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Is Turkey Kosher?

By November 25, 2009

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TurkeyOver the past few days there is one question that has appeared in my inbox several times and that I've also heard discussed among friends and colleagues: Is turkey kosher? The general consensus seemed to be that no, turkey was not kosher. Being a vegetarian myself, I was hard pressed to weigh in on these conversations. Our Thanksgiving dinner consists of things like butternut squash lasagne, mashed potatoes, salads and freshly baked breads. Turkey? Not so much.

But today I decided to do some digging on the topic and discovered that, contrary to apparent popular belief, turkeys are indeed kosher. At one point their status was uncertain because turkeys were unfamiliar to the ancient rabbis and hence, they were not specifically identified as kosher animals. As a result, some people asked: sure, turkeys are birds but are they a kind of bird that is kosher?

There was much discussion on both sides of the debate, as Kahrut.com recounts. Some rabbis pondered whether turkeys could cross breed with chickens, and if so, what implications that might have in terms of its kosher status. Others pointed out that the wild turkey has three characteristics of a kosher bird: it "has a crop... it has an 'extra' toe, and its eggs have the indicators of kosher eggs." In the end many rabbinic authorities, including Rabbi Soloveitchik, attested to the acceptability of the turkey. One of the primary reasons behind their rulings (though by no means the only) was that the majority of the Jewish community had accepted turkey as a kosher species. As Kashrut.com concludes:

The turkey is no longer new and its kosher status has been addressed by both the great and not-so-great Jewish minds over 250 years and has received near-universal endorsement. To call it into question now is to impugn the dozens of responsa, and more so, the millions of honorable Jews, who have eaten turkey for almost half a millennium. That is not the Jewish way.

So that solves the mystery. Turkey is kosher and there is no reason you can't enjoy it as the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving table. (Also, here's an interesting side note: did you know that "at a whopping 26.9 pounds per capita in 1996, Israelis consumed about 45% more [turkeys] than Americans?" Who would have guessed!)

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