OU Conference Explores the Traditions of Rare Animals & Birds

November 21, 2004

What do American buffalo, giraffes, sparrows and grasshoppers have in common? They were all featured at an Orthodox Union conference in May on the traditions of kosher meat.

An attendance numbering in the hundreds filled the auditorium of Lander College for Men in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, NY to learn about the traditions (mesorah) of the kosher status of many kosher animals and birds. After 20 years of research into the potential of bringing these and dozens of other exotic creatures back into the fold of mainstream Jewish cuisine, Dr. Ari Greenspan and Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky presented their findings to the OU for endorsement.

The result, following weeks of preparation by members of the OU Kosher Department to compile their research, was a day of interactive lectures on various topics relating to the traditions of kosher meat, followed by a once-in-a-lifetime dinner at which many of these rare creatures were consumed at an OU certified restaurant.

The day was coordinated by Rabbi Yosef Grossman, the Director of the Orthodox Union’s “ASK OU” programs, which sponsored the two-part event.

“The Orthodox Union is the largest and most respected kosher certifying organization in the world,” declared Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbinic Administrator of OU Kosher. “It is only natural that when Dr. Ari Greenspan and Rabbi Ari Zivitovsky concluded their world-wide trek to find rabbis who could testify to the kosher status of these creatures, they came to the OU to give their work credibility.”

Like other food items, kosher poultry must have sources that meet the strict standards of Jewish law. Unlike other food items, however, kosher poultry can only be taken from those creatures whose kosher status is affirmed through tradition. Many creatures are not easily procured, and their kosher status is sadly falling away as the few rabbis remaining in the world who can attest to the kosher status of
many exotic creatures slowly pass away.

The OU therefore seized on the opportunity to present an extraordinary day, starting with eight hours of lectures from the top experts in kosher meat in both the United States and Israel. One might think that eight hours of speeches on meat could be the cure for insomnia, but as one participant remarked, “How can you sleep with someone frying fresh grasshoppers before your eyes?”

Participants witnessed a live demonstration from Rabbi Chaim Loike, one of the world’s experts in exotic kosher birds, and saw some of his 25 feathered-friends on display. They heard about the dissection of a giraffe (to investigate its kosher status); were introduced (through a video) to an exotic bovine from South America, the Zebu; and even learned that the humble turkey is over-shadowed by mountains of Rabbinic literature explaining its complicated kosher tradition.

All of this can really work up an appetite. Some 145 curious and hungry diners traveled to Levana, an OU certified restaurant in Manhattan, which doubled that evening as a lively lecture hall. The restaurant had booked a capacity crowd and had to stop taking reservations for the meal several days in advance, while the waiting list continued to grow. Let’s face it — the opportunity to taste a cow’s udder (and learn about the preparations necessary to make it kosher), red deer, quail, dove, pigeon, mutten, goat and bison all at one table doesn’t occur every day.

Not surprisingly, the OU has since received requests to recreate this exploration of kosher tradition in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago and other major cities.