a “pupik” in Yiddish.
Nonetheless, based upon the ruling of the Rema, 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 because:
- They classified it as a type of chicken (Dvar Halachah #53 p. 74), and there was no concern that it was a cross-fertilization from the list of forbidden birds; or
- It was discovered prior to the adoption and spread of the ruling of the Rema (Shoel U’Meishiv YD III 1:15).
The Gemara 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.
All chicken breeders in modern times 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” originates 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
If after the introduction there is no detectable change in any of the limbs of the chicken that alters its appearance significantly from the chicken, we have a tradition of eating it and it is still considered kosher. This is based upon a responsum of the Chasam Sofer (Yoreh Deah #75 “ul’didi”). The Chasam Sofer says that there is no need for a mesorah on every chicken; rather, all chickens that appear like a breed for which we do have a tradition are 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 Nezer (75:2) cites the same criterion as the Chasam Sofer.
Non-Jewish breeders and historians write that originally there were two different breeds of Braekel chicken. There was one of the Flanders region of Belgium and 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. The Flanders region is a much more fertile area of Belgium than 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 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 Da’as Torah volumes.
The Leghorn Episode
There was also something that we may call “The Great Leghorn Scare of 2004.” Leghorns are primarily used for egg-laying purposes. Apparently, 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 Rema!
An investigation of the matter took place. According to the author of the Toras 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 free-range 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.
Braekel Chicken Variations
This author reached out to Rav Shternbuch’s son and gabbai who said that there are some six or seven differences between the Braekel 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 Eidah 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 Eidah Chareidis’s concern is not that they disagree with the Chasam Sofer and the Avnei Nezer; rather, are these differences considered significant enough for halachic purposes?
A decision from the Eidah Chareidis is expected as early as this week.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.