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What Are the Signs of a Kosher Bird?

What Are the Signs of a Kosher Bird?

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The Torah tells us that a kosher land animal must chew its cud and have split hooves, and fish must have fins and scales. But the Torah doesn’t give any signs for the kosher bird. Instead, it lists 24 classes of non-kosher birds.1

In theory, if we could identify these 24 classes, we could eat any class of birds not on this list (if slaughtered according to halachah).2 The problem is that many of the biblical-Hebrew bird names are not easily identifiable. (The English translations found in some Bibles are merely educated guesses, so some translators elect to transliterate rather than give inaccurate translations.) And even if we did know the exact English names, it would still be hard for most of us to identify the more exotic bird species. It would also be a challenge to identify which bird species belong to which classes, since the halachic categories differ from the common scientific ones (and the scientific categories are subject to change). For example, we don’t know how many species of birds fall under the category of “owl” or “eagle.”

To clarify this issue, the sages of the Mishnah give several signs that help identify whether a bird is kosher:

1) it is not a bird of prey; and

2) it has an “extra” toe, a crop, and/or a gizzard that can be peeled. (Whether all three of these signs must be present is a matter of dispute, as will be explained.)

Identifying Birds of Prey

In the words of the Mishnah, “Any bird that claws [lit., that is dores] is not kosher.”3 However, there are various opinions as to the exact definition of a dores:

a) a bird that seizes its food with its claws and lifts it off the ground to its mouth,4 b) a bird that holds down its prey with its claws and breaks off small pieces to eat,5

c) a bird that hits its prey with its feet and ingests its prey while it is still alive,6

d) a bird that pounces on its prey with its claws,7 or

e) a bird that injects a sort of venom into its prey.8

The Mishnah adds an alternative method of identifying a bird that is a dores: a bird that “parts its toes,” i.e., when standing on a rope, it has two toes in the front and two in the back, like a parrot.9

A 12th century rabbi, Rabbi Zerachiah Halevi of Gerondi (known as the Ba’al Hamoar), describes two features of a bird that is not a dores: a wide beak and webbed feet (like a duck).10

Additional Signs of Kosher Birds

In addition to not being a dores, the Mishnah gives three features of a kosher bird:

  • “Extra” toe: A toe that is behind and above the other toes.11 It is called “extra” because it is not in the same row as the other toes.12 Some say that this refers to an “elongated toe” (a front toe that is longer than the rest).13 Both of these characteristics can be seen in chicken feet.

  • Crop: A pouchlike organ that stores undigested food until the digestive tract is ready to receive and digest the food.

  • Peelable gizzard (pupik in Yiddish): A gizzard in the digestive tract that is lined with skin that can be peeled by hand.

While all agree that any bird of prey is not kosher, there are differences of opinion whether a bird needs to have all or some of these three features for it to be considered kosher. The Tzemach Tzedek writes that the halachah follows the opinion that all signs must be present14 --that is, unless there is a specific tradition that a bird is kosher.

Tradition

In practice, it is difficult to identify birds by these rabbinic signs. Indeed, the Talmud cites a number of incidents where a community at first thought a certain bird was kosher, and only after a long while was it observed that the bird was in fact a dores and therefore not kosher. Thus, identifying a dores can be quite difficult, since even if the bird only exhibits the dores behavior very rarely, it is considered not kosher.15

Therefore, the halachah is that we only eat birds that we know are kosher through established tradition.16 And if there is a reliable tradition that a bird is kosher, then it need not have all of the “kosher signs” (except for not being a predator).17 For example, the goose doesn’t have a crop but is nevertheless considered kosher.

Turkey

Provided that we can only eat birds for which we have a tradition, the question arises, how is turkey, a New World species, widely considered kosher?

One explanation is that, in addition to the signs discussed above, the Talmud discusses a rule known as the hybridization principle: a kosher species cannot mate with non-kosher species. Therefore, the fact that a suspect species can interbreed with a known kosher species confirms the kosher status of the unknown species.18

Although the Talmud does not explicitly state that this principle extends to birds, many rabbis,19 including the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Schneerson, known as the Maharash,20 hold that it does indeed extend to birds, and therefore a bird can be considered kosher, even in the absence of a specific tradition, if it mates with known kosher species of birds.

Some, however, disagree and hold that this principle does not extend to birds, and they offer alternative explanations as to why most consider turkey kosher.

So although most species of birds are kosher, due to our lack of knowledge about many of the bird species, in practice, only birds for which there is a reliable tradition are eaten. Example of kosher birds are the domestic species of chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and pigeons (doves).21

Footnotes
2.
See Talmud, Chullin 63b, and Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deiah 82:1-2.
3.
Talmud, Chullin 59a.
4.
Rashi on Talmud, Chullin 59a, and Rabbi Ovadiah Bartenura, Chullin 3:6.
5.
Maimonides’ commentary to Mishnah, Chullin 3:6; see also Rashi on Talmud, Chullin 62a and Niddah 50b.
6.
Tosfot on Chullin 61a, s.v. hadores; Rabbi Ovadiah Bartenura, Chullin 3:6 (second explanation).
7.
Shach, Yoreh Deah 82:3, understanding of Ran, Chullin, page 20b in Rif.
8.
The Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deiah 82:5, understanding of Ran, ibid.
9.
Talmud, Chullin 59a.
10.
Cited in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deiah 82:3.
11.
Rashi on Talmud, Chullin 59a.
12.
Ran on Talmud, Chullin 59a, cited in Taz on Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deiah 82:2.
13.
Ramban on Talmud, Chullin 59a.
14.
Responsum of Tzemach Tzedek, Yoreh Deiah 60; see there for a lengthy explanation on the various other opinions about this.
15.
See Talmud, Chulin 62b.
16.
See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deiah 82:2-3, and gloss of Rabbi Moshe Isserlis ad loc.
17.
See Shach, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deiah 82:6.
18.
Talmud, Bechorot 7a.
19.
See Chatam Sofer, Yoreh Deiah 74; Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deiah 1:75:19-21; Da'at Torah, Yoreh Deiah 82:3; Chesed L'Avraham, Tinyana, YD:22-24.
20.
Igrot Kodesh, Maharash p. 8.
21.
Note: This is not a conclusive list. Additionally, there are some varieties of these birds for which there is no tradition and are therefore not eaten.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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norman hauptman yonkers April 24, 2017

The deep discussion on food is inferior in importance to honoring and loving G-d's images (us) better every day. Reply

jim dallas April 23, 2017

i looked it all up....found nothing outright...your word is good enough for me...thanks a mint rabbi! Reply

Missie Atlanta April 21, 2017

Just curious -- what about quail, partridge, and other game birds? Reply

Scabda April 27, 2017
in response to Missie:

Quail and partridge are kosher. Different traditions permit different birds. Thus, Sephardim can eat peacock whilst ashkenazis cannot. Reply

YitsHAK April 21, 2017

The final point of the Torah wants to make that there is a a fine line between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.
All the creatures that come from the world of Tohu are unacceptable Reply

Anonymous New Port Richey via chabadwp.com April 21, 2017

These you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.
Lev. 11:13-19 Reply

Gary Jerusalem April 27, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Now the stork (hasidah) is not a bird of prey, so why is it not kosher? Because it is good only to its own kind! That's the humanitarian link!
(I think I remember that from Love Thy Neighbor by Rav Pliskin). Reply

Decoy April 21, 2017

I find all this perfectly understandable. I would not go outside that list of birds that are said to be traditional, because of tradition. All those seem to offer the choices that I would want. That being said, the question that I have never received an acceptable answer for is: why can we not mix dairy with bird flesh? Birds do not produce milk. Help me understand. Reply

Michael Rudmin Portsmouth April 21, 2017

I think the Ostrich and the Emu, though vegetarian, fight by clawing. Therefore, I suspect they are not kosher.

That said, I do not know for sure.

I think that turkeys are considered kosher; notwithstanding, there are some jews who refuse to eat turkey for a similar reason. Indeed, I have seen a female turkey cannibalize the egg of another turkey.

So if you've seen such a thing, and it matters to you to try to be holy, well, some people take more on themselves than others... because of what they have seen. Maybe the views will change in another fifty or hundred years.

But in wartime, if pork is all that is available to eat, and it isn't done to defy the most high, Jews do hold that it is better to uphold life than to follow a rule. Likewise, eating roadkill to survive... you shall wash your clothes and be unclean until eating; and you shall hate it; but nontheless in extremeties it can be done.

So it is with halachic and non-halachic food, if I understand correctly Reply

mark April 21, 2017
in response to Michael Rudmin:

Chickens will cannibalize eggs and each other, if there is a vulnerable and bleeding chicken in the coup. Reply

Monty Pogoda Efrata April 21, 2017

Would the egg of a bird, round at one end and "pointed" on the other not determine the Kashrut of the bird? Reply

Amin Wahyudi Semarang, Indonesia April 21, 2017

Is chicken still kosher after eating worm, insect, or else? Reply

Anonymous April 21, 2017
in response to Amin Wahyudi:

I cannot give You the textual source but my understanding is that once a substance is consumed by a kosher animal, that substance becomes itself kosher.

It was explained to me that the shrimp which a kosher fish consumes is rendered kosher at the point of ingestion.

A similar principle is true in reverse. Eggs may be eaten with dairy UNLESS the egg is actually obtained by removing it from inside the bird. In that case it is considered part of the bird, fleysik, and, hence, should not be eaten with dairy.

Maybe someone else can provide a source? Reply

Mick California April 22, 2017
in response to Amin Wahyudi:

Yes. According to most rabbis that I have asked, chickens are still kosher after eating worms, insects, even mice and snakes! But personally, I don't consider chickens or turkeys clean 'kosher' animals to eat. They are very predatory as anyone who grew up on a farm would know. Reply

Allan Hytowitz Alpharetta April 21, 2017

The basis for Kashruth The existence of bacteria was not observed until Leeuwenhoek’s enhancement of the microscope in 1673. Among his discoveries was that raw milk is ripe with bacteria which thrive in the nutritious warmth of liquid milk. Heating the milk to where it is boiling is difficult without having the proteins in the milk solidify (curdle). Adding meat to liquids containing raw milk provides even more nutrients in the form of blood that further aids in bacteria growth where their presence and by-products would be guaranteed toxic.
When there seems to be NO rational explanation, unquestioned Authority has a loss of credibility. The 6th Century BCE prohibition against mixing meat and milk has little relevance in the 21st Century when applied to a cheeseburger at McDonalds. To quote Dennis Miller, “it is not real meat and it is not real cheese.” I wash my hands before I eat, but I say a prayer of thanks to my microbiology professors. Reply

Jay Fulton April 20, 2017

As a young teenager one of Dad's colleagues hunted duck during fall hunting season. He gave us a duck he killed and said it could be stored outside as the temperature never rose above 35 degrees. After a week, Mom brought the dead duck inside and began to clean it out. Now my family is not Jewish but Mom's grandfather was Jewish and Mom seemed to have had much knowledge about butchering an animal. The duck was roasted in the oven but there was a very offensive odor in the kitchen. When the baking time was finished, the duck was taken of the oven but Mom decided not to serve it because of the strong unpleasant odor. My guess is that the duck had rotted. Could you elaborate on animals that are hunted as to whether they are kosher or not? Probably I know this already but I know that not all readers of Chabad are Jewish and I feel it would be a great help if you can expand on animals during hunting season in a later article. Reply

stewart eastman Abita Springs April 20, 2017

My opinion, for what it is worth, is that only predators and scavengers were intended to be non-kosher. That fits with the other food traditions.

But, I would be interested to hear the rabbi's opinion on two non-predator, non-traditional birds. Those are the Emu, and the Ostrich. Ostriches were known by biblical folks, is there any reference? Emus were not, but what can be said on the matter? I think both should be kosher. Reply

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