muscovy duck controversy 2009

from jewish press ny

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If It Quacks Like A Duck

In this column dated January 8, 2010, in our “Call for Increased Kosher Law Enforcement,” we listed the highlights of kosher food manufacturing in the State of New York. The first Jews, using the plural form, to have set foot in what we know today as the Continental United States, was in 1654. The first individual Jew, however, to arrive on the newly discovered American continent was Joachim Gaunse (or Gans), a metallurgist and mining engineer from Prague, who landed in Virginia in 1585 as part of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke expedition.

What he and other European settlers found in the new world was new flora (plants) and fauna (animals), some wild and others cultivated and domesticated by the then Native Americans. Some of the new plants and animals were immediately recognized as nutritious foods and brought back to the Old World. Jews were involved in these new foods, as consumers, merchants, and cultivators. Almost immediately, the question of the new foods’ kosher status arose and was dealt with by the leading rabbis of the time. New foods such as corn, potatoes, chocolate, bison, tuna, and turkey were carefully analyzed. When found acceptable, the proper brachah for the different new foods was also determined.

Determining the kashrus of birds, however, is a more difficult hurdle. The Torah does not enumerate any identifying features to determine the kashrus of a bird. Twenty-four named birds are non-kosher and, ipso facto, all others are kosher. Without specific features given in the Torah that make a bird kosher, the rabbis listed four attributes that must be present: (a) A bird that is dores, a predator, is not kosher. To be kosher, a bird must have: (b) An extra talon on its foot; (c) A zefek or crop, which is a pouch in the esophagus in which food is held; and (d) A korkuvan (gizzard – inner organ) with an inner lining that can be peeled. These simanim, identifying features, continue to be debated.

Rashi, in Chulin, set down a ruling in response to many Jews having eaten an unkosher bird, which had confusing features. Rashi set forth that only birds that had a mesorah (tradition) of having been eaten by our fathers and forefathers are to be considered kosher. The Shulchan Aruch, in Yoreh De’ah 82:3 and the Rema (ibid) clearly restate Rashi’s ruling. The discovery of America yielded three types of birds: Turkey, Prairie-Chicken, and Muscovy Duck.

Duck Recall

A proclamation titled “Notice” in “Der Blatt” of January 15, 2010, KJ Poultry of Monroe, N.Y., signed by management, requests the return of ducks purchased “due to the investigation underway of the ducks delivered by a farmer that may have mixed breeds.” The announcement advises that: “Until such time that a clear determination can be made, the ducks are not to be eaten and should be returned.”

The turkey was immediately accepted as kosher. Halachic questions regarding eating turkey are only found in the 1700s, as much as 200 years after their introduction into Europe and general kashrus acceptance. Benjamin Franklin suggested that the turkey be named America’s national bird and its present highest per capita consumption is in Israel. Reasons for its kashrus acceptance are many and varied, and interestingly it was almost never prohibited by any noted halachic authority. The Praire Chicken on the other hand, widely eaten in early America, was never offered, never considered, and never accepted, as kosher.

The Muscovy duck, however, has generated much discussion in Halacha. The Muscovy duck has differing features, such as hissing instead of quacking, some black feathering, and non-exclusively-yellow beaks and feet. In addition, its somewhat predatory nature must be considered.

In 1860, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Illowy, zt”l (1814-1871), a student and musmach of the Chasam Sofer, served as Rabbi in New Orleans. He declared the Muscovy duck as not kosher since it did not have any mesorah. Rabbi Noson Adler, zt”l (1844-1890), Chief Rabbi of London, and Rabbi Shamshon Rafael Hirsch, zt”l (1808-1888), agreed with him. Before Rabbi Illowy, the question of the Muscovy duck never arose, possibly because it was not recognized as a separate species or that it was known by other names.

Later, in 1908, the Muscovy was presented to Rabbi Shmuel Salant, zt”l (1816-1909), Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, who declared it kosher. In 1954, Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank, zt”l (1879-1960), Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, indicates in his Har Zvi, Yoreh De’ah 75, that in 1909 the Muscovy was ruled kosher for an Argentinean immigrant. The Har Zvi, however, only permitted the Muscovy to be eaten by those that were already eating it. Possibly, because of determinations such as his, the cheaply nurtured Muscovy was cultivated and eaten in large numbers in Israel during its early and economically difficult years (1949-1954).

Rabbi Israel Meir Levinger, Chief Rabbi of Basel and President of the European Rabbinical Kashruth Commission, in his Mazon Kasher Min HaChai p. 70-71, quotes Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, zt”l (1816-1893), known as the Netziv and author ofMeshiv Davar, who discusses the Muscovy in 1884 and notes that certain communities did accept it while others did not. The Netziv permits the Muscovy in his Meshiv Davar, Yoreh De’ah 2: 22 and is so noted in Arugas HaBosem, Kuntres HaTeshuvos 82. In addition, the Divrei Malkiel is also listed as having permitted the Muscovy.

Notable in their vehement opposition are Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik, zt”l (1853-1918), Chief Rabbi of Brisk, and Rabbi Chaim Berlin, zt”l (1832-1912), Chief Rabbi of Moscow and Jerusalem.

Muscovy Duck 2010

In a two-page Kol Koreh proclamation, published in “Der Yid” of January 22, 2010, the Muscovy is carefully and detailedly analyzed and found to be not kosher, calling it a tumah, contaminated, bird. The Kol Koreh carries the signatures of Rabbi Shlomo Zvi Stern, DebricenerRav; Rabbi Yitzchok Stein, Foltechaner Dayan; Rabbi Yitzchak Eliezer Yakub,Rav of Beis Medrash Tevuos Shor and author of Siach Yitzchok; Rabbi Yaakov Zeida, Dayan of Vishnitz; and Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, Karlsburger Rav and author of Emek HaTeshuvah.

Contemporary scholars note that none of the permitting rabbis discussed the categorization of the Muscovy duck as a predator (dores). This, the scholars maintain, is because the permitting rabbis were not able to observe the Muscovy for any prolonged time. The rabbis prohibiting the Muscovy do so because of its predatory nature, which is an attribute found only in non-kosher birds. Had the permitting rabbis investigated the predatory nature of the bird, undoubtedly say the scholars, the Muscovy would have loudly been declared as non-kosher.

The OU, in its Position on Certifying Specific Animals and Birds by Rabbi Seth Mandel and Rabbi Chaim Loike, states: “Muscovy Duck – There were relatively many teshuvos written about Muscovy duck. Many are included later in the volume. It is clear that many authoritative poskim permitted it, and others did not. In such a case, OU certification will not be given.”

The OU’s monthly “Daf HaKashrus” of December 2004, under the heading of “The Kosher Status of Specific Questionable Birds” compiled by Rabbi Yosef Grossman, Editor, the “Daf HaKashrus” writes, “The following list represents the OU’s position regarding the kashruth status of certain questionable birds. This compilation is largely based on the teshuvah of Rav Yisroel Belsky published in last month’s issue of “Daf HaKashrus” and that of Rav Herschel Schachter in this month’s issue.” Muscovy duck is found under the Non-Acceptable column.

In an OU document titled “B-38 Kosher Status of Specific Birds and Animals, the Muscovy Duck is described as “Commonly considered assur” with Rabbi Yisroel Belsky’s signature, dated Tishrei 5764. Rabbi Yisroel Belsky is Rosh Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and today’s leading Yeshivish posek in America.

In the “old days” when food may have been scarce and hard to come by, such as in the early years of the establishment of the State of Israel, some rabbis may have relied on various leniencies to allow the consumption of the cheaply grown Muscovy. Today, however, with the abundance of food, these leniencies are likely not accepted by any poskim.

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