The Pentateuchal Dietary Proscription against Finless and Scaleless Aquatic Species in Light of Ancient Fish Remains” published in the peer-reviewed Tel Aviv archaeological journal on May 24, 2021, presents evidence from some 56 fishbone assemblages from 30 sites spanning from 1550 BCE to 640 CE.

“Significantly, all the fish assemblages from sites within the Southern Kingdom — first and foremost Jerusalem — presented evidence of modest to (more often) moderate amounts of scaleless fish remains,” they write.The requirement to eat only fish that has both fins and scales is found twice in the Torah: in Vayikrah 11: 9–12 and in Dvarim 14: 9–10.

How can these findings be reconciled with the Torah's prohibitions to consume finless and scaleless fish?


3 Answers 3


How can these findings be reconciled with the Torah's prohibitions to consume finless and scaleless fish?

To give a few possible answers.

  1. The research was biased and faulty

  2. Finless and scaleless fish were used for purposes other than human consumption

  3. If they were consumed, then perhaps they were consumed by the many non-Jewish residents of Eretz Yisreol at the time (Gerey Toshev)

  4. Or they were consumed by those who sinned against kashrut Torah Laws and they were the crowd the Navi/Prophet gives instruction/correction to.

  5. BECAUSE they weren't eaten there were so many of their remains left around. They were caught by the fishermen's nets with the Kosher fish and being that they weren't consumed and had far fewer marketplace buyers stuck around to have their remains being found today

  6. Note the dates of these (merely) fifty six Fish assemblages from a mere thirty sites which weren't even all in Eretz Yisroel. It runs almost SIX HUNDRED YEARS after the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdush and the exiling of most of the Jewish population from Eretz Yisroel and predates the Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisroel by hundreds of years as well. No surprise that they found non-kosher fish were eaten in Eretz Yisroel that time period.

etc. etc. etc.

  • 1
    1, 5, and 6 seem more reflective of your not having read the original study than realistic proposals. I haven't read it either but I don't have any reason to think they didn't account for that
    – Double AA
    May 27, 2021 at 2:25
  • 3
    @DoubleAA I read the entire study. One may conclude that the person who did the research was in fact biased. That's not really problematic itself, if one sticks to proper analysis of the data - we all have our biases, after all. One point that stuck out to me was the conclusion that the discoveries in the Kingdom of Judah are most likely reflective of a similar situation in the Kingdom of Israel, despite little to no research on the matter being done in sites identified with Israel.
    – Harel13
    May 27, 2021 at 3:59
  • 3
    Another point that stuck out was that there was no explanation - at least none that I saw - as to how it is known that these fish remains were indeed consumed. There was a note on how researchers know they were used for jewelry - yet the author did not seem to differentiate between different fish remains: Should we assume that they were all unpunctured, or not? Who knows? The author doesn't seem to clarify on the matter.
    – Harel13
    May 27, 2021 at 3:59
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    I also noticed that part of the study during the Roman period included studying fish remains at a time during which little to no Jews lived in Yerushalayim. I found that perplexing.
    – Harel13
    May 27, 2021 at 4:00
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    Copy and paste and you have a full answer there.
    – Mordechai
    May 27, 2021 at 18:30

Writing in the Times of Israel (here), Joshua Berman and Ari Zivotofsky write that these findings are actually highly in sync with the history of ancient Israel as told by the Prophets of the time. The Jews who were eating non-kosher fish were the same as those who intermarried or who worshiped idols as described in Isaiah, Ezra and Nehemiah.

As @DoubleAA suggested in his comment to the question, "although the Torah proscribes idol worship, the prophets censure Israel for doing just this, and indeed we find many dozens of figurines in Israelite sites during that time, including locations near where some of these non-kosher fishbones were found."

The authors cite various archeological finds at different periods in time. Some from the city of David, dated to the 8th century BCE, found 5,385 fishbones with 96% of the fish remains from kosher fish. "Other sites in the City of David have a much higher percentage of non-kosher fishbones. Remarkably, again, these other sites date from the period just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, broadly a period in which the residents of Judah come in for particularly harsh censure by the prophets of Israel."

  • Why are they writing in an off the beaten track news/blog site and not in a published journal
    – Double AA
    May 31, 2021 at 12:00
  • Did the prophets ever censure the people for eating catfish or any treif foods? If they still weren't eating pig for religious reasons why'd they give up on avoiding catfish?
    – Double AA
    May 31, 2021 at 12:01
  • @DoubleAA I am not them but (1) it is faster, (2) this is a very popular media at least in Israel and (3) the names of their authors speak for themselves Joshua Berman has an excellent recent book (amazon.com/Ani-Maamin-Criticism-Historical-Principles/dp/…)
    – mbloch
    May 31, 2021 at 12:02
  • @DoubleAA Presumably because the original paper made waves owing to a write-up in the very same off the beaten track news/blog site
    – Joel K
    May 31, 2021 at 14:51

Perhaps there were Jews who simply disobeyed Torah laws. King David violated Torah laws all his life. This does not prove that ancient Jews did not know about Torah laws.

The Rambam wrote:

"when I have a difficult subject before me--when I find the road narrow, and see no other way of teaching a well-established truth except by pleasing one intelligent man and displeasing ten thousand fools--I prefer to address myself to the one man, and to take no notice whatever of the condemnation of the multitude; I prefer to extricate that intelligent man from his embarrassment and show him the cause of his perplexity, so that he may attain perfection and be at peace." — Guide, Preface

  • 4
    You propose an answer with the mitigating "perhaps" ("perhaps there were Jews who simply disobeyed Torah laws"), thereby granting that it may in fact be baseless but it is merely a suggestion rather than a statement of fact. You then submit the claim that "King David violated Torah laws all his life." This statement is unmitigated, but also unsubstantiated. What is the basis for this second assertion?
    – Yehuda
    May 27, 2021 at 3:37
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    @robev While I generally disagree with Turk Hill's assumptions on various issues, with regards to Tanach study, I'm not aware of any obligation of accepting Chazal's interpretation of Tanach. There are many examples of great commentators who saw no problem with disagreeing with the Chazalic interpretation.
    – Harel13
    May 27, 2021 at 7:15
  • 2
    @Harel13 true but Turk Hill has spoken very disparagingly about King David in the past, more so than I think any great commentator would. It's all about attitude. Theirs is a negative one.
    – robev
    May 27, 2021 at 7:19
  • @robev Yes, I agree. There's p'shat, and then there's p'shat. Depends on your attitude, as you said.
    – Harel13
    May 27, 2021 at 7:24
  • @Harel13 Yes. According to RNS's new book Rationalism vs mysticism (which I'm currently reading now), Chazal was not infallible. However, their statements about Halakha are always binding for all Jews.
    – Turk Hill
    May 27, 2021 at 15:43

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