Let’s Talk Turkey – …and Prairie Chicken and Muscovy Duck

clip_image002Last week I presented two questions that I did not answer:

Question #1: “While camping in Western Canada, we saw thousands of wild, roaming birds called “prairie chicken.” They were clearly different from the familiar, common chicken, but appeared so similar that I was tempted to bring one to a shocheit to prepare for us. Halachically, could I have done this?”

Question #2: “Someone told me that a variety of duck, called the Muscovy duck, is raised in Israel for its kosher meat and liver although the American rabbonim prohibit eating this bird. How could this be?”

Last week’s discussion prompts us to ask the following:

Question #3: According to the popular story or legend, Benjamin Franklin advocated that the United States choose the turkey, which is also native American, as its national bird, rather than the bald eagle. He preferred the turkey’s midos and felt that it better reflects American values. However, if turkey is indeed indigenous only to North America, how can it have a Jewish tradition that it is kosher?

IDENTIFYING AS KOSHER

We learned last week that whereas the Torah identified kosher animal and fish through specific attributes called simanim, it specifically listed the bird species that are non-kosher, implying that all other birds are kosher. Indeed, the Gemara records that someone familiar with all the avian non-kosher varieties may identify all other fowl, even those unfamiliar to him, as kosher, and teach this to others. Since it is not always practical to find someone familiar with all 24 varieties of non-kosher birds, the Mishnah provided four simanim. A bird with all four simanim is definitely kosher, whereas one with some of these simanim may or may not be kosher. Any bird without any of the simanim is certainly non-kosher.

WHAT ARE THE FOUR SIMANIM?

The Mishnah reports that any bird that is doreis is not kosher. There are several different ways to explain the meaning of the word doreis, most meaning that the bird uses its claws in a distinctive way when it preys or eats. The other three simanim describe physical characteristics of the bird, not feeding habits. They are:

(1)  The bird has a crop, an expandable food pouch for storing undigested food.

(2)  The inner lining of its gizzard (the pupek) can be peeled.

(3)  It possesses an “extra claw,” a term that is interpreted by different Rishonim in diverse ways.

SIGNS OF DOREIS

We find three distinctive features that demonstrate whether a bird is doreis. The first, recorded by the Mishnah, is that any bird that when sitting on a rope or stick, places two of its claws on one side of the rope or stick, and the other two on the opposite side, is definitely doreis and non-kosher. The second is that a bird that swallows its food in mid-flight is not kosher (Chullin 65a). The third is that any bird that has webbed feet and a wide beak is certainly not doreis (Baal HaMaor). Since this information will become significant as we proceed, allow me to explain these avian characteristics.

SEPARATES ITS CLAWS

The Mishnah teaches, “Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Tzadok says, ‘Any bird that separates its legs is non-kosher’” (Chullin 59a). The Gemara explains that you stretch a length of rope for the bird to walk or rest on: A bird that places two claws of its leg on one side of the rope and two on the opposite side is non-kosher because this indicates that it is doreis. If it places three claws on one side of the rope and one on the other, it is probably kosher (Chullin 65a).

The morning I wrote these words, I visited someone who owns a pet cockatiel, a small Australian parrot, and noted that the bird clenched the sticks it stood on in the classic doreis position of two claws fore and two aft. I found this surprising since the cockatiel’s diet of seeds combined with its owner’s observations of its docile behavior make it difficult to imagine that this bird is doreis. However, one could explain this Mishnah in the following fashion:

The Mishnah does not clarify how often a bird needs to be doreis to be non-kosher. The Gemara describes a variety of bird called a “marsh chicken” that was assumed to be kosher until the Amora, Mareimar, noticed it being doreis (Chullin 62b). Rashi notes that we could observe a bird for quite some time without seeing it doreis and only catch it being dories after a while! Thus indeed, the marsh chicken was non-kosher the entire time although they did not know. For this reason, Rashi concludes that we do not rely on our observation that a bird is not doreis; instead, we do not consume fowl unless we have a mesorah that this variety does not doreis.

Thus, one approach to explain why the cockatiel spreads its foot across a rope or branch non-kosher style is that although the cockatiel is doreis, it does this so rarely that we may never notice.

WEBBED FEET

As I mentioned earlier, many Rishonim cite a tradition that a bird with webbed feet and/or a wide beak is definitely not doreis. Following this approach, someone discovering a bird that possesses all of the following body simanim: it has a crop, a gizzard that can be peeled, an “extra claw,” webbed feet, and a wide beak, can assume that this bird is kosher.

It is noteworthy that while many early authorities quote Rashi’s opinion that we do not rely on our observation to determine that a bird is not doreis, they also quote the tradition that a bird with webbed feet and a wide beak is not doreis (Rosh, Chullin 3:59 and 60; Issur VaHeter 56:18; Shulchan Aruch 82:2, 3). Obviously, they understood that a bird possessing webbed feet and a wide beak has a mesorah that it is not doreis, and is kosher if it has the other body simanim — even though no one recalls a specific mesorah on this bird. In other words, Rashi did not declare that no birds can be eaten without a mesorah — he only contended that we do not rely on our observation that a bird is not doreis. This is indeed the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling on this subject, as well as many later halachic authorities, both Ashkenazic and Sefardic (Yam shel Shelomoh; Pri Chodosh; Pleisi, Kuntros Pnei Nesher, located after his commentary to Yoreh Deah 82; Shu”t Sho’eil Umeishiv 5:1:69).

MESORAH IS ABSOLUTE

I am unaware of any authority who disagrees with the above conclusion prior to the time of the Rama (Yoreh Deah 82:3). The Rama, however, records an accepted minhag prohibiting consumption of any bird without a known mesorah that it is kosher. Most authorities assume that as a result of this ruling Ashkenazim do not consume any fowl lacking a known mesorah to be kosher, although some contend that no such minhag exists (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 3:115; Pleisi; Shu”t Sho’eil Umeishiv 5:1:69). (It should be noted that the Taz cites Rashi as the source for the Rama’s minhag. Although the obvious interpretation of the Taz’s comment is that he feels that Rashi rejects the approach that webbed feet and wide beak are valid proof that the bird is not doreis [Minchas Yitzchak 2:85], his comments can be interpreted in a different way.)

MUSCOVY DUCK AND THE CIVIL WAR

By definition, a non-migratory bird native to the Americas, Australia, or New Zealand cannot have an ancient mesorah ascertaining that it is a kosher species since no one resides there who could possess such a mesorah. Does this mean that according to the Rama, any bird native to the Americas cannot be eaten? Some poskim indeed held this position regarding the Muscovy duck, a bird that, notwithstanding its name, is a Mexican native. (No one is certain why this duck is named after frigid Moscow, when it is indigenous to a much warmer climate.)

A rav in Civil War era New Orleans, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Illowy, who was extensively involved in kiruv rechokim over a hundred years before the field became popular, discovered that members of his community were raising this duck for food and that the local shochatim were shechting it. Rav Illowy notes that the Muscovy appears to have all the simanim of any common duck, including the webbed feet and wide beak that indicate it is not doreis. Nevertheless, he maintained that since this bird has no mesorah, it cannot be eaten as kosher. He then sent the shaylah to Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch and to Rav Nosson Adler, both of whom agreed with Rav Illowy’s decision.

Notwithstanding this psak, the Muscovy apparently became a popular food in many kosher communities, both in the Union and the Confederacy, and eventually in Europe also. Later its liver became popular when prepared as foie gras, a delicacy once made exclusively from goose liver. (Nowadays foie gras is commonly produced from the liver of the mullard, a crossbreed of the Muscovy with the pekin, an established kosher variety of duck.) Indeed several prominent later authorities, including the Netziv, Rav Shmuel Salant, and Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank ruled that the Muscovy duck is indeed kosher since observant Jews had been consuming it (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Yoreh Deah #75). How could they permit a bird that clearly has no mesorah?

The Netziv ruled that, since observant Jews were already consuming Muscovy, they can be considered kosher for three reasons:

1. They are fairly similar to varieties of duck that possess a mesorah that they are kosher and could perhaps be considered the same min as far as halacha is concerned. One should note that the halachic definition of a min is highly unclear, although one matter is certain: It has little relationship to any scientific definition of what is considered a species.

2. They will freely breed in the wild with varieties known to be kosher ducks, even when other Muscovies are readily available. This factor is significant because the Gemara rules that two species, one kosher and the other non-kosher, will not reproduce together (Bechoros 7a). Although there is debate over whether this rule applies also to birds or only to land animals, several authorities contend that it also applies to birds (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #74; Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah #75:4 and many others). According to this approach, since a Muscovy readily mates with varieties of known kosher duck, one may assume it to be kosher.

3. The Rama’s minhag prohibiting consumption of fowl without a mesorah applies only to a newly discovered bird and not to a variety that observant Jews are already eating (Shu”t Meishiv Davar 2:22).

ANOTHER NATIVE AMERICAN

Of course, this leads to our discussion of the turkey, also a native American that appears to have found its way to the Jewish pot since its introduction to Europe in the Sixteenth Century. The Kenesses HaGedolah, authored in the Seventeenth Century, is the earliest source I found discussing the kashrus of the turkey, and it is apparent from his comments that Jews were already eating it. Although one would imagine much discussion on the kashrus issues of this bird, every other teshuvah I have seen discusses not whether the turkey is kosher, but why, and each is written hundreds of years after turkey consumption became commonplace in the kosher world.

For those who question whether the turkey was commonly eaten in this earlier era, I refer them to the comments of the Magen Avraham (79:14), who assumes that a passing reference to a “red chicken” by the Shulchan Aruch refers to the turkey, providing us with fairly clear evidence that in his day the turkey was commonly found in Jewish domiciles. The Magen Avraham makes no reference to any controversy regarding the kashrus of this bird, which was already a well established member of Jewish households.

TURKEY VS. DUCK

From a strictly anatomical perspective, the Muscovy duck can rally better proof to its kosher status than can a turkey. Whereas the Muscovy duck needs to contend only with the ruling of the Rama that it bears no mesorah, it certainly has the wide beak and webbed feet that the Rishonim accept as proof that it is not doreis. Thus, according to all authorities prior to the Rama, one could consume Muscovy based on its possessing kosher simanim. Rav Hirsch and the others who prohibit it did so because they accepted the minhag recorded by Rama not to rely on simanim.

On the other hand, the turkey is faced with more of an uphill battle anatomically.

It does not have webbed feet or a wide beak – thus, to permit it because of simanim we must ascertain that it is not doreis — and Rashi rules that we do not rely on observation to determine that a bird is not doreis. Yet, the common practice of hundreds of years is to consider it kosher!

TALKING TURKEY

I have seen numerous attempts to explain why indeed we consume turkey, of which I will share only some. Many authorities thought that the turkey had a mesorah from India as a kosher bird (see Kenesses HaGedolah 82:31 and several others quoted by Darchei Teshuvah 82:26). Of course, this was based on a factual error — the Yiddish and Modern Hebrew name for turkey is “Indian chicken,” and it is so named in many other languages, based on the same confusion that resulted in the islands of the Caribbean being called the “West Indies.” Notwithstanding that these names merely reflect Columbus’s impression that he had discovered an area near India, the confusion led some to conclude that the Indian Jews possess an ancient mesorah that the turkey is kosher.

Others contend that the practice of eating turkey predates the Rama’s ruling that we consume only birds that have a mesorah. Thus, one could say that it was grandfathered into kosher cuisine.

Still others contend that although we usually do not rely on our observation that a bird is not doreis, since thousands of Jews have raised turkeys and never seen them doreis, we can be absolutely certain that they do not and we can therefore assume them to be kosher because of simanim (Darchei Teshuvah 82:26 quoting Arugos HaBosem).

A different approach is that although the Rama required mesorah to permit the consumption of fowl, once observant Jews have accepted to eat a certain variety of bird, one may continue this practice (if it is not definitely non-kosher). Once Klal Yisroel has accepted a bird that appears to be kosher, we assume that it is kosher even if we do not, and cannot, have a mesorah on its kashrus (see Taz 82:4). The Netziv justifies the consumption of the Muscovy duck because of the fact that turkey is accepted to be kosher even though it has no mesorah either!

To answer our original questions, the Muscovy duck has not escaped contemporary controversy, some rabbonim and hechsherim, particularly in Eretz Yisroel, permitting it; others forbidding; while still others will consider it kosher but not mehadrin. I have been told that the North American hechsherim do not treat it as kosher.

Regarding the prairie chicken, it is assumed to be non-kosher, or more accurately, without either mesorah or acceptance that it is kosher, and therefore I am unaware of anywhere that it is slaughtered as a kosher bird.

TURKEY VS. EAGLE

Did Benjamin Franklin really want the turkey to be the symbol of the United States of America?

In a letter to his daughter, Ben wrote:

“For my own part I wish the eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly… He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest… The turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America… He is… a bird of courage and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat.”

To reinforce good old Ben’s argument, we note that whereas the turkey seems to have all four simanim of a kosher bird, the eagle has none (according to Rashi’s opinion). The Ramban explains that the Torah forbade the non-kosher birds because the Torah wants us to avoid the bad midos that they exhibit. One could assume that the kosher species may exhibit admirable traits that the Torah wants us to emulate. Certainly, the courage to observe mitzvos in times of adversity is a virtue worth emulating that we should contemplate the next time we eat turkey.

On the Wings of Eagles – or Perhaps I Have the Wrong Bird

clip_image002In am sending you this article in honor of Parshas Shmini.

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Question #1: My chavrusa and I are studying Chullin, and we recently discovered a Tosafos who states that a nesher is not an eagle; yet every Chumash I have seen translates kanfei nesharim as the “wings of eagles.” Are all these translators ignorant of this Tosafos?

Question #2: While camping in Western Canada, we saw thousands of wild, roaming, land birds called “prairie chicken,” that are clearly different from the common, familiar chicken, but appear similar enough that I was tempted to bring one to a shocheit to prepare for us. Halachically, could I have done this?

Question #3: On a tour in Israel, I visited a kibbutz where they raise a variety of duck, called the Muscovy duck, for its kosher meat and liver. Yet I was told that several prominent rabbonim prohibited eating this bird. What are the halachic issues involved in the kashrus of this bird?

To answer these questions accurately and thoroughly, we need to explain the background how one identifies kosher and non-kosher species, and the differences in halachic practice that have developed.

The Torah describes the exact indicators that render fish and animals kosher, providing us with relatively clear simanim, indicating signs, to determine whether a species is kosher or not. However, regarding birds the Torah simply inventories a list of non-kosher varieties, implying that all other birds are acceptable for the Jewish palate (Vayikra 11:13- 19; Devarim 14:11- 19). Indeed, the Gemara notes that there are countless kosher bird species (Chullin 63b). After analyzing the Torah’s list, the Gemara concludes that 24 varieties (or possibly, categories) of bird are non-kosher, the remaining species all being kosher (Chullin 61b). Thus, someone who can identify all 24 species of non-kosher fowl could indeed shecht and eat any other species of bird he discovers. Furthermore, the Gemara rules that a hunter who recognizes all 24 non-kosher species may teach other people which species are kosher (Chullin 63b).

On this basis, why do we restrict ourselves to eating only familiar species? Also, is there any way that a non-hunter can identify whether a bird is kosher?

KOSHER BIRD SIMANIM

Are there any signs that indicate whether a variety of bird is kosher?

The answer is yes and no.

The Mishnah, indeed, lists four simanim that identify a bird as kosher. However, before introducing and explaining the four simanim, I need to clarify a major difference between the function of simanim in identifying kosher birds as opposed to those of fish and land animals. Any animal that possesses both simanim, that is, it has both fully split hooves and chews its cud, is kosher; any animal possessing one siman but not the other is definitely non-kosher. In the case of fish, the Torah rules that any species that possesses both fins and scales is kosher; and the Mishnah teaches that there are no species possessing scales that do not possess fins. Thus, any species of fish possessing scales is kosher, and any without scales is not.

In the case of birds, however, a bird containing all four kosher simanim is definitely kosher, and a bird that possesses none of the four simanim is not kosher. Concerning birds that possess some of the four signs but not all, some are kosher and some are not. The Gemara teaches that of the 24 species mentioned by the Torah, only the nesher lacks all four simanim. (Rashi explains that any bird variety lacking all four kosher simanim is considered a sub-category of nesher. We will see shortly why I have not translated the word nesher.) The peres and the azniah, two of the 24 non-kosher varieties, each possesses only one of the kosher simanim and lacks the other three. The oreiv, usually identified as the raven (see Tosafos, Chullin 62a s.v. mipnei who discusses whether this identification is accurate) and the zarzur each has two kosher simanim and lack the remaining two, and the remaining 19 types of non-kosher bird each has three of the simanim and lacks only one. (This follows the approach of most interpretations of this passage of Gemara.)

However, there are many varieties of kosher bird that only possess some kosher signs and lack others. For example, geese contain only three of the four kosher simanim, and yet are 100% kosher!

Any bird possessing some, but not all, of the simanim is still kosher if it is not one of the 24 species listed by the Torah. Since this is true, how can one tell whether a bird containing some kosher signs is indeed kosher? Only if one knows all 24 types of non-kosher birds mentioned in the Torah, could one thereby identify the remaining kosher varieties. This is exactly what the expert hunter of the Gemara does. Furthermore, he may educate others that a specific species is kosher. However, those of us without access to his expertise would not be able to consume birds unless we had a mesorah, an oral tradition, that this is a kosher bird, in which case one could eat it even if it does not have all four kosher simanim (Chullin 63b).

IDENTIFYING KOSHER WITHOUT A MESORAH

According to the Mishnah, someone who finds a variety of bird for which he has no mesorah may still eat it based on the following rules:

“Any bird that is doreis is not kosher. Any that possesses an “extra claw,” and has a crop, and whose gizzard can be peeled is kosher (Chullin 59a).” I will shortly explain what these simanim are.

According to Rashi, the Mishnah is teaching that if we can identify a bird that has all four of the simanim, that is, it is not doreis, it possesses an “extra claw,” has a crop, and has a gizzard that can be peeled, the bird is definitely kosher. The Gemara records that all the varieties of dove mentioned by the Torah as korbanos have these four indicating simanim. Thus, according to Rashi’s understanding of the Mishnah, one may only eat a variety of bird that has no mesorah if it possesses all four simanim. (It should be noted that most other Rishonim interpret the Mishnah differently, and indeed rule that, under certain very specific circumstances, one may eat certain birds based on some, but not all, of the simanim.)

Although a bird may have only some of the four simanim and still be kosher, any bird with all four simanim is unquestionably kosher according to the Mishnah.

What are the four simanim?

DOREIS

I. Any bird that is doreis is not kosher. Thus, the kosher siman is that a bird is not doreis.

People often mistranslate the word doreis as predator. However, this is inaccurate, since chickens, which the Mishnah teaches are kosher, are technically predators since they feast on worms and insects.

The Rishonim debate what the word doreis means; here are five different interpretations:

A. The bird lifts its prey from the ground with its claws when feeding (Rashi, Chullin 59a s.v. hadoreis).

B. It grips and restrains its food while eating (Rashi, Chullin 62a s.v. vehani milei).

C. It preys on smaller birds or rodents, which it devours while they are alive (Rabbeinu Tam, cited in Tosafos Chullin 61a s.v. hadoreis).

D. It poisons with its talons (Ran, Chullin, page 20b in Rif, as explained by the Aruch HaShulchan 82:5) (A talon is a claw, but the word “talon” is typically used only for predators.)

E. It pounces on its prey with its talons (the above-quoted Ran, as explained by the Shach, Yoreh Deah 82:3).

Thus, by observing a bird’s feeding and clawing behavior one may be able to determine that it is non-kosher.

It must be emphasized, that although all birds that are doreis are non-kosher, the inverse is not true. There are varieties of fowl that are not doreis, yet nevertheless are not kosher.

The Gemara does not state that a bird must be doreis frequently to qualify as such. Rather, it implies that a bird is non-kosher if it is ever doreis (Chullin 62b). Thus, it may be difficult to easily identify a bird as a non-doreis, a fact with major ramifications.

INDICATIONS OF DOREIS

The Mishnah records an alternative method of verifying whether a bird is doreis: Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Tzadok rules that any bird that splits its talons, two before and two behind, when it grips a rope, is doreis and therefore not kosher (Chullin 59a, as explained there by the Gemara 65a). (Note that the halachic authorities all quote this opinion as definitive [Tosafos Yom Tov ad loc.].)

It is noteworthy that an early halachic authority cites a different mesorah for identifying a bird that is not doreis. Any bird with a wide beak and webbed feet is not doreis (Baal HaMaor). The Rishonim quote this approach and it is recorded in Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 82:3).

Tosafos raises a question: How did Chazal research that not one kosher species anywhere in the world is doreis? How can the Gemara confidently say that none of hundreds of kosher bird species is doreis? Tosafos rules out the explanation that this was an oral tradition communicated to Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai (halacha leMoshe miSinai) because if that were true, the Torah need not have mentioned all 24 varieties of non-kosher bird in order to identify all non-kosher varieties. Instead, it could have succinctly taught that all birds that are doreis are non-kosher, and in addition, listed the remaining small list of non-kosher birds that are not doreis.

Tosafos concludes that Noah, who knew which birds are kosher and which are not, observed that none of the kosher varieties were doreis (Chullin 61a s.v. kol of). Thus, the siman that a doreis is not kosher is an oral tradition dating back to Noah.

BODY SIMANIM

So far, we have identified one siman that identifies some non-kosher birds, which is based on avian feeding behavior. The other simanim are all anatomical features, two internal and one external. One of these simanim is the crop such as is found in doves, chickens, and most, but not all, varieties of bird that we are accustomed to consider kosher.

What is a crop?

The crop is a very interesting part of a bird’s digestive system. It is essentially a storage bag for undigested food that Hashem provided for smaller birds to enable them to survive in the wild. A brief description of the life of a small bird will help us understand the chesed Hashem performed for these birds.

Smaller birds always need to worry that they are potential lunch for larger ones. As such, they must be careful to expose themselves to harm very briefly before returning to their safe hideouts. What happens if a small bird finds a plentiful supply of seeds that would keep it satisfied for a while, but the seeds are located in a place where a leisurely feast could easily render the bird into an available dinner for a predator?

Hashem came to the rescue of the smaller bird and provided it with a crop! The crop does not digest the food, but functions as an expandable storage pouch allowing the small bird to gobble its food quickly. Once the gizzard and crop hold as much as they possibly can, the bird escapes to its safe cover, secure from predators. At this point, the gizzard grinds the seeds inside it, and when empty receives more from the crop. This way the bird gradually turns into nutrition what it quickly gobbled without having to reach for a bottle of Tums to recover from the huge indigestion that afflicts humans when they eat too much at one time.

REASONS FOR A CROP

Although we cannot be certain of the reasons for the Torah’s mitzvos, the commentators conclude that we should attempt to understand why the Torah commanded us concerning the mitzvos. Perhaps the crop is a siman of kosher birds since smaller birds that eat seeds usually possess this organ in order to protect themselves from predators. Thus, although man usually lauds the large, impressive birds such as the eagle, falcon, and condor, the Torah is teaching that its message is better conveyed through the smaller birds that protect themselves by fleeing. We find this idea in a Midrash, which points out that the only bird kosher for the mizbayach are doves, which are hunted by larger birds of prey.

ONE CAN PEEL ITS GIZZARD

One of the four simanim of a kosher bird is that one can peel off the inside of its gizzard. We are all familiar with a chicken’s gizzard, although many of us know it by its Yiddish name, the pupek. The hard muscle of the pupek grinds the food, which begins its digestive process. A bird swallows its food whole, which means that its gizzard must accomplish what humans achieve with their teeth and saliva.

How does the toothless bird “chew” the seeds it eats? Hashem, who provides food even for the young raven (Tehillim 147:9), provided all birds with the ability to digest their food in incredible ways. The bird swallows pebbles which are held in the gizzard. The powerful gizzard muscles grind the food with these pebbles.

The special lining of the gizzard protects the gizzard itself from becoming damaged by these stones. In birds containing all four kosher simanim, this lining of the gizzard can be peeled off the gizzard (obviously, only post-mortem).

BY HAND OR BY BLADE?

The Gemara discusses eight varieties of bird that have uncertain kashrus status. In all eight cases, the birds were not doreis and may have been kosher. However, these birds’ gizzards can be peeled only by a knife, and not with one’s fingernails. The Gemara was uncertain whether this qualifies as a kosher siman. Since we cannot positively identify these eight varieties of bird as kosher, and we have no mesorah identifying them as such, we must treat them as non-kosher (Chullin 62b).

AN EXTRA CLAW

One of the four simanim that can identify a bird as definitely kosher is the possession of an “extra claw.” Where is this extra claw located?

The Rishonim disagree, some understanding that this claw points in the opposite direction from the other claws of the birds; whereas others explain that in addition this claw must protrude at a higher point on the leg than the other claws. A third approach understands that the claw is on the same side of the bird’s leg as the other claws but protrudes outward farther than the others.

Although these differences seem rather technical for those of us who are not habitual bird watchers, there is a significant nomenclature concern that results from this discussion. Is a nesher indeed an eagle?

Chazal tell us that of the 24 non-kosher birds identified by the Torah, only a nesher lacks all four kosher signs. This means that only a nesher is doreis, does not possess an “extra claw,” is crop-less, and has a gizzard that cannot be peeled. Any bird that has some of these simanim, but not all, may indeed not be kosher, but it is not a nesher.

IS THE NESHER AN EAGLE?

“Everyone” knows that a nesher is an eagle. However, Tosafos notes that an eagle possesses a talon that is opposite the other claws on its leg, and on this basis he concludes that a nesher cannot possible be an eagle since a nesher should not have this sign (Chullin 63a s.v. neitz). Those of us distressed to discover that the United States national bird is not a nesher will find solace in the explanation offered by the Aruch HaShulchan – that the kosher siman is that the opposing claw must also be raised higher than the other claws — whereas an eagle’s opposing claw is directly opposite the other claws (Yoreh Deah 82:3). Thus, our national pride indeed possesses no signs of kashrus!

All of this does not explain whether we can eat prairie chicken or Muscovy duck. To answer this question, we will have to wait for the sequel. (Click here to view the article.)

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