If a fish dish is something that tantalizes your taste-buds, you might wonder how creatures of the deep blue sea fit in to Kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws. First and foremost, not all fish are kosher, as it clearly states in Leviticus 11:

“These may you eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever has fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them you may eat. And all that do not have fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that swarm in the waters, and of all the living creatures that are in the waters, they are a detestable thing to you, and they shall be a detestable thing to you; you shall not eat of their flesh, and their carcasses you shall have in detestation. Whatsoever has no fins nor scales in the waters, that is a detestable thing to you” (Leviticus 11:9-12).

Noting how strongly the Torah emphasizes the need for both fins and scales, the scholars of the Talmud were puzzled because it is considered a fact that any fish that has scales also has fins. In fact, if one goes to a store and sees a piece of cut fish that still has scales on it (but no fins), one may buy it. One may not, however, simply rely on the store label or the clerk declaring that the piece of fish comes from a kosher species. The Talmudic discussion concludes that the requirement of fins is meant “To make the teaching [of the Torah] great and glorious” (Niddah 51b), and until today no fish has been discovered that has scales but no fins.

One might also wonder at the seemingly long-winded, extra language in the above verses. One would think that stating “all that are in the waters” does not need to be clarified with “in the seas and in the river,” and vice versa. This repetition, however, clarifies that the prohibition includes all the creatures of the sea, even animals like clams that are not technically fish. Sorry, no calamari!

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