Many people are eating turkey this evening, on account of Thanksgiving. But did the Tannaim and Amoraim eat turkey? Did the Gaonim or the rishonim?

The answer, of course, is that they did not. The turkey was only found in the Americas and only came to Europe after 1493.

But that does not mean that the turkey is not kosher.

The Torah also gave us a list of Tameh birds that also are non-kosher. This list is found in Parshas Shmini (Vayikra 11:12-19). Technically, if a bird is not on the list it would not be forbidden. The Mishna in tractate Chullin gives us four signs in regard to the list of birds in the Torah.

• It says (sign #1) that every bird that is a dores “a predator” is not a kosher bird.
• It also says (sign #2) that every kosher bird has an extra toe.
• It also says (sign #3) that all kosher birds have a zefek, a crop – (in scientific language it is called “ingluvius” in the Torah it is called “more’eh.” See Vayikra 1:16). The crop is an expanded, muscular pouch near the gullet or throat. It is a part of the digestive tract, essentially an enlarged part of the esophagus. As with most other organisms that have a crop, the crop is used to temporarily store food.
• All kosher birds also have a peelable korkuvan, or a gizzard (sign #4). This is called a “pupik” in Yiddish.

Nonetheless, based upon the ruling of the Ramah, we only consume birds that we have a tradition to eat from the past.

What then about newly discovered birds such as the turkey? Although we had no tradition for the turkey, it was eaten by Jews.

It seems that when it was discovered in the New World, the Poskim permitted it.

There are two reason for this: either because 1] they classified it as a type of chicken (Dvar Halacha #53 p. 74), and there was no concern that it was a cross-fertilization from the list of forbidden birds. Or 2] because it was discovered prior to the adoption and spread of the ruling of the Ramah, This explanation is provided by the Shoel UMaishiv (YD III 1:15).

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l personally did not eat turkey on account of the problem in the mesorah for it. The Torah world, however, has accepted the turkey.

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