Brakel Doomed After Being Banned by Rabbi Sternbuch

R. Moshe Sternbuch, Head of Edoh Haharedis rabbinical court

R. Moshe Sternbuch, Chief of the Jerusalemite “Haredi Community” rabbinical court and its second-in-command, issued a long-awaited and highly-influential halakhic decision today banning the brakel breed of chicken. The decision spells doom for the brakel’s investors who have plunged an estimated three million dollars into the enterprise.

The controversy over the brakel has been raging for some time now. About three years ago, investors first imported the brakel from Belgium to Israel, but there never was a consensus among the leading Haredi rabbis in Israel that the brakel breed is preferred over the prevailing Cornish and Plymouth Barred Rock breeds that had been imported from the U.S., or that it was even permitted. After much development expenditure by investors to make the breed commercially viable and after building a slaughterhouse in Ashdod specifically tailored for this breed, some rabbis came out against it. As the highest-ranking acting officer in the Edoh Haharedis (after its leader, R. Yaakov Tuvia Weiss has become incapacitated) R. Sternbuch wields enormous power on such kashrus decision since the Edoh is the most popular kosher-certifying entity in the Israeli Haredi sector, and one that is followed by many in the Orthodox Sephardi sector as well.

R. Wosner Responsum against the hybrids

It all began some twenty years ago when the late R. Shmuel “the Levite” Wosner issued a revolutionary responsum in which he expressed grave concern over the cross-breeding of kosher chickens with unknown species in order to produce hybrid breeds that matured faster, laid bigger eggs (for egg-laying breeds), and had more meat on their bones (for “fattened” chickens):

“It is a grave matter before us that species whose purity is not verified are mixed with mesorah-received species and are sold and slaughtered as fowl that have a mesorah, without anyone noticing the difference… Therefore we ought to be vigilant and adhere to a strict supervision that we should bring to slaughter only fowl from a source that is verified to be free of mixture with [other] species, and that the chicks grow only from a species on which the mesorah is clear without any doubt regarding either the male or the female. The Name, blessed is He, shall rescue us from  obstacles and any violations of the sanctity of Israel” (Shevet Halevi responsa, Part 10, Section 113).

Barred Plymouth Rock

The Wosner responsum did not have any immediate impact on the prevailing norm of chicken selection and breeding, but it did prompt entrepreneurs, with R. Wosner’s encouragement, to embark on a global mission in pursuit of the holy grail: a “pure” (non-hybrid) chicken breed that had a mesorah (tradition) of being kosher. To prevent the enterprise from being profit-driven, R. Wosner reportedly implored them that the new chicken “should not cost a penny more”. A pure breed by the name of brakel endemic to Belgium was eventually identified. The purity of the breed had been maintained by it never having been exported to other regions, nor exploited commercially.

A specimen of the breed was brought before R. Wosner who “declared joyously that this was the shape of the fowl that they grew in courtyards before the war”, according to the present testimony of R. Moshe Saul Klein, a disciple of R. Wosner and member of his Bene Berak Besdin.

Cornish

Other prominent Rabbis, too, were early supporters of the brakel. Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, R. Wosner’s counterpart in the Lithuanian sector of Bene Berak, has been supportive of the initiative from its inception. In Jerusalem’s Edoh Haharedis –an institution whose endorsement would be ultimately necessary to make the brakel initiative profitable on a mass commercial scale– an early supporter was R. Shlomo Yehudo Hirsch, a motz (righteous teacher) in the organization.

Other Edoh rabbis were were less definitive in their support, if at all. The court’s highest-ranking officer, “Giant” (gavad) R. Yitzhok Tuvia Weiss, had given his blessing to the initial search for a pure breed, but he has recently been ill and indisposed, and it isn’t clear that he has endorsed the brakel specifically. In the meantime, after much investment in the project, another motz and kashrus supervisor in the Edoh, R. Shmuel Bransdorfer (son of R. Meir Bransdorfer), came out firmly against the brakel. It appears that the brakel’s investors deliberately refrained from submitting the brakel query to a plenary session of the Edoh out of fear that the court would do the project more harm than good. Instead, their strategy was to pick endorsements from select rabbis and popularize them among the Haredi masses in order to get them to begin purchasing the brakel, despite its greater cost, and then present the issue as a fait accompli to the Edoh and any other rabbis who were still holding out or opposing it.

R. Nissim Karelitz, one of the brakel’s chief supporters.

The brakel’s investors and its supporting rabbis had to perform a high wire act: convince the masses that the brakel was not only kosher but somehow superior in kashrus to anything else, without maligning the normative Cornish and Barred Rock as treif hybrids. That would be defaming the entire Haredi community, including many giants of Israel — even R. Wosner himself, who allegedly continued eating the normative chickens until his death. (In R. Wosner responsum he had found a dispensation to eat the hybrids only with great difficulty, as a bediavad.)

The Edoh’s brakel detractors reinforced the opinion of the brakel’s chief antagonist: R. Moshe Yehudo Leib Landau from Bene Berak. Although Landau is not a prestigious Rabbi by way of his erudition, he wields tremendous power in Bene Berak on kashrus matters by inheritance from his father, the late R. Yaakov Landau, “chief Rabbi” of Bene Berak, under whose comprehensive watch no food could enter the town without his kashrus certification.

Excerpt of R. Sternbuch’s Decision

R. Sterbuch’s ruling on the matter was in recent weeks much anticipated. R. Sternbuch has been researching the subject for months now and taking testimony from slaughterers, experts, rabbis and others. A leading Sephardi Rabbi, R. Shlomo Mahpod, had visited R. Sternbuch to consult him on the matter. Now that R. Sternbuch has ruled against the brakel, the Sephardim will almost surely not eat it either, thus almost certainly consigning the brakel project to the dust bins of history.

Sternbuch opens his letter by stating that the fact that the entirety of the House of Israel eats the current species is sufficient to ensure its kashrus, for “far be it from us to cast doubt on the Israelite people, on giants and righteous ones, for the duration of many years, and say that they all stumbled by the consumption of impure fowl. This matter [dominant custom] is superior even to a mesorah. Therefore, we need not deliberate whether the fowl is kosher but rather why it is kosher”.

Baladi (Egyptian) Hen and Egg

In Sternbuch’s letter, he repudiates the testimony of those who claim to remember having slaughtered a brakel-breed chicken in the 50’s and 60’s. Based on his research in the matter, the brakel had yet to be introduced to Israel, so that was impossible. The correct identity of the bird recalled being used decades ago, says R. Sternbuch, is the baladi, a native of Egypt and one that looks remarkably similar to the brakel. Also, the slaughterers of the bird in the 50’s did not verify that there was a mesorah on the bird before slaughtering it. They simply slaughtered whatever bird the customer brought before them without confirming its kashrus, even though “that was not the bird that was present in the entire country… and it is obvious that this is not defined as a mesorah, since a mesorah is only when they eat it in the entire country based on a mesorah received from their ancestors”.


See also

R. Sternbuch’s Decision

R. Wosner Opinion

Karelitz Opinion

Klein Letter

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3 Responses to Brakel Doomed After Being Banned by Rabbi Sternbuch

  1. Zalmen Teitelbum says:

    thanks for a good very informative roundup!

    one point you got duped… The holy Gaav”d The Head “Chief” Rabbi of Jerusalem is Huravv Weiss (not Shternbuch as you mistakenly write.)

    And he is not ill not sick not old as you were fed by the haters.

    He is just a beautiful human being that will never fight!

    He is the most nicest creature on earth so he is silent!

    He let’s all the attention seekers like Shternbuch take the lead while he is smarter than all of wm only played dumb because he is by nature a doll of a human blessed is he! i love him!

    • Jacob Gluck says:

      There is a distinction between what is colloquially called “the rabbi of jerusalem” (a.k.a. the gavad) and the Chief of the court.

      “Rosh av bes din, literally translates to “Chief of the court”, what in the American judicial system might be called “Chief Justice”.

      The gavad’s title in English is “giant of the court”.

      • Zalmen Teitelbum says:

        Yes you are right he is more like the Father and head of the court Shternbuch is the day to day chief but please not that here he is the only one in the court against the Gava”d and the other members so once he dies this Psak will be overturned.

        As explained by you he is a contrarian does not work together well with the other rabbis so even though he is a respected man for his torah knowledge they not necessarily accept all he says.

        But for now you are right this is a bad time for the new chicken but not necessarily in the long run. I foresee the Edeh producing this new kosher untempered genes breed in the very near future.

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