scholars have long maintained that the purity status of the chicken is
questionable. When presented with a doubt about a law
or the detail of a law in the Torah, Karaite scholars rely on a strict
opinion about how to observe that law or aspect of law. The case
of the chicken is just such an example.
When the Torah speaks of
those birds which are tahor (ritually pure) and those which are not,
it does so not by example, but by pointing out specific birds.
The issue we face with this is that many of the names of these birds
are not known. Rabbanite sources concur on this, and they
stipulate that one must have a tradition about the tahor status of a
given bird before it can be consumed. The only birds we should consider tahor, are
those that we know in point of fact are tahor. These birds are the
quail, pigeon and turtledove.
may ask why with our advances in modern science, and our understanding
of ancient languages we cannot determine what birds the Torah was
talking about. Many modern theories have been put forth claiming
to either identify the chicken directly or indirectly as tahor.
Let us examine some of these claims, and see whether or not they make sense.
of the most prominent claims to the chicken's purity status comes from
the fact that the chicken is identified by name in Mishnaic Hebrew. The name
used there is tarnegol. Mishnaic Hebrew contains many
words which are not found in Biblical Hebrew, and, in fact, some words
in Biblical Hebrew are changed in Mishnaic Hebrew, making this
contention highly questionable, and therefore unreliable. This
position, therefore, is easily dismissed.
contend that because
the Torah mentions both doves and quails, and doves and quails constitute
an entire bird family,
therefore what the Torah is saying is not that doves and quails are
tahor, but that their entire family, the Galliforme family, is. Based on this, they conclude one of the following: 1) each bird mentioned in
the list of forbidden birds represents a bird family, 2) each bird
mentioned either represents a bird family, or an individual bird,
3) a given bird or set of birds mentioned represent a bird family.
In each case, this reasoning is fallacious.
we go into
each instance, let us first examine a few critical issues. One, the people at the time of the
Torah had no idea of bird classification as we understand it.
Two, the ostrich, a bird whose Hebrew name we know, is mentioned on
of forbidden birds, but is in point of fact a Galliforme.
Thirdly, bird taxonomy is based not on genetic associations
birds, but rather perceptions on how birds are similar (remember bird
taxonomy is old, it predates genetics by some time). Finally,
the list in question in Torah is a list of
flying animals not birds, per se, and, for example, includes the bat - definitely not a
of the bird family. Therefore, the contention that the
saying the family which contains doves and quails is tahor falls flat
Furthermore, the Torah gives no indication whatsoever that
dealing with families of birds. If this were the case it would
with general criteria. If general criteria (i.e., families) were
concern of Torah, it would not need to mention two birds from the same
family - the foundation of this argument; the people would
bird is tahor, conclude from this that all related birds are tahor,
that's the end of that. The fact that it specifically mentions
from the same family, that make up the totality of that family is
evidence for the fact that the Torah is NOT dealing with bird
individual birds. Furthermore yet, we would have to assume that
illiterate group of recently liberated slaves would know enough about
classification that they would be able to recognize that the Torah is
classifying a specific family of birds as tahor (remember the Torah
states that it is not out of their reach of comprehension). This
absurd! However, even if we accept that the Torah is dealing
and not flying things (other flying things could be a flying rodents
mammals), this reasoning is still grossly fallacious. Let's take
them one by
Contention 1. Given that the Torah clearly mentions separately
one bird from a given family (with the intent to inform us that this
tahor), we must assume, the argument does not rest on this.
Contention 2. If each bird can either stand for an entire family
specific member in that family, then we are left with no conclusive
for determining what would be tahor. In as much as the Torah
does not deal
with bird families we cannot ask with any certainty the question,
dealing with an instance where this bird stands for a family, or a
stands on its own?"
Contention 3. First off, we would have to ask the question why
Torah, if it intended to concentrate on bird families, use a set of
and not a single bird to identify that family. If we assume that
identifying specific sub-groups within a larger family, we have to
that the group of illiterate slaves, heretofore mentioned, would be
only to identify the family of birds, but the sub-classifications
that family by the birds that are its members. Furthermore, the
be assuming that everyone who came to read it had this knowledge about
highly technical scientific classifications. Clearly, this is
as has been shown, there are still no conclusive arguments that show
the Chicken is a tahor bird. Therefore, it and its products
(i.e., eggs) should be avoided.