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Is Turkey Kosher?

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

1. Aruch Hashulchan YD 79:1. A fifth category - bugs (YD 84) -has no kosher members. In addition, any creature that does not fit into one of the categories is not kosher.
2. For a discussion of kosher insects, see Ari Zivotofsky "Further Clarification on Kosher Insects" letter to the editor, American Entomologist, 42:4(Winter, 1996):195-196.
3. In Lev 11:13-19; Deut 14:11-18 lists 21 species.
4. Chullin 63b. Species here is used in a decidedly non-scientific manner. What is really meant is 24 broad classes of birds. Thus, for example, the Talmud (Chullin 63b) states that there are 100 birds in the east that are all types of ayah.
5. Most authorities, e.g. Rashi (Chullin 61a); Rambam, Maachalot Asurot 1:15; Meiri; Shulchan Aruch YD 82:1; Chachmat Adam 36:2. There is a dissenting opinion that says that there are non-kosher species other than the 24 listed (Tosafot and Rashba, Chullin 61a).
6. For conjectures about the identity of the 24 species see Prof. Yehuda Feliks, Chai v'Tzomaach ba'Torah, 1984, p.110 and Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Living Torah, Maznaim, 1981.
7. The Tosefta (Chullin, 3:22-23, ed. Zuckermandel) states that certain tanaim and locales relied on subsets of the signs mentioned in the Mishnah. Compare also Targum Yonatan on Lev. 11:13 and Deut. 14:9.
8. Shut Chavatzelet Hasharon (mahadura tanina, #26; R. Menachem Munish Babad; 1865-1938) discusses whether an extra extra-toe, i.e. two extra toes, is as problematic as no extra toe and concludes that one should be strict about it.
9. Chullin 3:6 - 59a. Zivchei Tzedek (82:4; R. Abdallah Avraham Yosef Somehk; 1813-1889; Baghdad) offers a cute mnemonic for these four signs in the word tzippur - bird: tzaddi - etzba (toe), peh - zefek, vav - dores, and resh - kurkuvan.
10. By R. Abraham ben Isaac of Narbonne (c. 1110-1179). This was the first halachic codification of Southern France. It should be pointed out that the edition with the Nachal Eshkol by R. Zevi Benjamin Auerbach (1808-1872) of Germany is surrounded by a major controversy. See EJ 2:146, 3:843, and 10:342 for some details.
11. As explained by Divrei Aharon #29.
12. See Sefer Haeshkol, hilchot simanei behama, chaya, v'of.
13. Tosfot Chullin 63a, s.v. netz seem to dispute this. Darkei Tshuva (82:1) in the name of Hagaot Mamoni says that the nesher cannot be the eagle since the nesher has none of the kosher signs and the eagle has one.
14. The Sifra lists as prototypes both the tur (turtle dove) and ben yonah (pigeon), the two species of bird that were eligible to be brought as sacrifices. The Karaites permitted only these two species for consumption and prohibited even the chicken, which they claimed is the biblically prohibited duchefus. Rav Saadiah Gaon and Ibn Ezra (Lev 11:19) soundly refuted this contention.
15. Pri To'ar 82:3 gives a lengthy, organized presentation of the various opinions. He includes a long defense of Rashi, who often gets bashed on this topic, and offers Rambam's view, an opinion that is mired in confusion. Gra YD 82:2, probably one of the longest in Shulchan Aruch, also presents a detailed outline of several of the opinions and mentions that most poskim follow Rambi's opinion in these matters. A lucid review of these four opinions and how they relate to the talmudic discussion and to halacha is given by Tzemach Tzedek (YD 1:60; Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, 1789-1866, 3rd Rebbe of Lubavitch).
16. Chullin 62b, Rashi s.v. chazyuha d'dorsa
17. Although the Ran cites an opinion that now-a-days this talmudic claim cannot be relied upon, the Chinuch says about such people: "Do not be a tzaddik [righteous] overmuch" (Kohelet 7:16).
18. Nachal Eshkol (Hilchot Simanei Bahama ..., pg 63-65), in reaction to this letter of Rav Nathanson posits that even Rashi would admit that his opinion is a rabbinic stringency. Biblically there is no need to suspect that a bird with all three indicia is dores and in case of an error no penitence would be necessary.
19. In an important dissension to this Rashi, Rashba (Torat Habayit, bayit 3, sha'ar 1) asserts that the tarnugulsa d'agma did not have the physical indicators and the people ate it based on an erroneous tradition that it was not dores. This Rashba is used by the Shoel U'mashiv (3:YD:2:121) as part of his strong proof that we do not follow Rashi in these halachot.
20. This is an ironic twist on the talmudic (Chullin 63b) dictum that "Rav Yitzchak said 'a kosher bird may be eaten based [solely] on a mesorah.'" Rav Yitzchak was coming to be lenient -even if there was uncertainty regarding the physical indicia, a tradition was sufficient to permit the bird. This was quite a permissive ruling and is used as such by Rambam (Ma'achalot Asurot 1:15). The Ramo in turn was coming to be strict and to permit a bird only based on tradition.
21. Rashi can be understood as per Rashba who asserts that Rashi requires a mesorah only if the bird does not have all four signs. i.e. it is possible to identify a bird as a non-dores. If it has all four signs the Rashba understands that Rashi does not require a mesorah. This does not change the Ramo's opinion, as he explains in Darkei Moshe YD 82. He explicitly rejects that Rashba and goes with the Issur v'Heter and Rabenu Yerucham who view any bird as prohibited unless there is a mesorah on it.
22. In fact the Mechaber fully agrees that a mesorah is required. The only difference is that he provided a few small loopholes, such as the goose comparison (see below) to circumvent the need for a mesorah. Thus, almost the entire discussion in this paper is equally applicable to the Mechaber's opinion as well.
23. Coincidentally, this is the name of one of the non-kosher birds listed in the Torah.
24. Not the Tzemach Tzedek cited above in note 15. This is the late 17th century R. Krochmal who started a "duck war" by prohibiting a specific type of goose. The Kreisi u'Platei disagreed with him, and Tshuvot Tshuot Chen (43; by Rav Shimshon Zelig) eloquently rebutted the Kreisi u'Platei.
25. See Tur, end of YD 82, and Zivchei Zedek (82:25-27) who state likewise. See also Pri To'ar who he concurs that if there is no local custom a permissive mesorah can be imported. Sefer Haeshkol and Rav Moshe Feinstein also seem to agree (Iggerot Moshe YD:1:34).
26. Often translated as ostrich although, based on talmudic descriptions, Feliks identifies it as an eagle owl.
27. Similarly Tosafot found it has a zefek, while Ramban found no zefek. Pri To'ar 82:3, while not asserting that names can be relied upon, is concerned that these modern inspections may have been done poorly and thus, for example, not noticed a small zefek.
28. Rav Moshe Feinstein also states explicitly that names cannot be relied upon (Iggerot Moshe YD:1:34).
The problem in assuming that contemporary and talmudic names refer to the same object arises in other halachic areas as well. The Mishnah (Niddah 19a) refers to blood that is the color yarok. In modern Hebrew yarok is green and that is how Meiri understood it. But Tosfot (Nidah 19b) explain yarok as yellowish like a ripe etrog. The Shulchan Aruch (YD 188:1) seems to follow the opinion of Tosfot. The same ambiguity about the color yarok is relevant in treifa laws as well. The Shulchan Aruch (YD 38:1-4) enumerates those lung colors that render an animal a treifa. In that list yarok can be defined as the problematic color of an egg yolk (YD 378:1) or as the permissible green (38:4). The Shach (38:1) writes that there are additional shades of yarok.

In a similar manner, the tapuach that is used in charoset on Passover and is dipped in honey on Rosh Hashana and is assumed to be apple may actual be a citrus fruit. See "Mixing Apples and Oranges: The Elusive Pesach and Rosh haShana Ingredient" by Ari Zivotofsky and Naomi Zivotofsky, Young Israel of Cleveland Torah Journal III, 1996.
29. Guide to Masechet Chulin (2 vol), I.M. Levinger, Maskil L'David, Jerusalem, 1995
30. Leghorn was one of the most important Italian-Jewish communities and was graced with many illustrious rabbis. Its mesorah is often cited.
31. I am not sure under which category to put the third test.
After assembling this list, I discovered that the Arugot Habosem, in permitting the kibbitzer hen, systematically goes through these methods of permitting a new species. He applied them to the kibbitzer hen and often to the turkey as well. Baruch shekivanti.
32. See also Meshiv Davar YD:22.
33. He further analyzes this in subsequent subsections.
34. Some sources (Meiri, Maharsham in Da'at Torah, Sefer Haeshkol, Maggid Mishna (ma'achalot asurot 1:20), Ran (page 21b in the Rif), Rosh) have "or" instead of "and." The "or" option seems to be problematic because that would make it possible to include the white stork (Ciconia ciconia), a bird that is almost universally accepted as non-kosher and is identified as the chassida listed in the Torah. See also Prisha YD 82:1.
35. Tzemech Tzedek YD:60 notes that although the Rosh cites it in Chullin, he rejects it in his responsa (20:20).
36. Some Sephardi poskim have also accepted this position and rejected the use of all signs. See for example Birchat Moshe #23, second section about Tunisians on Djerba, and Zivchei Zedek 82:23-24 about Iraqis.
37. Fertile offspring do not seem to be required. The expression in the Talmud is that a pregnancy has to result. It could be that even a live birth is not required.
38. Many other sources simply assume that kosher and non-kosher birds can mate and discuss the status of the offspring. These sources (such as Minchat Yitzchak 2:85; Chidushei Chaviva page 16) clearly reject the hybridization test. I have no evidence one way or the other whether the Ramo would accept the hybridization test.
39. Tanina YD:23,24 - cited by Darkei T'shuva (82:32).
40. For many of these sources see: Darkei Tshuva YD 82:26; Torah Lodaat XIV:29 (Shmini) 1990; Modern Kosher Food Production From Animal Sources by Rabbi Dr. I.M. Levinger, 1985; and Sichat Chullin by Amiti Ben-David.
41. Knowing that two birds are merely different breeds of the same species would seem to be a strong indicator that if one is known to be kosher the other is also kosher. However, Shut Chavatzelet Hasharon (mahadura tanina, #26) suggests that being classified by scientists as being of the same species as a known kosher bird is not sufficient from the halachic perspective to permit an unknown breed.
42. See Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World by Sibley and Monroe, 1990, Yale University Press.
43. With all due respect, I am not clear as to what question about Rock Cornish Hens required six pages to answer. The white cornish is a breed of chicken developed in Cornwell, England and the white plymouth rock is a breed of chicken developed in the U.S. In the 1950's these two kosher breeds of chicken were cross-bred to yield the rock cornish hen. Today it is a mainstay of the U.S. poultry market and most broilers sold in this country are cornish/rock crosses.
44. This was not new. There are several places in the Talmud (e.g. Chullin 65a) where there are disagreements about the status of a bird and the one who prohibits states about those who eat it that "They will in the future have to pay the price."
45. It was permitted by, among others, Shoel U'mashiv (3:YD:2:121; also in Yad Shaul YD:82), Rav Nasson Adler, Yehuda Ya'aleh, Chesed L'Avraham, She'elot Shalom (22 and 47), Uri v'Yishi (11 and 12), Dvar Moshe (4), Tslusa d'Avraham (7), Arugot Habosem (Kuntras Hatshuvot 16), Divrei Chaim (2:YD:45-48), and Divrei Moshe and forbidden by, among others, Rav Yitzchak Shmelkes (Beit Yitzchak YD 1:106-107), Yad Levi (YD:35-39; Rav Yitzchak Dov haLevi Bamberger of Wartzburg), Rav Yaakov Etlinger (Aruch le'ner), Rav Shlomo Kluger, Hechal haBracha (Dvarim 12a), Maharam Shick, Shut Chavatzelet Hasharon (mahadura tanina, #26), and Rav Yitzchak Aharon Lendsberger.
See Darkei T'shuva YD:82:34 and footnote 59 on pages 48-50 of the 1979 edition of Binyan Tzion for short summaries and Hagaon Shenishkach, by Rav David Tzvi Neiman, pages 19-37 for a thorough synopsis of this very fascinating piece of halachic history.
46. Other birds with the name turkey in them, such as turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), are unrelated.
47. According to some recent texts, it should be reclassified in genus Meleagris. See Poultry Breeding and Genetics, edited by R.D. Crawford, 1990, P. 19.
48. Some researchers have speculated that the turkey reached Europe pre-Columbian, perhaps by being brought across the Pacific and entering via Asia. However, thus far no compelling evidence has been advanced to support such a theory (Crawford, p. 22).
49. The development of the turkey industry in the USA, Robert E. Moreng, Colorado State University; The World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 16, page 8217.
50. Based on their responses it may be possible to glean an understanding of how a mesorah is transmitted, expanded, and created and to apply the logic to other questionable species of birds. This will, please G-d, be done in a future article.
51. This is distinct from and not even in the same genus as the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetus) which is assumed to be one of the 24 non-kosher birds in the biblical list, either the a'yit or nesher.
52. see for example Cyrus H. Gordon, Before Columbus: Links Between the Old World and Ancient America who presents such evidence as Roman and Bar Kochba coins unearthed in Tennessee and Kentucky. See also Sheerit Yisrael (Yosifon 2) chapter 35 regarding Jews from the 10 lost tribes who were in America when the Spanish exiles arrived.
53. This idea is in line with the statement (Halachot Ketanot (1:9) quoted by Tzitz Eliezar 11:36) that G-d would not let all of the Jewish people err and follow an isolated opinion. If a Jewish practice exists it must have a strong basis. So too if the vast majority of Jews are eating a particular bird, there must be a solid justification for it. This is similar to the idea (Chullin 5b) that G-d does not allow even the animals of the righteous to eat improper food by accident. Based on this principal the Taz (YD 82:4) questions how a large number of people came to eat tarnugulsa d'agma. Chidushei Chaviva (p.11-12) rejects the Taz's answer and offers his own. The idea of not reversing an accepted practice, even if the practice has shaky roots, is found in the Ktav Sofer's response to the kibbitzer hen controversy (Shut mi'Ktav Sofer YD 3-4).
54. Tzemech Tzedek (YD:60) in permitting a species of goose adopted a similar attitude that if a bird is widely eaten, that in and of itself is a form of a mesorah. This is similar to the opinion of Shut Yachin u'Boaz 1:64 that if a particular species of grasshopper is eaten, that is a sufficient mesorah even if it is no longer called chagav.
55. He rejects the argument that the turkey mesorah was established prior to the Ramo's (d. 1572) codifying the need for a mesorah since the Ramo was merely formalizing a rule that seems to have been prevalent in Ashkenazic lands for many years and is already mentioned by Rashi (d. 1105).
56. He might understand the Ramo like the Tzemach Tzedek (YD 1:60) as only arguing on the goose comparison, but accepting that one can really ascertain all four of the signs, including the dores status. I find this very stretched.
57. The Shoel u'Meshiv expressed similar sentiments in 3:YD:1:15. The Divrei Moshe and Tslusa d'Avraham seem to concur with the reasoning of the Shoel u'Meshiv in "rejecting" the Ramo. The Darkei Tshuva (YD 82:26) audaciously (mis)interprets the Shoel u'Meshiv in light of how he thinks the halacha should be, and claims that the Shoel u'Meshiv is prohibiting turkey. Dvar Halacha (1921; siman 53, page 74) says explicitly that the Shoel u'Meshiv was saying that his generation did not follow the Ramo in this regard.
58. The Maharam Shick (YD 98-100), Binyan Tzion (#42), and Divrei Chaim agreed with the Dvar Halacha. Divrei Yisrael (YD:10) writes strongly against anyone who would deviate from the simple reading of the Ramo in this regard, and all the logical arguments in the world won't make a difference. Similarly, Minchat Yitzchak (2:85) writes that we cannot be lenient without a mesorah, and there is no one in our generation who can argue against the Ramo. He further establishes that the position of the Ramo is on solid halachic ground.
59. This is cited with approval in 1935 in Menachem Meshiv 2:30, page 168.
60. Although as noted above in note 22 the mechaber also requires a mesorah, he seems more "flexible."
61. Cited by R. Liebes, Mesorah, 1990; 3, page 63. I have been unable to find this in Otzer Yisrael.
62. See, however note 55.
63. Ripley's Believe It Or Not, 19th series, 1972, page 13 records a "turkhen" that was exhibited at the 1944 NY Poultry Show in Madison Square Garden. It was supposedly a 10 week old bird owned by Dan Cavanaugh of Winstead, Conn. After much effort I have been unable to independently verify the existence of this "turkhen."
64. See: Turkey-Chicken hybrids, Journal of Heredity, 1960, 51:69-73 and Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology B: Comparative Biochemistry 1973, 46B(3)533-9.
65. A topic to be IY"H discussed in a subsequent article.
66. An e-mail rumor that Klausenberg-Sanz Chassidim do not eat turkey is false. I have verified this in a conversation with the rebbe's secretary (November 25, 1997).
67. There are, of course, individual exceptions, some notable. It is reported that Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky and his family did not eat turkey. However, he attributed the non-eating to a lack of mesorah, but did not hold that a mesorah was impossible. Thus, when his son's daughter got married he told her that she would now be able to eat turkey. (Reported by his granddaughter's husband, Rabbi Doniel Neustadt of Cleveland). His son, Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky, has further explained that his father's family did not have a tradition to avoid turkey. His father adopted the custom out of respect for his wife, whose family did not eat turkey. Thus, although Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky continues to refrain from turkey in deference to the custom he was raised with, his wife and children all eat it. (Reported by Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzky's son-in-law, Rav Shalom Kelemer, and by Gilad J. Gevaryahu in Mail-Jewish on Dec. 19, 1995).
It is reported that Rav Dovid Lifshitz did not eat turkey. His son-in-law (personal conversation with Prof. Chaim Waxman, June 19, 1997) strongly emphasized that this was a personal stringency which he did not advocate for others, and indeed his children and their families eat turkey. A former student who wishes to remain anonymous reports that Rabbi Lifshitz commended him on refraining from turkey but seemed to not want to publicize the issue.
The Horowitz family, descendants of the Shlah haKadosh (Rabbi Isaiah ben Avraham haLevi Horowitz; 1565? - 1630), have a tradition that the Shlah supposedly left instructions that they should not eat turkey, and to this day there are members of that family who adhere to this custom. This instruction is not found in the Shlah's writings.
There is also a similar custom among the Lapidus family and other descendants of the Tosfot Yom Tov (Rabbi Yom Tov Lippman ben Nathan ha'Levi Heller; 1579-1654). These two traditions may share a common source.

There is also the "well-known" Russian family (Frankel) who Arugot Habosem (Kuntras Ha'tshuvot, 16) writes did not eat turkey.
Finally, there are several prominent contemporary rabbis who do not eat turkey but who have requested not to be cited. The idea of abstaining from eating a bird that has been deemed kosher but has questionable roots is explained by the Divrei Chaim 2:YD:45-48 who permitted the kibbitzer hen but personally refrained from eating it. Similarly, in Kuntrus Mishpachas Ram there is a letter to the Chazon Ish from his father, Rabbai Shmaryahu Yosef Karlitz, that mentions that although the kibbitzer hen (NOT the turkey as indicated in footnote 48 to the 1989 edition of Binyan Tzion edited by Yehuda Horovitz) is kosher, in his father-in-law's house they refrained from eating it since a careful person should avoid eating items that required a p'sak. [Presumably this is based on the exegesis of a verse in Ezekiel 4 found on Chullin 36b.]

The question of how those who refrain from turkey should deal with the utensils in every kosher butcher shop, catering hall, and private home is an important one and in need of further study.
68. For a full discussion of this and related laws, see Ari Zivotofsky, "Your Camp Shall Be Holy: Halacha and Modern Plumbing", Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Number XXIX, Spring 1995, pages 89-128, especially page 95.
69. Arugot Habosem raised this question.