The vast majority of the Jewish community considers the turkey a kosher bird. As such, if it has been slaughtered by a qualified shochet and properly salted, turkey is a perfectly kosher food. Indeed, a visit to a kosher deli will reveal a wide array of kosher turkey products: smoked turkey, turkey pastrami, and even turkey hot dogs.

When peeking under the hood, however, one discovers that things are not quite so simple. The Torah gives us a list of 24 non-kosher birds,1 leaving us to understand that all other birds are kosher. Now, it is often difficult (or impossible) for us to know which birds the Torah is referring to. As such, common practice is to consume only the species for which there has been an ongoing tradition, telling us that Jews have always considered that bird to be kosher.

Turkey is a new-world bird, introduced to Europe in the 16th century. So how can there possibly be an ongoing tradition regarding its kosher status? Many halachic authorities explain that since a kosher species cannot mate with non-kosher species, the fact that a suspect species can interbreed with a known kosher species confirms the kosher status of the unknown species.2 Since turkeys can mate with certain birds known to be kosher, we can be sure that turkeys are also kosher.

It should be noted that due to the ambiguity surrounding turkey, some individuals (notably, descendants of the Sheloh, Rabbi Yeshaya Halevi Horowitz,) avoid eating it. This is not, however, a mainstream practice.