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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Like a Duck: Muscovies, Moulard, and Gentiles that do the Taryag Mitzvos

We have a tradition that ducks are kosher birds, just as are chicken and quail and doves.

There are many subspecies of ducks that vary in appearance and behavior.  Some subspecies are reproductively isolated, meaning that although they can produce live offspring when mated with related subspecies, their offspring is infertile, as is the case with horses and donkeys producing mules.

Among the subspecies of ducks is the Muscovy duck, a tree-perching, sharp-taloned breed.  My first introduction to the Muscovy was when a classmate in law school told me that his family raises Muscovy ducks in northern Wisconsin, and that they are malodorous, aggressive and voracious.  Most poskim and Kashrus organizations in the United States  hold that the Muscovy duck is not kosher, that it is an Ohf Tamei.  Most poskim and all kashrus organizations in Israel hold that it is an Ohf Tahor, that it is kosher.  The opinion of the American poskim is based on physical and behavioral differences between the common Pekin duck and the Muscovy.  A little internet research will yield a great deal of shrill argument and table-pounding on the topic, which, unfortunately, is more heat than light. But the fact remains that many poskim outside of Israel prohibit eating Muscovy duck, and only the type that advocates renunciation of minhag Kitniyos would deny the seriousness of the halachic stance of those who follow the osrim.

Last year, I visited Israel, and ate at one of the highest rated restaurants in Jerusalem.  It has the most respected hechsher, or did when I was there.  They served wonderful things, including something called Moulard.  What is Moulard, I asked the waiter?  Duck, answered the waiter.  He said that it was just a kind of duck, but that before I ordered it, I should be aware that it had a kind of gamey flavor.

Recently, I was doing some reading on the Muscovy issue, and I found out an interesting thing.  Moulard, the Mule duck, is actually a sterile cross between the Muscovy (male) and the Pekin duck (female).  It is called Mulard, or Moulard, as a combination of the words mule and mallard.  For me, that means that Moulard is a cross between the Muscovy-treif-as-a-pig duck and the Pekin-kosher duck.

I've eaten in restaurants in Israel with top notch hechsheirim where mechallel Shabbos or Arab wait-staff poured non-mevushal wine.  In fact, the Mashgiach at one such restaurant came over with a bottle of non-mevushal that was being served there, asking that I write a letter to complain to the Rabbanut, because all of his entreaties had yielded nothing but silence.  That's a shame, but many poskim are mattir the stam yeinam of a mechallel Shabbos (see Igros Moshe 5:37 part 8), and at worst it is an issur derabanan.  This doesn't come to the level of negligence and indifference to a respected shittas haposkim shown by serving Moulard to Americans without any warning.

I know there are families that do not eat turkey.  Someone in their past paskened that Turkey is not kosher.  There is the Frankel family, and the Mann family, some Kaminetzkies, and others.  Some have a mesora that Reb Shlomo Kluger or the Noda BiYehuda saw turkey being Doreis.  This does not matter. Almost all of Klal Yisrael accepts turkey as kosher, and those who do not can easily recognize turkey and avoid it.  That is not the case with Muscovy duck and certainly not with Moulard.

Same for Pate de Foie Gras.  Some do not eat birds that have been force-fed because of a concern for a tear in the esophagus, which renders the bird a neveila.  But everyone who avoids mefutamim knows not to eat Pate de Foie Gras, because it comes from force-fed geese.  That is not the case with Muscovy duck and certainly not with Moulard.  (And here's another surprise: most PDFG no longer comes from geese; it comes from Moulard Drakes, something you ought to know if you want to eat Pate de Foie Gras.)

And here's the worse part:  Why should I complain about the restaurant, when at least they were honest and identified the dish as Moulard?  Other hotels and restaurants that serve duck identify them generically- 'Duck."  Are they Pekin or Muscovy?  I've read that the Moulard was originally bred in Israel.  While I don't know whether Muscovies or Moulards are common or predominant in Israeli poultry farms, there is certainly no umde'na or chezkas kashrus. (I remember being at a hotel buffet on Shabbos, and seeing a steam table tray of duck.  I was surprised they would serve such an expensive dish at the buffet;  I was also surprised that it didn't taste like any duck I had ever eaten.  In retrospect, I realize it was probably Moulard, which is much cheaper to produce, since it grows to three times the weight and twice as quickly as our common duck.)  So if you're offered duck in Israel, think very carefully before saying yes. בִּין תָּבִין אֶת אֲשֶׁר לְפָנֶיךָ,
וְשַׂמְתָּ שַׂכִּין בְּלֹעֶךָ אִם בַּעַל נֶפֶשׁ אָתָּה

The issue of keilim also should be addressed, but pales in comparison to the issue discussed here.

Note:  For those that will defend this practice by saying that if the local poskim hold it's muttar, then they have no legal or moral obligation to warn off those that hold (or think or are noheig) that it is assur, please see here where I show conclusively that that to do so is both morally and legally wrong, perhaps even included in Arur Mashgeh Iver Baderech and the issur de'oraysa of Lifnei Iver.

NOTE/UPDATE:  A Kashrus professional mentioned to me that any Israeli visiting the US that eats donuts with sprinkles is encountering a similar problem.  In the US, Kashrus organizations allow resinous glaze.  In Israel, it is considered assur.  I respond by saying that the chumra against resinous glaze is a chumra, neither a kezayis nor an issur de'oraysa.

On the other hand, there is indeed an issue for Sfardim eating where an Ashkenazi gave a hechsher, because they are much more stringent regarding Bishul Akum. Our kula of being mattir when a Jew simply turned on the fire does not work for them.  So is it assur for Sefardim to eat in most restaurants, or to rely on the OU?  Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yechaveh Da'as 5:54) allows Sefardim to eat in Ashkenazi restaurants on the basis of sfeik sfeika; still, it is a problem they need to be aware of.

On the topic of things that look like a duck but are not ducks:
Is it a good thing for gentiles to wear Tztizis?  I mention Tzitzis only as an example.  The question is more general:  We know that women, who are not obligated to do some mitzvos, are rewarded when they choose to do them.  Does the same apply to gentiles who choose to do mitzvos?

There are cases where the answer is obviously "No!"  Those are Shabbos and Milah (and maybe Sukka and Gid Hanasheh).  In the case of Shabbos, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 58b) says עכו'ם ששבת חייב מיתה, so it's clearly not a good idea.  In the case of Milah, Milah is a covenant between Hashem and the Jews.  Only the party to the covenant can wear the badge of identification.  If a non-party wears such a badge, he's just a fool. 

But what of other mitzvos?

The immediate reaction from any ben torah should be "Mitzvos for Goyim is like a bicycle for a fish."  The mitzvos are for Klal Yisrael alone, and are utterly meaningless for non-Jews.  A woman is in the parsha of mitzvos with a p'tur of Zman Grama.  A goy is entirely outside of the parsha.

In fact, however, the question was clearly addressed by the Ramban in Kiddushin 31.  Unfortunately, the clear answer is either "absolutely yes" or "absolutely not."

The Gemara there talks of the schar of a person who does a mitzva by choice, even though he was not obligated to do the mitzva, for example, a blind person if you hold suma pattur, or a woman that does Zman Grama. The Ramban asks, but what of the Yerushalmi that says כל הפטור מן הדבר ועושהו נקרא הדיוט, that one who is not obligated to do a thing and does it is called a simpleton? According to the Birkei Yosef,  (YD 333:1), the Ramban answers
אי קשיא והא אמרינן בירושלמי כל העושה דבר שאינו מצווה בו נקרא הדיוט התם שעושה דבר שאינו מצווה מן התורה כלל  שהוא מוסיף על התורה אבל מי שעושה מצוות התורה כתקנן אף שלא נצטוה הוא בהם כגון נשים ועכו״ם מקבלים עליהם שכר שכל דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום
So you see that the Birkei Yosef's Ramban says ועכו״ם. Guess what? My Ramban, does not say ועכו״ם. It stops at Nashim. Now that's a big difference.
But the truth is, I would bet that either the Chida just let his pen write faster than he intended, or that he meant to write "ועבדים", not ועכו״ם . But it's interesting anyway. And the Sdei Chemed (3:81) does bring down this Birkei Yosef without commenting on the extreme chidush.

UPDATE: I checked a modern Ramban, from Mechon Ma'arovo (Yerushalayim, nun hei), and their girsa is **[כגון נשים  [וגוים .  (The boxes are theirs, not mine, and they're squares, not parenthesis.)  They claim that their edition is based on numerous kisvei yad.  This girsa, for what it's worth, seriously undermines my suggestion that the Birkei Yosef, or his edition of the Ramban, just miswrote 'akum' in place of 'avadim'.

(Please note:  The Magen Avraham 304:24 (cited by the Biur Halacha at the end of that siman) says that a Geir Toshav can be mekabel Shabbos along with other mitzvos; he can accept upon himself whichever mitzvos he chooses, up to 612 mitzvos. He will remain a ger toshav, but he will be obligated to fulfill the mitzvos he accepted, including Shabbos.  But I'm not talking about a Ger Toshav that made a formal kabbala in front of a Beis Din.  I'm talking about a 100% normal non-ger toshav Goy Gomur who wants to do mitzvos.  Still, there might be an underlying connection between the two ideas: L'maiseh, this Ger Toshav who was mekabel mitzvas Tzitzis is a non-Jew who is doing the mitzvah.  If that makes sense, then it might make sense for a stam goy, too.)

So there you have it. You can be served duck in a kosher restaurant with top notch hechsheirim, and the waiter who's pouring the wine might be wearing Tzitzis with tcheiles, and it turns out that you're eating Chazir and drinking Yayin Nesech, and the waiter is a goy, and the hechsher is just a certificate of azus meitzach.   Anything can happen on Torah Avenue.  Baruch Hashem for American Kashrus organizations.

I just got a copy of the new Igros which has the sixth Orach Chaim, and I saw that in teshuva 2 Reb Moshe says very strongly that a non-Jew that does mitzvos has absolutely no schar, it means nothing at all, and the Rambam is only talking about Korban Olah.

Unfortunately, the last section, that used to be right here, was lost in the Blogger outage.  I don't have the patience to reconstruct it with the marei makom, but here's the outline.

Tal Benschar sent me to the Rambam in 10 Melachim halachos 9 and 10.  I'm sorry I missed the offeneh Rambam, and grateful he wrote.  Thank you.
The Rambam seems to say that a non-Jew can do most mitzvos in order to receive schar, just like the Birkei Yosef's Ramban.  There are many issues in reading the Rambam, such as the distinction he clearly intends through his use of the terms Akum and Ben Noach.
Halacha 9:
עכו"ם שעסק בתורה חייב מיתה. לא יעסוק אלא בשבע מצות שלהן בלבד. וכן עכו"ם ששבת אפילו ביום מימות החול. אם עשאהו לעצמו כמו שבת חייב מיתה. ואין צריך לומר אם עשה מועד לעצמו. כללו של דבר אין מניחין אותן לחדש דת ולעשות מצות לעצמן מדעתן. אלא או יהיה גר צדק ויקבל כל המצות. או יעמוד בתורתו ולא יוסיף ולא יגרע. ואם עסק בתורה. או שבת. או חדש דבר. מכין אותו ועונשין אותו. ומודיעין אותו שהוא חייב מיתה על זה אבל אינו נהרג:
Halacha 10:
בן נח שרצה לעשות מצוה משאר מצות התורה כדי לקבל שכר. אין מונעין אותו לעשות כהלכתה

I found this perplexing, as indicated above.  But, in a victory for the value of seichel hayashar, I found that Reb Moshe (YD 1) strongly states that the Rambam cannot mean what it might seem to mean.  The Rambam only means is that while an akum that does Shabbos or learns Torah is doing a great sin, one who does other mitzvos- thinking that he'll be rewarded for doing them- is not sinning at all.  But, Reb Moshe says, in fact, he certainly will not be rewarded for doing those mitzvos.

I wrote that a good comparison would be a person that keeps Shmita in Nebraska.  Does he get schar?  Of course not.  It's a mitzva hatluya ba'aretz, and meaningless outside of Eretz Yisrael.  Tzitzis, and all the mitzvos, are a chovas gavra, whether the gavra is doing or the gavra is done upon, and the gavra is a Yisrael.  For an akum to do them is like keeping Shmita in Nebraska.  It is utterly meaningless.  So the Ramban's alleged words about ein HKBH mekapei'ach don't help things at all.  Would you say Ein Me'kapei'ach on the guy in Nebraska? 

A Rabbi Shtzepansky wrote in to argue, and cited the Meiri in Bava Kamma contrary to Reb Moshe.  Reb Moshe (YD 2) answered that the Meiri must be a ta'us sofer, because it just doesn't make sense.  Reb Moshe also notes that Reb Yosef, even in the hava amina, could not have thought that an Akum that keeps mitzvos gets greater schar than a Yisrael.  That would be muktzeh min hada'as.

Also, in another teshuva (OC 5),  he writes that he also disagrees with the Magen Avraham I cited above who holds that a Ger Toshav can be mekabeil as many mitzvos as he wants.  I was  happy with that because I also had written above that if you hold like the Magen Avraham, then the alleged Ramban would be defensible.

Again, as I mentioned above, in OC 6 Reb Moshe reiterates his opinion about Akum that does eino metzuva.

The last thing I wrote was a short discussion about the logic of reward for an Eino Metzuveh, and how it depends on whether mitzvos are inherently good or only good because we do them to fulfill Hashem's will, and that schar eino metzuva only makes sense according to the former.  I ended by saying that having crossed the line from proof to philosophy, my work has come to an end.


kashe atiki, and I would rather have what I had written in the first place.


Michael Kopinsky said...

The real question is, does it quack like a duck?

Michael Kopinsky said...

Haha! Google search turns up wikipedia which says, "Muscovy ducks are also less noisy, and sometimes marketed as a "quackless" duck; even though they are not completely silent, they don't actually quack (except in cases of extreme stress).

Michael Kopinsky said...

You didn't quote what to me is the most interesting part of the Ramban.

כגון נשים מקבלים עליהן שכר שכל דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום.

Maybe this question will give away the fact that I looked at the Ramban without learning the sugya first, but it seems that the Ramban has a novel understanding of דרכיה דרכי נועם, that is somewhat different from the way we (or at least I) generally understand it. Is he taking the pasuk to mean that mitzvos have universal positive value, even outside the context of a ציווי?

Devorah said...

Michael: [Muscovy] drakes do not quack but hiss instead. The Muscovy duck (female) squeaks with different emphases for different occasions.

So I guess the next question would be: does it walk like a duck?

Anyways.... I don't eat ducks or turkeys. Ducks are too cute, and turkeys are just plain awful.

As for Pate de foie gras... it literally means "the liver of a diseased goose" - diseased because it has been overfed. Which I guess would qualify it as being treife whichever way you look at it.

Interesting post, thanks.

b said...

I'm starting to like Muscovy ducks, if, as Devora says, the males hiss and the females squeak. In the humans I know, it's the other way around.

Michael, you raise an important point. If the din of eino metzuveh is based on darkei noam, then a non-Jew ought to get schar as well. I'm going to put it into the post.

Tal Benschar said...

I am surprised you did not quite the Rambam in Hil. Melakhim 10:10, who says that, except for Shabbos and Talmud Torah, a Ben Noach who wishes to perform one of the other mitzvos may do so and he gets reward. (The Radvaz there says that we do prevent them from engaging in mitzvos which require kedushah and taharah, like tefillin, sefer Torah and mezuzah.)

Tal Benschar said...

Another thought: if you read the two halakhos in the Rambam before the one I quoted, his psak fits very well with what the Ramban you quote says, namely, that we do not allow Bnai Noach to make up new yomim tovim and new mitzvos, but if they wish to observe the mitzvos ha Torah (other than Shabbos and Talmud Torah) they may do so.
Can you explain, acc. to the Ramban's reasoning and explanation of the Yerushalmi, why there should be a difference between nashim and goyim keeping mitzvos that are in the Torah but not obligatory as to them? The Ramban's whole point seems to be that you are a hedyot if you follow something made up, but it is appropriate to follow the Torah (which are proper dinim from Hashem) even if you as a gavra have no obligation.

On a separate issue, re the Moullard, I recall reading an article about Cornich Game Hens, and whether they were kosher. One issue is that these birds apparently come from a cross between regular chickens and other birds which are questioned. The article cited some poskim (cannot remember whom) that even if a bird is questionable, if it is crossed with a kosher bird, the resulting offspring are kosher. That would be a basis to be maikil on the Moullard, if not the Muscovy. Worth further research, I would think.

b said...

I didn't mention the Rambam because I didn't remember it. Thank you for the mareh makom.

But in a victory for seichel hayashar, I looked at Frankel's maftei'ach there, and found many interesting things, which I intend to put into the post.

As for the Cornish hen issue: The Gemara in Bechoros 7a says that an animal's ability to procreate with an animal that we know is tahor proves the kashrus of the suspect parent. It is not clear whether this applies to birds. Rabbi Ari Zivotofsky and Rabbi J.D Bleich have diametrically opposed opinions as to whether any reliable poskim entertained such an opinion. See and the notes there, numbers 36 through 43.

Chaya said...

I really love your blog! I am a BT, from a large reform family. But I was pulled back into observancy by Chabad, and I am learning and LOVING Yeshivish...The other blog I loved was Drush, Agadata, Torah, and Shabbes. Anyway- at least YOU are still blogging.

Barzilai said...

Thank you, Chaya! I very much appreciate knowing that it's not only frustrated Rosh Yeshivas that are reading this.

Anonymous said...

Check your email. I think I may have retrieved your "lost" post. Google gets co-credit if I did.

Elmer said...

In the latest issue of Hakirah, there is an article by Ari Zivotofsky and Zohar Amar which conclusively shows that Muscovy duck is kosher and that there is not the slightest reason to say otherwise. It's just kannoi agitators who have been manipulating people to manufacture the idea that there's something wrong with it.

zach said...

As for Pate de foie gras... it literally means "the liver of a diseased goose" - diseased because it has been overfed.

Did you make this up because of your aversion to pate de foie gras? Foie is liver, gras is fat. Foie gras is FAT LIVER, not "diseased".

b said...

Elmer, the fact remains that many poskim still prohibit Muscovy duck. Does the article in Hakira trump their psak? Shouldn't we wait until the poskim whom we follow tell us that the issur was incorrect?

Before writing the above, I wrote the following. Because it was written in haste, it was excessively honest, and so I wisely chose to not leave it here.

Elmer, there have been scholarly articles that conclusively demonstrated that the Chazon Ish's chumros on shiurim were not anchored in fact and were, indeed, unprecedented. There have been scholarly articles that have proven that the chumra of yomtov sheini for visitors to Israel and the prohibition of plural marriage and kitniyos are no longer relevant. I'm convinced! Let's all ignore the psakim of our gedolim, living and not living, who assered, because they evidently didn't have the clear headed advantages of modern analytical methodology. It's time to clean house and sweep out the cobwebs of error and ignorance.

b said...

Zach, I know that foie gras means fat liver, and I suspect that Devorah, who appears to be a smart cookie, (as evidenced by her own blog and her readership of certain other high-brow blogs) does too. I think that despite her saying "literally," she was using license with denotation/connotation.

Elmer said...

Elmer, the fact remains that many poskim still prohibit Muscovy duck. Does the article in Hakira trump their psak?

Yes, absolutely. Because it shows that the original authorities to prohibit it were given false information.

The entire article is available for free online at

(It's very different from kitniyos, which takes on the status of a community-wide custom. This is simply a few Poskim being given false information.)

b said...

I might agree if there were no living poskim that asser. But there are; as the article notes, Rabbi Schwartz assers. There are many, many more. Being that there are such poskim, whose psak I and many others follow, the halacha will change if, and only if, when and only when, they make a unequivocal statement that it is muttar.

Believe me, I don't enjoy the issur, and I and others only avoid this food because of the psak of my spiritual leaders. I would be thrilled if Reb Dovid Feinstein would be mattir. He, and Reb Reuven, are my poskim. For others, there's Rabbi Schwartz, and Rabbi Belsky, and Rabbi Shechter.

I am well aware that there is a column of Orthodox Jews that feels that spiritual autonomy means that one doesn't have to, and indeed should not, follow a gadol in lockstep or feel they are somehow fundamentally superior. I don't belong to that group. I've known enough kol hatorah kula plus nimusim plus seichel hayashar plus ahavas yisrael gedolim intimately to know that there are highly sensitive elements in psak that must be left to the person who, for you, stands in the position of Assei Lecha Rav.

Moshe said...

The Hakirah article can be read at

Devorah said...

Zach, are you hissing at me? Let me respond with a squeak:

I actually do like geese.... I just don't eat them.

Yes you're right it means a liver of a fat goose, [which is diseased}.

Thanks b for your in-between comment :)