Monday, March 4, 2013

The Locusts Are Coming! Yum!

(Cross-posted at The Times of Israel.)

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.

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 app├ętit!


Shades of Grey said...

Have you ever put them in a chulent? I had a rebbe (ignorant of the North African tradition, or at least the possibility of adopting it as you mention) who said that once Moshiach comes we will once again have that special crunch that has been missing from our chulent - locusts!

Ari said...

obviously you never heard that the Taz (Y"D 85, 1), Ohr HaChaim (Vayikra 11: 21) amd Aruch Hashulchan (Y"D 85, 5)assert that there is no mesorah on them and they are assur!!

Zoo Rabbi???

Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin said...

Of course I am familiar with these sources, as with all the sources on this topic. Why would you think otherwise?

ari said...

I would think otherwise as these are "very big guns" in your vernacular - who pasken for ashkenazim and even sefardim (Ohr Hachaim was Sefardi which I am sure you know)that it is assur! Yet, you eat them with no qualms whatsoever! I did not realize that slifkin was a Yemenite name. [either that or you simply are of the opinion that even these gedolim's rulings can simply be discarded at whim].
It's nice to know that you apparently do not suffer from a case of anava - that you are familiar to "all sources on this topic". how about the teshuvos avnei yahpei vol. 8, 116 - to aris zivotofski and greenspan?
I guess one may (hopefully erroneously) conclude that your brand of rationalist judaism is anything but.

Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin said...

See my response at

Ari said...

Cute response. so you are intrinsically saying lifnei kol am v'eida that "i could not care less what the poskim (some from over 300 years ago) say because i know better".

at least now i understand why you call yourself the zoo rabbi as opposed to a real one.

Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin said...

You're no different, if you believe that the sun goes around the earth.

Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin said...

But your manners are certainly different.

shimon said...


I'll make a wild guess and assume that

a. you are Ashkenazi
b. you eat potatoes on Pesach

Obviously you've never heard of the Chayei Adam (NA 20)! How can you call yourself a Frum Jew?!

Anyway, I'm sure you learn the Taz also with the Shach (same siman).

Ari said...

in my day we called someone who rationalised against divrei haposkim - and acted upon his rationalisations - with no clear cut halachic proof against - (not a mistaken metzius etc. or ours nowadays are superior etc) a 'moreh hetter'. and you are doing it lechatchila publicly!

i am sorry about my tone and wording and i truly apologise - but i just feel that here you have gone too far.

as to your heliocentric vs. geocentric theory for the beleiving Jew i believe r. eliezer brodt has done a remarkable job debunking your claim that all believing Jews held of geocentric - in a recent hakira article.

as to why i didnt cite the shach - i dont seem to remember you being overly fond of the shach regarding buffalo burgers.

and as for potatoes being kitniyos the chayei adam himself was referring to a specific city where that was the minhag - check again - and was considered a chiddush and never accepted - this was addressed by r. yehuda spitz in an interesting article on this here:

so i guess we can conclude that i am disappointed that you would do this publicly. if you would have written that it is not so simple from a halachic standpoint but you are doing this after an actual psak it would have been a different story and i would not have even commented. again i apologise if i offended you.

Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin said...

in my day we called someone who rationalised against divrei haposkim

I have no idea what you are talking about. There are different halachic views. I am bringing reasons why I find some convincing and not others. This is precisely the traditional method of halachic discussion. The only difference from *certain* approaches is the involvement of scientific knowledge.

r. eliezer brodt has done a remarkable job debunking your claim that all believing Jews held of geocentric

Again, you have no idea what you are talking about. My friend R. Eliezer debunked none of my claims and we are in 100% agreement. To be sure, there were various Acharonim who accepted heliocentrism. This does not change the fact that the traditional view, before Copernicus, was geocentric. That was the view of all Chazal and Rishonim. But "you could not care less, because you know better!"

i apologise if i offended you

Thank you, but I am not offended. It's just a pity that almost every time I am attacked from the right, my opponents reveal themselves to be somewhat lacking in derech eretz (aside from lacking in knowledge).

ari said...

Thank you, but I am not offended. It's just a pity that almost every time I am attacked from the right, my opponents reveal themselves to be somewhat lacking in derech eretz (aside from lacking in knowledge).

vchein lmar! aderaba or au contarire mon frair - you have proven this yet again about yourself! my pity is for you.
all the best!

mzt said...

to natan - iv'e been through "your good friend" eliezer brodt's wide ranging Copernicus article and I think you are very much mistaken in your assessment that agrees with you.
Nowhere there did he talk about that Chazal and Rishonim 'all' accepted the geocentric theory. He rather focused on all those who did and do accept heliocentric, and 'debunking' those who now claim the opposite.
Chazal in Rosh Hashana are modeh that chachmei Hagoyim were correct (or at least more correct) in regard to these realms so I do not see where you exactly you claim your 'proof' that 'That was the view of all Chazal and Rishonim'.
But it seems to me that Ari was spot on in his assessment of your rationalizing your hetterinm here. In your own words - it seems that he is correct - that "you could not care less, because you know better!".

Btw thanks for the link to that excellent article on potatoes - gevaldig!

Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin said...

mzt, you are confusing two different things. Chazal were modeh to the chachmei hagoyim that the Ptolematic model was correct, rather than the Babylonian model. But according to BOTH models, the earth is stationary and at the center of the universe. Nobody (in the Jewish world) suggested otherwise, until after Copernicus.

As for your charge of "you could not care less, because you know better!" - it's meaningless - it could be applied to pretty much anyone who believes themself to be correct on anything. There are doubtless all kinds of ways in which it applies to you.

Oy vey said...

Oy vey. Eating locusts is AGAINST THE HEILIGE TEIREH! I bet you even ate them with ketchup and not chraine. Oy veyz mir.

Mr Gershon Finlay, NY said...

Just seen this post quite by accident as i was doing some research for a lesson. I feel disgusted.
With all your heterim you made for yourself to eat locusts, i do not feel you were really interested in eating locusts rather it was a way of showing the world that you dismiss the authority of the Charedi Poskim which means YOU are the one breaking with tradition.
After all traditionally when a jew would have a shaila in halacha he would ask the Shach and Taz not Spinoza or Kant. You seem to be breaking with tradition and opting for the latter.
Secondly Chazal with their deep phsycology of the human being told us that the jews only served avoda zarah to enable them to do znus. I feel thats whats happening with you. Its not the locusts in chrayne that you want its the shtech to the ziknei hador.
Shame on you.

Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin said...

That's a strange comment. Before eating locusts, I asked a shaylah to a charedi posek, who said that it was fine.