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Is Turkey Kosher?

By: Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky,** Ph.D.




The rabbis, cognizant that not everyone is familiar with all of the non-kosher species enumerated in the Torah, provided the following four identifying features to help categorize birds. 7 The Mishnah states "every bird that is 1) dores ("a predator") is not kosher. Every bird that has 2) an extra toe, 8 3) a zefek (crop - ingluvius, the biblical more'eh, e.g. Lev 1:16), and 4) a korkuvan (gizzard, "pupik" in yiddish) that can be peeled, is kosher." 9

The definition of a dores (predatory species) is the subject of a major debate. Rashi (Chullin 59a) and Rav Ovadiah Mibartenura (Chullin 3:6 - first explanation) explain that it refers to a bird that seizes its food with its claws and lifts it off the ground to its mouth. Rashi (Chullin 62a, Niddah 50b) and Rambam (Perush Hamishnayot, Chullin 3:6) explain that the bird holds down its prey with its claws and breaks off small pieces to eat. The Raavad elaborates and says that a bird is a dores if it holds down its food with its feet. the food can be a live or dead animal or even vegetables.

Ran, Tosfot (Chullin 61a, s.v. hadores) in the name of Rabbeinu Tam, Sefer Haeshkol, 10 and Rav Ovadiah Mibartenura (Chullin 3:6 - second explanation) reject Rashi's definition because it would seem to include chickens. Rather, they explain it to mean that the bird (hits its prey and 11 ) ingests its prey while it is still alive. The Beit Yosef, Meiri, and Rashba in the name of Rabbenu Tam explain that the eating of live worms by chickens is not a problem since worms are not true "animals". This would apply to flies as well. The Rashba limits it specifically to birds that eat other birds alive. Divrei Aharon (#29) in the name of the Rashash explains that the critical feature of dores birds is that they whack their prey before consuming them alive. This is not characteristic of chickens and other birds that eat small insects and insects.

Ramban, Rashba, Sefer Hachinuch, and Shach define dores as birds that either claw their prey to death or inject them with a venom. Raavad rejects this since many of the non-kosher birds listed in the Torah, including the orev, have no poison. Rabbenu Gershom interprets dores to mean that they seize their prey in flight, without first alighting on the ground.

Chazal provided two indicators to recognize a dores (Mishnah, Chullin 3:6). If, while standing on a rope, it spreads two toes to each side it is dores and definitely not kosher; if it splits its toes three and one it is not a dores and may be kosher. 12 Second, if one throws food in the air and the bird catches it and eats it without the food ever touching the ground, it is a dores.

The talmudic sections (Chullin 60b-63b, 65a) dealing with the above cited Mishnah are cryptic, and their practical application is the source of a great deal of controversy. It led the Meiri to comment that "it is all confused in the hands of the commentators" and the Sefer Haeshkol to observe that in this subject matter "due to our many sins we are groping and searching in the dark and searching for God's word and not finding the truth."

According to the Talmud (Chullin 61a), the two prototypical birds from which we derive the kosher characteristics are the tur (turtle dove - Feliks) and the nesher (Griffon Vulture (Feliks) or Eagle 13 (Kaplan)). The tur is one of the two birds that was suitable for sacrifices in the Temple and exhibits all four kosher signs. 14 The nesher heads the list of non-kosher birds and has none of the kosher signs. An orderly presentation of many of the possibilities of how to understand these talmudic sections is offered by the Meiri 15 who divides them into four principal explanations. These are summarized as follows:

The first opinion is that of Rashi. It is cited by the Ramban and Ran, accepted by the Rosh, Rashba, Chinuch (mitzvah 157), and Chachmat Adam (36:2), and according to Tosfot Yom Tov (cited in Tzemech Tzedek YD:1:60) the Rambam, and it is strongly defended by Pri Toar and Tzemech Tzedek. It states that to be kosher a bird must have all four indicia. Thus, it is necessary for a bird to be a non-dores, because even if it exhibits all three physical signs, it may still be a dores and hence non-kosher.

This condition presents a major problem since it is sometimes difficult to determine a bird's dores status. The Talmud presents the story of the bird known as tarnugulsa d'agma which was assumed to be a kosher species and was widely eaten and only later was found to be a dores and declared non-kosher. 16

According to the Aruch Hashulchan (YD 82:12) the most widely accepted opinion is the second one, that of Rav Moshe ben Rav Yosef (Rambi). In this view, which is followed by Razah, Ramban, Rashban, Ran, the Ittur, Maharshal, and others, there are really only three signs. Any bird that exhibits all three physical signs is by definition not a dores and is kosher. In addition, all birds that are dores are not kosher, and all non-dores are kosher except for either the peres or the ozniyah. Since neither of these is found in settled areas they are a non-issue. 17 The presence of three indicators is such a strong proof that it is not dores that the Yam Shel Shlomo (cited in Shach, YD 82:8) says that if such a bird is observed being dores it is anomalous behavior and can be ignored.

In response to a statement that most Rishonim and Acharonim (early and later rabbinic authorities) follow Rashi, Shoel U'mashiv (3:YD:2:121) wrote "this is a lie. The truth is the opposite. Nearly all of the Rishonim follow Rambi." He emphasizes that the great Ramban held that if the bird has all three kosher signs and is not known to be dores it is definitely kosher. And the Rashba, Ran, and Maharshal agree with this. 18

The final two opinions agree that if presented with a bird that has all three physical attributes there is no need to investigate its dores status - it is certainly kosher. The last opinion gives special consideration to the kurkavan sign, prompting the Aruch Hashulchan (YD 82:12-13) to say that if a bird has at least two of the three signs and one of them is a peelable kurkavan many people will declare it a kosher species without a need to verify its dores status.





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