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In Parshas Bereishis (Genesis 3:6), there's an interesting comment by Rashi.

The Torah says:

וַתֵּ֣רֶא הָֽאִשָּׁ֡ה כִּ֣י טוֹב֩ הָעֵ֨ץ לְמַאֲכָ֜ל וְכִ֧י תַֽאֲוָה־ה֣וּא לָעֵינַ֗יִם וְנֶחְמָ֤ד הָעֵץ֙ לְהַשְׂכִּ֔יל וַתִּקַּ֥ח מִפִּרְי֖וֹ וַתֹּאכַ֑ל וַתִּתֵּ֧ן גַּם־לְאִישָׁ֛הּ עִמָּ֖הּ וַיֹּאכַֽל׃

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.

Rashi's comment:

גם. לרבות כל בהמה וחיה

Also: To include all domesticated and wild animals.

The commentators on Rashi explain: Animals should not have been given mortality for the sin of Adam. What did they do wrong? The verse is teaching us that they themselves are also guilty for eating the fruit.

Rashi only mentions בהמות וחיות, domesticated and wild animals. The commentators explain that he didn't mention עופות, birds, because there's a bird that didn't eat the fruit, and is immortal. (See Rashi on Job 29:18, which says it's called חול; after 1000 years it burns up and returns to its youth. This seems to be a phoenix; thanks to @user15464 for the info).

The thing is, nobody discusses fish. If Rashi is specifically mentioning בהמות וחיות to exclude birds, it must also be to exclude fish. Why were fish punished with mortality?

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    Not all do biology.stackexchange.com/questions/20465/… – Double AA Oct 8 '15 at 15:50
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    The same way that the Phoenix didn’t eat, maybe the Leviathan is the odd one out of the fish? – DonielF Aug 20 '17 at 2:05
  • @robev If that were the case, fish aren’t mentioned for the same reason birds aren’t: not to say that he didn’t feed them, but to say that he didn’t feed all of them - to exclude the Phoenix among the birds and the Leviathan among the fish. – DonielF Aug 20 '17 at 3:06
  • Some jellyfish can live indefinitely. – The GRAPKE Oct 11 at 23:52
  • Maybe that's why leviasan could survive till mashiach – Shlomy Oct 16 at 18:43
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I couldn't find any commentators on the Midrash addressing this issue. So, instead, I will offer a deflection of the assumptions as my answer.

I will argue: Fish, along with plants and bugs, were never meant to be immortal. Their life cycles and death were a matter of nature, from the very day that they were created. Therefore, there was no point in feeding them from the Tree of Knowledge.

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@Yishai in a comment posted a link to an answer to this question, but it's been a long time and he hasn't made it an answer, so I'm summarizing the answer myself.

In Otzar HaYediyos, by Rav Yechiel Michel Stern, Rav of Ezras Torah, Volume 6, he writes two possible explanations.

  1. According to the Ramban, anything made of the four elements will decay automatically without a nishmas chaim, a soul of life. Fish don't have a nishmas chaim, so they were always meant to die, unlike land creatures
  2. The verse that describes the food of animals to be the plants on earth doesn't mention fish. It seems that before the sin of Adam animals were herbivores. Fish however were always meant to eat smaller fish, indicating they were always meant to be mortal.

Neither approach explains why fish are different, but does explain why they die. Although approach #2 doesn't explain why fish die naturally, only that they are able to be killed.

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(Recognizing the origins and purposes of midrashim are imperative when attempting to utilize them for p'shat or to gain insight into 'the real world'.)

Rashi on this verse is merely quoting the Midrash Rabba here (which, incidentally, has the words "ואת העופות", as does the Midrash Shemuel here). This, in turn, may have been the source for the quote in Rashi to Job too.

However, this legend is also recorded in the Second Alphabet of Ben Sira (pg. 29a, end) which has a slightly different, although noteworthy, reading:

...ונתנה גם לבעלה ואכל עמה קנאה בשאר הבריות והאכילתם לכל וראתה למלחם העוף ואמרה לו אכול מזה ממה שאכלו חבריך, אמר לה לא די לכם שחטאתם לשם יתברך וגרמתם לאחרים שימותו אלא באתם אלי שתשיאוני להפר צווי הקב״ה ואוכל ואמות איני שומע לך ואז הוכיחה לחוה ולכל הבריות...

Loosely translated:

She [Chavah] gave also to her husband [to eat]. She became jealous of the other beings and gave them all to eat. She saw the bird Malham and said to it "Eat from this which your fellows ate too." He replied, "Are you not satisfied by sinning against God and causing others to die that you come to me to persuade to disobey God's command that I may eat and die? I will not bow to your bidding." He then chastised Chavah and all the beings...

What we see is that this midrash has a couple of variations, as is typical of midrashim. Questions (or answers) about nature cannot be deduced from them.

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It seems from this Medrash that the fish were all destined to go into the mouth of the leviathan and not live forever from the time of the 6 days of creation, even before Adam sinned by eating the fruit. In turn the Leviathan would be slaughtered and eaten at the great feast of the Tzadikim in the in the final redemption.

Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer chapter 10:

רבי טרפון אומר: ממונה היה אותו הדג לבלוע את יונה מששת ימי בראשית, שנאמר (יונה ב, א): "וַיְמַן ה' דָּג גָּדוֹל לִבְלֹעַ אֶת יוֹנָה "אמר לו הדג ליונה: אין אתה יודע שבא יומי להאכל בפיו של לויתן? אמר לו יונה: הוליכני אצלו, אמר יונה ללויתן: בשבילך ירדתי לראות מקום מדורך שאני עתיד ליתן חבל בלשונך ולהעלותך ולזבוח אותך לסעודה הגדולה של צדיקים

That fish's destiny was fulfilled to swallow Yonah from the 6 days of creation,and once it had done its mission it was now time for it to die and become a meal to the Leviathan, just as every fish would eventually end up there as well when they achieved their missions, this is what it means בא יומי להאכל בפיו של לויתן - It's my day to be eaten, previous days other fish had their turns but my life was prolonged to swallow you, and the coming days it will be other fishes turns. So Yonah goes to the Leviathan and says you think you're so great? you're being fattened for the slaughter for the great meal of the righteous.

Even the biggest fish were supposed to be eaten by the Leviathan which was colossal in comparison to any fish, as it says Bava Basra 74a:

ההוא כוורא דאפקיה לרישיה מימא והוה ליה קרני וחקיק עליה אנא בריה קלה שבים והוינא תלת מאה פרסי ואזילנא לפומא דלויתן

That fish had written on its horns " I am but a minor creation in the sea 300 parasangs long and my destiny is to go in the mouth of the Leviathan."

Also in Bava Batra 74b its written:

תניא נמי הכי ירדן יוצא ממערת פמייס ומהלך בימה של סיבכי ובימה של טבריא ומתגלגל ויורד לים הגדול ומתגלגל ויורד עד שמגיע לפיו של לויתן שנאמר (איוב מ, כג)הן יעשוק נהר ולא יחפוז" - (פרת שמימיו פרים ורבים והוא נהר גדול עושקו וגוזלו מן הבריות בשתותו) "יבטח כי יגיח ירדן אל פיה" ‏

The Jordan river goes forth from the source in the cave of Pamias, it flows till the sea of Sivchee and it flows more till the see of Teveria the flows further into the great sea which in turn goes deeper and deeper (i.e further into the oceans) until it reaches to the mouth of the leviathan, This is what the verse in Iyov 40,23 means: "The Leviathan takes by force the waters of the Euphrates the massive river, He is secure when the river Jordan feeds (all the fish) into the mouth of the Leviathan."

The Malbim explains that posuk:

הוא הלויתן שנמצא במים וטורף שם כל חיות המים, "הן יעשק נהר", ראה נא שם נמצא בריאה שרוצה לעשוק את כל הנהר עם הבע"ח אשר בו, עצור בעדו "שלא יחפז" לעשק את הנהר, כי הלא "הוא בוטח שיגיח את כל הירדן אל פיהו" וישחית את כל חי הנמצא בו

He steals all the living beings from the river he won't hurry because he knows they will all end up in his mouth and he will consume every living being in that river.

The goal of the fruit from the tree of life was to be eaten by Adam, the fish in the sea were supposed to be eaten by the Livyoson but the purpose of the animals and the birds on land were originally to stay alive to serve Adam who would serve Hashem, and therefore the animals would live forever just like the Adam in order to serve him see Sanhedrin 59b:

תניא רבי שמעון בן מנסיא אומר, חבל על שמש גדול שאבד מן העולם, שאלמלא לא נתקלל נחש, כל אחד ואחד מישראל היו מזדמנין לו שני נחשים טובים, אחד משגרו לצפון ואחד משגרו לדרום להביא לו סנדלבונים טובים ואבנים טובות ומרגליות, ולא עוד אלא שמפשילין רצועה תחת זנבו ומוציא בה עפר לגנתו ולחורבתו

Woe for the biggest servant that we lost for had the snake not sinned, 2 good snakes were supposed to present themselves for each one of the Israelites one sent to the north and one to the south to bring him nice jewels etc.

So fish were never supposed to live forever as their Tachlis was to fatten up the Leviathan for the great feast.

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Fish weren't necessarily punished with death - the Maharil Diskin (I believe) answers a contradiction in midrashim about the phoenix: 1) It lives forever because it didn't eat from Chava 2) It lives forever because of Noach's bracha (Sanhedrin 108). What was the reason for both? The first one was immortality from a body perspective that one could technically live forever...but could be killed. Hence, Noach gives the second bracha to even be protected from forced death.

In short, fish don't necessarily deserve to die - they might live forever...if they weren't eaten.

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    I don't understand. If my gold fish died in the fish bowl, why did that happen – robev Oct 26 '17 at 12:42
  • Point taken - tzorech iyun for now, but I don't know too many fish in homes which died after a really long life...overfeeding or tank chemical imbalances are common in fish death. aboutfishonline.com/articles/reasons-your-fish-die.html – NJM Oct 26 '17 at 21:40

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