Halacha Berurah: Thanksgiving – Is Turkey a Kosher Bird?


rabbi_bohmBy Rabbi Elli Bohm

Reviewed By Harav Yisroel Belsky

There are several birds that Yiddin have eaten for hundreds of years, while their origins are shaded in mystery. For example, a popular bird which was commonly known as the kibitzer hin among other names, was the issue of much controversy. The question revolved around whether there was a mesorah to permit it or not. Unlike animals which the torah clearly outlines simanim to determine its kosher status, birds require a mesorah. The Torah prohibits the consumption of twenty-four types of birds, and lists their names twice. One who has a mesorah – a tradition – that a certain bird is not from those that are forbidden by the Torah (e.g. chicken) may eat it without any hesitation.

The kibitzer hin was a bit larger than a chicken, and had a longer neck, feathers on its legs, and a deep voice. Its actual origin was also unclear. Some claimed it to be from India, others from Russia, while others claimed that it originated from America. (If it did indeed originate from America, there is almost definitely no mesorah for it, since there was no Jewish community living in America prior to Columbus discovering America.) The turkey controversy was a bit more puzzling. Just as with the kibitzer hin, there were records of the question being posed to earlier poskim, but only after it was already widely accepted to eat turkey. Unlike the kibitzer hin where there were many teshuvos claiming that there was a mesorah, only few claimed that there was a mesorah for turkey. Many contended that the claim that a mesorah exists was fallacious, and was the result of confusion regarding the actual type of bird or its place of origin. The confusion concerning the origin of turkey had partly to do with the confusion as to where Columbus landed. Many people were under the impression that the turkey originally came from India, while in reality it originated from the Western Hemisphere, and more specifically Mexico, which was then known as the Spanish Indies. In Hebrew, turkey is still referred to as tarnigol hodu, which means the ‘Indian bird’. Others called it the indik. Turkey became popular in England in the 1530’s and was introduced there by merchants who were traveling in the eastern Mediterranean, which was then part of the Turkish Empire.  Consequently, some claimed that this is the reason why in England the bird received the name ‘Turkey’. Since turkey is actually an American bird and was first discovered at the turn of the sixteenth century, it is hard to imagine that there was a mesorah on it. There are several rationales offered to explain the initial acceptance to eat turkey which are discussed in our comprehensive article on this subject

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To contact Rabbi Bohm directly you can send an email to ebohm@halachaberurah.com

{Rabbi Elli Bohm is a Rosh Chaburah at Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, NJ and author of the Halacha Berurah publications}

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  1. Don’t print half baked articles. This article ignores the main issue, which is not whether turkey has a mesorah, but whether one needs a mesorah at all.

  2. I have a mesorah that turkey is kosher. My father eats it, My grandfather ate it. both erliche yidden. Most yidden i know have this mesorah as well. As to my elteh-elteh-zeide or whoever it was who started eating it? Its not my place to judge him nor is it yours. I will keep my mesorah alive by eating turkey, you should too (unless of course youre ancestors refrained from turkey in which case you should keep YOUR mesorah alive, but be sure not to shove your mesorah down other’s throat

  3. I was told that the word TURKEY is an Americanized version of TOOKI.A Spanish Jew who came with Columbus to escape the inquisition saw the bird and exclaimed TOOKI.
    this is not a joke.