Chullin 66a ~ Do Swordfish have Scales (and are they Kosher)?

A fish is only kosher if it possesses both fins and scales. What happens if the fish only grows scales when it matures, or if the scales fall off as it is being netted? This is question is discussed in today’s page of Talmud.

Rav Shlomo Machfud , Rav of  בד"צ יורה דעה  examining a swordfish for evidence of scales, Tiberias 2010.  © 2010 by David Willner for Foundation Stone. All Rights Reserved.

Rav Shlomo Machfud, Rav of בד"צ יורה דעה examining a swordfish for evidence of scales, Tiberias 2010.

© 2010 by David Willner for Foundation Stone. All Rights Reserved.

חולין סו, א

תנו רבנן אין לו עכשיו ועתיד לגדל לאחר זמן כגון הסולתנית והעפיץ הרי זה מותר יש לו עכשיו ועתיד להשיר בשעה שעולה מן הים כגון אקונס ואפונס כספתיאס ואכספטיאס ואטונס ה"ז מותר

The Sages taught: If a fish does not currently possess scales but will grow them after a period of time, such as the sultanit and afiyatz fish, it is permitted. Likewise, if it has scales now but will shed them when it is caught and rises from the sea, such as akunas and afuna, ketasfatiyas and akhsaftiyas and otanas fish, it is permitted.

The identity if these species is not certain. The Schottenstein Talmud, for example, leaves these names untranslated. But according to some, the אכספטיאס, the akhsaftiyas, is the swordfish. This is the translation found in the Soncino Talmud, and here is the helpful note from the Koren Talmud:

Chulliin 66b swordfish from Koren.png

Is it true?

Let's assume that the identification of the אכספטיאס, the akhsaftiyas as the swordfish is correct. All fish will shed some scales when they are thrashing about in a net or fighting at the end of a line. In this regard the swordfish is no different to any other fish. But at first blush, the suggestion that it would loose all its scales when pulled from the water seems rather unlikely. Thanks to modern science, we can better understand the Beraita's claim. It's not that the swordfish looses its scales when removed from the water; rather, the scales of the adult fish are buried deep in the skin, giving it the appearance of having lost its scales.  

There is some confusion about whether [swordfish] scales become smaller or are replaced by a single scale type in adults and much confusion about the disappearance of scales altogether
— Govoni, JJ. West, MA. Zivotofsky, D. Zivotofsky AZ. Bowser PR. Collette BB. Ontogeny of Squamation in Swordfish, Xiphias gladius. Copeia, 2004(2), pp. 391–396.

The swordfish and its "disappearing" scales

Dr. Ari Zivotofsky is a Senior Lecturer in Bar-Ilan's Interdisciplinary Science Program. Aside from arguing cases about the status of Jerusalem in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, he has spent considerable time and energy pondering both the kashrut of the swordfish, and the anatomy of swordfish scales. He was one of several authors who published a study in 2004 with the playful title Ontogeny of Squamation in Swordfish, Xiphias gladius. Their study noted that "scales first appear on the abdomen of larval Xiphias at 6 mm standard length. Thereafter, large scales with a single spine increase in number anteriorly and posteriorly in a row along the abdomen and ventral margin." 

An earlier paper from 1982 noted that swordfish develop two types of scales as larvae and juveniles: large, multi-spined row and rostral scales; and small single-spined scales. As the fish matures from larva to juvenile to adult, its scales persist, but become more buried in the dermis, the skin of the fish. It is not that these scales are receding. Rather, the thickness of the dermis increases. You can see this in the photomicrograph below:

Photomicrographs of the integument and scales of Xiphias gladius. (A) The integument with scale (S), epidermis (Ed), and dermis with stratum spongiosum (SSp), stratum compactum (SCm) of a 22.2 mm larvae (scale bar 63 m). (B) The integument of a 330 cm adult (scale bar 45 m). From Govoni, JJ. et al. Ontogeny of Squamation in Swordfish, Xiphias gladius.  Copeia , 2004(2), pp. 391–396.

Photomicrographs of the integument and scales of Xiphias gladius. (A) The integument with scale (S), epidermis (Ed), and dermis with stratum spongiosum (SSp), stratum compactum (SCm) of a 22.2 mm larvae (scale bar 63 m). (B) The integument of a 330 cm adult (scale bar 45 m). From Govoni, JJ. et al. Ontogeny of Squamation in Swordfish, Xiphias gladius. Copeia, 2004(2), pp. 391–396.

  Zivotofsky notes that swordfish scales continue to grow and are most certainly not resorbed: 

The confusion in the literature about the presence or absence of scales on adult Xiphias owes to the thickening of the dermis above the scale as larval and juvenile Xiphias grow. The result is that only the tips of the scale spines protrude in adults. Scales are often fractured and abraded when fish are caught and processed by the fishery. The cuticular layer of the integument is also covered with a thick layer of mucus, secreted by a network of mucous canals within the epidermis. This mucus lubricates the integument and renders scale spines less conspicuous.

And so modern biology supports the claim, found in today's daf, that when adult swordfish are caught they appear to be without scales.  

So is the swordfish Kosher?

The presence of tiny scales does not automatically give a fish a kosher status. Biological evidence of tiny or buried scales may, or may not be of consequence in Jewish law. Way back in 1968, Rabbi Moses Tendler of Yeshiva University wrote a polemic in The Jewish Observer, arguing that under no circumstances could the swordfish be considered kosher.  Among the "facts - halachic and scientific" on which he based his opinion was this: "With growth the scales disappear and the larger fish including those sold in the market have no scales." We have seen that this is not the case.  Later, he wrote that "in no place in the Talmud or the responsa literature is there any reference to a deviant: a fish that has scales as a juvenile but not as an adult." This may indeed be so. But as we have seen, the swordfish does not loose its scales. It buries them.

The kosher status of the swordfish is a complex question. It involves anatomy, biology, history, halakhic responsa and local tradition.  If you want to learn more, you can read Rabbi Tendler's 1968 article here. Avi Zivitofsky published a lengthy (53 pages!) and comprehensive history of the question in 2008. He focussed less on the scientific issues and more on the historical and halakhic ones, and you can read it here. Print them both up and enjoy reading them over Shabbat, together with a tasty fish dip. Like herring, or ketasfatiyas.   

Scales of  Xiphias gladiu s . (A) Photograph of the ventral aspect of a pre-served larvae 114 mm long (scale bar 1.5 mm). (B) Photograph of a cleared and stained biopsy of the lateral flank of a 150 mm larvae (scale bar 0.3 mm). (C) Photograph of a cleared and stained biopsy of the lateral flank of a 102 cm juvenile (scale bar 0.6 mm). From Govoni, JJ. et al. Ontogeny of Squamation in Swordfish, Xiphias gladius.  Copeia , 2004(2), pp. 391–396.

Scales of Xiphias gladius. (A) Photograph of the ventral aspect of a pre-served larvae 114 mm long (scale bar 1.5 mm). (B) Photograph of a cleared and stained biopsy of the lateral flank of a 150 mm larvae (scale bar 0.3 mm). (C) Photograph of a cleared and stained biopsy of the lateral flank of a 102 cm juvenile (scale bar 0.6 mm). From Govoni, JJ. et al. Ontogeny of Squamation in Swordfish, Xiphias gladius. Copeia, 2004(2), pp. 391–396.

[Encore post from Avodah Zarah 39a.]

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Chullin 42a ~ Halachic Reality and Anatomic Reality: the Case of the Treif Animal

With the start of the third chapter of Chullin we take a deep dive into animal anatomy.

Treif machinery.jpeg

אלו טרפות בבהמה נקובת הוושט ופסוקת הגרגרת ניקב קרום של מוח ניקב הלב לבית חללו נשברה השדרה ונפסק החוט שלה ניטל הכבד ולא נשתייר הימנו כלום הריאה שניקבה או שחסרה ר"ש אומר עד שתינקב לבית הסמפונות ניקבה הקבה ניקבה המרה ניקבו הדקין הכרס הפנימית שניקבה או שנקרע רוב החיצונה רבי יהודה אומר הגדולה טפח והקטנה ברובה המסס ובית הכוסות שניקבו לחוץ נפלה מן הגג נשתברו רוב צלעותיה ודרוסת הזאב רבי יהודה אומר דרוסת הזאב בדקה ודרוסת ארי בגסה דרוסת הנץ בעוף הדק ודרוסת הגס בעוף הגס זה הכלל כל שאין כמוה חיה טרפה

These wounds constitute tereifot in an animal,rendering them prohibited for consumption:

1. A perforated esophagus, where the perforation goes through the wall , 

2. or a cut trachea.

3. If the membrane of the brain was perforated, 

4. or if the heart was perforated to its chamber; 

5. if the spinal column was broken and its cord was cut; 

6. if the liver was removed and nothing remained of it…

7. a lung that was perforated

8. or a lung missing a piece….

9. If the abomasum was perforated

10. or the gallbladder was perforated, 

11. or the small intestines were perforated, it is a tereifa…

This is the principle: Any animal that was injured such that an animal in a similar condition could not live for an extended period is a treifa, the consumption of which is forbidden by Torah law. 

The original meaning of the term treif in the Torah is torn, and it describes a domestic animal that was attacked by a wild animal and suffered an injury that led to its death.

וְאַנְשֵׁי־קֹ֖דֶשׁ תִּהְי֣וּן לִ֑י וּבָשָׂ֨ר בַּשָּׂדֶ֤ה טְרֵפָה֙ לֹ֣א תֹאכֵ֔לוּ לַכֶּ֖לֶב תַּשְׁלִכ֥וּן אֹתֽוֹ׃
You will be holy people to Me: you must not eat flesh torn by beasts in the field; you shall cast it to the dogs.
— Exodus 22:30

But the rabbis of the Talmud greatly expanded this category - hence the list in the Mishnah that we are studying today. Later in Chullin (57b) there is a dispute as to the prognosis of living animal were it to be declared treif. According to Rav Hunna, if an animal is treif, by definition it cannot live for longer than a year (אמר רב הונא סימן לטרפה י"ב חדש). But there are other opinions (this is, after all, the Talmud): the great editor of the Mishnah, Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi opinion that a treifa is destined to die within 30 days, while a berasia states that a treif animal cannot give birth (leaving open the question about male animals).

“Jason Marcus, chef and owner of the new Traif restaurant on S. Fourth Street in Williamsburg, says the name is just cheeky, not a slap at his mostly Kosher eaters.”

“But [the name] really represents our philosophical view of how restaurants should be free of rules. We’re just people who live for good food.”

It is generally agreed upon that list in today’s Mishnah details the kinds of lesions that would be fatal within a year. And that’s when the problems begin. Some of them are certainly likely to be fatal. For example a perforated esophagus (נקובת הוושט) leads to mediastinitis, an inflammation of the chest cavity. And that is commonly fatal. If the animal swallows something sharp it can pierce not only the esophagus, but the membranes that surround the heart, called the pericardium. Way back in 1955 - at the start of the era of antibiotics - The Australian Veterinary Journal published a case series of twenty-one dairy cows that developed traumatic pericarditis. “Fifteen cases were treated with sulphonamide [an antibiotic] and six were not. ” The six animals untreated cows all died, and even among the cows treated with antibiotics, almost half died. So yes, some lesions recorded in the Mishanh (and later refined in the talmudic discussion which follows) are indeed fatal.

The Case of Serachot

But other lesions that render an animal treif are certainly not fatal. Take for example lung adhesions, called סרחות (serachot, or sircha in the singular), which are discussed in detail later (46b et. seq). These adhesions are fibrous tissues that may run between different lung lobes, or between the lungs and the rib cage. They are common and are caused by a number of conditions, including trauma or previous infections. Many kinds of serichot render an animal treif. But lung adhesions are certainly not lethal. Animals and humans live quite happily with them. In fact this doctor recently told me that the presence of lung adhesions does not prevent lungs from being donated and used for a lung transplant. Now, if they are used in that delicate situation, they most certainly do not have a fatal defect, or anything even close.

the case of the missing liver (and the missing heart)

Opening paragraph of the famous responsa on “the chicken that had no heart”. From שו׳ת חכם צבי, Amsterdam 1712.

Opening paragraph of the famous responsa on “the chicken that had no heart”. From שו׳ת חכם צבי, Amsterdam 1712.

Equally puzzling to the modern reader is the sixth category in the Mishna’s list: ניטל הכבד ולא נשתייר הימנו כלום - if the slaughtered animal was found to have no liver. Here’s the thing: an animal cannot live without a liver. If a healthy looking cow - or indeed any cow -was well enough to be slaughtered, it must have had a liver. So this is not an example of a treif animal - it’s an example of one that could not possibly have existed. But don’t take my word for it.

In 1709 the great rabbi of Hamburg, Zevi Ashkenazi, (better known as the Chacham Zevi, after the name of his responsa) was asked the following question. A young woman had opened a slaughtered chicken to remove the unwanted entrails, while her cat sat at her feet “waiting patiently for anything that may fall to the ground.” To her great surprise, the young woman found that the chicken did not have a heart, and so assumed the bird was treif. Not so, claimed her mother, who apparently owned the chicken. The cat must have eaten it, when it was thrown to the ground together with the entrails. The young women was however quite adamant, and insisted she had never fed anything that resembled a heart to the cat. The bird had been perfectly healthy before it was slaughtered, eating and drinking like any other healthy chicken, (וגם בעודנה בחיים חיותה היתה חזקה ובריאה ובכל כחה לאכול ולשתות). The question of the kashrut of the bird was brought to the local rabbis, who declared it to be treif, on the basis that while alive, it had no heart.

The Chacham Zevi was asked to weigh in on the matter. “It is absolutely clear to any person who has a wise heart” he wrote, apparently enjoying the play on words, “or who has a brain in his skull, that it is impossible for any creature to live for even a moment without a heart…Clearly, the heart fell out when the bird was opened, and that cat ate it…It is obvious that the chicken is permitted” Strike one for common sense. You would think. But not so fast. This answer of the Chacham Zevi engendered one of the great halachic disputes of the eighteenth century. In one corner, the Chacham, and in the other at least four leading rabbinic figures who vehemently opposed this ruling: Naphtali Katz of Frankfurt, Moses Rothenburg, David Oppenheim (who was the Chief Rabbi of Prague, no less) and Jonathan Eyebeschuetz (who spent much of his later life fighting halachic battles against Rabbi Yaakov Emden, who was the son of the Chacham Zevi). It got nasty, but that’s a story for another day.

Halachic Reality

No bird or animal can live without a heart, and none can do so without a liver. So there can be no case, like the one in the Mishnah, in which a healthy living animal was slaughtered and found to be without a liver.

Some of the categories of treifot overlap with conditions that are indeed incompatible with life. Others are perfectly innocuous and compatible with a long and healthy life. And a few make no sense given what we know about animal physiology. But none should be thought of as describing an anatomical reality. They describe instead a halachic reality, a reality that reflected a world some 1,500 years ago. And while our understanding of physiology has changed, these halachic classes remain a fixed part of Jewish tradition. Here is the great Maimonides, who was obviously troubled by the chasm that sometimes exists between halacha and facts.

רמב’ם משנה תורה הלכות שחיטה י, יג וְכֵן אֵלּוּ שֶׁמָּנוּ וְאָמְרוּ שֶׁהֵן טְרֵפָה אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיֵּרָאֶה בְּדַרְכֵי הָרְפוּאָה שֶׁבְּיָדֵינוּ שֶׁמִּקְצָתָן אֵינָן מְמִיתִין וְאֶפְשָׁר שֶׁתִּחְיֶה מֵהֶן אֵין לְךָ אֶלָּא מַה שֶּׁמָּנוּ חֲכָמִים שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים יז יא)"עַל פִּי הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר יוֹרוּךָ

Each one of these lesions that were declared treif remain so even if modern medicine can demonstrate that some of them are not actually fatal, and that it is indeed possible to live despite them. Rather we must follow these rabbinic categories, as the Torah states“ You shall act in accordance with the instructions given you and the ruling handed down to you; [you must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either to the right or to the left.]

In more recent times, Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, better known as the Chazon Ish, also addressed this question. “We see today” he wrote, “that very often surgeons operate on the abdomen of a person [with an injury like one found in a treif animal], and he is completely cured, and lives a long life.” But this does nothing to change the way we view the categories of treif . These depend solely on what was decided by the rabbis of the Talmud, and no modern findings can change them.

But what happens when science suggests that the act of shechita inflicts unnecessary pain on the animal? That’s coming up, on Talmudology.

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Zevachim 74a ~ Talmudic Probability Theory II

Our first deep dive into the math surrounding Talmudic Probability Theory was back in February 2015 when we were studying Ketuvot.  Today's Daf Yomi addresses the same theme, and thanks to some clever work by a contemporary mathematician we are able to provide some new insights today's page of Talmud.

Don't touch that goat

The reason we even get into this subject is a Mishnah that opens the eighth chapter of Zevachim, and which we studied just four days ago. There, the Mishnah rules on the problem of animals that must not be sacrificed getting mixed up with groups of those same animals that may be sacrificed. We have already learned that under usual circumstances, when a forbidden object falls into a majority of similar objects that are permitted, the prohibition is annulled, so that if one draws any object it is permitted (Zevahim 72a). However, the prohibition against idol worship is so strong that the usual rule allowing the minority object to be annulled in favor of the majority is not in play. This is made explicit in the definitive Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law: 

שולחן ערוך יורה דעה 140:1

עֲבוֹדַת כּוֹכָבִים וּמְשַׁמְּשֶׁיהָ וְתִקְרָבְתָּהּ, אוֹסְרִים בְּכָל שֶׁהוּא, שֶׁאִם נִתְעָרֵב אֶחָד מֵהֶם, אֲפִלּוּ בְּאֶלֶף, כֻּלָּן אֲסוּרוֹת

Objects used for idol worship or their accessories are forbidden in any amount. So even if one of these objects was mixed into a group of one thousand, it is forbidden to derive any benefit from the entire group.

What about a 40:60 split?

Here is today's page of Talmud:

זבחים עד, א

אמר רב טבעת של עבודת כוכבים שנתערבה במאה טבעות ופרשו ארבעים למקום אחד וששים למקום אחר פרשה אחת מארבעים אינה אוסרת אחת מששים אוסרת

Rav says: With regard to a ring used in idol worship that was intermingled with one hundred permitted rings, and then forty of them became separated to one place, and the other sixty became separated to another place, so that they are now two distinct groups of rings, if one ring from the group of forty became separated from them and then became intermingled with other rings, it does not render them prohibited. But if one ring from the other sixty became separated from its group and became mixed with other rings, it renders them prohibited.

The talmudic reasoning here is not straightforward, (even with a lengthy attempt by Rashi) which is why we have to thank Rabbi Nahum Eliezer Rabinovitch (b.1928), the Rosh Yeshiva of the hesder Yeshivah Birkat Moshein Ma'ale Adumim.  (He also has a PhD. in the Philosophy of Science from the University of Toronto, published in 1973 as Probability and Statistical Inference in Ancient and Medieval Jewish Literature.)  In a paper published in 1969, Rabbi Rabinovitch reconstructs what he he calls "a plausible line of reasoning."

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 1.53.11 PM.png
Rabinovitch N.L. Probability in the Talmud.   Biometrika   1969, 56 (2): 437-441

Rabinovitch N.L. Probability in the Talmud. Biometrika 1969, 56 (2): 437-441

As we have noted before, James Franklin, in his book on the history of probability theory, wrote that codes like the Talmud (and the Roman Digest that was developed under Justine c.533) "provide examples of how to evaluate evidence in cases of doubt and conflict.  By and large, they do so reasonably. But they are almost entirely devoid of discussion on the principles on which they are operating." But it is unfair to expect the Talmud to have developed a notion of probability theory as we have it today. That wasn't its interest or focus. Others have picked up this task, and have explained the statistics that is the foundation of  talmudic probability. For this, we have many to thank, including the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Rabinovitch שליט׳א.

(The [Roman] Digest and) the Talmud are huge storehouses of concepts, and to be required to have an even sketchy idea of them is a powerful stimulus to learning abstractions.
— James Franklin. The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability Before Pascal, 349.

[For more on Rabbi Rabinovitch and tamludic probability, see our post here, from where some of this is taken.]

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Avodah Zarah 51a ~ The Neck of a Grasshopper

Grasshopper anatomy.jpg

In today's page of Talmud there is a dispute about how far the prohibition against idol worship extends: 

עבודה זרה נא, א

 שחט לה חגב ר' יהודה מחייב וחכמים פוטרים

If one slaughtered a locust for an idol, Rabbi Yehuda deems him liable, and the Rabbis deem him exempt from punishment.

According to Rabbi Yehudah the neck of the grasshopper is similar to the neck of an animal; since slaughtering an animal for idol worship is prohibited, so, by analogy, is slaughtering a grasshopper.

ושאני חגב הואיל וצוארו דומה לצואר בהמה...

The neck of the grasshopper resembles the neck of an animal...

What is a neck?

The neck is the bit that connects an animal's head to its body. Grasshoppers have a head and they have a body, so perforce, they have a neck.  Here is what a typical (female) grasshopper looks like:


Diagram of a female grasshopper. From Pfadt, R. The Field Guide to Common Wester Grasshoppers. Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin #912, 1994. p1.

As you can see, the pronotum  sits where the neck should be.  It is the bony upper plate of the first section of the thorax, and when viewed from the side, appears saddle shaped.  Other insects with a pronotum include ladybugs (or ladybirds, as they are quaintly called in Britain and elsewhere), termites, beetles and fleas. The pronotum covers the cervix, the neck proper, which is "a membranous area that allows considerable freedom of movement for protraction and retraction of the insect's head." Like all insects, grasshoppers possess an exoskeleton. Beneath this hard outer shell, lay all the soft squishy bits like the gut and heart, or at least what passes for a heart in an insect.

Rabbi Yehudah's Anatomy Lesson

Rabbi Yehudah declared that the neck of the grasshopper resembled the neck of an animal, by which he meant an animal that was offered as a sacrifice in the Temple. Rashi changes the language just a little, and in so doing suggests the resemblance is even closer. The grasshopper's neck does not just resemble (דומה) an animal's. Rather, they are the same:

דיש לה צואר כבהמה ולהכי מחייב רבי יהודה דכעין שחיטת פנים הוא

The grasshopper has a neck like an animal, which is why Rabbi Yehudah finds that [a person who slaughters a grasshopper like he would an animal] is liable...

Here is the explanation found in the Koren English Talmud:

Most insects possess a head located very close to the body, i.e., the thorax, and therefore lack a visible neck. Nevertheless, some types of grasshopper possess an uncommonly visible pronotum protecting the front of the thorax. This feature has the appearance of a neck, and so even though a grasshopper cannot be truly slaughtered, it can appear to be slaughtered much like animals with necks.

But animal necks and grasshopper necks are nothing like each other. 

The grasshopper neck:

  1. Is covered with a protective shell (the pronotum)
  2. Does not possess an endoskeleton.
  3. Is really the cervix which lies hidden beneath the pronotum.

The animal neck:

  1. Is covered with skin or feathers, not a hard protective shell.
  2. Has an endoskeleton made of seven cervical vertebrae.
  3. Is clearly visible and is not hidden.

It is not clear in what way Rabbi Yehudah equated the neck of a grasshopper with the neck of an animal that was sacrificed in Jerusalem, but his teaching is echoed in Jewish law.  According to Maimonides, such an act is forbidden if it is done as a part of a religious ceremony:

משנה תורה, הלכות עבודה זרה וחוקות הגויים ג׳:ד׳

 שָׁחַט לָהּ חָגָב פָּטוּר אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן הָיְתָה עֲבוֹדָתָהּ בְּכָךְ

And the Shulchan Aruch rules that a grasshopper slaughtered in front of an idol, regardless of whether this was part of a religious ceremony or not, is forbidden to be used by a Jew. 

שולחן ערוך ירוה דעה ס׳קלט, ד

שחט לפניה חגב, נאסר, אפלו אין דרך לעבדה בחגב כלל

As a result, it's probably best not to sacrifice a grasshopper to an idol, even if you can't see its neck.

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