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Jerusalem - The Locusts Are Coming, Is It Kosher To Eat?

Published on: March 4, 2013 12:19 PM
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Jerusalem - In the last few days, a devastating plague of locusts, numbering in the tens of millions, has been sweeping across Egypt. In Israel, the Ministry of Agriculture is on full alert. A special hotline has been set up, and the pesticides have been prepared.

Hopefully, modern agricultural technology will help us avoid disasters such as that of 1915, when a plague of locusts in Israel led to much tragedy.

Meanwhile, I have my own early warning system – a friend on military duty near the Egyptian border has promised to call me if swarms arrive. I’d love to see it first-hand, and to catch a couple of hundred to feed to my reptile collection – and to eat myself.

It is commonly overlooked that not only does the Torah permit man to eat certain mammals, birds and fish, but it even permits him to eat certain insects – namely, several types of locusts. The identification of the kosher varieties was lost amongst European Jews, who were not exposed to locust swarms. But Jews from North Africa maintained a tradition regarding kosher locusts.

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The expert on identifying kosher species today is my colleague Dr. Zohar Amar, author of Ha-Arbeh b’Mesoret Yisrael . He has identified the species for which there is the most widespread tradition amongst North African Jews as Schistocercia gregaria, the Egyptian desert locust. This is by far the most common species of locust, and it is the species currently swarming in Egypt.

According to many authorities in Jewish law, even Ashkenazi Jews can adopt the North African tradition. This is because it is different from a situation such as that which existed with the stork, where certain communities had a tradition that it was a kosher bird, while others had a tradition that it was a non-kosher bird. With locusts, there is no tradition in Ashkenaz against these types of locusts being kosher; Ashkenazim simply lack a tradition either way. Therefore, according to many authorities, such as the late Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, it is possible to rely upon the North African tradition regarding kosher varieties.

I have eaten locusts on several occasions. They do not require a special form of slaughter, and one usually kills them by dropping them into boiling water. They can be cooked in a variety of ways – lacking any particular culinary skills, I usually just fry them with oil and some spices. (My wife, however, insists that I do not use her kitchen utensils for the task; she is locust-intolerant.) It’s not the taste that is distinctive, so much as the tactile experience of eating a bug – crunchy on the outside with a chewy center!

The rationale for certain locusts being kosher may be a practical matter – when your crops are wiped out by locusts, at least you’re not left with nothing to eat! But in modern Western society, eating bugs simply grosses out most people. Many probably see the Torah’s laws of kosher locusts as a relic from a primitive, barbaric era. Yet an article in The New Yorker magazine (August 2011) noted that in a world with a burgeoning population of billions, insects provide a much more efficient and environmentally-friendly source of protein, amongst other benefits:

“”“”From an ecological perspective, insects have a lot to recommend them. They are renowned for their small ‘foodprint’; being cold-blooded, they are about four time as efficient at converting feed to meat as are cattle, which waste energy keeping themselves warm. Ounce for ounce, many have the same amount of protein as beef–friendly grasshoppers have three times as much – and are rich in micronutrients like iron and zinc. Genetically, they are so distant from humans that there is little likelihood of diseases jumping species, as swine flu did. They are natural recyclers, capable of eating old cardboard, manure, and by-products from food manufacturing. And insect husbandry is humane: bugs like teeming, and thrive in filthy, crowded conditions.”“”“

Can you imagine what an impact it would make if Jews were known not for exploiting animals in factory-farming and indulging in massive gastronomic excesses, but instead for adopting a more environmentally and animal-friendly approach? In fact, eating locusts doesn’t even make you fleishig, so you could have a locust cheeseburger. I say, let’s get back to our Biblical roots and tuck in. Bon appétit!

Rabbi Natan Slifkin is the author of a number of works on the interface between Judaism, zoology, and the natural sciences; He is currently writing The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom and developing The Jewish Museum of Natural History His web site can be visited here 



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Read Comments (59)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Mar 04, 2013 at 12:44 PM VeyIzMir Says:

If you'll excuse me, I think I need to vomit right now.

2

 Mar 04, 2013 at 01:34 PM Anonymous Says:

While it may be mutar under some exotic hashgachos, there is not a single Chassideshe hashgacha that would approve eating any kind of locust under any conditions. It is simply assur to any bnai torah who will obviously not eat any foods unless approved by the top of the line chassideshe hasghachos, which are the only ones to be relied upon. I don't ever anticipate seeing a locust with a "glatt" plumba.

3

 Mar 04, 2013 at 01:40 PM Kosher_Ham Says:

If the OU gives the hechsher for it, I'll try it!

4

 Mar 04, 2013 at 01:53 PM Secular Says:

While we're at it...


French flies

Fried Lice?

5

 Mar 04, 2013 at 12:27 PM OPElly Says:

"It’s not the taste that is distinctive, so much as the tactile experience of eating a bug – crunchy on the outside with a chewy center!"

Cover it with chocolate and it's not too far from a Twix bar. :-D

6

 Mar 04, 2013 at 12:28 PM Anon Ibid Opcit Says:

Makes perfect sense. Overcoming sales resistance is the big problem. Besides, if you have enough locusts to eat they've probably eaten everything else

7

 Mar 04, 2013 at 12:39 PM Anon Says:

I like to think of myself as an adventurous eater and I know they are kosher, but I just don't think I can get over the conditioning, the same way I just can't eat a "cheeseburger" with pareve "cheese". For those of you who can, עס געזונטערהײט

8

 Mar 04, 2013 at 12:55 PM ShmutzVesh Says:

OK!!! I hope you enjoy them..as for me I will stick to a nice big red crunchy juicy steak!!

9

 Mar 04, 2013 at 01:15 PM xamerican Says:

I will ask me rabbi he is sefard

10

 Mar 04, 2013 at 01:16 PM The_Truth Says:

I cant wait to try some! Please Rabbi Slifkin - save some for me!

11

 Mar 04, 2013 at 01:17 PM Anon Ibid Opcit Says:

Reply to #1  
VeyIzMir Says:

If you'll excuse me, I think I need to vomit right now.

Why? They're healthy, nutritious and don't taste bad. They're kosher. Our ancestors ate them. The only reason you're upset is because someone told you to be when you were a small child.

12

 Mar 04, 2013 at 01:37 PM georgewashingtonbridge Says:

"crunchy on the outside with a chewy center!"

I'll stick with Fig Newtons, thank you.

13

 Mar 04, 2013 at 01:50 PM bewhiskered Says:

"According to many authorities in Jewish law, even Ashkenazi Jews can adopt the North African tradition."

In 'ש"ע יורה דעה סימן פ"ה סעיף א after the סימנים are listed, the מחבר, who of course was a ספרדי, stated:

ואע"פ שיש בו כל הסימנים הללו אינו מותר אלא אם כן שמו חגב או שיש להם מסורת ששמו חגב.

Whether אשכנזים have such a מסורה altogether is the real question.

Who exactly are these 'many authorities in Jewish law' cited by the author, who permit אשכנזים to eat חגבים in current times? Statements such as the above should really be substantiated with proper מקורות.

14

 Mar 04, 2013 at 01:55 PM Lodzker Says:

Slifkin...

Your last paragraph was unnecessary, but telling.

15

 Mar 04, 2013 at 02:06 PM anonymous613 Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

While it may be mutar under some exotic hashgachos, there is not a single Chassideshe hashgacha that would approve eating any kind of locust under any conditions. It is simply assur to any bnai torah who will obviously not eat any foods unless approved by the top of the line chassideshe hasghachos, which are the only ones to be relied upon. I don't ever anticipate seeing a locust with a "glatt" plumba.

Chassidishe hashgacha brings nothing better to the table than a normal non-Chassidish hasgocho. If you want to keep Chassidish masorah than it is assur for you to eat any other foods. Don't project your issurim unto me.

16

 Mar 04, 2013 at 02:12 PM shlomozalman Says:

I am pure Litvish.
They are kosher.
I've eaten them.
I don't like them.

17

 Mar 04, 2013 at 02:22 PM yiddishe mama Says:

Yuck!! Barf bag anyone?!?!

18

 Mar 04, 2013 at 02:20 PM 5TResident Says:

Reply to #11  
Anon Ibid Opcit Says:

Why? They're healthy, nutritious and don't taste bad. They're kosher. Our ancestors ate them. The only reason you're upset is because someone told you to be when you were a small child.

Our ancestors also drank milk straight from the cow and water straight from the lake. Their life expectancies were about half of ours for good reason.

19

 Mar 04, 2013 at 02:16 PM ModernLakewoodGuy Says:

really? so you are disgusted at the thought of eating a bug, but taking the organ of an animal, such as its liver, grinding it up with mayo, and that you are okay with?

20

 Mar 04, 2013 at 02:31 PM yaakov doe Says:

Even if permitted, I think I'll pass on the opportunity. Not at all appetizing.

21

 Mar 04, 2013 at 02:37 PM VeyIzMir Says:

Reply to #11  
Anon Ibid Opcit Says:

Why? They're healthy, nutritious and don't taste bad. They're kosher. Our ancestors ate them. The only reason you're upset is because someone told you to be when you were a small child.

No. I'm not upset at all. Kosher or not, it's the ick factor that grosses me out. Eating bugs, no matter how kosher it may be, is still an "aquired" taste and mindset.

If eating a cow would require you to eat the whole animal - as bugs - it would gross me out as well!

Besides that, it reminds me too much of a lobster plate that the whole creature is staring you in the face as you crunch the whole thing down. Yuck.

22

 Mar 04, 2013 at 03:00 PM therabbi Says:

Reply to #13  
bewhiskered Says:

"According to many authorities in Jewish law, even Ashkenazi Jews can adopt the North African tradition."

In 'ש"ע יורה דעה סימן פ"ה סעיף א after the סימנים are listed, the מחבר, who of course was a ספרדי, stated:

ואע"פ שיש בו כל הסימנים הללו אינו מותר אלא אם כן שמו חגב או שיש להם מסורת ששמו חגב.

Whether אשכנזים have such a מסורה altogether is the real question.

Who exactly are these 'many authorities in Jewish law' cited by the author, who permit אשכנזים to eat חגבים in current times? Statements such as the above should really be substantiated with proper מקורות.

even according to to what you just quoted they are allowed as long as they are called חגב.
so whats the problem with what Rabbi Slifkin wrote?

P.S. Anyone know where i can get some?

23

 Mar 04, 2013 at 03:12 PM DavidfromJersey Says:

I'd love to try some. Does anywhere in America sell them?

24

 Mar 04, 2013 at 03:14 PM Anonymous Says:

My spider senses tell me to stick with the kosher chicken on this one. But Kosher they may be.

25

 Mar 04, 2013 at 03:26 PM Snagged Says:

I would eat one, unless it had a chassidisher hechsher, in which case I wouldn't trust it. They make up their own rules.

26

 Mar 04, 2013 at 03:46 PM NeveAliza Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

While it may be mutar under some exotic hashgachos, there is not a single Chassideshe hashgacha that would approve eating any kind of locust under any conditions. It is simply assur to any bnai torah who will obviously not eat any foods unless approved by the top of the line chassideshe hasghachos, which are the only ones to be relied upon. I don't ever anticipate seeing a locust with a "glatt" plumba.

What did they do a couple hundred years ago before Chassidim came on the scene?

27

 Mar 04, 2013 at 03:49 PM savtat Says:

I think it's perfect food for 6th grade boys! For the rest of us, I'm not so sure we are ready for the adventure.

28

 Mar 04, 2013 at 03:52 PM ShmuelG Says:

I like trying new and exotic foods, some even concluded that I like it too much (but are too polite to tell me). But if ever I find myself at the restaurant that serves these abominations, I will get up and leave at once (and apologize to my wife for bringing here there in the first place), no matter how reliable their hashgoho is. It has nothing to do with kashrus or being a yid, just with being a civilized man.

29

 Mar 04, 2013 at 04:06 PM lipa21 Says:

HKB"H should bring all eser makos on mitzrayim

30

 Mar 04, 2013 at 04:31 PM Snagged Says:

" But if ever I find myself at the restaurant that serves these abominations, I will get up and leave at once ...It has nothing to do with kashrus or being a yid, just with being a civilized man."

Hakodosh Boruch Hu created it for you to eat, and you call it an abomination. How civilized.

31

 Mar 04, 2013 at 04:46 PM 1 ROY TOV OLAM Says:

mmm mazon! l'll eat mine with Honey

33

 Mar 04, 2013 at 04:59 PM iambarry Says:

So the real question is, are they kosher l'Pesach? And since the tradition of identifying them has only been maintained by the Sefardim, does that make them kitniyot :) ?

34

 Mar 04, 2013 at 05:00 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #28  
ShmuelG Says:

I like trying new and exotic foods, some even concluded that I like it too much (but are too polite to tell me). But if ever I find myself at the restaurant that serves these abominations, I will get up and leave at once (and apologize to my wife for bringing here there in the first place), no matter how reliable their hashgoho is. It has nothing to do with kashrus or being a yid, just with being a civilized man.

Sure schmellyG..."real men don't eat locusts"....just chulent on Thursday..... I suspect your favorites prepared by your wife who you imply also doesn't like locusts, would be deemed an abomination by others with a different masorah. Have you ever tried serving an Ungarishe gefilte fish to a sephardishe yid....its really ugly...

35

 Mar 04, 2013 at 05:19 PM ShmuelG Says:

Reply to #19  
ModernLakewoodGuy Says:

really? so you are disgusted at the thought of eating a bug, but taking the organ of an animal, such as its liver, grinding it up with mayo, and that you are okay with?

Absolutely! And anyone who wouldn't eat tongue (my favorite food!), I have my doubts whether that person is genetically Jewish. I suspect they have someone in their ancestry who took advantage of the poor record keeping in some parts of the world and declared himself a Jew.

36

 Mar 04, 2013 at 05:26 PM The_Truth Says:

I had a friend in school who would catch all kids of bugs & eat them alive! It really grossed me out then and still gives me the chills now.
I dont think anyone here really has a problem with the halocho: either your rav/mesorah allows it or he doesnt.
what people here are complaining about is the ICK factor - what does your gut tell you (either to retch & throw it up or to ask to taste some!).

37

 Mar 04, 2013 at 05:33 PM bewhiskered Says:

Reply to #22  
therabbi Says:

even according to to what you just quoted they are allowed as long as they are called חגב.
so whats the problem with what Rabbi Slifkin wrote?

P.S. Anyone know where i can get some?

"even according to to what you just quoted they are allowed as long as they are called חגב"

And, who is doing the calling- you? Are you that familiar with every variety of locust?

As for Rabbi Slifkin, כל האומר דבר בשם אומרו still applies. A מורה הלכה is supposed to give מקורות for everything he says, and not make unsubstantiated statements such as 'According to many authorities in Jewish law.'

38

 Mar 04, 2013 at 06:06 PM Justleftkolel Says:

Although it may be kosher, I don't think I could bring myself to eat it, i have difficulty even looking at that picture.

39

 Mar 04, 2013 at 06:34 PM ShmuelG Says:

Reply to #34  
Anonymous Says:

Sure schmellyG..."real men don't eat locusts"....just chulent on Thursday..... I suspect your favorites prepared by your wife who you imply also doesn't like locusts, would be deemed an abomination by others with a different masorah. Have you ever tried serving an Ungarishe gefilte fish to a sephardishe yid....its really ugly...

"Have you ever tried serving an Ungarishe gefilte fish to a sephardishe yid?"

Funny that you ask, as a matter of fact I did, right here in Baltimore. Some of them keep coming back to us for shabbos seudas repeatedly.

40

 Mar 04, 2013 at 06:48 PM Anonymous Says:

I am not grossed out by it, I would eat it, but the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh zya (who byw was Sefardi) said that the Jews of Morrocco were cursed with a plague of locusts because they ate locusts.

41

 Mar 04, 2013 at 07:00 PM georgewashingtonbridge Says:

Reply to #21  
VeyIzMir Says:

No. I'm not upset at all. Kosher or not, it's the ick factor that grosses me out. Eating bugs, no matter how kosher it may be, is still an "aquired" taste and mindset.

If eating a cow would require you to eat the whole animal - as bugs - it would gross me out as well!

Besides that, it reminds me too much of a lobster plate that the whole creature is staring you in the face as you crunch the whole thing down. Yuck.

How do you deal with the fish head staring at you on ראש השנה?

42

 Mar 04, 2013 at 08:09 PM VeyIzMir Says:

Reply to #41  
georgewashingtonbridge Says:

How do you deal with the fish head staring at you on ראש השנה?

Use your head.

I don't crunch through the entire thing. I take a miniscule part that is fish - not fish brain - and say the Yihe Ratzon.

Not a great comparison to the gorgeous picture of a fried locust that is shown here.

43

 Mar 04, 2013 at 08:33 PM xamerican Says:

Reply to #11  
Anon Ibid Opcit Says:

Why? They're healthy, nutritious and don't taste bad. They're kosher. Our ancestors ate them. The only reason you're upset is because someone told you to be when you were a small child.

10 points for you

44

 Mar 04, 2013 at 09:49 PM minskerchassid Says:

This psak by Slifkin is mamish true. I read it in a secret sefer known as Chiddushim Apikorsim, Perek vav, daf heh.

45

 Mar 04, 2013 at 11:35 PM ChachoMoe Says:

Reply to #33  
iambarry Says:

So the real question is, are they kosher l'Pesach? And since the tradition of identifying them has only been maintained by the Sefardim, does that make them kitniyot :) ?

No, however, you can't dip them as its "Gebrokt's". :)

46

 Mar 05, 2013 at 12:12 AM Wannashmooze Says:

Seriously, where can I get some. Other than the conditioned ick factor, locust are nutritious, cheap, and somewhat tasty. I'm very much interested in trying them.

47

 Mar 05, 2013 at 10:21 AM chaimmordche Says:

This whole thing is ridiculous - The Taz, Aruch Hashulchan and even the Ohr Hachaim all rule that it is ASSUR to eat locusts! Slifkin (zoo rabbi?) should be ashamed of himself!

48

 Mar 05, 2013 at 10:22 AM awacs Says:

I respect the Rabbi's deep erudition in the law, but I think I'll stay away from his kitchen. :-)

49

 Mar 05, 2013 at 10:35 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #39  
ShmuelG Says:

"Have you ever tried serving an Ungarishe gefilte fish to a sephardishe yid?"

Funny that you ask, as a matter of fact I did, right here in Baltimore. Some of them keep coming back to us for shabbos seudas repeatedly.

Try the gourmet Morocean gefilte fish at the Seven Mile mart...at least you can taste the fish....the Ungarishe stuff you make is essentially a bag of sugar with some ground carp added for flavoring. Now Ungarishe locusts, thats some real food like they served at the finest (and only) kosher restauarnt in Pest in the Alte Heim.

50

 Mar 05, 2013 at 10:53 AM Kosher_Ham Says:

Reply to #31  
1 ROY TOV OLAM Says:

mmm mazon! l'll eat mine with Honey

That's how John the Baptist ate his locusts as quoted in the NT, Matt. 3:4.

51

 Mar 05, 2013 at 12:42 PM Anon Ibid Opcit Says:

If you're going to eat locusts remove the head and the wing covers. They're pretty much completely indigestible chitin.

52

 Mar 05, 2013 at 03:58 PM OPElly Says:

Reply to #37  
bewhiskered Says:

"even according to to what you just quoted they are allowed as long as they are called חגב"

And, who is doing the calling- you? Are you that familiar with every variety of locust?

As for Rabbi Slifkin, כל האומר דבר בשם אומרו still applies. A מורה הלכה is supposed to give מקורות for everything he says, and not make unsubstantiated statements such as 'According to many authorities in Jewish law.'

It's entirely possible--likely, in fact--that R. Slifkin will produce his מקורות if you were to ask.

53

 Mar 05, 2013 at 04:09 PM OPElly Says:

Reply to #47  
chaimmordche Says:

This whole thing is ridiculous - The Taz, Aruch Hashulchan and even the Ohr Hachaim all rule that it is ASSUR to eat locusts! Slifkin (zoo rabbi?) should be ashamed of himself!

Can the Rambam convince you?

"Rambam [Hilkhot Ma’akhalot Asurot, 1: 22-23] notes eight types of insects considered kosher according to the Torah and the rabbinic tradition. The names however, do not necessarily refer to specific species of insects in the sense of contemporary scientific nomenclature, but rather to groups of insects with specific characteristics as indicated by the rabbinic literature (Chullin 65a-b)."

From http://www.kosherveyosher.com/locusts-1078.html, where there's a thorough discussion of the matter.

Now I realize this quote doesn't indicate the Rambam was citing locusts per se, but I think we can agree that the only kosher insects are some sorts of grasshoppers.

How about the reasons the Taz, the Aruch Hashulchan, and the Ohr Hachaim rule that locusts are assur. I wouldn't be surprised if it has something to do with a lack of mesorah--and if they'd had one, they wouldn't have written what they did. Can you check?

54

 Mar 05, 2013 at 06:44 PM ShmuelG Says:

Reply to #49  
Anonymous Says:

Try the gourmet Morocean gefilte fish at the Seven Mile mart...at least you can taste the fish....the Ungarishe stuff you make is essentially a bag of sugar with some ground carp added for flavoring. Now Ungarishe locusts, thats some real food like they served at the finest (and only) kosher restauarnt in Pest in the Alte Heim.

I will try what you suggest, thanks. But the gefilte fish my wife makes has no sugar in it at all, I really dislike sweet fish.

55

 Mar 06, 2013 at 02:55 PM Norden Says:

Reply to #35  
ShmuelG Says:

Absolutely! And anyone who wouldn't eat tongue (my favorite food!), I have my doubts whether that person is genetically Jewish. I suspect they have someone in their ancestry who took advantage of the poor record keeping in some parts of the world and declared himself a Jew.

What day does your wife serve tongue, please? I haven't eaten it for years now!

56

 Mar 06, 2013 at 02:57 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #22  
therabbi Says:

even according to to what you just quoted they are allowed as long as they are called חגב.
so whats the problem with what Rabbi Slifkin wrote?

P.S. Anyone know where i can get some?

"P.S. Anyone know where i can get some?"

Try southern Israel - right now. They are hefker so you can eat as many as you can hold, and all fo free.

57

 Mar 06, 2013 at 05:53 PM ShmuelG Says:

Reply to #55  
Norden Says:

What day does your wife serve tongue, please? I haven't eaten it for years now!

Usually on yom tov.

58

 Mar 06, 2013 at 07:58 PM Norden Says:

Reply to #57  
ShmuelG Says:

Usually on yom tov.

Is she taking reservations this year? No one in my family knows how to prepare and cook it properly!

59

 Mar 07, 2013 at 01:23 AM flower3 Says:

i would faint at the table lol; just looking at them and knowing i had to eat this ?? lol i couldnt do it . i would faint and fall on the floor. no thank you. really i would faint

60

 Mar 07, 2013 at 10:03 AM Norden Says:

Reply to #59  
flower3 Says:

i would faint at the table lol; just looking at them and knowing i had to eat this ?? lol i couldnt do it . i would faint and fall on the floor. no thank you. really i would faint

ShmuelG, I think you can take flower3's message as a refusal.

61

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