Rabbi David Etengoff
Dedicated to the sacred memories of my mother, Miriam Tovah bat Aharon HaKohane, father-in-law, Levi ben Yitzhak, sister, Shulamit bat Menachem, sister-in-law, Ruchama Rivka Sondra bat Yechiel, Chana bat Shmuel, Yehonatan Binyamin ben Mordechai Meir Halevi, Tikvah bat Rivka Perel, Gittel Malka bat Moshe, Alexander Leib ben Benyamin Yosef, the Kedoshim of Har Nof, Pittsburgh, and Jersey City, the refuah shlaimah of Mordechai HaLevi ben Miriam Tovah, and the health and safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world.
Our parasha contains a biblical “Shulchan Aruch” of the laws of kashrut: “This is the law regarding animals, birds, all living creatures that move in water and all creatures that creep on the ground, to distinguish between the unclean (tamei) and the clean (tahor), and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten.” (Sefer Vayikra 11:46-47, this and all Tanach translations, The Judaica Press Complete Tanach) The Torah goes on to provide simanim (physical characteristics) that enable us to determine the tamei (non-kosher) and tahor (kosher) status of “animals…all living creatures that move in water and all creatures that creep on the ground.” This is not the case, however, regarding birds. Instead, we are presented with a catalog of 24 tamei species, leading to the logical inference that the remaining approximately 11,000 species of birds should be deemed tahor.
However, Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky Ph.D., in his article, “Is Turkey Kosher?” makes quite clear this is not the case, since: “… today when these [24 species] can no longer be accurately identified, things are quite a bit more complicated.” He also cites a well-known statement of the Minchat Chinuch concerning the matter: “In order to fully explain the identification of kosher birds [it] would take a small booklet of its own (Mitzvah 157).” (https://www.kashrut.com/articles/turk_part1) Moreover, works by the Chatam Sofer zatzal (Rav Moshe Schreiber, 1762-1839) and Rabbi Yonatan Eybeschutz zatzal (1690-1764), among others, have not met with universal acceptance due to the lack of consensus as to how to interpret the Mishnaic, Amoraic and Rishonic sources upon which these writings are based.
In response to these concerns and following the Talmudic statement, “a kosher bird may be eaten based upon mesoret(accepted tradition),” [Talmud Bavli, Chulin 63b] Rashi zatzal (1040-1105) ruled:
No bird is consumed by us unless there is a mesoret concerning this exact species that was given to us by our forebears attesting that it is tahor. [Consequently,] if no mesoret was given to us, we must question its status. [However,] we may fully rely upon the mesoret. (Talmud Bavli, Chulin 62b, s.v. chaziuah d’drasah v’achlah, translation and brackets my own)
Rashi’s singular import led the most prominent Ashkenazi halachic authority of all time, Rabbi Moshe Isserles zatzal(Rema, 1530-1572), to conclude that the sole factor in determining the tahor or tamei status of a bird is mesoret:
There are those that say that one may not rely even on this [the simanim presented by Rabbi Yosef Karo zatzal in the Shulchan Aruch], and that one may not eat any bird unless there is a mesoret that has been accepted that it is tahor. And this is the practice to which we are accustomed that must not be altered. (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 82:3, s.v. v’yash omrim, translation and brackets my own)
Closer to our own time, the Rema’s p’sak was codified by both Rabbi Avraham Danzig zatzal (1748-1820) in Chachmat Adam 36:6, and by Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein zatzal (1829-1908) in Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 82:29. As such, within the greater Ashkenazi Jewish community, the kashrut status of a particular bird species is determined by one criterion: the absence or presence of a reliable mesoret from klal Yisrael.
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*** My audio shiurim on the topics of Tefilah and Tanach may be found at: http://tinyurl.com/8hsdpyd
*** I have posted 164 of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s English language audio shiurim (MP3 format) spanning the years 1958-1984. Please click on the highlighted link: The Rav
Talmid of Rabbi Soloveitchik zatzal