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Thought for the Day: A Lot of Bugs Are Actually Kosher

Many companies like to use "buying lunch" as a reward for "job well done".  I have therefore had several requests to explain kosher.  Eventually I just wrote down a synopsis.  One of the items on my list of not kosher was, of course, "insects".  I got several responses; they were spit between enjoying my sense of humor and incredulity that I would add something like that to a serious explanation.  I explained to both that I certainly was serious and any of them who at broccoli were most certainly eating bugs.  This did not win friends for me nor influence people to do much more than give me a wide berth.  None the less, I felt that it was important to include that fact in the spirit of open and honest full disclosure.  I also wanted them to understand why I couldn't order even a salad from a non-kosher restaurant.

As it turns out (I discovered quite recently), I was wrong.  No, I don't mean just that there is some locusts that are kosher but we don't know which they are so locusts are effectively not kosher as any other bug.  I mean there are real, live bugs now-a-days that are kosher and we eat them.  You may want to stop reading now.  You have been warned.

R' Dovid Cohen (CRC... I've been listening to all his shiurim on line) starts the bug series with a simple question: why is the Torah so careful about listing different category of bugs: water, ground, flying.  Why, the only time we've seen that before is animals being split into birds, fish, domesticated animals, wild animals, and creeping things.  Heck, it only does that because there are different rules for what permits them to be eaten.  Almost sounds like there are rules that will permit certain bugs to be eaten.  In fact, it is so "almost" that is is true; some bugs (yes, yes, some grasshoppers) can always be eaten, but there are also situations that permit eating bugs.  לכתחילה, mind you; not just בדיעבד.

Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Dei'ah 84:1-3 discusses bugs that are born in a pond may be eaten as long as they haven't left their habitat.  You are allowed to bend down and drink from a cistern filled with water bugs and you needn't worry that some bugs might get into your mouth.  Cool, eh?  Please, please, though, don't scoop some into your hat and drink your buggy water from it.  It is really implicit in the Shulchan Aruch since he says "you may bend down to drink", but the Rema wants to make it explicit.  What, you may ask, is the big deal?  If I am already drinking bugs who cares if my glass/cup/hat is clean?  Well, you see, once the bug leave the water they are forbidden and in your enthusiasm to scoop up that water into your hat, some bugs may have splashed out onto the brim and then fallen back in.  Since eating a water bug that separated from its pond is forbidden by the Torah, we are stringent.  Please note: I picked cases of pond and cistern דווקא/with precision.  The rules for bugs in rivers, canals, seas and maybe lakes are different.

One more thing: the Shulchan Aruch adds that these bugs are permissible even though they don't have fins and scales.  Obviously he didn't want you to confuse this halacha about water bugs with the halacha about fish that don't have fins and scales; said fish being obviously forbidden because... well, because they don't have fins and scales.  Which begs the question: What is the criteria by which a critter is judged to determine if it is a bug (fins and scales irrelevant) or a fish (fins and scales is the whole game)?  R' Cohen said in his shiur recorded June 3, 2011 CE that he had no clarity on that question.  Just so you don't think it is size: the biggest cockroaches are bigger then even Extra Jumbo Shrimp; you can slurp up that huge water beetle, but the shrimp is always a no-no.

Disgusting, you say?  Well, well, well... that brings us to בל תשקצו/don't make yourself disgusting.  That is a whole other discussion.

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