Kosher Foods: What Animals Can’t Be Eaten?

It is not always as simple as you think to keep kosher, i.e. only eat kosher foods permitted  by the Torah. Many animals are not considered Kosher Foods simply as they were not common during the time of writing of the Torah…..

 Kosher Foods: Animals that may not be eaten….

Of the “beasts of the earth” (which basically refers to land mammals with the exception of swarming rodents), any animal that has cloven hooves and chews its cud [Lev. 11:3; Deut. 14:6] is considered Kosher Food.

Any land mammal that does not have both of these qualities is forbidden.

The Torah specifies that the camel, the rock badger, the hare and the pig are not Kosher Foods because each lacks one of these two qualifications. Cattle, sheep, goats, deer and bison are classified as kosher foods.

Of the things that are in the waters, you may eat anything that has fins and scales [Lev. 11:9; Deut. 14:9]. Thus, shellfish such as lobsters, oysters, shrimp, clams and crabs are all forbidden (NOT Kosher Foods).

Other fish ARE Kosher Foods like tuna, carp, salmon and herring are all permitted.

Kosher Foods: Birds

For birds, the criteria is less clear. The Torah provides a list of forbidden birds (Lev. 11:13-19; Deut. 14:11-18), but does not specify why these particular birds are forbidden. All of the birds on the list are birds of prey or scavengers, thus the rabbis inferred that this was the basis for the distinction. Other birds are permitted, such as chicken, geese, ducks and turkeys. However, some people avoid turkey, because it is was unknown at the time of the giving of the Torah, leaving room for doubt.

Kosher Foods: Winged Insects

Of the “winged swarming things” (winged insects), a few are specifically permitted [Lev. 11:22], but the Sages are no longer certain which ones they are, so all have been forbidden. There are communities that have a tradition about what species are permitted, and in those communities some insects are eaten.

Rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and insects (except as mentioned above) are all forbidden. Lev. 11:29-30, 42-43.

Kosher Foods: Checking Cattle Lungs

Some authorities require a post-mortem examination of the lungs of cattle, to determine whether the lungs are free from

adhesions. If the lungs are free from such adhesions, the animal is deemed “glatt” (that is, “smooth”). In certain

Kosher Food: Cow

Kosher Foods: Derived Product

scircumstances, an animal can be kosher without being glatt; however, the stringency of keeping “glatt kosher” has become increasingly common in recent years, and you would be hard-pressed to find any kosher meat that is not labeled as “glatt kosher.”

Any product derived from forbidden animals, such as their milk, eggs, fat, or organs cannot be eaten. Rennet, an enzyme used to harden cheese, is often obtained from non-kosher animals, thus kosher hard cheese can be difficult to find.

I hope this short introduction helps you understand the difficult and complicated nature of eating Kosher Foods.

In one way unimportant, in another, a deep meaningful issue to be considered.  It highlights the restrictive nature of trying to keep kosher.

Kosher Foods: Acceptance of Chicken

These is considerable debate regarding acceptable Kosher Foods, some of which are clear to define, some not. One of the hot topics is the Turkey which has divided scholars for many years (and years to come!).  A good starting point to this discussion would be to look at chicken breeds, domesticated as early as 7th century BCE and which are universally accepted as kosher foods.

One of the key considerations when considering turkeys is treatment of chickens. It is universally accepted that chicken is kosher, irrespective of breed. Because the turkey on the other hand was not discovered until later, it therefore must be evaluated for kosher.

Acceptance of Newer Breeds of Chicken as Kosher Foods

Newer breeds we were not aware of in older times are accepted as Kosher and this is better expressed by Rabbi Yitzchak Isacc Liebes (author of Shuts Beit Avi; mesorah, 1990) when discussing Rock Cornish Hens essentially says…

“if it looks like a chicken, walks like a chicken and quacks like a chicken, it is a chicken,” and since Rock Cornish Hens are [just like] the common chicken, they fall under the chicken mesorah”.

This includes breeds that look quite different and are relatively new, such as the popular leghorn. The argument is that small differences do not create a new halachic species, and so just like scientifically they are all chickens, so too halachically, including newer breeds such as Buckeye, or Delaware.

Kosher Foods: Turkey / Chicken -The Same Order?

When discussing Kosher Foods, chicken and turkey are in the same Order (Galliformes).  Some authorities also place them in the same family (Phasianidae). While it is not surprising that there is a comparison of turkeys and chickens becuase of the relative closeness of their appearance.  However, appearance only does not influence kosher and althought they look similar the turkey is more closely related to partridge and pheasants.

Discovery and History of the Modern Turkey Bird

The turkey seems to be a relatively new bird, being ‘discovered’ in the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadors and brought turkeys back to Europe. Eventually they began being raised domestically in England, Italyand France, by the mid 16th century.  However, when investigations provided evidence that the turkey (indik) originally was brought from India there were questions about its status, and for some people those questions still remain. However, the vast majority of the Jews have accepted it as kosher.

Shut Mei Be’er (Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Schur, Bucharest, d. 1897; siman 19) opines that we eat turkey (indik) relying on the Jews of India, the place of origin of the turkey, who had a clear tradition dating back to Moses that the turkey was kosher. As far as he was concerned, the only question that ever existed with regard to turkey was whether Europeans could rely on the Indian mesorah and this, he claims, was settled in the affirmative by the Rivash.

Once that has happened, unless there is overwhelmingly compelling evidence to declare it non-kosher, such as that it is found to be truly dores, it cannot now be declared non-kosher. The rule that birds are eaten only if a mesorah exists coupled with the fact that the origins of a particular mesorah are unknown, is insufficient reason to declare an accepted bird unacceptable.

Kosher Foods: Accepting the Turkey Bird

Rather, it is treated as if we now have a mesorah  and follow the rule that when eliable mesorah exists there is no need for further investigation and the bird may be eaten (ShachYD) unless it is found to be truly a dores, in which case it would

Kosher Roast Turkey

be assumed that the mesorah was in error and must be rejected (ShachYD ). This attitude is interesting in light of the strong insistence of the Rosh (Shut Rabbenu Asher, Clal 20, #20) on knowing the origins of a mesorah. That has not happened with turkeys.

Kosher Foods: Cooking a Roast Stuffed Turkey

 Kosher Turkey is a real treat and can be enjoyed especially at all times, and especially as a holiday treat.  Here is a really good kosher turkey recipe here.