Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Kosher Octopus

Well, this was a miscalculation.

Last week, the Biblical Museum of Natural History hosted a "Feast of Legends from the Sea" in Beverly Hills. This is one of our three different banquets in which we serve foods that are kosher but highly unusual from either a halachic or culinary perspective. The full photo gallery and article is yet to come, but in the meanwhile, I posted the following photo on Facebook, with the comment that he was so charming that it seemed almost a crime to eat him:

To my mind, it was perfectly obvious that we did not actually serve octopus at the event. But much to my surprise, several people - all educated religious Jews - expressed their surprise that there is such thing as a kosher octopus!

I suppose the mistake is ultimately mine. Considering that we serve many foods that people do not expect to be kosher, such as sparrows and piranhas and locusts, it's to be expected that some people expect to be surprised to learn that various creatures are actually kosher. (And it's not such an outrageous mistake - in fact there really is a species of squid, the Grimaldi squid, which has scales and sort-of fins and is arguably kosher!)

In general, while there is a halachic concept of maris ayin - that a permissible act can be forbidden if it gives the appearance of doing a forbidden act - this does not apply where there is no concern that onlookers will err. For example, cooking meat with margarine does not create any problem of maris ayin, since everyone knows that there is such a thing as margarine and that it is not butter. The same is true for pareve coffee creamer and Pesach “bagels.” 

I had assumed that this would also be true for these museum special dinners. We often think that maris ayin is about not doing something which make people think that we are sinning, and clearly nobody thinks that we are serving food that is not kosher. But it is also (and in fact primarily) about not misleading people into thinking that something forbidden is permissible. I had thought that nobody would think that octopus is kosher, but this was evidently a mistake.

So, let me state for the record that which was made very clear to everybody at the event - octopus is NOT KOSHER. As for the octopus that we presented, which took a lot of planning and craftsmanship, you should be able to figure out the truth about him. (Incidentally, we all found it impossible to refer to him as an "it," and he was affectionately named Timothy.) The clue is that we served him for dessert. I must confess, although it was incredible to watch him be wheeled out amidst swirling smoke and thundering music, I found the sight of Timothy being cut up to be extremely disturbing!

Photos by Jonah Light photography.



40 comments:

  1. "I suppose the mistake is ultimately mine." There is no supposing about it. Snark and sarcasm and utilizing falsehood when conveying such, is bad enough when spoken, where at least audible and visual cues are usually available. It's absolutely untenable in written form. Each and every time, you express complete surprise when your statements are taken at face, because they are "obviously" false. Obvious to you, and your sycophants, but no one else. Yet, you never seem to learn the lesson and even take great delight in engaging in the same stupid behavior. It's certainly not appropriate for someone who fancies himself an expert who desires to have his words taken seriously. Why are you surprised when they are, even when not intended?

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    1. Shimshon - did you make it to the dinner? I'm sure that you were the life of the party.

      Stay happy!

      Delete
    2. Why do you punish yourself by even coming to this site? You seem quite angry and you'd be much happier just avoiding it altogether.

      Delete
    3. He comes to the site, so that he feels less like a gamma. I for one hope that he doesn't stop coming :-)

      Delete
    4. @shimshon, get real. I find it hard to believe that you actually meant what you wrote.

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    5. Pure projection. And mocking. This was actually quite constructive and on-point criticism, without a hint of sarcasm. I am hardly the first to point it out too. I simply noted what the proprietor did, and suggested the problem is with him, not those he assumes should understand his intent. Should he continue to utter things which ensure he will be unable to be taken seriously?

      Does he not fancy himself an expert (whatever that means)? Does he not want his words to be taken seriously? Perhaps to you he seeks neither, so it matters not when he repeatedly utters falsehood after falsehood and ex-post-facto expresses shocked surprise that people believe his expert-sounding statements and explains he was only joking and assumed everyone else knows. Once or twice is understandable. More, and it is much more, over a span of years, is tone-deaf retardation. If the audience repeatedly misconstrues, the problem is him, not his audience. Is this so hard to grasp? Do you not understand written communication is qualitatively different from spoken?

      You, so sycophantic you can't even agree (or remain silent) with a reasonable statement, even if said in a manner that you find disagreeable. You have to score a point, or something. It's not even clear what. Perhaps it's instinctual.

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    6. I will try to phrase this in a way even dimwits can understand.

      A number of years ago overrated (and currently crashing and burning) Sci-Fi author John Scalzi notoriously posted to his blog a long-winded posted, intended as satire, where he declared, "I’m a rapist. I’m one of those men who likes to force myself on women without their consent or desire and then batter them sexually.” Scalzi is now a rapist, and a self-admitted one.

      Slifkin has an established pattern of making authoritative posts that he later retracts and admits are fabrications. Would it be defamatory to describe Slifkin as a liar? How about a pathological liar? What about a coordinated campaign to spread the word? Slifkin, I would stop before your cavalier attitude with the truth gets you into real trouble. It's bad enough I can label you, entirely truthfully, as a pathological liar, and you have no defense against that. Parody, especially when unstated, is no defense.

      Maybe one of your board members or donors is reading this and will give you the dressing down you deserve. Perhaps talk with a lawyer about what kind of damage your words can cause. Are you so arrogant even this one bad middah is beyond reproach in your eyes? Laitzanis is one of the aveiros singled out in the Yom Kippur vidui.

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    7. @Joe Berry, don't be a sycophantic idiot. I would give this advice to my own father, albeit in a most respectful manner, were he to have a penchant for these gaslighting mind games like Slifkin does. I give this advice to everyone who engages in or ponders the same. My tone in this case (IMHO of course) is justly deserved. But not in other cases. My presence here is not the totality of me. Just because you don't like the messenger, or the tone of the message, doesn't make the message wrong.

      Delete
    8. Poor aggrieved Shimshi, always the paragon of civility, was nice enough to explain things so that even us dimwits can understand!
      You know, Shimshi, I'm surprised that at your age you still haven't learned to tolerate the mockery of lesser minds.

      Delete
  2. Was there anything Kosher about this event? By Kosher, I mean in spirit.

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  3. Is Timothy a cake?

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    1. I'm hoping it was a jello, to, y'know, preserve some semblance of similarity to the texture of a real octopus...

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  4. What was the point of having "kosher" octopus at a dinner of rare kosher animals? Sort of makes a mockery of the affair.

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    1. The humor in this article actually flew over your head. I'm so sorry you didn't get it. It's a totally charming story and the cake looks delicious. I cannot help but wonder what flavor the cake inside was.

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    2. The point is that the meal is made of things people don't expect to be kosher. People don't expect an octopus to be kosher, therefore a cake that looks like an octopus and is kosher is on theme.

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    3. "What was the point of having "kosher" octopus at a dinner of rare kosher animals?" It wasn't a dinner of rare kosher animals.

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    4. Please explain clearly what was the point. Is it like serving a vegan cheese burger? Something that looks not kosher but really is?

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    5. Did you look at check the title of the event?

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  5. Two observations and a question.
    You are too young. There was a time when kosher restaurants had to clearly mark pareve margarine and non-dairy creamer had to be prominently labeled precisely to avoid maras ayin.
    I knew that sparrows were fact kosher birds; but does this mean the Shrike (lanus excubitor) is kosher? It is definitely a carnivore, eating mice among other animals. Shouldn't this disqualify it?

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  6. Oy Rabbi! You continued to make the same mistake! I consider myself a pretty bright guy who is quite sympathetic to your views, but you needed to really spell out that Timothy was a cake not an octopus. It still wasn't clear, even in your follow-up .

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  7. Self parodying hatJune 19, 2022 at 8:11 PM

    This octopus symbolises the repression of the Palestinians for the benefit of well heeled out of touch elites. The entire notion of consuming cephalopods is one only a histrionic middle class lab rat from a historically wealthy background could countenance. Indeed, the entire history of cephalopod avoidance is clearly anachronistic as sea snails were an established part of Levantine culture. To follow up with a post in which self interested so called experts explain what is and what is not real without any empirical studies. This shouldn't be all about me but it somehow works out that way, thanks to the attentions of degenerate Kahanists.

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  8. Would you have done the same thing with a charming pig, nicknamed Arnold, with an apple in his mouth?

    Your candor in writing this here is laudable, but only partially so, because you simultaneously try to minimize guilt with words like you "suppose" you were mistaken. There is nothing to suppose. Commenter Shimshi is 100% right. If you call yourself Rabbi and Doctor, you have a responsibility to be extremely careful with what you say. חכמים, הזהרו בדבריכם.

    G. Pickles.

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  9. I totally agree that you never spelled out in the post what it ACTUALLY was. Why should we be able to figure it out? Please explain Slifkin. Im serious, I had to go through the comments to figure it out

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  10. What's the whole tragedy in the first place? That people thought for a day or so that octopus is kosher, till they were corrected? Boo hoo, an outrage indeed.

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  11. How low you have stooped! You're probably one of those heartless jungle creatures who eat animal crackers. A cannibal who eats gingerbread men. And eats gummy bears and jelly fish alive. Same for all the guests, actually beasts, who come to your feasts.

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    1. Same for all the guests, whether the California Wests, or the Teaneck Easts, actually beasts, who come to your feasts.

      Delete
  12. https://twitter.com/TheBoysTV/status/1535386381953994757

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  13. You concluded a recent post
    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2022/06/the-hunt-for-legend.html
    with, "That's it for now - I have to go deal with a complicated halachic issue involving a cephalopod for the feast tomorrow!"

    My guess is that you were referring to the halacha about serving Timothy. So pray inform us, what were the issues and what were the resolutions?

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  14. The photo of the dinner's menu was more explicit about what actual foods were being served, though I would have put all the non-kosher animal names in "sneer quotes" throughout. (I also object to calling pareve frozen desserts "pareve ice cream.") In the context of the menu, the octopus-shaped cake was merely the last of many alimentary japes - no big deal. However, out-of-context elsewhere, such as this blog's jarring title The Kosher Octopus, it did seem like an assertion that octopus could be kosher. If the next blog entry were entitled "Alien Lands in New York" few would expect it to be about a Canadian flying into JFK from Toronto.

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    Replies
    1. Well-written comment, particularly the reference to "alimentary japes." Me like.

      Pickles

      Delete
  15. Not a Slifkin fanJune 24, 2022 at 12:36 AM

    I agree that is seems Rabbi Slifkin gets a perverse thrill in deceiving people. He is doing it all the time. He intentionally made his museum "kosher" enough that Chareidim come in droves to attend his tours. If they knew the director's true views about Torah and how Chareidim distort the Torah and are a danger to Israeli society, they wouldn't step foot into the place even if you paid them.
    But Rabbi Slifkin is delighted to put on a charade that he really loves them and everything about him is kosher, and he welcomes them in with open arms! What a sham.

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    1. What a strange thing to say. First of all, why do you assume that everyone is like you? Most charedim couldn't care less what the directors of the Jerusalem Zoo or the Ramat Gan safari think about the charedi lifestyle (and I can assure you that it's not positive!), why would the Biblical Museum of Natural History be any different? They enjoy the experience and gain from it, so what difference does it make what the director believes about charedim? Second, you equate my views about charedi hashkafah and actions with a belief that my love for the charedi visitors is a "charade." It's not. Unlike you, I am able to differentiate between distaste for ideology and feelings toward people. I presume (and hope) that you are not in outreach!

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    2. Yes, most chareidim couldn't care less about what these directors think about them. Why? Because they probably keep it to themselves.
      It is quite another to be so outspoken about your negative views of them that you constantly blog to the world about all their faults, and proclaim at every opportunity that their very way of life is not Jewishly legitimate!
      If Avigdor Liberman or Yair Lapid would open a safari, you do you think chareidim would come?
      But here you are welcoming these clueless, awful distorters of authentic Judaism in with open arms to take their admission fees. They are being defrauded by you.
      What a sham.

      Delete
    3. How on earth are they being defrauded?! They have a tremendously beneficial, educational experience here. And no, I don't think that if Lieberman or Lapid were to take over the safari, that charedim would stop going. Just as when Lapid becomes prime minister now, charedim are not going to refuse to benefit from the government.

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    4. Binary thinking, and as usually accompanies such, a false dichotomy provided as a rejoinder. How clever. Did you pat yourself on the back literally too? Or merely figuratively?

      Even if the "educational experience" is genuine, which I don't really doubt, the fraud is that you are not honest with these customers about your well-publicized beliefs. Why not put a "teudah" in a prominent place at the entrance with some approbations by the gedolim that they revere about you? Were they to know the truth, a large number of them would eschew that experience if it meant supporting you.

      Delete
    5. Again, I think that you have a low opinion of them. I think that many of them would be mature enough not to reject a valuable experience just because of me. But according to your logic, there is an important point to raise. Surely many people follow guidance of people such as Rav Chaim Kanievsky ztz"l because they believe him to be supernaturally informed on everything he says. If we have evidence otherwise, isn't it our responsibility to tell people, so that they are not defrauded?

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    6. No. Because your statement is false.

      There is no "surely". Some people might believe that about him, but only in your mind is that why they follow him. Those same people are also familiar with the story in the Talmud of R. Eliezer using miracles to demonstrate the correctness of his argument, and the rabbis retorting "lo b'shamayim hee." It's a pathetic argument that passes for rationalism in your eyes, but no one else's. It's also not your responsibility because even if it were true, your "tochacha" would not be received positively, so what's the point?

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    7. "People also ask

      "How is surely used in a sentence?

      "We use the adverb surely to express a degree of certainty. It does not express as much certainty as definitely or certainly. When we use surely, we are hoping that our listener will agree with us: Lisa will surely find a solution to the problem...."

      Delete

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