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What's the deal with swordfish? Is it Kosher? Which sources say yes, and which sources say no?

EDIT: I know that R' Dr. Moshe D. Tendler is well known for having consulted with scientists (in 1951) and deciding that they are not, based on the way their scales look, cling to the body and disappear later in life. However, according to this article the Chief Rabbinate in Israel rejects that theory. Also, the Conservative movement considers them to be Kosher, based on a Gemara that supposedly says they are. I am not Conservative, and I don't follow Conservative rulings. However, I mention that ruling because it seems that, according to the above linked article, Jews along the Mediterranean have eaten swordfish for some 350 years, and that the Gemara in question is translated as swordfish, but it may not be what we today call swordfish.

So, with all that background, are there any Gedolim today who hold that it is Kosher, and how do they support their position vis a vis R' Tendler and the problem with the scales?

16

Rabbi Hershel Schachter quotes Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Divrei HaRav p. 192) as having been shown a swordfish and permitting it, claiming that there aren't any rules that mandate what the scales should look like.

He further notes some historical precedent for eating swordfish in Europe (my impression is there is some disagreement about what fish is specified in the records).

Finally, I have been told by students of Rabbi Schachter that he thinks swordfish is kosher and has even eaten it on occasion.

  • 1
    I spoke with R' Schachter's son and another person who had a conversation with R' Schachter a couple of weeks ago about swordfish. What I got out of the two conversations is that he holds swordfish is Mutar. I cannot tell you anything about the rumor that he has eaten it. – Seth J May 4 '12 at 16:41
  • @SethJ If he holds it is Mutar then it makes sense that he has eaten it. – Double AA May 4 '12 at 16:45
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    No, if he holds it's Kosher then it is possible that he has eaten it. But given the back and forth discussion I just had with his son, I'm doubting the rumor. It's entirely possible that it is true, but until it's been substantiated, I'm treating it as coming from a game-of-telephone (maybe he said he would eat it, or maybe someone told him he would bring him some and R' Schachter promised he'd have the rebbetzin cook it up - but if the guy never came through, then they wouldn't have eaten it). – Seth J May 4 '12 at 17:25
  • Also, think about the difficulty of obtaining Kosher swordfish. If there were certified Kosher restaurants and butchers that served/sold swordfish, I think this would not be a discussion here on this site. So in order to obtain Kosher swordfish, someone would either have to catch one and kill it and clean it with Kosher utensils, or buy it from someone with non-Kosher utensils and then then cut off a Kelipah, which seems like a lot of effort for something that would be done so casually as to be told as an apocryphal story. – Seth J May 4 '12 at 17:31
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    @SethJ right, but if you request a hadacha, the fish no longer requires klipa. – Hahu Gavra May 6 '12 at 5:01
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The Tzitz Eliezer 9:40 discusses swordfish and says they are forbidden. He says that it is quite likely that the "fish with a sword" discussed in the Knesses HaGedola is really a sailfish, which also has a small sword.

  • GershonGold, you asked earlier which Gemara. It's supposedly Hulin 66b, although I didn't see it on a quick skim (can't really spend time on this right now). Is that where you found it? – Seth J May 1 '12 at 15:19
  • The Tzitz Eliezer at the end of the Teshuva mentions the Chasam Sofer in Chulin 66 – Gershon Gold May 1 '12 at 15:25
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    I wish I could select both your answer and Double AA's. Together you've basically brought the two main (opposing) opinions. – Seth J May 16 '12 at 19:42
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Because the question asks, "which sources say yes and which sources say no", I feel like the question warrants a response that includes a few more sources. The most comprehensive discussion of the issue is published by Dr. Ari Zivotofsky in Bar Ilan's journal Bechol Derachecha Daeihu (vol. 19) and its history is summarized in this news article.

Rav Hershel Schachter (Divrei HaRav p. 192) insists that there are no specific rules about what the scales of the fish should look like in order to be considered kosher scales (as in, scales that are a sign that the fish is kosher), but concedes to the fact that the swordfish has unusual scales in that the scales are attached on both sides. He quotes his teacher, R. Soloveitchik, as allowing the swordfish despite its unusual scales for this reason.

However, R. Tendler points out (Pardes Rimonim, p. 106-112) that there are requirements for the nature of the scales: the Ramban on the Torah (Vayikra 11:9) states that the scales must be easily peeled off, and not fully attached, as is the case with the swordfish. R. Tendler insists that this has been the accepted halakha for centuries: the Magid Mishnah in the beginning of Hil. Maachalos Asuros, and the Rama in Shulchan Aruch, Y.D 83:1. To top it all off, R. Tendler states that R. Y.D. Soloveitchik agreed with him (and not as stated in Divrei Harav, above) that the swordfish should not be eaten.

The Kensses Hagedolah also writes (Y.D. 83:74) about a fish with a sword on its nose that it's kosher, though R. Tendler insists that he is referring to a different fish. Several fish of this nature are discussed by the Pischei Teshuvah (Y.D 83:1), where he also adds that if such a fish is kosher, then there's no reason to prohibit this fish on the basis that it looks like non-kosher fish, because it looks like a kosher fish - i.e. it has scales.

As in America, Israeli Rabbis also disagreed on this issue. Rav Unterman, chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, wrote a teshuvah permitting the swordfish (Shevet Miyhuda vol. 2, 5:118) based on the fact that there was a widespread and ancient custom to eat such fish, while the Tzitz Eliezer (9:40) prohibited it, based on the Ramban and R. Tendler's research.

Interestingly, R. S.R. Hirsch, in his commentary to Vayikra 11:9 also insists that the Ramban's interpretation has been accepted as the halakha, despite, he adds, the fact that the Noda Biyhuda (Tinyana Y.D 28) seems to argue. (In reality, the Noda Biyhuda agrees on principle but believes that scales that can be separated from the fish by any means are kosher, not just if they can be peeled off easily or from one side.)

6

I am no Gadol HaDor nor a Posake by any means, however, I have caught Swordfish in the past and can tell you that the deck of the boat has been covered with tiny scales after boating the Swordfish. I have also had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Ari Zivotofsky speak on this issue and we spoke afterwards of his extensive research in conjunction with my fishing experiences and in my mind (as well as his) there seems to be no doubt that Swordfish is Kosher.

I would like to add that the Swordfish caught have been both juveniles and adults. So that there is no doubt as to the status.

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya Lee! Thank you for this answer! – mevaqesh Jul 30 '17 at 15:29
  • Great to hear a personal experience, +1 – bondonk Apr 7 at 15:18
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I just wanted to add another source that I have not yet seen on this thread. Tosefes Beracha (authored by R' Baruch HaLevi Epstein, aka the Torah Temimah) writes (Shemini 11:9) that swordfish are kosher based on Chullin 66a. Gemara says a fish that appears to us without scales is still kosher as long as it had scales while living in the water. Based on the zoology of his time, he quotes that swordfish meet this criteria and are therefore, kosher. Not weighing in on halacha lemaysa. Just wanted to add this source.

  • Thank you for bringing this source! By any chance do you have a link to it online? – DonielF Apr 5 at 15:15
0

Tuna and Swordfish are the same according to halakha. Tuna loses its scales when caught/landed the same as the swordfish does. But nobody argues the kashrut of the tuna. Our Sages have already explicitly declared swordfish and tuna kasher in the same sentence and for the same reason. It is consensus, not opinion. Gemara will opine like 'rabbi so-and-so said'. But gemara will consense like 'Our Rabbis taught'. And this is precisely the statement made in Avodah Zarah 39a

"Our Rabbis taught: Those species of fish, which have fins and scales at the time; but shed them when drawn out of the water, as for example, colias, scomber, swordfish, anthias, and tunny are permitted."

  • Welcome to MiYodeya and thanks for this first question. Can I recommend you take the tour to get a sense of how the site works? And since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Great to have you learn with us! – mbloch Jun 18 at 6:31

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