WTF: Is Shark Kosher?

A day ahead of the start of Shark Week, a couple of chums in New Jersey made history this weekend by catching the largest shark in the state’s history, a 926-pound shortfin mako shark.

Though it won’t count as a state record because it took so many men to bring the shark aboard the boat, it was an endeavor 35-years in the making for Dave Bender, owner of the boat.

But hungry ladies and gentleman of the Jewish jury — is this fish kosher?

What Makes a Kosher Fish?

In short, fins and scales. Deuteronomy, the fifth book in the Torah, lays out the letter of the law:

“These you may eat of all that live in water: you may eat anything that has fins and scales. But you may not eat anything that has no fins and scales: it is unclean for you.”

Is Shark Kosher?

Fins — check! Scales? It’s complicated. If you’re the sciencey type, there’s a good guide to scale types here. But the short answer is no — as the respected kosher certification agency the Chicago Rabbinical Council puts it, “The scales must be true scales that can be removed without damaging the skin of the fish.” As such, “eels, lumpfish, shark, sturgeon, and swordfish, are not kosher.”

And of course, shellfish aren’t kosher — but they’re not really fish.

What Makes Kosher Scales Different From All Other Scales?

They can be removed while leaving the skin of the fish in tact. I know it’s splitting fins, but them’s the rules.

What About Fish Eggs?

They are fine as long as they come from a kosher fish (the same thing applies to milk, by the way: it has to come from a kosher animal).

Fish Blood?

My own heebie-jeebies aside, fish blood is kosher — but to avoid marit ayn, the appearance of doing something forbidden (which we discussed last week), you should make some sign that makes it clear you’re not consuming animal blood. Perhaps just leave the fish on the table if that’s your thing?

This Is All Very Legalistic — Hit Me With Some Spiritual Justifications!

As you wish.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe chalks it all up to the requirement that Jews act with both integrity and ambition — scales, a fish’s protective armor, represents the preservation of integrity. And the fins? Those propel us forward, representing ambition.

So, there ya go.

Got a question about something Jewish or Jew-ish? Email us!

Laura E. Adkins is the Forward’s contributing network editor. Contact her at adkins@forward.com or on Twitter, @Laura_E_Adkins

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