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The sea sponge is scientifically classified as an animal, therefore maybe it would be considered unkosher, as seafood. On the other hand, it seems much more similar to a vegetable of some kind, so would be kosher to eat.

So, are sponges kosher?

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Fascinating! This forces us to examine the halachic definition of "animal" and see whether it matches up with the biological definition. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal) – Isaac Moses Nov 4 '10 at 19:29
I have nothing to add, other than compliments on a very creative question. But are sponges edible, anyway? – Seth J Nov 5 '10 at 1:47
And what about Anemones? – Seth J Nov 5 '10 at 14:38
You should just eat lulavim instead. Because with fronds like these, who needs anemones? :) – Alex Nov 5 '10 at 15:01
Can one eat a Venus Fly Trap (before it eats you?) – Yehoshua Mar 7 '13 at 20:06
up vote 26 down vote accepted

The Yerushalmi (Shabbos 7:2) mentions sponges (ספוג) in a group of items where cutting them causes them to grow back even more, and therefore declares that someone who does so has performed two categories of work, "reaping" and "planting." These melachos refer to plants, not animals, so I would think that indicates that the sponge is viewed as a plant (probably because it doesn't move around).

That said, I haven't found this Yerushalmi cited as halachah.

Another possible data point, though, might be that in the course of explaining when a sponge may or may not be used on Shabbos, Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 320:18) cites Aruch, who explains that the sponge sits atop the head of a large fish (a whale, maybe?) and covers its eyes when it sticks its head out of the water, so that it doesn't see ships and wreck them. Mishnah Berurah there (320:45) alternately describes a sponge as "a wool-like material found on beaches." Both of these descriptions suggest that they saw sponges as inanimate or vegetable matter rather than an independent life-form.

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The Yerushalmi holds that one who pulls a fish out of the water is חייב משום עוקר דבר מגידולו, so apparently the Yerushalmi holds that something does not have to be a plant for there to be קוצר. – wfb May 19 '13 at 2:51
@Alex Sponges are 100% animals. Growing back doesn't prove anything (for a more obvious example, pull the lizard off a tail, it'll grow back). It's just sponges are so primitive at the level of their cellular organization that being partially "reaped" doesn't kill them. They have animal cells. They consume food (are not autotrophs like plants). They reproduce like some other marine animal species. Eating them is eating a non-kosher animal, whether or not it seems like a plant. Then again who in their right mind would even eat one, so it probably isn't a practical issue anyway. – A L Jul 19 '13 at 4:28
@AL: we find that the Gemara considers coral to be a kind of tree (Rosh Hashanah 23a), even though it's actually also a type of marine animal (or rather, an accretion of them). So it's conceivable that halachah says the same about sponges; the key difference might be whether they stay in one place (corals and most sponges) or not (some types of sponges). – Alex Jul 19 '13 at 13:46
@Alex I would remind you that the Gemara often based itself on the science of the time. Fifty years ago, we even thought they were plants. Just because the Gemara said it was a tree as was common knowledge, doesn't necessarily mean that when we've discovered it's an animal (an animal that grows in one spot) that it can still be as kosher as any plant. – A L Jul 19 '13 at 17:18
Can they be Tevel if in Israeli water? – Double AA Jul 29 '13 at 18:51

Although this does not answer the question, I came across the following quote from R. Yosef Albo, Sefer ha-Ikkarim 3:1:

Coral is intermediate between inanimate matter and plants. We also find the sea sponge, which only has the sense of touch, and is an intermediate between plant and animal stages. We also find the monkey to be intermediate between animals and man.

This idea is repeated, for example by R. Moshe Isserles (the Rema) in his commentary מחיר יין, on מגילת אסתר, א:ו, and is ultimately based on Aristotle's classifications.

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Of course we know today coral and sponges are 100% animal. Until they were examined more carefully fairly recently (perhaps until some time in the 20th century, not sure exactly), people had misconceptions about that, which I presume is what informed R. Albo's statement; nevertheless it is incorrect. And as animals without kosher signs, they are not kosher. – A L Jul 19 '13 at 4:23
Their scientific classification as members of the animal kingdom is not obviously relevant to their halakhic status. As it happens, R. Yosef Albo is repeating Aristotle's classification, which is also not of clear halakhic relevance. – wfb Jul 21 '13 at 1:53

Assuming the key halachik distinction is that which underlies the difference between tolesh and netilas neshama in hilchos shabbos, as seems plausible, that should depend on whether sponges display some form of sentience (at least basic percepts of pain and/or pleasure, as distinct from the automated motions of machines and plants) . To some degree, modern "science" is somewhat unreliable in this analysis since contemporary scientists' materialistic dogmas interfere with their ability to classify sentience, or even to clearly ascribe it to humans, let alone lower lifeforms. Still, it does seem plausible that some form of centralized nervous system or even a brain should be necessary to say something is alive (חי) in the classical sense (or some comparable system that would mediate some low level of sentient perception). Though according to the Ri Albo cited by WFB, it should qualify as safek treif in the same sense that a koy is a safek chaya safek behema. In sum, tzarich iyun.

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It does not matter if it is an animal or plant since inedible things are kosher

I do not need to bring a source that a sea sponge is not edible until someone claims otherwise


Now, food which even a dog won't eat loses its status as food. Halachically, it's no different than stones or dirt which are you allowed to eat!

My edit (Excluding things like vodka that people do eat, but dogs to not (dogs are only a measurement on things that even humans do not eat)).

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This answer would be much improved with evidence that inedible things are kosher, and that sea sponges are not edible. – mevaqesh Jan 17 at 20:38
@mevaqesh Done (I hope) – hazoriz Jan 18 at 5:27
Even if what you say is true there are other nafka mimot if its a plant or animal. – Double AA Jan 18 at 5:30
@DoubleAA But that is not the question? – hazoriz Jan 18 at 5:31
@DoubleAA Maybe we should edit the question to fit the answers – hazoriz Jan 18 at 5:33

Great question but indeed coral is not permitted for food. In regards to the sentience of coral the Ba’al ha-Sullam's articulation of “the Great Chain of Being” is perhaps relevant so I’d like to share it:

“To prepare His creatures to attain this exalted rung, the blessed Holy One desired to act on them in a sequence of four rungs, one evolving from the other, called דוֹמֵם צוֹמֵחַ חַי מִדָּבָר (domeh, tsomeaḥ, ḥai, midavar), mineral, vegetable, animal, human [lit., dumb, growing, living, speaking]. These are, in fact, the four phases of the desire to receive, by which the upper worlds are divided. For although the majority of the desire is in the fourth phase of the desire to receive, it is impossible for the fourth phase to appear at once, but by its preceding three phases, in which, and through which, it gradually unfurls and appears, until it is fully completed in the form of phase four [cf. Rabbi Yosef Albo, Sefer ha-Iqqarim 3:1-2].

In the first phase of the desire to receive, called דוֹמֵם (domeh), mineral, the initial manifestation of the desire to receive, in this corporeal world, there is but a general capacity for movement for the whole of the mineral category. But no motion is apparent in its particular elements. This is because the desire to receive, generates needs, and the needs generate movements sufficient to satisfy the needs. And since there is but a minimal desire to receive, its effect is only apparent as causing a general movement, but its effect over the particular elements is indistinguishable.

The צוֹמֵחַ (tsomeaḥ), vegetable, is added to it, which is the second phase of the desire to receive. Its measure is greater than in the mineral, and its desire to receive, dominates each and every element, because each element has its own capacity for movement, expanding through its length and breadth, and moving towards the sun. The matter of eating, drinking, and secretion of waste is apparent in each element too. However, the sensation of freedom and individuality is still absent in them.

Atop that comes the חַי (ḥai), animal, category, which is the third phase of the desire to receive. Its measure is already completed to a great extent, for this desire to receive already generates in each element a sensation of freedom and individuality, which is the life that is unique to each particular element. Yet, they still lack the sensation of others; they have no capacity for their companion’s distress or happiness and so forth.

Above all is the human, the fourth phase of the desire to receive. It is the complete and final measure and its desire to receive includes the sensation of others as well. And if you wish to know the precise difference between the third phase of the desire to receive, which is in the animal, and the fourth phase of the desire to receive, in the human, I shall tell you that it is like the worth of a single creature compared to the whole of reality.

This is because the desire to receive, in the animal, which lacks the sensation of others, can only generate needs and desires to the extent that they are imprinted in that creature alone. But man, who can feel others, too, becomes needy of everything that others have, too, and is thus filled with jealousy to acquire everything that others have. When he has a hundred, he wants two hundred, and so his needs forever multiply until he wishes to devour the whole world...

We have now explained the five worlds that include the entire spiritual reality that extends from Infinity to this world. However, they are included in one another, and in each of the worlds there are the five worlds, the five sefirot KḤBTM, in which the five lights NRNḤY are enclothed, corresponding to the five worlds.

And besides the five sefirot, KḤBTM in each world, there are the four spiritual categories—mineral, vegetable, animal, and human. In it, man’s soul is regarded as the human, the animal is regarded as the angels in that world, the vegetable category is called לְבוּשׁים (levushim), garments, and the mineral category is called הֵיכָלוֹת (hekhalot), chambers. And they all enclothe one another: the human category, the souls of people, enclothes the five sefirot KḤBTM, which is the godliness in that world. The animal category, which are the angels, enclothes the souls; the vegetable, the garments, enclothe the angels; and the mineral, which are chambers, revolve around them all.

The enclothing means that they serve one another and evolve from one another, as we have clarified with the corporeal mineral, vegetable, animal, and human in this world: the three categories—mineral, vegetable, and animal—did not extend for themselves, but only so the fourth category, which is man, might develop and rise by them. Therefore, their role is only to serve man and be useful to him.

So it is in all the spiritual worlds. The three categories—mineral, vegetable, and animal—appeared there only to serve and be useful to the human category, which is man’s soul. Therefore, it is considered that they all enclothe man’s soul, meaning serve him” (Ba’al ha-Sullam, Rav Yehudah Ashlag, Introduction to the Book of Zohar, 34-38; 42).

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This is not about sea sponges and not about them being kosher. I don't see how it answers the question. – Isaac Moses Jul 19 at 3:18

Sea Sponge does not have fins or scales so it is not kosher. Please see Vaikra 11:9-13. It says of all living creatures, not just fish.

9 These may ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them may ye eat. 10 And all that have not 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 unto you, 11 and they shall be a detestable thing unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, and their carcasses ye shall have in detestation. 12 Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that is a detestable thing unto you.

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What is at issue is whether it's considered a "living creature" or not. – Isaac Moses Feb 2 at 16:51
@IsaacMoses or a plant – Shmuel Brin Feb 12 at 23:03
Since it is not a fish, this would not apply. The question is "is it a plant or an animal according to halacha. The scientific modern definition is not part of the discusssion. – sabbahillel Feb 14 at 12:54

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