45

The sea sponge is scientifically classified as an animal (kingdom Animalia), therefore maybe it would be considered unkosher, as seafood. On the other hand, its phylum Porifera is distinct and primitive, containing the only non-microscopic animals with no tissues, organs, or nervous system. In the last regard it is similar to plants, which have no nervous system (although they do have tissues) so perhaps they are kosher? However a sponge cannot be plant because it's not a producer (no chlorophyll, no photosynthesis) which is the sine qua non of the plant kingdom.

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
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    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
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    You should just eat lulavim instead. Because with fronds like these, who needs anemones? :) – Alex Nov 5 '10 at 15:01
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    Can one eat a Venus Fly Trap (before it eats you?) – Yehoshua Mar 7 '13 at 20:06
30

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
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    Can they be Tevel if in Israeli water? – Double AA Jul 29 '13 at 18:51
11

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.

On the other hand, the Arizal (Shulchan Aruch HaArizal, Orach Chaim 167:14) and R. Yaakov Emden (Zoharei Yaavetz, p. 36) write that a sponge is intermediate between inanimate matter (domem) and plant (tzomeach). If so, it should be kosher.

Support for the idea that a sponge is considered a domem can be found in the Raavad (Hil. Tumat Met 20:5). The Rambam rules that the rule of absorbed tumah (tumah beluah) applies only to a living creature. The Raavad asks on this ruling from the Mishnah (Keilim 9:4) which states:

ספוג שבלע משקין טמאין ונגוב מבחוץ, ונפל לאויר התנור, טמא, שסוף משקה לצאת.

A sponge which absorbed impure liquids, [even if it] is dry on the outside, and fell into an oven, [the oven is] impure, because the liquids will emerge.

According to the Raavad, from the fact that this Mishnah needed to invoke the reason that the liquid will emerge from the sponge, we see that otherwise it would have been tahor. This must be because the rule of tumah beluah applies even to a non-living creature. This proves that the Raavad considers a sponge to be a non-living creature.

Note that the Yerushalmi cited by @Alex which states that one who removes a sponge from the water on Shabbat violates the prohibition of kotzer does not prove that the Yerushalmi considers a sponge to be a plant--because the Yerushalmi (ibid.) is of the opinion that one also violates kotzer for removing a fish from water (רבנן דקיסרין אמרין הדן דצייד כוורא וכל דבר שאתה מבדילו מחיותו חייב משום קוצר). Obviously, the Yerushalmi maintains that one can violate kotzer even with regard to an animal.

  • 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
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    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
1

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

Gelatin, Kosher

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)).

Brushes, Made of Pigs' Hair

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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 '16 at 20:38
  • @mevaqesh Done (I hope) – hazoriz Jan 18 '16 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 '16 at 5:30
  • @DoubleAA But that is not the question? – hazoriz Jan 18 '16 at 5:31
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    -1 - sponges can be edible. Ask Google are sea sponges edible and get answers like this – Danny Schoemann Jan 31 '16 at 14:03
0

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.

-1

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.

  • 1
    What is at issue is whether it's considered a "living creature" or not. – Isaac Moses Feb 2 '16 at 16:51
  • @IsaacMoses or a plant – Shmuel Brin Feb 12 '16 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 '16 at 12:54

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