June 17, 2024
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June 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Where would the Jewish culinary world be without the chicken? Among all of the world’s creatures, perhaps none has a greater impact on Jewish grub than the “Prince of Poultry,” a/k/a the chicken. All around the globe, Jews of every walk of life can be found jointly enjoying chicken, thus proving that birds of a feather flock together.

Perhaps part of chicken’s allure and popularity is its versatility. Think about the astonishingly wide variety of chicken dishes featured in kosher cuisine including, for example, chicken salad, chicken soup, chicken cutlets, fried chicken, chicken fingers/poppers/tenders, barbecue chicken, chicken pot pie, chicken fricassee, chicken marsala, pretzel chicken, popcorn chicken, Cajun chicken, chicken cacciatore, chicken & waffles and Hawaiian chicken. If chickens could read menus, they would be incredibly impressed (and/or extremely aghast) at the number of ways humans feast on fowl.

No listing of chicken dishes would be complete without mention of Asian delicacies like bang bang chicken, kung pao chicken, cashew chicken, lemon chicken, ginger chicken, sesame chicken, and sweet & sour chicken. Even vegetarian Asian restaurants serve these dishes, often substituting chicken with tofu. But on the menus, they still call it “chicken” because they are trying to mimic chicken, or perhaps “General Tso’s Tofu” just wouldn’t sound right.

The crazy reality is that the above lists cover only a fraction of the chicken dishes enjoyed around the world. Granted, there are some strange chicken dishes that, for reasons of kashrut and/or (perceived) wackiness, are not popular in the Jewish world. For instance, some folks enjoy chocolate chicken, chicken pizza, chicken bread, chicken & egg hash and chicken bread. While chicken’s versatility is undeniable, it has its limits. In other words, it would be ill-advised to create gefilte chicken or chicken cholent.

The Talmud has plenty to say about chicken. It states: “Eat an onion and sit in the shade, i.e., eat inexpensive food while sitting in a comfortable place, but do not eat expensive geese and chickens, as your heart will pursue you, i.e., you will develop a taste for luxuries. Devote less to your food and your drink and spend more on your house, as one’s house is a better investment than food.” (Pesachim 114a:2). This arguably is a Talmudic promotion of fast food. It also is a promotion of real estate over fine food, but there are potential exceptions. For example, you would be better off investing in Bisquick rather than quicksand. In addition, if your house is located on a fault line or improperly compacted soil, then you may wish you were dealing with Quaker Oats rather than earthquakes and doughnut holes rather than sinkholes.

The Talmud also states: “As a remedy for a migraine, let him bring a wild rooster and slaughter it using a silver dinar, so that the blood flows over the side of his head that hurts him. And he should be careful of its blood so as not to blind his eye. And he should hang it on the doorpost of his house, so that when he enters he rubs against it and when he exits he rubs against it.” (Gittin 68b:23) Today, of course, there are many other migraine remedies, none of which involve dipping one’s head in or rubbing it with rooster blood. In fact, in today’s world the very thought of bathing in blood is, ironically, enough to trigger a migraine.

Elsewhere the Talmud notes: “There are three impudent ones: The Jewish people among the nations; the dog among animals; and the rooster among birds.” (Beitzah 25b:8) The term “impudent” often is defined as excessive cockiness, which is rather fitting for a “cock-a-doodle-doo”-crowing creature. As an aside, on a farm the rooster’s early morning “cock-a-doodle-doo” typically serves as an alarm clock for the farmer. This begs the question: who or what wakes up the rooster? Discuss.

The Talmud mentions that, according to the Sages, members of certain groups hate other members of the same group, including dogs and roosters. (Pesachim 113b:8) Once again, roosters are not held in the most flattering light. According to the Talmud, roosters essentially are impudent in-fighters, which might explain why cockfighting was a popular spectator sport dating back to at least Ancient Greece. Today, cockfighting is banned in the United States and many other countries but that does not mean that all roosters now get along. In other words, if roosters went to shul, there would be a new rooster break-away minyan every single day.

Final thought: What did the shochet say to the vegetarian when explaining why it was necessary to slaughter a chicken to make chicken soup? Answer: “No harm, no fowl.”

By Jonathan Kranz

 

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