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I've heard that the reason we (most of us) don't eat the locusts enumerated as kosher in the Torah is that we cannot identify them. That is, we don't know what type of locust is referred to by the Hebrew word naming each kosher type.

Some Jews, however, can identify them: they (Yemenite Jews, I believe, or some Yemenite Jews) have a tradition that identifies the kosher locust types.

Why don't we trust those Jews? Normally we say ed echad neeman b'isurin, that a Jew's identification of something as kosher suffices to allow another Jew to eat it. This case should fall under that rule: we don't know which locusts are the named-kosher ones, the Yemenite community identifies them for us, we should be able to eat them.

(I'd understand our reluctance if we had a tradition the contrary of the Yemenite tradition: "such-and-such locust is not the named-kosher one". Then of course we would not trust the Yemenite license. But our tradition is simply lacking; why not trust the ed echad, the Yemenite community?)

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    You're question would be much stronger if you sourced your original claim. As it is now, the answer could be (and likely is) "in hachi nami but they're gross!"
    – Double AA
    Jun 8, 2012 at 6:23
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    Also, I just have to quote Shalom: It's a lot like eating grasshoppers. Yes, the Bible allowed it, though never said it was a good thing. Nobody does it today except for a few Yemenites.
    – Double AA
    Jun 8, 2012 at 6:25
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    Whether we can or not is apparently a point of disagreement between the authorities: "Regarding birds, it is clear from the Shach and Aruch Hashulchan that one can rely on the Mesora from another community. But does the same halacha apply to chagavim? There was no uniform answer on this. Many of the Ashkenazi participants asked their own poskim and received divergent answers. While many rabbis ruled against eating, some of the leading poskim in Yerushalaim gave the green light to rely on the Yemenite tradition and eat chagavim."
    – Isaac Moses
    Jun 8, 2012 at 13:46
  • @DoubleAA, I couldn't source it beyond how I did ("I've heard").
    – msh210
    Jun 8, 2012 at 14:25
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    @msh210, I'd be more comfortable posting an answer if I could dig one level deeper and get the "why" (which you asked for) for both sides. I suspect there's an article out there by R' Zivotofsky that'll do that.
    – Isaac Moses
    Jun 8, 2012 at 14:51

3 Answers 3

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+250

Ari Zivotofsky and I have worked hard to collect tens of testimonies from Yemenites and North Africans on the ID and traditions of which chagav (locust-like insect) is kosher. There is no question, as there are still many people alive who can remember them from their countries of origin.

Birds as the paradigm

As mentioned in Isaac Moses' response above, this article quotes the Shulchan Aruch stating one can rely upon another community with a tradition as an eid ached, that a particular bird is not a dores (considered a predator) and hence acceptable. The shulchan aruch needs to know that the bird is not a dores. In each community, they were familiar with their local kosher birds. That is why if you don't have such a tradition you can rely upon somebody who does, to clarify the reality of the anatomy of the bird. Does it attack or not? It is not an issue of a minhag not to eat a particular bird. If indeed you have an active minhag in your community NOT to eat a particular bird, then you are not allowed to eat it based upon another tradition.

Chagavim

Indeed, the Shach in Hilchot Chagavim (YD 85) (Laws of Chagavs) actually refers to Hilchot Ofot (Laws of Birds) as the paradigm for relying upon another community's mesorah in order to eat such animals. If you have the mesorah and I don't, I can rely upon you. This is what Rav Kapach told us and wrote many times. See, for example, the scanned-in responsa under "Rav Kapach on Locusts" on this section of our website.

Hard to imagine an Ashkenazi invited for shabbat to the house of Rav Kapach or the Rambam for that matter and refusing to eat the chagavim served as an appetizer since you don't trust their testimony.

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    Ari Greenspan, welcome to Mi Yodeya and thank you for bringing your expert knowledge here. Please consider registering your account to be able to fully participate on the site. I look forward to seeing you around!
    – Double AA
    Jun 8, 2012 at 16:17
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    Indeed, thanks very much for sharing your expertise! R' Zivotofsky wrote the following to me in an email: "I think the premise of the question needs to be slightly refined. It is not ed echad that is needed here, but an eida. ed echad neeman b'isurin relates to a specific item. here we need testimony about the existence of a mesorah within the community. But the question is still great - if the Yemenite and Moroccan communities have a tradition can everyone else rely on it? ..."
    – Isaac Moses
    Jun 8, 2012 at 16:32
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    (email continued) "... We have unfortunately not (yet) written about this and there is not much in writing. Rav Kapach wrote in HaZofeh in the 1950s explaining that others can rely on them. Rav Munk from Haifa wrote a tshuva explaining why not. there is the famous Ohr Hachaim in his commentary on the Torah and to Yoreh De'a where he prohibits. there is a tshuva by Eretz Chemda in response to a question by us that they have published. you would definitely want to see the material in Zohar Amar's book ( biupress.co.il/website_en/index.asp?id=278 )."
    – Isaac Moses
    Jun 8, 2012 at 16:32
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    @IsaacMoses, could you ask R' Zivotofsky if the reverse is true. Taking an extreme example, can Yemenites marry into Ashkenazi families, trusting the Mesorah that the Ashkenazim are in fact Jewish? What is it about the Mesorah of the Yemenites that precludes us from just accepting it? Just because we haven't seen it? Clearly this shows their Mesorah is stronger than ours (argumentative tone intended for effect, not actually to be argumentative)! Hmm, I think I have a new question.
    – Seth J
    Jun 8, 2012 at 17:54
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    Followup to SethJ's comment is judaism.stackexchange.com/q/16955
    – msh210
    Jun 8, 2012 at 18:27
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The author of Or HaChayim writes (Pri To'ar 85) that he discouraged the members of his city from eating them for a few reasons, one of them being because their tradition was not completely reliable.

I later happened to come across this article which discusses this topic more extensively.

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    See this article which claims that R Chaim ibn Attar was disolusioned with the local locust population because they didn't match a description of kosher locusts written by Rashi (who had probably never seen such a locust in his life) which doesn't match any existing locust.
    – Double AA
    May 26, 2013 at 17:28
  • @DoubleAA, that sounds like a fantastic explanation of the phenomenon of not relying on the Yemenite (or any) Mesorah. Whether it ought to be followed or not, I'm not qualified to answer, but it makes sense as an explanation of the "loss" of our Mesorah.
    – Seth J
    Jan 19, 2016 at 22:38
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Much of this is based on a 2016 article by Dr. Ari Greenspan, Dr. Ari Zivotvsky and Yosef Zivotovsky, published in the memorial series Mesorah le-Yosef, pp. 77-85, titled אכילת חגבים לבני אשכנז לדעת הרב יוסף קאפח (The Consumption of Locusts by Ashkenazim in the Perspective of R. Yosef Qafih). In light of Ari Greenspan's 2012 participation here on the forum, I wonder if @msh210 your question prompted the composition of their essay.

In the essay it is recorded that R. Yosef Qafih wrote a letter (p. 80) to Ari Greenspan as follows:

כבר פרסמתי רבות בענין הארבה, ולדעתי כיון שאין לשאר עדות מסורת בהן לאסור, אלא אין להן מסורת לאכלן כי לא הכירום. יכולים הם לסמוך על מסורת אמת נפוצה מאז משה רבנו ולאכלם וכבר פרסם ד"ר זהר עמר חוברת בהוצאת בר אילן הארבה ואכילתו במסורת ישראל ושם הפנה לפרסומי על הארבה בכל הכבוד הראוי

I have already publicized many times regarding the matter of locusts and in my opinion since the rest of the ‘Edoth do not have a mesorah to prohibit them, rather they simply do not have a mesorah to eat them because they do not recognize them. They are permitted to rely on a widespread and authentic/true mesorah since Moshe and to eat them. And Dr. Zohar Amar already publicized a volume from Bar Ilan Press on the consumption of locusts among the Jewish people, and there he referred to my publications on locusts with all due honors.

In the periodical, Modiah, Feb 16, 1959, R. Qafih had earlier written:

ונראה כי גם אלה שלא נהגו לאכול את הארבה יכולים לסמוך עלינו ועל מסורותינו ולחזור לאוכלה בלי שום פקפוק כ"ש וכ"ש שאין למחות בידי מחזיקי הקבלה והמסורת

And so it appears that also those that were not accustomed to eating locusts are able to rely on us and on our mesorah and to return to consuming them without any doubt whatsoever and all the more so certainly not to prevent those who strongly hold onto their received tradition and mesorah

The Kaf ha-Haim stated (Kaf ha-Haim 85:6):

והרבה מקומות יש בספרד שאוכלים אותו... וכן המנהג בתימן שאוכלין אותו וא"כ התימנים ההולכים לעיר אחרת או הבאים לדור בירשת"ו מותר לאוכלם ע"פ המסורת שיש בידם

"There are many places in Sepharad where they are eaten"... and so too is the custom of Yemen where they eat it and if that is so the Yemenites that go to a different city or come to Jerusalem may it be built and ready, it is permitted to eat them on the basis of the mesorah they possess.

This parallels sentiments about kosher fowl identification expressed in the Shakh Y.D. 85 (as cited in Ari Greenspan's answer above), and Rav Moshe Feinstein in Igeroth Moshe Y.D. 1:34, which are clear in that as long as a species of bird possesses the correct simanim and someone has an active mesorah that it is recognizable as a specific kosher species, then that person may be relied upon and the species may be consumed. However relying upon the name alone is insufficient, as names change across geography/culture/time.

However as regards locusts, R. Yosef Yedid ha-Lewi was of the opinion that explicit identification by name is an additional requirement for transmission of mesorah (Yeme Yosef Bathra, Y.D. 3):

מקובל להם מסורת זה לא אהניא לן עד שיאמרו שכד נמסר להם שמין זה שמו חגב דאל"כ אולי מה שנמסר להם שאוכלין אותו והוא מין טהור סוברין כהרי"ף דבסימנים סגי ולא בעינן שנדע שיהיה שמו חגב וכן מדוקדק לשון מרן שכתב או מסורת ששמו חגב לענין דינא אם נתברר לנו אפילו על פי מסורת הק"ק בני תימן שהם ממדינה אחרת שזה המין אוכלין אותו והוא שמו חגב אז יש לסמוך בפשיטות לאוכלו אד אם יעידו סתם שהם מקובל להם שהוא מין טהור ואוכלין אותו אך לא ידעו ולא נתקבל להם אם שמו חגב או לא אז ודאי אין לסמוך עליהם אך הם מה שאוכלין אין למחות בידם

The mesorah which is accepted by them is not acceptable until they say that it was transmitted to them that this species name is “hagav” for if that isn’t the case perhaps that which was transmitted to them such that they eat them in reliance that they are a kosher species is based on the reasoning of the Ri”f that the simanim alone are sufficient and they do not actually know if its name is hagav, and so if we are precise in the language of Maran who wrote [the Shulhan Arukh, YD 185] “or that there is a mesorah that its name is hagav” as regards this law if it is clarified to us that even if according to the mesorah of the holy community of Yemenites who are from a different territory that this is the species and its name is hagav then certainly we may consume them, however if they generically testify that it is accepted among them that this is a kosher species and they do not know and did not receive that its name is hagav or not then certain we may not rely upon them, however that which they eat we should not prevent them from.

It seems that according to R. Yedid, that in theory one can recieve a mesorah from Yemenites, however this is with the caveat (based on the SA) that they must also transmit a mesorah that it is known by the name hagav. Without this additional qualifier it is not possible to accept their mesorah, as it may be based solely on simanim. His position does not preclude the possibility therefore of transmitting such a mesorah, it simply establishes an additional required element of such a transmission in order to be effective.

The Mishnah Halakhoth (16:8) wrote similarly:

אבל לסמוך עליהם אנן ועל עדותן א"א לן לסמוך שהרי גם הם אין להם מסורת שזה הוא הנקרא חגב וכיון שאין להם מסורת שזה נקרא חגב הגם שאוכלין אותו מ"מ א"א לן לסמוך אקבלתם שהרי צריך להיות במסורת ששמו חגב ואין להם מסורת זו

However to rely on them and their testimony we should not rely for they also do not have a mesorah that these locusts are called “hagav” and since they do not have such a mesorah that what they eat is called hagav and in any event we should not rely on them since it is necessary that there be a mesorah that the species is called hagav and they do not have such a mesorah.

According to this view then, the Yemenites lack a mesorah that the locusts they consume are explicitly known by the name hagav. Presumably this position is open to refutation where Yemenites present themselves as in possession of a mesorah for the name hagav as well (as for example expressed in Teshubhoth Rav Qafih, vol. 1, p. 48).

Rav. S.D. Munk wrote against relying upon the Yemenite mesorah for locusts as follows (Shu"T Peath Sadekha 62):

הדברים ניכרים שאינם בקיאים בהם יפה ובודים להם סימן שלא נזכר בדברי רז"ל שיש להן צורת חי"ת וגם צריכין טביעות עין יפה לומר זה טהור וזה טמא והרי רש"י העיד שאין אנו בקיאין

The matter is apparent that they are not fine experts, and they rely upon a sign which is not mentioned by our rabbis, that it possesses [a body mark that looks like] the shape of the letter ח and these impressions require a fine eye to say whether they are kosher or not and Rashi testified that we are not experts.

What is notable about R. Munk's position here is that he generally finds the Yemenite tradition reliably trustworthy such that for example it may be relied upon as regards ethrogim (ad loc):

ולענ"ד גם אנחנו רשאים לסמוך על מסורת בני תימן

an in my humble opinion we are permitted to rely on the mesorah of the Yemenites

It would seem then that while R. Munk is generally comfortable relying upon a Yemenite mesorah, he desists where their mesorah introduces additional unique species identifiers otherwise unexpressed by rabbinic predecessors. It also seems that he thought that among the Yemenites he was familiar with there were not to be found those proficiently expert in its identification.

letter het illustration Zohar Amar

[Illustration of the form of the letter ח on thorax of kosher locust from Zohar Amar]

R. Zalman Nehemyah Goldberg takes the most severe approach in prohibiting Ashkenazim from consuming locusts, his position as cited in Shu"T be'Mareh ha-Bezeq is:

מפני שלאשכנזים ישנה מסורת לאסור. והגרז"נ גולדברג הוסיף שאין לאשכנזים לסמוך על מסורות אחרות על-פי תשו' הרא"ש (שורש כ סי' כ).

Ashkenazim are prohibited from consuming locusts because they have an active mesorah prohibiting its consumption, and that furthermore Ashkenazim may not rely upon the mesorah of others, as per the Rosh 20:2.

In other words, it is not just that Ashkenazim do not have a mesorah for locusts (a deficiency that could be remediated), it's that they have an active mesorah actively prohibiting its consumption, and that furthermore even were this not the case, based on the Rosh they would not be capable of receiving the mesorah from another community.

Ari Greenspan, Ari Zivotovsky and Yosef Zivotovsky discuss how in November/December of 2004 there were some swarms of locusts in Israel. They realized that they had a historic opportunity to organize the last living generation in active possession of a mesorah from Yemen and North Africa to pass it on to the larger community and for perpetuity. The authors note that such assemblies, of a public nature, were convened for example in Frankfurt am Main and Halberstadt in order to publicize the sparrow (דרור) as kosher. They record the following rabbis in participation and attendance: R. Yisrael Sharabi (Chief Rabbi of Petah Tiqwa), R. Aharon Badihi (Chief Rabbi of Ebhen Yehudah), R. 'Azaryah Basis (Chief Rabbi of Rosh ha-'Ayin), R. Hananel Sari, etc. They also note that:

הצלחנו להפתיע את באי הכנס באוסף מכתבים של פוסקים מכל הזרמים והעדות בדבר כשרות החגבים לאכילה על ידי האשכנזים ואלה שמות כמה מן הרבנים שנטו להתיר או התירו בפועל לאשכנזים לאכול חגבים שיש להם מסורת הרב יוסף קאפח זצ"ל הרב יוסף צובירי זצ"ל ויבדל"א הרב שלמה מחפוד הרב יצחק רצאבי שליט"א הרב יעקב אריאל שליט"א והרב עזרא בצרי שליט"א

We succeeded to amaze those assembled at the gathering with letters from Poseqim from all streams and communities regarding the permissibility of the consumption of locusts by Ashkenazim and these are the names of those that permit in actual practice Ashkenazim to consume them based on the mesorah of R. Yosef Qafih zs"l, R. Yosef Subiri zs"l, R. Shelomo Mahpoud, R. Yishaq Rasabi, R. Ya'aqov Ariel, R. Ezra Basri, etc.

While there are certainly detractors of the position, it would seem then that the tide may slowly be turning and that there is more overt/explicit articulation of the view that Ashkenazim may consume locusts in reliance of the Yemenite mesorah. I would however note that the only Ashkenazi individual (listed as) endorsing this view is R. Yaaqov Ariel (Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan, and while he is widely respected as a poseq in Religious-Zionist circles, it is unlikely that Ashkenazim outside those circles would find his stature to be sufficiently persuasive to shift the dial. It could however open the door to other Ashkenazim where there are natural intersections between the Ashkenazi Haredi world and the Religious Zionist world, eventually paving the way to wider dissemination of the mesorah. This remains to be seen.

The Ashkenazi rabbis that permit its consumption (such as R. Yaaqov Ariel mentioned above and R. Hershel Schachter as noted in the comments) apparently disagree with R. Goldberg that there is a mesorah of actively prohibiting Ashkenazi consumption. Rather they must maintain that Ashkenazim simply lacked a mesorah on its identity, and therefore it can be received from others.

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  • The Taz is also of the opinion that the mesorah must be on the name (according to the understanding of Pri Migadim)
    – Chatzkel
    Jul 14 at 19:09
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    youtube.com/watch?v=g9dN7tCFfew
    – Alex
    Jul 14 at 22:26
  • @Alex very cool! Although abundantly obvious from his behavior here and the talmid's gratitude for his pesaq, do you know if R. Schachter has written out his position? Also, I wonder if he received the mesorah from R. Mahpoud, since he mentions him. Jul 14 at 22:32
  • @Deuteronomy I haven’t seen anything, but it’s certainly possible.
    – Alex
    Jul 14 at 22:41

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