Wednesday, January 12, 2011

She'elot U'teshuvot Notorious #2 - Chocolate Covered Crickets

And now for the second in a series of teshuvot, responses to Jewish religious questions, that are being featured.

Chocolate Covered Crickets

She'elah: My friend and colleague, Lea, will be serving a delicacy -- Chocolate Covered Crickets & grasshoppers. Her question to me is: should be considered meat, and therefore not eaten with dairy?

Teshuva: The prohibition against eating dairy and meat products together stems from the verse prohibiting boiling a kid in its mother's milk. Through a series of interpretations and extensions of the verse, the practice of this mitzvah extended to cooking any meal and dairy products together, and to maintaining two separate sets of silverware, plates, utensils and such.

The laws pertaining to keeping dairy and meat separate, being based on distancing the kid from its mother's milk, would therefore apply only to those animals whose mothers give milk to begin with. For that reason, some early Talmudic authorities ruled that fowl was not to be considered meat in this regard. The opinion that fowl was to be considered meat eventually won out, possibly because of a concern that people would begin to confuse fowl and meat in their kitchens) and out went any hope of chicken parmesan.

Now for the crickets and grasshoppers. When I first read the question, my immediate rabbinic response was "you're kidding, right?"  The fact, however, is that Leviticus 11 discusses a limited number of species of grasshoppers that would indeed be kosher. For the most part that rule has fallen into disuse. Mostly because:  A. nobody could possibly be that hungry and, more importantly,  B. we don't have a chain of tradition that reliably identifies these kosher species.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for all of you lovers of grasshoppers: It has long been said that the Yemenite Jewish community maintained a continuous tradition of which species are kosher. [Not one Yemenite Jew that I've met, by the way, has ever 'fessed up to eating grasshoppers]. And in even more practical terms, Israeli media reported on a restaurant there serving kosher grasshoppers as well as other permitted, but exceedingly rare, kosher delicacies .

So, if you're crazy enough to want to eat grasshoppers and can assure that the species are those that the Torah permits, since they do not give milk and were not added to the meat category (in the way that chicken was), they are pareve. They do not require any particular ritual killing (other than checking for the signs the Torah specifies for kosher grasshoppers).

B'teyavon (Hebrew for bon appetite)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

She'elot U'teshuvot Notorious #1 - The Sword Swallower

As posted in my last installment, I've become the rabbi of choice for a number of people. While I admit to taking most everything in life with laughter, I nonetheless take the rabbinical role seriously when asked to step into it. Probably more she'elot (questions of halacha - literally "the way", referring to normative Jewish practice) have come my way in the brief time that I've become The Notorious R.A.V. than in all my previous career. And I've issued responses (teshuvot) based on my understanding of halacha.

The questions and answers both include more than enough humorous tones, but please don't make the mistake of laughing them off totally...they help to remind us that there is a very real intersection between Jewish values and ethics and real life.  And so, the first published responsum:

The Sword Swallower Faces Pesach

She'elah: Adam the First Real Man ( is a sideshow performer and teacher. Among his acts is the swallowing of swords. He asked: Am I permitted to use the swords that I use year round, or am I required to use different swords on Pesach?  [Note: Permission was granted to use Adam's true identity]


The following considerations come into play:
  1. The prohibition against leavened products (chametz) on Pesach (Passover) has been extended to require that even utensils used directly or indirectly with leavened products cannot be used on the holiday, unless they can be made kasher through one of a number of means.
  2. For food products to be chametz, they must be such that, at the very least, a dog would eat
In our current situation, we first define the sword itself as a non-food item, since no dog would consider swallowing or eating it (the same is true of sane humans). And even if the sword itself were to be edible, certainly swallowing it is not derech achila, the way in which food is eaten.

We then look at what the sword comes into contact with. According to Adam, the sword is swallowed, goes through the esophagus and enters the stomach. While it is possible that the sword might touch some partially digested food, I would suggest that it no longer has the status of chametz once it has been swallowed. The swords Adam uses are never used to cut actual foods.

Therefore, as long as the sword is cleaned thoroughly before the morning prior to the first Seder to assure that no residue of partially digested food is on it, the swords may be used on Pesach without any additional preparation.

More responsa to follow...