Jul 9, 2008

kosher or not: a question in the night

Last week, it was midnight on the morning of July 4th, and we were fishing on the shore, five poles (two being used), some bait and tackle, and a cooler. The catch: two sandsharks, one about 15 inches, the other a little larger, probably about 24, and two striped bass a 23 and a 26 incher.

When one sandshark (dogfish) came in, a Jewish guy and presumably his girlfriend happened to be walking by. They seemed to live in the neighborhood and were very excited and surprised to see a fish come out of the water. He asked me four times what kind of fish it was. Then he asked me if it was kosher.

I said yes.

I didn’t get into details. But even non-Jews in New York have a little knowledge of Jewish customs and laws. I figured, if bananas are always kosher because of their protective skin, fish must be, too.

As it turns out, my rationale wasn’t far from the truth. But the real answer lies not in the skin, but in the scales.

According to Rabbi Doy Lerner, whose gracious advice answered an internet reader’s questions some time ago, fish can indeed be considered kosher. It doesn’t matter whether a fish is swimming in the ocean eating non-kosher food. It doesn’t even matter if a fish, or an animal, for that matter, is raised commercially and fed commercial feed full of non-kosher ingredients.

The megalith Kashrut.com reminds readers that all fish with scales are considered kosher. There is also a longstanding policy of accepting all fish with pink-colored flesh as kosher, regardless of whether skin or scales are visible.

However, according to the Chicago Rabbinical Council's extensive list of kosher and non-kosher fish, all sharks, including the dogfish are considered explicitly non-kosher, along with skates and all other rays, eels, catfish, lampreys (if you ever manage to see one in your life!), blowfish and sturgeons. Striped bass are kosher.

Several other sites say that a fish’s scales must be visible to the eye and must be able to be taken off of the fish without tearing or damaging the fish’s skin. Finally, blatantly, kosherkooking.com says, “Sharks are similarly not Kosher, because their skin is covered with tiny teeth-like armor, which are not considered scales at all.”

Indeed, sandsharks do have skin that is covered with very, very tiny scratchy bumps. They feel like sandpaper and could probably scrape you up if you're, so-to-say, rubbed the wrong way.

Still, I am at a loss as to exactly why scales are required for a fish to be considered kosher. Is it just that the types of fish that have scales are the more mainstreamed, omnivorous fish and the types that don't tend to be sort of unusual, maybe bottom-dwellers like rays and sharks? Are bottom-dwellers just considered unclean or unfit for consumption?

I was wrong in suggesting that the sandshark was kosher. We threw it back anyway.

Other things about kosher law I learned today:
-Certain slurpee flavors are considered kosher; others not.
-It’s not enough to take the word of your fish monger when it comes to kosher law. He could be just lying about what kind of fish he’s giving you.
-All Brooklyn Brewery beer except Local 1 are kosher.

No comments: