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 (Shach, YD) unless it is found to be truly a dores, in which case it would
be assumed that the mesorah was in error and must be rejected (Shach, YD ). 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.