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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 22 Mar 2019 07:11 PM and ends Sat 23 Mar 2019 08:09 PM
י"ז תמוז ה' אלפים תשס"ט
A curious enquiry came into the office earlier this week.
A consumer called to ask if a type of fish was a Kosher species. When asked what the fish looked like she replied that she had no idea. It was pointed out that there are many varieties of the fish she was asking about so we needed some more information. The consumer explained that she was going to a non-Kosher restaurant and wanted to know if she could have the fish just in case salmon wasn’t available. When we pointed out that even if the fish was Kosher, having it prepared at a non-Kosher restaurant would render the meal non-Kosher, the response from the caller was that she understood, but it was a ‘compromise’.
This odd query raises a number of interesting issues for discussion.
1) What is a Kosher fish?
2) The common name of a fish – does that help us to determine if a fish is Kosher?
3) What are the problems with eating fish at non-Kosher restaurants?
4) We are all familiar with the Torah rule that a kosher fish has scales and fins. Tradition has it that all scaled fish have fins so the most important aspect is whether the fish has scales. Here comes the thorny point – what is a scale? The accepted approach is that a kosher scale is one that is not firmly imbedded in the skin of the fish thus invalidating fish like swordfish or sturgeon (no Russian caviar!). Even one scale is sufficient to permit a fish species and even if the scales are shed as the fish matures.
The way to determine if a fish is kosher is run your nail against the grain of the fish skin and if scales come off, then the fish is kosher.
(An amusing anecdote came from a newly minted mashgiach at a restaurant that called with an urgent concern. The proprietor had purchased fish from a fish market and he was concerned that it was not Kosher. I suggested the above approach to check if the fish had scales. No, I was told - I didn’t understand his question. The fish doesn’t
come from “a local Kosher fish shop” and therefore the fish could not possibly be kosher. My response was that Jews ate Kosher fish even before “the local Kosher fish shop” opened.)
2) If you ask a Kosher consumer if tuna is kosher, the likely response is yes. But is every variety of tuna? A check of Fishbase (www.fishbase.com) lists hundreds of fish that are commonly known as tuna. Therefore, sight unseen, it is difficult to determine if a
fish is kosher. The common name is not a good identifier of a specific fish.
3) In a previous article we discussed the problems of eating in a vegetarian restaurant.
Some of the issues with fish are:
a. Is the filleted fish really the fish variety that you asked for? Salmon or
Salmon Trout are unique as they have reddish flesh and therefore are not subject to the rules of Dagim Shenitalem min ha’ayin (‘Concealed Fish’). But other filleted fish are less
easy to distinguish. A recent article in the New York media highlighted where restaurants were substituting cheaper fish varieties for more expensive varieties and the consumer was unaware of the change.
b. Cooked fish is subject to the laws of Bishul Nochri – food cooked by a non-Jew.
c. The utensils in a restaurant would obviously be used for other production – likely non-Kosher seafood or meat.
d. Would all the ingredients used to cook the fish be Kosher? Likely not. While someone who is comfortable eating Kosher fish species prepared in a non-Kosher restaurant may not be all that concerned about the finer nuances of Kashrut, the seemingly ridiculous question does lead us to a greater understanding of issues concerning Kosher fish and non-Kosher restaurants.