Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Locusts and Rationalism

The rationalist vs. non-rationalist divide is extremely useful in understanding many issues in Judaism - even the controversy over the kashrus of locusts. Take a look at these rather rude comments which were posted over at the Zoo Torah blog:
obviously you never heard that the Taz (Y"D 85, 1), Ohr HaChaim (Vayikra 11: 21) and Aruch Hashulchan (Y"D 85, 5) assert that there is no mesorah on them and they are assur!! Zoo Rabbi???
I responded that I am certainly familiar with all the sources on this topic, thank you very much, to which the following retort appeared:
I would think otherwise as these are "very big guns" in your vernacular - who pasken for ashkenazim and even sefardim (Ohr Hachaim was Sefardi which I am sure you know) that it is assur! Yet, you eat them with no qualms whatsoever! I did not realize that slifkin was a Yemenite name. [either that or you simply are of the opinion that even these Gedolim's rulings can simply be discarded at whim]. It's nice to know that you apparently do not suffer from a case of anava - that you are familiar to "all sources on this topic". how about the teshuvos avnei yahpei vol. 8, 116 - to aris zivotofski and greenspan? I guess one may (hopefully erroneously) conclude that your brand of rationalist judaism is anything but.
So, allow me to explain why Rationalist Judaism very much endorses this approach to locusts. First of all, though, it's important to clarify that of course this is a complex topic, with which my blog post was an extremely brief outline. There are aspects to this topic which are beyond the scope of this post, too. And, as I hopefully made clear in my brief post, there are opinions on both sides. What I would like to do in this post is to explain how a significant portion of the opposition to eating locusts is rooted in a non-rationalist approach.

Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar of Morocco (Pri Toar, Yoreh De’ah 85:1; summarized in Ohr HaChaim, Vayikra 11:21) is the most prominent opponent to eating locusts. He brings several objections, not of all which can be addressed here, but his main objection relates to the description of locusts given by Rashi. This occurs in the context of the following ruling in the Mishnah:
"With locusts, anything that has four legs, and four wings, and kartsulin, and its wings cover most of it, (it is kosher). Rabbi Yosi said: And its name must be chagav." (Mishnah, Chullin 59a)
Rashi explains the word kartsulin as follows:
“and kartsulin” – they are the two long legs, aside from the other four, that are close to its neck (emphasis added), above its legs, to jump with them when it wishes to leap. (Rashi to Chullin 59a)
The problem is that, in contrast to the description given by Rashi, the locusts that are eaten by North African Jewish tradition have their leaping legs located further away from their necks than are their four walking legs. It is for this reason that Rabbi Chaim ben Ittur insists that the locusts claimed to be kosher cannot be the kosher locusts described in the Torah. He notes that some respond that there is no locust which matches the description given by Rashi, and therefore Rashi must be reinterpreted; however, he points out that there may well be many varieties of locust unknown to us, and the kosher types of locust are thus presumably unknown to us.

Now, in eighteenth-century Morocco, that might not have been an unreasonable position to take. However, in the 21st century, matters are very different. Zoologists have described over eleven thousand species of grasshoppers and locusts, amongst many hundreds of thousands more insect species. They all share the same basic body plan, in which the long jumping legs are the hindmost legs, further from its neck than the four walking legs.

Another point to bear in mind is that the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria, for which there is a widespread mesorah, is far and away the most common and destructive locust in this part of the world. It is hard to imagine that the various references to locusts in the Torah do not refer to this species.

So, there are two possibilities. Either the kosher locusts are indeed those familiar to entomologists, described by various Torah scholars over the ages, and traditionally eaten by many different Jewish communities - and Rashi's description needs to be reinterpreted (as has been proposed in several ways) or is simply inaccurate. Alternatively, Rashi's description is to be taken at face value as being authoritative - after all, he had ruach hakodesh - and the kosher types of locusts mentioned in the Torah are fundamentally anatomically different from all other locusts known to science, have completely disappeared without trace, and the various Jewish communities with traditions of eating desert locusts are all making a grievous error. From a rationalist perspective, with its approach to nature, scientific knowledge and the authority of Rashi's comments, the choice is obvious.

Other sources cited by opponents to locust-eating are likewise weak from a rationalist standpoint. The Taz notes that the custom is not to eat any locusts, due to uncertainty regarding their identity. Indeed, it is not at all surprising that a scholar living in 17th century Poland would be uncertain regarding their identity. However, that has little bearing on whether a person living in the 21st century, with access to both modern entomology as well as North African traditions, would be uncertain regarding their identity.

Again, this is a complex topic, and there are other, more legitimate grounds for those who do not eat locusts, involving issues relating to the nature of tradition. (I must also reiterate that when I first ate locusts, some eleven years ago, it was after receiving a specific psak from my posek.) But, from a rationalist perspective, there is no reason to doubt that Schistocerca gregaria is the locust described in the Torah as being kosher, while at the same time it can certainly be understood that earlier authorities were in doubt, for reasons that are no longer applicable. Now, if I could only actually find some locusts...

(For those who asked - it is not possible to obtain kosher locusts in North America. In the UK, they can be easily purchased online at many reptile-food suppliers, such as http://www.livefoods.co.uk.)

54 comments:

  1. Can you please name the posek who allowed you to eat them?

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  2. Sorry, he's suffered enough already. But a friend received the same psak from Rav Scheinberg.

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  3. In fact, the best illustration of the rationalist/non-rationalist divide is the first comment to this thread. The guy wants to know "who paskened" you can eat them. The rationalist does not dirregard "poskim" [whoever they may be, and however they may have been given this title] but does not subcontract out his thinking to them, either. He wants to reason and decide for himself. The non-rationalist either cannot or does not want to do this, and only wants to know "who paskened."

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  4. Please excuse an ignorant question from someone without a yeshivah background. I tried becoming frum some years ago, and during that time I was often the guest at a Lubavitcher rabbi's house. He was so careful about the possibility of any tiny bugs in his lettuce (even after checking carefully) that, to his wife's chagrin, he would refuse to eat any salad.

    My understanding was that all insects are unkosher because they are "disgusting". I did know about the locusts in the Torah, but thought it was just a kind of theoretical thing that no one practiced. It is very interesting to learn that these kinds of locusts are kosher.

    Now my question: does the idea of eating something "disgusting" like an insect enter into the picture? I realize that this is really a purely cultural matter; what one finds disgusting is largely a matter of upbringing.

    Rabbi Slifkin mentioned in a previous post that being able to eat locusts prevents starvation after all the crops are destroyed. Is this a side issue? I am not aware of any other practical reason for other kosher practices. I don't agree with those who say that pigs are not kosher because they are "unclean" (hygienically) or carry diseases. Cattle are also unclean and carry diseases.

    So why are locusts the only insects that are kosher if it is not for the practical reason of not starving?

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  5. Will you make up your mind if Rabbi Shienberg is to be trusted on Halachik issues or not.
    For the banning of your books you lost trust in him, the size of an olive he was mistaken etc etc but to eat grasshoppers you suddenly rely on him. Either he knows what he is doing or not, you seem to be jumping around like a grasshopper.
    (please dont throw back your usual line - do i believe the sun went round the earth - its getting a bit dry, just answer my question)

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  6. I'm not relying on Rav Scheinberg for anything. I just mentioned his name because my friend received a psak from him, and it seems to have an impact on other people when I tell them that.

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  7. D.F. said " the non rationalist only want to know who paskened"
    Right, so that makes R Natan "a non rationalist" as he was the one who originally asked this "mystery posek"

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  8. One can only wonder if this mystery posek is the same un-named Rabbi that travels every morning from Jerusalem to Ein Gedi to see the Hyrax that R Slifkin mentioned during the great Betech - Slifkin debate a couple of weeks back

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  9. No, it was a different person. What exactly was the point of your comment?

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  10. What do you mean rationalist vs non rationalist anyhow? Your generic post on this seems inexact.
    Philosophical rationalism, empiricism, positivism ?
    Rationalism might well include divinely inspired guidance as a way of knowing what is right ? But if so what criteria do you use to boundary its influence ? You do seem to just make it up as you go along, how is your take on locust eating justifiably better from a rationalist perspective from listening to what gedolim say even if it is in some minor conflict with science ? Defining your terms better in this r vs ir debate would help.

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  11. How is eating locusts for an Ashkenazi different than eating Kitniyot on Pesach? Both have reasons that aren't relevant anymore, and from a rational point of view, it would make the most sense to adopt the Sephardi approach.

    I have heard there's a push in Israel to be mevatel the rules of Kitniyot, where it makes shopping and eating out on Pesach more difficult. (As opposed to the US, where there's not much available that's marked Kosher L'Pesach for those who eat kitniyot) But, is there main stream support for that?

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  12. "The rationalist vs. non-rationalist divide is extremely useful"

    I would like to think that only a small subsection of the "non-rationalist" world think along the lines of the way this fellow did, and a fraction of those would respond the way this fellow did. If the percentage is low enough, is it so accurate to depict this case as a case of "rationalist vs. non-rationalist divide"?

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  13. for all commentors - click back on the zootorah blog for a follow up with this fellow - http://zootorah.blogspot.co.il/2013/03/the-locusts-are-coming-yum.html

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  14. DF's comment is only missing the reasoning one may be confident in his decision.

    Relying on a posek who hasn't made his case from objective mathematical logic is a sham.



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  15. ahg: Not eating kitniyot is a minhag. There is no minhag not to eat locusts; it's just something that Ashkenazim didn't do. Oddly, halachic matters may be more flexible than minhag.

    Samuel: Indeed, this is an issue. Yechezkel brings it up when Hashem asks him to eat something disgusting, and it's been discussed since. Of course, this is entirely subjective: Tuesday's newspaper had an interview with a Yemenite woman who looked back with pleasure on the locusts they at back in Yemen. And once you eat one, the second is easier. I remember R' Slifkin's original essay wrote how he was a bit squicked out by eating them.

    As to practical reasons, like you said, it ultimately doesn't matter, but this is a commonly given explanation. Who knows? The Torah doesn't say. Note that in the plague in Egypt, the locusts are blown away at the end- they couldn't even eat those.

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  16. And calling you Yemenite as an invective. That was real classy.

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  17. Rabbi, you are being trolled heavily.
    Is there some new coordinated effort to challenge you and make you look bad?

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  18. Peacemaker -

    Your analysis of numbers of people who think this way is probably right - however working out what truth or the good life or whatever you want to to call it is, is not a numbers game. Lehavdil, most of the left agreed with Stalin for a long time....The question is about what we can know about the world and human experience and how we can come to know it. R Slifkin's rationalist vs non rationalist debate is currently under theorized, which makes it difficult to know actually what he is saying about locust eating and any number of other topics.

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  19. In reply to David L:
    It is not a question of accepting or rejecting R. Scheinberg. No-one would deny that R. Scheinberg was an eminent talmid chacham with expertise in certain areas of the giant Torah corpus, but not in others. You might accept his rulings in hilkhot berachot, for example, but not on whether to say Hallel on Yom Ha'atzmaut, where hashkafa is as significant an issue as halakha. The idea that Gedolim know everything is irrational. We can accept the truth from whoever says it, even if he happens to be charedi :-)

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  20. "I have heard there's a push in Israel to be mevatel the rules of Kitniyot, where it makes shopping and eating out on Pesach more difficult. (As opposed to the US, where there's not much available that's marked Kosher L'Pesach for those who eat kitniyot) But, is there main stream support for that?"

    This year my son already started in more than a month before Pesah: "Why can't we just eat kitniyot like every body else?!" :-)

    In mixed Dati-Leumi communities there is mainstream support and widespread adoption not to be "mevatel" the gezerah for the Ashkenazic members, but rather to implement a more modest solution: The Ashkenazim continue not to eat real kitniyot (like actual rice), which is what the fundamental issue is all about. But they do consume food that has kitniyot derivates (which is a much less severe aspect of the issue).

    This allows people to eat at each other's homes on Pesah with no problem (just skip the rice and humous), and the same thing of course allows people to eat at their relatives' homes in mixed families.

    Perhaps Rabbi Slifkin, with his expertise in realia, has some novel ideas or thoughts about kitniyot :-)

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  21. Before you eat them, do you have to check whether the locusts are themselves infested with bugs?

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  22. I don't think it's helpful to say that "a friend" rec'd a psak from R. Scheinberg. For one thing, unless R. Scheinberg wrote it down as a responsa, we really cannot verify it (not that I'm interested in partaking of locusts, but I'm just saying . . . ). I also don't think it's helpful to say you were given a psak to eat this type of locust, but then refuse to divulge the name of the rav who gave it. I understand the poor fellow doesn't want to be bombarded by people, but if you publish something that is rather unusual, people are going to want to know the names of the piskei halacha, and you cannot blame them. Finally, I was wondering if you don't see any irony in your refusal to name the rav, when you don't allow for people to comment anonymously ;)

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  23. I do not believe for one second that a jew born & bred in Manchester enjoys crunching on locusts. In my view you are trying to be rebellious to those who banned your books.
    I just hope that you will one day mature and realise that you are hurting no-one besides yourself and your own children

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  24. Jack of all tradesMarch 7, 2013 at 5:50 PM

    Rabbi, was it the halachik ruling of the posek that spurred you on to eat them, or was it your own understanding of the halacha.
    It wasnt clear from your post.

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  25. Finally, I was wondering if you don't see any irony in your refusal to name the rav, when you don't allow for people to comment anonymously ;)

    You can comment here anonymously using a pseudonym.

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  26. From the NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/07/world/middleeast/swarms-of-locusts-cross-into-israel-from-egypt.html?smid=pl-share

    On the up side, some considered the curse almost a blessing. The popular Channel 2 television news showed delighted Thai agricultural workers frying up locusts for a crunchy snack. The Israeli television crew munched on a few too, noting that locusts are considered kosher.

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  27. David. L. said...

    I do not believe for one second that a jew born & bred in Manchester enjoys crunching on locusts. In my view you are trying to be rebellious to those who banned your books.


    I'm a Jew born in Oxford and I would love to try a crunchy fried locust and I don't even have any books to ban.I didn't think that being born in Manchester would make such a difference, but thanks for setting me right David L.

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  28. Nachum:

    Thank you for that information. I did not know about Yechezkel. And I didn't know about the locusts in Egypt being blown away. I never saw it in the Haggadah. It's interesting that one of the 10 plagues is locusts. I'm sure the locusts were an affliction, but its their eating everything in sight that is the real affliction. Why do we need cattle disease if there is nothing to feed the cattle? The cattle will die anyway. Maybe it's so that the Egyptians couldn't even eat the cattle before the cattle starved.

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  29. Can some knowledgeable frum person who objects to Rabbi Slifkin's contention that it is alright for Ashkenazim to eat these locusts please explain in a sentence or two, without ad hominem (personal) attacks on Rabbi Slifkin, exactly what is their objection or disagreement?
    Can all you do is be sarcastic, insulting, rude, and impolite?

    From reading this blog, it is apparent that Rabbi Slifkin is always ready and willing (and more than able) to engage in honest intellectual debate. Honest intellectual debate means that people do not resort to personal attacks against Rabbi Slifkin. These kinds of attacks only weaken any arguments you may have against what he writes.

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  30. David. L. said...
    I do not believe for one second that a jew born & bred in Manchester enjoys crunching on locusts. In my view you are trying to be rebellious to those who banned your books.
    I just hope that you will one day mature and realise that you are hurting no-one besides yourself and your own children


    I think that this post clearly sums up the divide. Those on the other side view it 180 degrees, the other way around: rediscovering through the Masorah and then practicing what the Torah explicitly dicates as mutar is itself a positive religious experience.

    To each his own.

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  31. ". Oddly, halachic matters may be more flexible than minhag."

    How so? there is no such thing as a minhag that isn't tied to a location, and no such thing as a minhag that I have to follow but my next door neighbor doesn't.

    Also, after poseks have declared that the food is not kosher, how can you say that there isn't a tradition to not eat them? They are being directly called not kosher and thus they are told that it is forbidden to eat them.

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  32. David L said: "In my view you are trying to be rebellious to those who banned your books."

    This is contradicted by Rabbi Slifkin's statement in the blogpost, that he first ate locusts 11 years ago--that's 2002, two years before the book ban in 2004-2005.

    On the other hand, maybe it's not so great allowing something so publicly, in front of people who don't accept the heter.

    Then again, if Rabbi Slifkin would start wearing techelet in his tzitzis, because he relies on scholarship that has identified the chilazon, it wouldn't cause such an uproar.

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  33. RNS,

    It might be muttar to eat certain locusts, but tell me, is it muttar to feed trolls?!

    Or do you really believe you are engaging in a meaningful dialog?

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  34. Something to bear in mind. The Ohr Ha-chaim is a perush on Chumash. If he had a detailed explanation of why they are permitted to eat, does anyone think that a Chumash commentary would be cited as having halachic significance by the same people who are willing to cite him to support a stringent ruling?

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  35. I don't understand this issue of Mesorah being "regional".

    If the Jews of Yemen have a reliable chain of psak and practice that the locust they eat is kosher, it's not a "Yemenite" mesora, it's a "Jewish" mesora. Jews have always this species, therefore we can.

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  36. Rav Sheinberg can say it, we cannot!

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  37. (I ask this question with a desire to know, rather than to challenge):
    For those who say that locust are not kosher for ashkenazim because we don't have a tradition of eating it, how is this different from the heter for eating turkey, which, if I understand correctly, was on the (then-believed) basis that Indian communities had a mesorah for eating it? If what I said is correct, then the main justification for eating turkey is that a different group had a mesorah for eating it... how does that differ from locust?

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  38. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  39. Adam, actually the case of the kashrut of locusts is different, but may be stronger than that of turkey. Turkey is a bird native to the new world, and there could not have been an ancient tradition among Jews attesting to its kashrut. On the other hand, turkeys show all the signs of a kosher bird enumerated by the talmudic sages. Hence, the prevalent custom is to disregard the general requirement for a tradition to determine a bird's kashrut, in favor of the favorable physical evidence.

    Rationalists could adduce another reason. The torah lists the species of unkosher birds. Rationally those names refer to birds familiar to people living then in that part of the world. New world birds, on the other hand, could not have been named since an arbitrary name given to an unknown creature would have been meaningless. Since turkeys share the characteristics of the kosher birds of antiquity, they should be considered kosher.

    Locusts, or at least some species, do have a tradition of kashrut. It also seems reasonable that the torah's listing of 5 kosher insects would include the common locust since a locust swarm would devastate crops and leave nothing behind to eat other than the creatures themselves.

    My ealier comment on an objection to eating locusts dealt not with its kashrut, but the advisability of eating something that you find disgusting. If you do, then a torah prohibition may come into play. I must add that I have no credentials for making such halachic decisions. However, a counter argument about vegans and the Passover sacrafice is irrelevant. If the torah requires you to eat the korban, then that overrides any prohibition of teshaktzu ('asei docheh lo ta'aseh') If you don't find the idea of eating insects disgusting, then there is only the issue of kashrut.

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  40. I know that this will not be posted. But this comment by Y. Aharon was so enlightening and well written that I wanted to see Y. Aharon's other comments on all blog posts. But I couldn't find them. In a Google search for Y. Aharon I only found Sara Y. Aharon, the author of "From Kabul to Queens: The Jews of Afghanistan and Their Move to the United States”.

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  41. Y. Aharon, what you say is true, of course. But you're saying that from a rationalist perspective. There are many who would not eat turkey on the basis you have given, but rather require(d) a mesorah. And, if I understand correctly, there was a belief that Indians (from India) had a mesorah for eating turkey. Yes, that's obviously impossible, but that's not the point. The point is that, according to these people, they could eat turkey because others had a mesorah. [If that is just a myth, please debunk it for me!] And the case of locust is therefore similar.

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  42. Turkey is a bird native to the new world, and there could not have been an ancient tradition among Jews attesting to its kashrut.

    There's an interesting discussion by Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky of the kashrut of the turkey at the following URL; he discusses the issue of mesorah for kashrut: http://www.kashrut.com/articles/turkey/

    His conclusion:

    The near universal acceptance of turkey as a kosher species, given the halachic quandary it presents, would indicate that the Jewish people have either accepted the possibility of originating mesorahs where none existed before or of accepting birds without the need for a mesorah. It is very possible that had the turkey question been posed when it was first introduced in the early 16th century, Jewish gastronomic history might have been different. It seems that many authorities may have initially come out against turkey because of its obvious lack of a mesorah. For some reason "bird controversies" erupted in the 18th and 19th centuries and when the turkey question was posed it often took the form of "why is it eaten?" rather than "may it be eaten?".

    As has been shown, despite the fundamental difficulty with permitting turkey virtually all of the responsa are permissive, and it is unlikely that that will (or should) change in the future. It seems that unless one has a specific family custom to refrain from turkey, to adopt such a behavior is morally wrong. The turkey is no longer new and its kosher status has been addressed by both the great and not-so-great Jewish minds over the during 250 years and has received near-universal endorsement. To call it into question now is to impugn the dozens of responsa, and more so, the millions of honorable Jews, who have eaten turkey for almost half a millennium. That is not the Jewish way.

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  43. Samuel Dinkels, although I know of no easy way to do it, in my personal opinion based on past observation, no matter how long it takes to go through blog posts to find and read Y. Aharon's past comments, it is a worthwhile endeavour.

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  44. Adam and Samuel Dinkels, many thanks for your complimentary words particularly on my birthday (I won't say how many, but it is much more than the blog author). I have been commenting on this blog, torahmusings (Gil's blog), emes ve-emunah (Harry's blog), 'on the mainline' (S.'s blog), and dovbear in recent years. I use a slight pseudonym, based on my first names, instead of my last name when blogging. Google used to find more references to my posts than what it supplies now (I haven't tried Bing), and the PC version contains more than does the tablet version.

    My views, you may have noted, are very similar to the blog owner except that we have different views of how to read and interpret torah verses. Someone whom R' Slifkin knows well used to call me a 'fundie' when I commented on his now discontinued blogs. I guess, that you could call me a traditioalist with a strong rationalist inclination.

    I can add little on the turkey question to what I have already stated, and R' Ari Zivotofsky's scholarly article is more than adequate. I would only add that the hebrew term for turkey, tarnegol hodu, is a misnomer - as is our term,'turkey'. The bird has no native connection to either country. It is a new world creature. Hence there was no ancient Indian tradition (Of course, native Americans were well aware of the bird, but those 'Indians' (another misnomer) had no interest in kashrut).

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  45. "Also, after poseks have declared that the food is not kosher, how can you say that there isn't a tradition to not eat them? They are being directly called not kosher and thus they are told that it is forbidden to eat them."

    The poskim didn't declare it "not kosher." The Torah itself declares them kosher. So how could they? What they HAVE done is to say that we do not know how to identify the kosher form of locust, therefore we cannot eat any.

    But now, in contact with those Jews who did preserve that tradition, we are able to identify those kosher ones. So those statements have become irrelevant, although they were important in their time and place for instructing Jews of their time and place on what to do.

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  46. With regards to a prohibition on eating something "disgusting" - Isn't "disgusting" in this sense whatever is defined as such by the Torah, rather than what I personally dislike?

    For example, if I dislike the taste of cholent (or certain types of chulent), is it now a Torah prohibition for me to eat that?

    As an aside, there are several foods which I find disgusting such as mayonaisse, but I eat them in moderation since they appear so frequently at the Shabbos table in various forms. And sometimes when I combine the disgusting (on its own) mayonaisse with tuna, it is bearable or in fact tasty.

    My understanding was this language was a way of describing what the Torah itself calls disgusting, not what you subjectively feel is disgusting.
    For related example, the Torah says that the sexual act between men is an abomination - gay men would beg to differ, but that is the definition set by the Torah, and it is forbidden. Not because the particular person feels that it is or isn't an abomination but because the Torah defines it as such.

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  47. I finally had a chance to do a little research on the subject of "al teshaktzu et nafshoteichem bechal hasheretz.." (Lev. 11:43). The verse refers specifically to the vast majority of creepers which are strictly forbidden and excludes the 4 species of locust-like creatures that are explicitly permitted. However, the sages generalized the 'al teshaktzu' prohibition to include other disgusting foods or actions. The Rambam codified the rabbinic prohibition on eating foods that most people find disgusting (MT, end of ma'achalot asurot). It is outside of my pay scale to define what might be considered 'most people' in this connection. Perhaps it is most people who don't consider locusts to be forbidden, or perhaps it refers to people (Jew or Gentile) who are accustomed to locust invasions. Again, my prior and current comments are not intended as some kind of 'pesak', but a cautionary note.

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  48. Y. Aharon:

    Thank you for doing this research. I have been told that we are not to look for rational reasons for the Kashrut laws. Do the rationalists agree with this? Did Rambam look for rational reasons for the laws of kashrut?

    Y. Aharon points out that locusts may have been more familiar to people living in the area of Eretz Yisroel, and thus perhaps less "disgusting". But ants and many other kinds of insects, including types of worms would also be familiar to them. So what makes the locust so holy? What other reason could it be than to prevent starvation?

    Here is another question: Are grasshoppers kosher? Locusts are nothing more than swarming grasshoppers. So if a person breeds grasshoppers/locusts (as Rabbi Slifkin says he intends to try to do), can he eat them if they are not caught directly from a swarm of locusts?

    From Wikipedia:

    ****************
    "Locusts are the swarming phase of certain species of short-horned grasshoppers in the family Acrididae. These are species that can breed rapidly under suitable conditions and subsequently become gregarious and migratory when their populations become dense enough..."
    ***************

    Here is a last question if anyone might know:

    Can we make a Sefer Torah from locust skins?

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  49. Sam, the sages provided the signs for the 4 biblically permitted insects, i.e., members of the locust family. Wings covering their bodies are among the signs. Grasshoppers, I believe, don't have wings - check with R' Natan. It wouldn't matter, then, if grasshoppers and locusts were closely related. The situation might be different if one was certain that a particular grasshopper was a member of a species that developed wings and the other characteristics of locusts.

    Rationalists such as the Rambam looked for reasons for the mitzvot, but didn't presume to
    condition their applicability based on the conjectured reason. In other words, we are obligated to follow the mitzvot of the torah, whether we understand the reason or not, or whether some given reason is applicable or not. Providing rationales under those restrictions is of value in that it furthers the development of a sense of the spirit and inner meaning of mitzvot.

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  50. Y. Aharon:
    Thank you for answering. What I know about grasshoppers is only from doing a Google search, but all the sources on the web say that most grasshoppers have wings, but that the wings are small and not useful for sustained flight. It seems that when grasshoppers go into their swarming phase, they release hormones that affects their behavior (more gregarious) and that modifies their physiology somewhat. (Their wings grow to become flight-worthy). It’s not that grasshoppers and locusts are closely related: locusts are grasshoppers that are in a swarming phase. They are not separate species. (If I am wrong about this, then someone can please correct me.)

    Good Shabbos everyone.

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  51. whoops, it appears that grasshoppers do have wings, but I don't know if they cover the body of the insect as stipulated by the sages. I should leave all such zoological questions to the expert here, R' Natan.

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  52. Maybe this is off topic, but it is related to Passover. What was stopping the Egyptians from feasting on locusts and frogs?

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  53. Rabbi Slifkin please see this article
    http://download.yutorah.org/2005/1053/735514.pdf

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  54. Unfortunately, I don't think that Rav Schachter understood Prof Amar's book correctly.

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