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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Featherless Chickens

Some years ago, a story came out about a breed of featherless chickens being developed by Professor Avigdor Cahaner in Israel (פרופ' אביגדור כהנר מהפקולטה לחקלאות באוניברסיטה העברית ברחובות).  Kosher consumers around the world rejoiced, (maybe I'm just projecting,) because nobody wants to deal with that scourge of the kosher consumer- hairy chickens.  Treif chicken is always pristine, because they rinse them in hot water after slaughtering them, which loosens the feathers.  We cannot do that before we salt them, so we have to mechanically remove the feathers, and that does a very poor job.  I find it hard to eat commercial deep fried breaded chicken, because I was traumatized once when I bit into a nicely breaded piece from a restaurant and found myself essentially eating a pillow.  The dear purveyors of that restaurant evidently felt that if it was covered and fried, there was no need to waste time plucking it.  I've found the same to be true in many covered foods, including chocolate-enrobed peanuts, which I also eat very tentatively because of a ma'aseh she'hayah. 

These chickens haven't come to market yet, but it seems from the video that Professor Cahaner is still developing them.  I have a feeling, though, that even if they are eventually commercialized, someone's going to asser them because of the Pri Megadim.  The Pri Megadim in YD 59 SD 2 says they although the issur in the Beis Yosef and the Maharshal on birds that were stripped before shechita won't apply here, where the birds naturally grow like that.  However, he also brings the Hagahos Ashri's opinion that they are assur because they are just too ugly to eat.  I can't say I disagree with him.  In the video, please listen to what the narrator says at 3:50. We are reminded of Plato's definition of Man:  animal bipes implume; a two-legged animal without feathers.  Were Plato alive, he might have to rethink his definition.  (For a more scholarly discussion, (at least until the final pictures,) please see "Remarks" after the video.)

Featherless birds are discussed in two places in Yoreh Dei'ah, in Siman 59 and Siman 15.  The discussion in 59 involves the issue of   גלודה, whether an animal that has been skinned alive is kosher, and the discussion in 15 is about the kashrus of an animal before it is fully developed, in the case of a bird, before it opens its eyes and before it is fledged.  As for the Siman 59 issue, that is irrelevant here, because that only deals with the viability of an animal after a traumatic assault on its integrity.  Obviously, our featherless friends have been bred to be perfectly healthy without feathers, so the  גלודה issue is moot.   As for the Siman 15 question, there are two separate issues involved.  One is that an unhatched chick, or a chick before it opens its eyes, is so lizard-like that it is prohibited because of its reptile appearance- it looks like a שרץ.  This is purely an issur derabbanan.  On the other hand, we find some poskim, particularly the Shach, that adds another consideration; that it is repulsive in such a state, and there would be in issur of  שקץ.  Not שרץ (reptile,)  but instead שקץ (disgusting.)  The Taz is mattir, but the issur of the Shach is a consideration that would have to be dealt with.

I have seen poskim that conflated these two issues, but, as you see, they are entirely different considerations.  In any case, with this in mind, you understand that when I said they are assur because they are ugly, that was just my way of rephrasing the Shach in a more down-to-earth manner.  

I think that you can't go wrong following the Aruch Hashulchan (YD 59:8).

העוף שניטלה נוצתו כשר ויש אוסרים לפי שהנוצה לעוף כעור לבהמה דעור העוף רך ודק וכתב רבינו הרמ״א דטוב להחמיר אם נפלו כולם מיהו אם נפלו נוצותיו מרוב שומן אע״פ שנפלו כולם ונשאר ערום מ״מ כשר הואיל ונעשה מרוב שומנו עכ״ל כלומר שא״א שבדבר שמשתבחת בו תטרף בו ואם כי יש מגמגמים בזה אמנם אין להחמיר כי מעיקר הדין דעת רוב רבותינו להכשיר לגמרי דכן  מבואר מגמ׳ [נ״ז:] אמנם אסטנים שדעתו קצה עליו לא יאכלנו, משום בל תשקצו [יש"ש סק״ט] דכעין זה נתבאר כםי׳ ט״ו באפרוח שעדיין לא נתנדלה בנוצתה ע״ש

What he says is, basically, that some say you shouldn't eat it, but that's really only a matter of refinement and aesthetics, so unless it really bothers you, don't worry about it.  He brings this from the יש"ש, the Maharshal, in Eilu Treifos Siman 109.

Also, thank you, Eli, for directing us in your comments to an excellent and far more serious article about these birds, by Rabbi Levinger, available here.
Rabbi Levinger tells us that this phenotype arises from a spontaneous genetic mutation, not inter-species hybridization.  He also discusses גלודה,  and concludes, as I do, that this is not a problem here.  He doesn't discuss the issue of ugly.  מקום הניחו לי. 

Despite the author's certainty that nobody could possible think this is a new species, Eli believes that it remains possible that someone will claim that these birds are so different from standard breeds that they no longer fall under the definition of "Chicken" as far as satisfying the requirement of having a mesora that a particular species of bird is kosher. The definition of species is unclear, as we know from the Muscovy duck and the turkey controversies.  From listening to the Professor, it appears that they don't have scales on their legs either, and that, too, might lend itself to a "too different to be called a chicken" argument.  I certainly hope not.  What it looks like is irrelevant, because a יוצא מן הטהור is
טהור, period.  But we have a surplus of people who would be happy to gain publicity and burnish their credentials by prohibiting things, so watch out.

I came across a דרכי תשובה in Siman 59 that brings from R Avraham Ankawa, a Moroccan Posek, author of the Get Mekushar, in his זבחים שלמים ס"ס נ"ט that says that he was brought such "naked chickens" several times, and he was mattir because he was told that they were a local peculiarity but perfectly healthy and kosher.
וכמה פעמים באה לידינו מין תרנגולת ערום ושאלתי ואמרו לי שזה המין כך הוא לעולם ....התרנו אותה ע"פ מנהג העולם
The Darkei Teshuva's comment is ואם קבלה הוא נקבל.  

In 1782. America chose as its emblem

The Bald Eagle.

In 2008. Israelis chose the דוכיפת, the Hoopoe, as their national bird.  Despite my currently diminished capacity, it is my considered opinion that we need to re-think that designation.  The דוכיפת, after all, is not kosher.  The דוכיפת has no special place in the hearts and minds of the Jewish People.  But Chicken soup!  I guarantee that if Meah She'arim had voted, the outcome would have been different.  And who knows what the future holds?  Maybe someday Israel's national bird will be 

The Bald Chicken



Eli said...

He dismissed the מסורה argument, but I'm sure some will not, ק"ו מזבו.

Regrading the PMG, I think the מיאוס he (or rather the OZ) talks about has nothing to do with the attractiveness of the creature. It is only that very young animals, unable to move or behave like the adult animals, are too similar to שרצים. This is based on חולין סד - כל השרץ השורץ על הארץ לרבות אפרוחים שלא נפתחו עיניהם (מדרבנן וקרא אסמכתא בעלמא) and the ירושלמי ריש ביצה - גוזלים שלא העלו עליהן כנפים אסורין משום שקץ ואין לוקין עליהם משום נבלה

ariela said...

Sick, messing with G-ds creation in such a way. Just sick, somethings are just supposed to be hard and unpleasant.... Such as plucking a chicken, Did it ever occur to anyone that those feathers are there to protect not only the chicken but we who consume them from certain bacteria and pest. Oy Vay

Barzilai/Eliezer Eisenberg said...

See, these birds elicit strong reactions. You're absolutely right. I don't know what kind of instrumentality he's using, whether it's simple controlled breeding or genetic manipulation, but the product definitely elicits an instinctive revulsion. That's what the Hagahos Ashri means, too, though I'm sure his "issur" is at worst a Derabannan, but more likely from the perspective of mussar and human refinement (which is not something to sneeze at, either.)

I do know that modern commercial turkeys are incapable of normal reproduction. See
This is the result of selective breeding, and it is an insult to nature, but it's not as repugnant as these chickens. But boy, I would really love to buy a package of chicken without going through ten looking for a package with fewer feathers. In my experience, Empire is the cleanest, but even they are far from perfect. And some brands are simply an insult to the consumer. You want kosher? Pluck it yourself. I will resist the temptation to rearrange that phrase to reflect the subtext.

Milhouse said...

Despite the author's certainty that nobody could possible think this is a new species, Eli believes that it remains possible that someone will claim that these birds are so different from standard breeds that they no longer fall under the definition of "Chicken" as far as satisfying the requirement of having a mesora that a particular species of bird is kosher.

I don't see how this argument would even begin. The only reason that (we hold) birds need a mesorah is to rule out the possibility that it's some subspecies of one of the treife species listed in the Torah. Nobody denies that if one could identify all of the treife species one could eat any new bird one came across. It's only because we can't do this that we have simanim and (according to the rishonim we follow) also mesorah.

Now let's suppose these birds do indeed constitute a new species distinct from the chickens they were bred from, and are not covered by our mesorah that chickens are not one of the treife species. Very well. But this new species that they are, since it never existed in Moshe's day, can't be one of them. So the lack of mesorah doesn't matter. It's as if an expert hunter from Chazal's (or Moshe's) day, who knew all the treife species, were to appear to us and tell us that he doesn't recognise this bird; that would be enough to make it kosher.

Milhouse said...

Sick, messing with G-ds creation in such a way. Just sick,

How is it "messing with G-d's creation"? What does that even mean? We were given the world to improve it. All of agriculture is "messing with G-d's creation". Not a single one of the species we eat is as G-d made it; we have improved them all, exactly as He wanted us to.

Medicine, too, is "messing with G-d's creation"; if G-d made someone sick, how dare we make him well? If G-d made us unable to survive in cold climates, how dare we make ourselves clothes and houses, to survive there? This is not Judaism, it's pagan nature-worship.

somethings are just supposed to be hard and unpleasant

The one thing the Torah tells us is meant to be hard and unpleasant is childbirth. So do you oppose anything that relieves that hardship and unpleasantness?! Do you think that בעצב תלדי בנים is an obligation rather than a curse?! I didn't think so.

Milhouse said...

The דוכיפת, after all, is not kosher. The דוכיפת has no special place in the hearts and minds of the Jewish People. But Chicken soup!

That's a funnier comment than you might think, because one of the ta'anos the Kara'im invented to hurl against the Rabbanim was that the Biblical דוכיפת is the chicken, and we are all eating treif. I don't know where they got this idea, but they worked hard to justify it.

Milhouse said...

I think Eli in the first comment is right, the purported disgustingness of a chick before it grows feathers is not because of its appearance but because of its young age.

Imagine a chicken that is featherless, but rather than being naked it is covered with down like a chick. Would you be disgusted with its appearance? I wouldn't. And yet that is the state of the chicks which the Shach (quoted by the Pri Megadim) calls disgusting. So it's not their nudity that disgusts him, it's their lack of development. Therefore a fully-developed chicken that happens to be naked, while it may look bad, would not be in the category that the Shach is calling שקץ

Barzilai/Eliezer Eisenberg said...

Hello, Mar Milhouse.
Ah, if only common sense were decisive le'halacha.

Let me remind you about the Zebu controversy. Four legged animals need two simanim, both of which are either obvious or entirely absent. However, the Shach (YD 80:1) mentions, in passing, the idea that we have a mesora regarding such animals as well.

The Pri Maggadim writes that he is cannot imagine that this Shach would be relevant to the question of the kashrus status of an animal, in that the simanim are unmistakable. Furthermore, if the Shach meant what he might be read to mean, he would have put it where it belonged, in YD 79 where the kosher animals are identified.

Still, the Chachmas Adam (36:1) takes the Shach at face value and says that mesora is needed for quadrapeds. And, the Chazon Ish (Hilchos ba'hama v'chaya tahora 11 letters 4 & 5) paskens like the Chachmas Adam.

Now if a Zebu or a buffalo, which the Chazon Ish says is absolutely kasher but we cannot eat because of the Shach, what do you think he would say about a bird that we know is kasher, but might not be covered by a mesora?

Barzilai/Eliezer Eisenberg said...

Anyway, Mar Milhouse, I'm glad there is more than twenty five people in the world that can read all the way to the end of a piece that is firmly planted עַל שְׁתֵּי הַסְּעִפִּים of the sublime and the absurd.

Milhouse said...

The zebu controversy is just silly. The Shach's meaning is obvious just from reading it. All he is saying is that the Shulchan Aruch's detailed discussion of how to distinguish chayos from beheimos by the shape of their horns is of no practical relevance to "us" in Poland, because "we" only eat a few species, none of whose chaya/beheima status is in doubt. The only mammals available to "us" are cows, sheep, and goats, which are all definitely beheimos, and deer, which are definitely chayos. So the discussion in this siman is as irrelevant to "us" as seder taharos. He's not paskening about what "we" should eat, just noting what "we" do. The Shach didn't eat zebus for the exact same reason he didn't eat bananas.

Barzilai/Eliezer Eisenberg said...

I hear what you're saying. The truth of your pshat is so clear that any thinking person ought to rely on you and the Pri Megadim, and not on the the Chachmas Adam and the Chazon Ish. I've heard similar arguments from Ari Zivitofsky et al. I've often thought so myself in similar matters of halacha. But then I take a firm grip on reality, and I say to myself, who the Hell do I think I am to be machria among the Gedolei Yisrael. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn't. After all, I tell myself, I was a Rosh Kollel for years, I was told by my Rosh Yeshiva that I am a bigger talmid chacham than (a certain highly regarded gadol who is now the olam ha'emes,) and in my manic moments, I think I ought to be consulted by poskim so that they don't say wrong-headed things. But eventually, most of the time, I calm down, and at least I don't make my opinion public.

Barzilai/Eliezer Eisenberg said...

By the way, the Portuguese began importing bananas to Europe around one hundred years before the Shach was born.

Barzilai/Eliezer Eisenberg said...

And let's say you're right, and that your pshat is so clearly true that the CA and the Chazon Ish must agree with you. So why did they say what they said? Probably because of policy considerations- that they anticipated potential problems in the future if we relied on simanim. Aren't they entitled to deference on matters of policy? You want to do like the Pri Megadim, that's fine. It's a derabanan issue, one has the right to be meikil in a machlokes haposkim. But to say that no other pshat has any validity is going too far.

Milhouse said...

By the way, the Portuguese began importing bananas to Europe around one hundred years before the Shach was born.

But the Polish did not. I think the probability that the Shach ever ate a banana is as close to zero as makes no difference. Indeed, I doubt he ever ate a potato either.