Your turkey craving conscience can rest after reading this post.
Over the centuries, there has been much debate in theological circles over the question of whether turkey is kosher. I didn’t want to chicken out of this question, so I decided to take a stab at figuring out how to carve this bird.
Concerning the use of birds as food, the Bible states,
13 ‘And these you shall regard as an abomination among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard, 14 the kite, and the falcon after its kind; 15 every raven after its kind, 16 the ostrich, the short-eared owl, the sea gull, and the hawk after its kind; 17 the little owl, the fisher owl, and the screech owl; 18 the white owl, the jackdaw, and the carrion vulture; 19 the stork, the heron after its kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.Leviticus 11:13-19 (NKJV)
The phrase “after its kind” is frequently repeated. So I decided to study the taxonomies of turkey and the other birds cited as forbidden, to see if they might belong to the same family or genus.
The Classification of the Birds
The birds listed in Leviticus are the eagle, vulture, buzzard, kite, falcon, raven, ostrich, owl, sea gull, hawk, jackdaw, stork, heron, and hoopoe. The bat is also mentioned.
I’m no expert in taxonomy, so I spent about three hours going through whatever information I could find on Infogalactic. After sorting through everything, I found that the taxonomical divergence between the turkey and these other birds occurs between Class and Order. They do not share any relation by Family or Genus.
All the birds listed are in the class of Aves, except the bat, which is a mammal.
The stork and heron are in a large subclass, Neomithes.
The eagle, vulture, buzzard*, kite, and hawk belong to the order Accipitriformes.
The falcon belongs to the order Falconiformes.
The raven and jackdaw belong to the order Passeriformes.
The ostrich belongs to the order Struthioniformes.
The owl belongs to the order Strigiformes.
The sea gull belongs to the order Charadriiformes.
The hoopoe belongs to the order Bucerotiformes.
But the turkey belongs to the order Galliformes!
* There are many types of birds that are called a buzzard. Most of these resemble the hawk, and are included in the order of Accipitriformes and the family of Accipitridae. One exception is the turkey buzzard, which is in the order of Cathartiformes.
This order deserves attention because it covers half of all bird species, and contains more than 110 families. One family, Corvidae, is a cosmopolitan family of oscine passerine birds. Over 120 species are described, including crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs, nutcrackers, and the vast majority of anything that could be described as a songbird. They are considered the most intelligent of the birds, and among the most intelligent of all animals. The genus Corvus, including the jackdaws, crows, and ravens, makes up over a third of the entire family.
This order is not included among any of the birds in Leviticus, so it is presumed to be clean. I found this order to be interesting, as it contains hummingbirds, swifts, nightjars, nighthawks, whippoorwills, and potoos. These birds are generally insectivorous and nocturnal, and many are crepuscular.
The Galliformes are an order of heavy-bodied ground-feeding birds that includes turkey, grouse, chicken, New World quail and Old World quail, ptarmigan, partridge, pheasant, junglefowl, and the Cracidae.
The name derives from “gallus”, Latin for “cock” or “rooster”. Common names are gamefowl or gamebirds, landfowl, gallinaceous birds, or galliforms. “Wildfowl” or just “fowl” are also often used for the Galliformes, but usually these terms also refer to waterfowl (Anseriformes), and occasionally to other commonly hunted birds.
This order contains five families: Phasianidae (including chicken, quail, partridges, pheasants, turkeys, peafowl, and grouse), Odontophoridae (New World quails), Numididae (guineafowl), Cracidae (including chachalacas and curassows), and Megapodiidae (incubator birds like mallee fowl and brush-turkeys).
From a taxonomic viewpoint, the turkey is not anywhere closely related to any of the birds described as unclean in Leviticus. For me, this settles the question once and for all as to whether turkey is unclean. If you believe Acts 10:9-16 and Acts 11:4-10, then it probably doesn’t matter very much anyway, but there may be some readers who are more particular about this matter.
I have only tasted one kind of bird that is forbidden in Leviticus, and that is the ostrich. It is surprisingly delicious and tastes like hamburger mixed with savory herbs. I’ve heard that this meat is popular in Australia.
All information in this post was gathered from Infogalactic.
- My Jewish Learning (Rabbi Joshua Heller): The Kosher Turkey Debate (2020)
- Open Bible: What does the Bible say about Turkey Meat?
- Quora: What animals are forbidden to eat in the Bible (2020 March)
Appendix – The taxonomy of turkey and the birds cited in Leviticus
Colored fonts indicate groups of like order.
Species: M. gallopavo; M. ocellata;
There are many types of birds that are called a buzzard. (Click on the link for a list.) Most of these are included in the order of Accipitriformes and the family of Accipitridae. One exception is the turkey buzzard, which is in the order of Cathartiformes (same as the condor).
Families: Accipitridae (Aegypiinae); Cathartidae;
Species: U. epops
Species: C. corax
Species: S. camelus
Families: Strigidae; Tytonidae
Bird: Sea Gull
Suborders: Megachiroptera; Microchiroptera;