The Chicken And Egg Controversy, Again


rav-gershon-tannenbaumBy Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum

A story regarding my great-grandfather, Rabbi Shraga Zvi Tannenbaum, zt”l(1826-1897), Chahter Rav and author of Nita Sorek, is reverentially told. He would routinely make the traditional Shabbos egg and onion salad himself after Musaf, to be eaten by his family at the noon meal. One Shabbos after Musaf, a very ominous and threatening tiding reached the city of Chaht. Leaders of the kehilla immediately rushed to the home of the Chahter Rav and reported the bad news and respectfully suggested that all the city’s Jews immediately be called to the beis medrashto recite Tehillim.

The Chahter Rav pondered for a second and responded that he could achieve more in heaven by making and eating the customary Shabbos egg and onion salad. After Havdalah, the congregational leaders learned that the looming threat had been nullified at precisely the time the Chahter Rav was making and eating the egg and onion salad.

A debate that had been simmering for years has heated up again. In response to lingering questions, Rabbi Eliezer Chaim Blum, Kasho Rebbe, convened a group of expert rabbonim and shochtim in Williamsburg last month to again review the kosher status of a certain type of chicken. (Though very few in number, there are some pious Jews who abstain from eating chicken meat because of a lack of clarity of its kosher status recognition.)

In February 2004, a kollel group visited an egg farm in Montreal to observe and learn about its kashrus certification. Studying all components of the process, the group wondered whether the chickens laying the eggs were themselves kosher. The eggs are used universally without reservation. The overwhelming likelihood is that these are the very same type of eggs in your kosher grocery or supermarket and in your pantry or refrigerator. The chickens that laid these eggs, however, are not routinely eaten by the kashrus-observant community. They lack the tenderness and tastiness of edible meat.

The chickens are White Leghorn, a species that was presumably halachically unknown in the time of the Temple and which does not have a mesorah (tradition) of uninterrupted use by our forefathers. Artwork dating back 2,000 years to the end of the second Beis HaMikdash era depicts the Leghorn chicken. However, that is not necessarily proof of its consumption.

The Leghorn is a breed of chicken with recent origins in Tuscany, central Italy. They were first imported to North America in 1853 and were known as “Italians.” In 1865, as the breed became more popular, they were referred to by the name of the place of origination, the Italian city of Livorno, on the western edge of Tuscany, which in English is also known as Leghorn.

The Leghorn chicken is a relatively small, white-colored breed of poultry that currently dominates the American egg-producing class. The bird, as it is bred today, produces a good number of chalk white eggs, a feature that has brought it to the forefront of modern commercial egg production. Though it has the necessary kosher attributes, it does not have a provenance of kosher acceptance dating that far back in time.

(The turkey is in a somewhat similar situation and is almost universally accepted as kosher, though there are some – very few – who decline to eat it because of the mesorah aspect. Turkey, after all the considerations and deliberations, is eaten by virtually every observant Jew throughout the world.)

The questions regarding Leghorn chickens cast a spotlight on its eggs, which comprise the overwhelming majority of those being sold today to commercial and retail consumers. Further, since many prepared food products have eggs as an ingredient, if the chicken and its eggs are disqualified, very few prepared foods items could be considered kosher. As farfetched as this controversy may seem, poskim and halachic experts around the world focused their attention on this matter in an attempt to achieve a clear understanding and a final decision.

During the investigations, many observant Jews considered avoiding all food items made with eggs. However, rabbis issued assurances that the eggs are under an unquestionable assumption of kashrus and, until proven otherwise, observant Jews may continue eating them in full confidence of being in complete compliance with kashrus laws.

In February 2004, several rabbis in Kiryas Yoel acquired and thoroughly examined a number of Leghorn chickens. Upon their observations, a meeting was called in the offices of Hisachdus Horabbonim in Williamsburg. Apparently, the shailah has been pondered in recent times by Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, Karlsburger Rav, author of Emek Hashailah and a leading posek, and for several years by the Jerusalem Eidah Hacharedis beis din. During the meeting’s second day the decision was made to announce the absolute kashrus of the eggs when, simultaneously, a letter of positive kosher determination was received from Rabbi Roth as well as from other prominent dayanim in Jerusalem.

A Question of Fingers

Kosher fowl must have four specific attributes that make it kosher (Chullin, Mishnah 59a). The attribute that perplexed the rabbis concerning the Leghorn chicken was its foot formation. As is the case with many kosher fowl, the Leghorn has four fingers. But while kosher fowl have the fingers – all almost equal in size – in the formation of a thumb and three other fingers, two of the Leghorn’s four fingers, at least at first glance, appear to be thumbs. If that were indeed the case, it would disqualify it from being considered kosher.

Rabbis have been studying this unique aspect of the Leghorn for at least 50 years and possibly much longer. After each investigation, the decision has always been that the Leghorn’s finger formation, despite first-glance appearances, is not two and two but definitely three and one, and therefore unquestionably kosher.

Many contemporary rabbis have given their attention to the Leghorn chicken and its fingers and have found that when relaxed, the Leghorn consistently uses its fingers in the three and one formation. Among other citations, a responsa by Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Shapiro, zt”l (1840-1913), Munkatcher Rebbe and author of Darkei Tshuvah, determined that the Leghorn chicken was kosher and that one may not cast aspersions on millions of Jews and their rabbis as having eaten unkosher fowl.

A number of letters and certifications were issued in 2004, both here and in Israel, dismissing all doubt and reaffirming that the Leghorn chicken is kosher and that its eggs may be eaten without hesitation by observant Jews. Nevertheless, the number of rabbis who personally abstained actually increased. Though permitting it for others, some rabbis did not eat Leghorn chickens. A few others chose not eat any chicken meat.

June 2010

The Kasho Rebbe convened a meeting to address the issue on June 3, 2010. The three main concerns were: (1) The Leghorn may have been bred from kosher and non-kosher chickens; (2) though technically kosher, the Leghorn may not have a valid mesorah (for the past 60 years, accredited shochtim have remained unfamiliar with Leghorn, possibly because it lacks the tenderness and tastiness of edible meat); and (3) the lingering suspicion of its leg and finger formation.

Invited to address that meeting, Rabbi Chaim Loike, OU Kosher rabbinic coordinator and respected bird and egg specialist, stated that when a bird is a hybrid of two other bird types, the resulting new breed would be different, to a noticeable degree, from both its parents. If however, an offspring looks exactly like its parent, no mixing of breeds took place. Three pictures were presented: one of today’s Leghorn, one of a male and female Leghorn from 1891, and the 2,000 year old depiction, all of which look exactly alike.

Rabbi Yechezkel Yosef Cohen, author of Avnei Chein, argued further that the Leghorn is known to look exactly as it did hundreds of year ago. Two respected shochtim, Rabbi Yaakov Schwartz of Mount Kisco and Rabbi Yechiel Mechel Katz of Brooklyn, testified that they slaughtered Leghorn chickens for more than 50 years without any questions being raised The Leghorn chickens slaughtered were those that no longer laid eggs.

Rabbi Katz descends from a long line of shochtim, including one who served as shochet for Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, zt”l (1797-1850), founding Rizhiner Rebbe. Rabbi Katz bore witness that the Leghorn was fully accepted by his grandfathers.

With regard to the finger formation, Rabbi Aaron Pratovin, a Lelover chassid who serves as Sanz Klausenberg rosh yeshiva and directs the farm at the Sanz Klausenberg summer camp in Woodbourne, said that for the past 12 years he has closely observed his Leghorn chickens and that they ordinarily use the three and one formation. Rabbi Kalman Klein of Kiryas Yoel raises his own chickens; his Leghorn chickens, he reported, would use the three and one formation when going onto a rope. However, if placed on a rope, they would initially use a two and two formation.

All the testimony reaffirmed the findings of Rabbi Meir Brandsdorfer, zt”l (1935-2009), Eidah Hachredis dayan and author of Knei Bosem, as well as that of ybc”l Rabbi Meshulem Yehuda Polatchek, author of Meged Yehuda. Rabbi Brandsforfer served as director of kashrus for the Eidah Hacharedis.

At that time, June 2010, the Kasho Rebbe and all parties attending the meeting agreed that the Leghorn chicken and eggs are the most preferable – more so even than the Rock Cornish, today’s most popular.

January 2011 Findings

Last month’s meeting again heard Rabbi Loike discuss the mesorah of Leghorn chickens, Peking duck, and turkeys. After a thorough discussion, the assembled formulated the following conclusions: (1) The Leghorn is the preferred breed of chicken both for meat and for eggs; (2) Peking duck (not to be confused with a method of preparation known as Peking Duck) looks like European ducks but in fact has nomesorah because it originates in Beijing (Peking), China, and in the view of those attending the meeting is not to be used; (3) turkeys, because they are eaten by Jews around the world, are unquestionably kosher despite not having a mesorah. These conclusions will be publicized in proclamations in the very near future.

For the past 60 years, kosher slaughterhouses have been producing meat of the Rock Cornish hens. Its kashrus is indisputable and the meat has been eaten by leading chassidishe rebbes,rabbonim, and roshei yeshiva in the United States (such as Satmar, Pupa, Tzelem, Skver, Bobov, Ribnitz, Skulen, Spinka, Kasho, Shopron, Kranseh, Vien, Debrecen and Nitra) and those visiting America from abroad (such as Pshevorsk, Toldos Aaron, Minchas Yitzchok, Rav Freund, and others).

{Rabbi G. Tannenbaum/}


  1. Why does this topic keep coming up? There must be some ambiguity that is not being admitted. Why would turkeys be acceptable but not some chicken who’s pictures hung in the Beis Hamikdash ??

  2. You mean Muscovy Duck, not Peking Duck. Peking duck is, indeed, served in Chinese restaurants (and it’s delicious). Muskovy ducks are indiginous to the New World and were unknown in Europe until the Spaniards introduced them in the 16th Century of the Common Era.

  3. I don’t understand. All these chicken breeds (not species) belong to Gallus gallus domesticus. It does not matter if it does not display the proper signs. If a cow is born with a fused hoof it is kosher. Why is the White Leghorn any different? A chicken is a chicken is a chicken.

    Can Matzav please explain?

  4. Fantastic. The fact that R’Moshe, R’Yaakov and other gedolim in America used eggs, and all the major yeshivas used eggs, is irrelevant?!

  5. People should be more concerned about the fact that these leghorn birds of late have been genetically modified to gain an enormous amount of weight in the first 12 weeks. So much so, that they cannot stand up; after which they are slaughtered. Often these birds have ulcers on their underside due to sitting upon their own feces. Not only would I not eat these kind of birds for meat, I would not eat the eggs either as they are not a ‘normal’ chicken, and they are not raised or kept cruelty free. I raise my own heirloom chickens for the eggs and they are truly ‘free-range’ birds.