A chill descends on locust-licking Israeli gourmands -- are the little buggers kosher?
"We've allowed the desert locust common in Israel, which arrived in 2005, for consumption, because it's traditionally called locust. As for the current ones I don't know. Bring me two or three, I'll tell you right away whether you can eat it or not."
-- Rabbi Schneur Zalman Revach, of Israel's Institute
for the Study of Agricultural Torah Commandments
for the Study of Agricultural Torah Commandments
The wail of apprehension that can be heard rising over Israel's southern desert may be the sound of gourmands caught short by this headline in Haaretz: "Rabbi warns locust-eaters: insects may not be kosher."
First we have to back up a little, to an earlier Haaretz report, "," in which we learned: "Several thousand locusts invaded Israel from Egypt on Monday spreading through the area of the Ramat Negev Regional Council just three weeks before Passover, including the Nitzana border crossing with Sinai."
In today's follow-up story, which is running online with the deck "There are marked external signs that the locust is kosher -- four legs, four wings, wings covering most of its body and two back legs to spring from -- but some rabbis want to end this custom," Yair Ettinger reports:
Since the arrival of the locust swarms this week, some religious Jews have been wandering in the south in search of a snack -- especially Yemenites, for whom this is traditional fare. But eating locusts has been controversial according to Jewish law for generations, and on Wednesday a prominent rabbi banned it.The only thing is, the linked piece, "When God give you locusts, make locust stew," may have jumped the gun with its cheery assertion: "The insect plaguing southern Israel at the moment makes a perfect treat for Passover -- it is kosher, parve, healthy, affordable, and environmentally friendly."
Unlike other natural disasters, the locust swarms have evoked online recipes of fried, spicy or skewered locusts. One site describes the insects as a popular snack, somewhat like popcorn in ancient times.
As the head on Yair Ettinger's piece today warns, it's not at all clear that the little buggers are kosher.
"Even these of them ye may eat: the locust after its kinds, and the bald locust after its kinds, and the cricket after its kinds, and the grasshopper after its kinds," it says in Leviticus, 11:22. So, are the locusts that flew to Israel this week kosher or not?You may be surprised to learn, as I was, that "all halakhic (Jewish legal) literature deals with eating locusts, from the Mishnah (oral Jewish laws) through the Talmud, Rashi and Maimonides to the Jewish code of laws and is still controversial."
Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. To be safe, some rabbis want to end this custom of locust munching. Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, son and apprentice of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Wednesday said in answer to a question, that it is not customary to eat any kind of locust today because "we are not familiar with their names and marks and have no clear tradition regarding it.
"Communities with a tradition of eating locusts allow it," he continued, "but most of the people in Israel don't and we cannot rely on the marks, even when it's called locust."
It all seems to turn, if I'm getting this right, on what you're calling a locust, and whether it's the same as what were being called locusts by the historic locust-eaters.
Halakhic rulers throughout the generations were concerned over the uncertainty that the biblical locust is indeed the flying insect that destroys crops.Which brings us to Rabbi Schneur Zalman Revach, of Israel's Institute for the Study of Agricultural Torah Commandments. (What? You didn't know that Israel has an Institute for the Study of Agricultural Torah Commandments? I swear I'm not making this up. And no, this would not be the same thing as an institution for the care of people who obsess over agricultural Torah commandments.)
There are marked external signs that the locust is kosher -- four legs, four wings, wings covering most of its body and two back legs to spring from.
The confusion stems from the requirement that the insect must also traditionally be known as "locust." The medieval commentator Rashi writes that despite clear markings, "some have a long head and some have no tail, and should be called a locust, but we can't tell the difference."
The halakhic controversy over locust-eating began among European editors of the authoritative work of legal Judaism, Shulchan Aruch, in the 17th century. One commentator says it is customary not to eat locust "because we are not proficient in their names" while another says it is sufficient for the hunter to know the insect's name and to have a tradition of eating it.
Rabbi Revach is said to be "outraged" by Rabbi Yosef's locust-denying, or at least by his claim "that most people in Israel have no tradition of eating locusts and cannot rely on the marks, even if the insect goes by the name of locust."
Revach says Yosef cannot rule on the issue without examining the specific creatures that landed in the south this week.Oh yes, one last point about Rabbi Revach, the champion of locust-eating. He doesn't indulge personally.
"I haven't examined them myself yet, so I'm not writing about it," Revach says. "Rabbi Yosef is Babylonian (Iraqi). The Babylonians didn't eat locusts, but other communities did, the Yemenites and Moroccans, for example.
"We've allowed the desert locust common in Israel, which arrived in 2005, for consumption, because it's traditionally called locust," continues Revach. "As for the current ones I don't know. Bring me two or three, I'll tell you right away whether you can eat it or not."
"To this day I haven't tasted locusts. It didn't attract me," he says. "I just don't like many sorts of food."
POSTSCRIPT: Google doesn't seem
to know from "locust-eaters"
The friend who passed along the Haaretz article didn't include a link, so I just copied the head ("Rabbi warns locust-eaters: insects may not be kosher) into Google, and while it turned up the article, no problem, it could refrain from asking first: "Did you mean: Rabbi warns lotus-eaters: insects may not be kosher." The question was so clearly well-intended that I would like to be able to somehow reassure the Google gnomes that no, I didn't mean lotus-eaters. That's something entirely different.
And no, I couldn't tell you offhand whether lotus is kosher. I don't believe the issue came up in The Odyssey.