Friday, August 10, 2018

I Can't Believe It's Not Treife!

Here is an article that I published this week in the Jewish Link of New Jersey

Notwithstanding the vast range of kosher foods available today, keeping kosher sometimes seems limiting in terms of the actual species that we can eat. I remember staying at a lodge in Zimbabwe, where the other guests were eating ostrich burgers, crocodile steaks and grilled warthog, whereas the participants in my group had to settle for chicken and beef. And while the species that are available to the kosher consumer are strictly of the mammalian, avian or piscine variety, if you go to the market in Bangkok, you’ll see people munching on all kinds of grub—literally.

Still, the truth is that there are many more kosher species than is commonly assumed. A few years ago, at the Biblical Museum of Natural History, we decided to prepare banquets that were not only delicious, but also educational, and very special from a kashrut standpoint. Inspired by the trailblazing work of our colleague Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky and Dr. Ari Greenspan, we decided to see how far we could take this idea. These events are enormously complicated, stressful and expensive to produce, but they are unique educational and cultural experiences!

Our first banquet at the museum, two years ago, was a Feast of Biblical Flora & Fauna. This featured species that we see in the Torah were consumed, but that are not normally eaten nowadays. Thus, there was no chicken—chickens are not mentioned anywhere in Tanach, since they were domesticated from Indian jungle fowl, which had not yet reached the land of Israel in the Biblical period. Instead, we served species such as doves, quails, geese, goa and deer—which was served daily at King Solomon’s table, but which is almost impossible to obtain (under kosher certification) today.

Dessert was, of course, chocolate-covered locusts. The Torah states that certain locusts are kosher, and various North African and Yemenite Jewish communities retained the tradition as to which species is kosher—namely, the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria. Eating locusts is not a relic of a primitive era; locusts are considered by food nutritionists to be the super-food of the future. They are high in protein and very nutritious, although that benefit is lost somewhat when they are coated in chocolate. The Feast of Biblical Flora & Fauna will be repeated in Teaneck in October, though there is not yet any guarantee as to exactly which species will be served, since the shechitah of unusual species can be even more complicated in the US than in Israel.

The next year, we wanted to do something different at the museum, and so we held a Feast of Exotic Curiosities (which we plan to run again in Los Angeles next February). That menu featured non-Biblical foods of halachic intrigue, including kingklip, sparrow, pheasant, guinea-fowl, udders, turkey animelles, Asian water buffalo and more. Yet perhaps most controversial were the breeds of chicken; after all, last year was the summer in which controversies raged in Israel as to whether conventional supermarket Cornish Cross chickens are a treife breed and only a rare breed called the Braekel is kosher, or whether Braekel is treife and only Cornish Cross are kosher. We made a soup out of both of them together! (Contrary to widespread misconception, all these breeds are simply varieties of chickens—they are not new halachic categories that require a separate mesorah.)

This year at the museum, we have decided to do something different yet again: A Feast of Legends From the Sea. This includes several different types of dishes. First of all, despite the name and theme of the event, the feast is not pareve—there are two unusual fleishig items on the menu. But everything served is on the theme of “Legends From the Sea.” And all fishes are pareve. So how can we be serving two “Legends From the Sea” that are fleishig? That’s a riddle that can be answered with knowledge of some commentaries on a certain verse in the Torah. It would be a pity to spoil the riddle, so we will publicly reveal the answer after the event.

A second type of dish relates to species that are popularly believed to be unequivocally non-kosher, but that are actually kosher—at least according to certain significant halachic opinions. There are a number of species that fall into this category, some (but not all) of which we shall be serving, including sturgeon, swordfish and piranha!

Then are the dishes that are based on the Gemara’s fascinating statements that there is nothing inherently unappetizing about non-kosher food, and that for every non-kosher food, there is a kosher equivalent. Kosher “crab” has been available in supermarkets for a while already. But we are taking things to the next level, with foods that not only visually look like the more exotic seafoods—complete with shells and tentacles—but that are even made with them!

Now, how is that possible? Well, let us first consider our planned dish of Cephalopod Salad. Cephalopods are the class of molluscs that includes octopus and squid. They are surely all non-kosher, as treife as treife can be. And yet, there are actually theoretically not one but two ways of serving a kosher tentacled dish that is actually made with real cephalopod!

One involves a unique species of cephalopod called the Grimaldi squid. Contrary to popular belief, the Torah does not say that a sea creature has to be a fish in order to be kosher. It only speaks of “anything that has fins and scales.” And, uniquely among cephalopods, the Grimaldi squid actually has fins and scales.

However, this is not the way that we are serving cephalopod. First of all, while some authorities are of the view that any scaled and finned aquatic creature is kosher, Rambam and others maintain that it must be a fish. Second, in any case, Grimaldi squid are impossible to obtain—only a few individuals have ever been discovered.

And so we have devised a different way of serving cephalopod. Without giving away too much in advance, the halachos of kashrut include some fascinating concepts, including that not every part of every non-kosher creature is itself non-kosher. Certain parts of some unusual non-kosher creatures are simply not considered to be the “meat” of the creature, and thus may be eaten. And so, with the aid of an obscure halachic ruling in this vein, the knowledge of a particular unusual species, together with a specialized item from Japan, we plan to serve something that not only looks like cephalopod—tentacles and all—but is even made with cephalopod!

The world houses an astonishingly diverse range of marvelous creatures, and halacha encompasses a remarkably wide variety of kashrut scenarios. The combination of the two is enlightening—and delicious.


By Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin

Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin is the founder and director of the Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh. For extensive discussion about kosher locusts, see www.BiblicalNaturalHistory.org/locust. For more details about the Feast of Biblical Flora & Fauna in Teaneck, and the Feast of Legends From the Sea in Israel, see www.BiblicalNaturalHistory.org/feast.












28 comments:

  1. So why don't chickens appear in Tanach? They already were present in the Middle East. See https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1474-919X.1966.tb07268.x

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  2. This article discusses it. http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/vl/betmikra/betmikra057.pdf
    Isn't there a Chazal that the Torah did not instruct chickens to be used for korbanos because they are promiscuous?

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  3. The eidah forbids the swordfish... rav o yosef permits it

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  4. They don’t appear in Tanach because they are not relevant. Just because something existed at the time does not mean it was meaningful. Chickens, even if not common, would have had to been part of daily life in some capacity for there to be any reason to mention. There is no list of kosher birds in the Torah - just those that are non kosher. So no need to mention chickens. Certain kosher birds are mentioned in the context of korbanot but those are prescriptive so if chickens are not brought they are not mentioned. Birds are also mentioned in Navi and Ketuvim and if chickens were not part of the relevant experience which is being discussed why would they be mentioned? Also, the link you provide does not indicate the evidence was in Israel. Moreover, it mentions an absence of evidence somewhat around the time of Tanach. Hence it seems if they were present it certainly was rare and uncommon and “dibra Torah k’lshon b’nai Adam- Torah uses readily accessible human experience.

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  5. Does the mention of cephalopods and "certain parts" being kosher mean that you're serving pasta with squid ink sauce?

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    1. AFAIK, squid ink is a part of the squid and therefore treif. I assume that the hint means something along the lines of honey or possibly kopi luwak, where the product comes from an outside kosher material which is then transformed in, and released from, the body of the non-kosher animal without being absorbed. I was thinking something like ambergris, but I haven't seen anyone who's meikil on that, and Google searches for "edible cephalopod vomit" have been less helpful than you might imagine (to say nothing of getting my company's IT department somewhat concerned about me...)

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    2. He's clearly going to use cuttlefish bone, similar to the type you can buy for your pet bird to gnaw on in their cages, its from the creature but likely permitted.....

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    3. No, both squid ink and cuttlefish bone may not be eaten. (Those were my first ideas, but Rav Shachter prohibits them both.)

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  6. Are there communities that accepted Sturgeon as kosher?

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    1. Yes, Rav Natan, if Sturgeon is kosher how come no one certifies smoked sturgeon, or their caviar which is delicious, as kosher???

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  7. Sugar free chocolate is cheap and readily available in Israel. My favourite is the "אגו" brand: I use it to make ice cream

    May I suggest coating the locust in a thin layer of Stevia dark chocolate?

    By the way, what does locust taste like? Is it crunchy with a gooey centre? 😀

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  8. I was in aquaculture biz for a decade. I studied the swordfish issue in depth. Turns out, while true baby swords have scales, which is the basis for the heater, it turns out those scales are of the subderal, "bony" type which means they are not real scales, not in scientific nor halachic terms.

    Am I missing something?

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    1. Yes. The scales are halachically valid.

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    2. lol!! are you going to explain how, or are we to take your word for it as you are a leading haachic expert?

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    3. "In Fishery leaflet #531, U.S. Dept. of Interior, Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, Wash. D.C., it states 'swordfish during early juvenile stage of life (up to 8 inches long), have "scales" that are markedly specialized and rather unique. They are in the form of bony tubercules or expanded compressed platelike bodies. These scales are rough, having spinous projections at the surface and they do not overlap one another as the scales in most fish do. With growth the scales disappear and the adult fish including those sold commercially have no scales.'

      What is the sources that scales like these are kosher? They are not removable without tearing the flesh.

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    4. Is Rav Machpud a good enough source for you?

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    5. R. Hershel Shachter said it was Kosher. There was an interview with him in the Jewish Press on the topic of Swordfish earlier this year. He said it was Kosher, but (he said) R. M. D. Tendler made a great show of saying it was NOT simply and only because the conservative movement was saying it was. (The phrase להוציא מלבן של צדוקים was not used, but it was clear that's what RHS had in mind.)

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    6. The eidah is better sourse...

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    7. Rav ovadia said it first... eat בית יוסף tuna at your own risk...

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    8. @DF

      Was told by a talmid of RHS that RHS told him he was misquoted in the interview. I have no horse in this race- just repeating what I was told.

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  9. But... but...

    Legit question (ie not a mock or a dig or a hey-look-you're-not-frum), as I would love to be there and eat: it sounds as if for some things, the Feast will be relying on obscure shitos, not mainstream-approved-but-little-used mesorah. Is it not inappropriate to go out of our way to find these opinions and then rely on them if it is not a sha'as had'chak?

    ie to say we can eat quail is fine-it's special simply bc it's not used much in the modern West - but should not the hetter to eat a cephalopod component be limited to those poor dwellers of the shtetels of Polynesia?

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    1. It's not relying on obscure shittos which go against the mainstream. It's relying on mainstream halacha that is little known. There's a big difference.

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    2. In addition to what RNS answered, would note that much of the Mishna Brurah itself consists of obscure shittos that hitherto were not known and not followed in practice.

      Its like wearing Techeles, or walking to shul with your tallis on. Supporters point to the supporting sources, Critics point to the opposing sources, then cry חדשים מקרב באו and tailor the accusations to fit the context.

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    3. R' Slifkin, the dispute about the kashrut of sturgeon, if not also swordfish, is old. It is a question of whether discrete boney knobs on the skin can be subsumed under the term kashkeshet of the torah, or not. The evident meaning of kashkeshet, however, is like the armor of the same name, a covering of scales. As I recollect, that was the view of the Ramban. The knobs of the sturgeon and the juvenile swordfish would therefore not be the required kosher siman. Why would Rav Machpud and, possibly, Rav Schachter permit it, and why would you and your colleagues be anxious to interject yourselves into this issue? In general, I find it distasteful to provide a meal of something that is made to resemble a treif food, or to even be called by that name. I personally will not eat 'kosher bacon', Facon, or even Bacos. The same is true for something labelled 'kosher crab'. It's a question of avoiding the implication that the torah significantly diminishes the enjoyment of life with its restrictions.

      Y. Aharon

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    4. "Why would Rav Machpud and, possibly, Rav Schachter permit it"
      Because they checked the scales and found them perfectly valid.

      "It's a question of avoiding the implication that the torah significantly diminishes the enjoyment of life with its restrictions."
      But Chazal explicitly address this and speak about kosher foods that taste like non-kosher foods.

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  10. The Torah allowing eating Locust was a great Idea. They can cause wise spread agricultural damage, turn a problem into a solution - feeding us. My guess is people in the region have always been eating them so the Torah could not prohibit a good source of food. Thus the Torah sanctioned it.

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  11. I'll come when you serve Levyatan...

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  12. Do we need to eat exotic foods?

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I Can't Believe It's Not Treife!

Here is an article that I published this week in the Jewish Link of New Jersey Notwithstanding the vast range of kosher foods available to...