Project Genesis

The Jewish Legal System

The Sanhedrin and the Rabbis

Was Chicken Always Considered Meat?

I have been told that at one time chicken was considered to be Parve (neither Meat nor Dairy). This later was changed to consider chicken to be meat. Is this true? When did it happen? Who did it? Why was it done?

I’ve never quite looked at it that way, but it is true; at least according to most opinions. The Torah says, “You must not cook a young goat in the milk of its mother (Exodus 34:36, Exodus 23:19, and Deuteronomy 14:21).” The Talmud say that a goat is merely an example, and really all domesticated animals cannot be cooked with milk. Most opinions say this did not include fowl and non-domesticated animals (See the Talmud in Tractate Hulin 116a).

Some time later, an enactment was made by the leading Rabbis of the generation to forbid even fowl and non-domesticated animals cooked with milk. I have not found on record when exactly the enactment began. However, we do know that this decree was made because of a need that did not exist before. When the leading Rabbis would make a decree it was to confront a deterioration in the people’s dedication to a particular area of Torah law. The Rabbis foresaw that if fowl and milk, or non-domesticated animal meat and milk, were to remain permissible it would lead to people mixing red meat with milk. Since fowl meat and red meat are similar in many respects, there would be confusion. One similarity is that people tend to call both of them “meat.” The Rabbis felt there was no need to prohibit fish meat and milk so that was left permissible.

Before the time of the decree there was little risk of confusion of the two meats. People were scrupulous enough in their observance that they would be careful not to confuse them. For a biblical account of a similar situation see Nehemiah 13:15. The Talmud says that Nehemiah enacted many of the rules of ‘Muktza’ (specific items that are prohibited to be moved on the Sabbath) as a result of the incident recorded there. The actual concept of ‘Mukzta’ was introduced much earlier.

Although these examples are Rabbinic in nature, they have the binding status of a biblical commandment. The Torah says concerning Rabbinic rulings in Deuteronomy 17:11, “You are to act according to the word that they tell you from that place that G-d will have chosen; and you are to be careful to fulfill exactly as they instruct you.”

All the Best,
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler

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