In 2013, the Leghorn chicken was the subject of a kashrus controversy. In 2017, the Braekel chicken was the subject of another kashrus controversy. However, even those who are aware of those shailos might be unfamiliar with a different chicken controversy that occurred in 1934-35.
The Faverolles is a French breed of chicken. The breed was allegedly developed in north-central France, in the vicinity of the villages of Houdan and Faverolles. Although primarily kept today as an ornamental and exhibition breed, it remains an excellent layer, as well as a fine meat chicken. The most common color is salmon. The plumage of salmon females is mainly brown and creamy white. The males are darker, with black, brown, and straw-colored feathers.
Because of their gentleness, Faverolles have become a popular breed of chicken to keep as a pet, especially for children. They are also enjoying increasing popularity with people who keep small home flocks, who favor dual purpose breeds which are well suited to both egg production and use as meat. A well-cared for Faverolles hen will lay approximately four eggs per week.
Why would this beautiful chicken be a source of controversy? Whereas the Torah gives identifying characteristics of kosher animals and fish, it does not do so for birds. Instead, the Torah lists 24 species of birds that are not kosher. Every other species of bird is kosher. If one were able to properly identify the 24 species of non-kosher birds, he would be able to eat every other bird. The problem is that we are unfamiliar with all 24 species. Therefore, the Rema writes (YD 82:3) “one should only eat a bird with an accepted tradition that it is kosher and we are accustomed to this and it should not be changed.”
When the Torah was given, all birds were kosher except those specifically designated as non-kosher, but now it has become the opposite. All birds are to be treated as non-kosher, except for those that we specifically have a tradition are kosher. We certainly have a tradition that a chicken is a kosher bird. But there are many species of chickens. Do we need a mesorah for every type of chicken? The Chasam Sofer ruled that any species of chicken is kosher provided it is substantially similar to a chicken that has a mesorah.
The Faverolles chicken, though, has a rare trait. It has five toes. Is this a substantial difference from a run-of-the-mill chicken? If so, the Faverolles chicken would not be kosher because there is no mesorah regarding its acceptability. The Minchas Elazar was adamant that the Faverolles chicken not be used. He pointed out that in addition to a fifth toe, its head and neck is somewhat different than the standard chicken. Moreover, the cluck of a Faverolles chicken sounds deeper than its peers. Therefore, the Faverolles chicken needs a specific mesorah to be used. Since it was bred in an area with no Jews, it has no mesorah. Indeed, many rabbanim sided with this view and a sefer, entitled Derech Nesher, was composed of all their opinions.
The Shut Sheires Yisrael disagreed. He wrote that the rabbis who forbade the Faverolles chicken were unaware that this breed of chicken with five toes was used by many Sephardic communities in Syria. Moreover, Faverolles were imported into Israel. Evidently these communities had a mesorah on the origins of this breed, or they deemed it similar enough to the standard breed of chicken to consider it kosher. The extra toe is not significant enough of a difference to consider it a different breed. (See Tosfos Chullin 47)
Nowadays, some of these same sources are being used in the debate on the Braekel chicken. The breed comes from Belgium, from an area with no Jews. Rav Shternbuch ruled that the chicken is too different from the standard chicken, and therefore it requires its own mesorah. The followers of Rav Vosner, zt’l, insist just the opposite. They say the Braekel chicken is more of a pure breed of chicken than the types in use today. It is preferable to use the heirloom Braekel chicken over other mixed breeds.
The question remains unresolved: If it walks like a chicken and talks like a chicken, is it a kosher chicken?
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.