The Brakel Controversy: R. Landau Forbids. R. Karelitz Permits

A controversy is presently stirring in Israel among haredi Rabbis and poultry experts: Is the “brakel” kosher?

The Brakel

The Brakel (alternately spelled braekel) is a breed of chicken originally confined to Belgium. It does not appear to have been a familiar breed to European Haredi Jews before WWII (notwithstanding some recent testimony to the contrary) and it is presently “new” to the Israeli kosher poultry market.

The braekel’s introduction was precipitated by a decade-old responsum by R. Shmuel Wosner. It had come to his attention that commercial chicken breeders at the time were cross-breeding their slaughter chickens to achieve commercially desirable traits, e.g. fast flesh growth, at the expense of the chicken’s longevity and overall health. This made the commercial raising of chickens for slaughter cheaper and more efficient.

R. Wosner was very concerned about the assmiliation of new strains of chicken on which there was no mesorah into the stock. Only reluctantly, with great apprehension, did he issue a dispensation.

His responsum set off a frenzied search among kosher activists and entrepreneurs for a purely bred chicken that had a mesorah. Eventually the Brakel from Belgium was found and identified as a pure breed. It had been domesticated only locally for centuries and chiefly for its egg-laying capacity; but the question still remained as to whether the bird had a mesorah — a tradition of being kosher.

R. Yehezkeel Roth examines the brakel

Berel Weiss, an affluent quasi-Hasidic businessman from Los Angeles, had sponsored the brakel project. With the endorsement of both R. Yehezkel Roth, a prominent dayyan (judge) in Borough Park, and R. Wosner from Benei Berak, he had invested thousands of dollars researching the bird, importing it to Israel, experimenting with mass production methods, and streamlining it commercially.

But in the brakel’s kashrus is hotly contested in Israel. R. Moshe Yehuda Leib Landau, the eminent head of the Hasidic besdin in Bene Berak, came out emphatically in opposition to the brakel, calling it, hyperbolically, a piglet, not a chicken. R. Landau Lithuanian counterpart in Bene Berak, R. Nissim Karelitz, on the other hand, has aligned himself with the majority of the Rabbis, including R. Wosner, who are permitting, even encouraging the adoption of the brakel as the new chicken breed for the Haredia mass market.

Brakel thread test: if the bird splits its toes on the thread it’s a sign of predation, and it’s forbidden.

But the biggest impediment to the brakel’s adoption isn’t the outspoken R. Landau but R. Moshe Sterbuch, vice principal of the Jerusalemite edoh haharedis besdin. The Edoh Haharedis is far and away the most prestigious and authoritative kashrut certification agency for the Haredi sector in Israel. No mass marketing of any foodstuff to Haredi sector can occur without the food being certified by the edoh. And R. Sternbuch is so far withholding his imprimatur for the brakel even after others in the edoh besdin are following the prevailing rabbinic view in Israel that the brakel is permitted.

Halakhic Analysis

Fowl Kashrus Rules in Shulhon Orukh Yoreh Deoh section 82.

The Torah 24 species of fowl as forbidden. Properly, according to Rabbinic interpretation, this implies that there is a presumption of kashrut for any fowl not on the list, as long as it is not known to be predatory. But since the identity of the the 24 forbidden species has was forgotten over the centuries, the Rabbis devised a three-signs test by which a non-predatory bird can be confirmed kosher. However, the preeminent Ashkenazic halakhic decisor –the Remoh– rules against relying on the three signs:

Even if it has these three signs it should not be eaten because we suspect that it is a bird of prey, unless they have a tradition by which their ancestors transmitted to them that it is kosher (S.A.Y.D. 82:2).

Hence the Ashkenazi practice that a mesorah (tradition) is required for a bird to be considered kosher. For any given bird, unless it has traditionally been eaten by the community or was traditionally known to be kosher, the three signs are insufficient to determine kashrus.

The question with the newly-introduced brakel chicken is two-fold: a) is it considered a new species, distinct from other chicken breeds? b) if so, is there a mesorah for it?

There is a responsum by the Hasam Sofer (Yore Deah #75 “uledidi”) — a definitive authority in the Haredi Ashkenazi Hungarian sector– that:

“there is no need for a Mesorah on each and every chicken. Rather, all chickens that appear like a breed that we do have a tradition for is acceptable, unless there is a demonstrable difference that may indicate that they are two different breeds.  Then we would require a separate tradition for that breed.” (cited in a YWN article).

According to the Hasam Sofer, then, the “if it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck” heuristic can be relied upon here that the brakel is a chicken –a species on which there is a mesorah of kashrus.

But there is, additionally, a mesorah, according to the present testimony of numerous ritual slaughterers and Rabbis. They assert a recollection from many decades ago that a brakel-like chicken was the standard fare then in the community.

R. Sternbuch is known to be a contrarian. He does not shy away from issuing unpopular halakhic opinions –whether dispensatory or constrictatory– when he authentically believes in it. In the case of the brakel, he contends that there are sufficiently substantial differences between the brakel and the normal chicken –e.g. “the legs are rounder and the wing shape is different”, according to a Sterbuch gabbai cited in the above YWN article– to doubt its classification as a chicken.

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2 Responses to The Brakel Controversy: R. Landau Forbids. R. Karelitz Permits

  1. Rabitzen Sasha-Malia T"B says:

    To late in the game this breed is already eaten by to many jews for years now that it was debated if the Eidah should give a Hechsher it is to late to Aser it. You cannot outlaw a chicken that jews say they eat for years now only because some idiot like Landow hates it. Landaw is not considered a Talmid Chacham only a Rabbi because his father was one.

    • Aron Teitelbum says:

      Thank you for this very informative beautiful writen up article re this latest uproar in a tea ctale.

      You are indeed right that Shternbuch is a contrarian albeit a learned one but Chaza” say already תלמוד חכם שאין בו דעת נבילה טובה הימנו he is a probably paid off by the investor to go out against this new meet in order it should sell more…

      Whatever Sternbuch says people do the opposite…

      He is indeed a very huge torah scholer but our tradition labels him as a חמור נושא ספרים a donkey who carries a lot of knowledge but does not have the capacity, the tools to use any of it…

      Nebech he is bitter on the Gava”d Hurav Weiss Shlit”a who was brought in from belgium to become Jerusalem Rabbi and he wasn’t chosen so always looks to make news we should talk from him…

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