Since the arrival of the locust swarms this week, some religious Jews have been wandering in the south in search of a snack especially Yemenites, for whom this is traditional fare. But eating locusts has been controversial according to Jewish law for generations, and on Wednesday a prominent rabbi banned it.
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Unlike other natural disasters, the locust swarms have evoked online recipes of fried, spicy or skewered locusts. Obe site describes the insects as a popular snack, somewhat like popcorn in ancient times.
“Even these of them ye may eat: the locust after its kinds, and the bald locust after its kinds, and the cricket after its kinds, and the grasshopper after its kinds,” it says in Leviticus, 11:22. So, are the locusts that flew to Israel this week kosher or not?
Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. To be safe, some rabbis want to end this custom of locust munching. Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, son and apprentice of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Wednesday said in answer to a question, that it is not customary to eat any kind of locust today because “we are not familiar with their names and marks and have no clear tradition regarding it.
“Communities with a tradition of eating locusts allow it,” he continued, “but most of the people in Israel don’t and we cannot rely on the marks, even when it’s called locust.”
All halakhic (Jewish legal) literature deals with eating locusts, from the Mishnah (oral Jewish laws) through the Talmud, Rashi and Maimonides to the Jewish code of laws and is still controversial.
Halakhic rulers throughout the generations were concerned over the uncertainty that the biblical locust is indeed the flying insect that destroys crops.
There are marked external signs that the locust is kosher four legs, four wings, wings covering most of its body and two back legs to spring from.
The confusion stems from the requirement that the insect must also traditionally be known as “locust.” The medieval commentator Rashi writes that despite clear markings, “some have a long head and some have no tail, and should be called a locust, but we can’t tell the difference.”
The halakhic controversy over locust-eating began among European editors of the authoritative work of legal Judaism, Shulchan Aruch, in the 17th century. One commentator says it is customary not to eat locust “because we are not proficient in their names” while another says it is sufficient for the hunter to know the insect’s name and to have a tradition of eating it.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman Revach, from the Institute for the Study of Agricultural Torah Commandments in Israel, is outraged by Yosef’s statement that most people in Israel have no tradition of eating locusts and cannot rely on the marks, even if the insect goes by the name of locust. Revach says Yosef cannot rule on the issue without examining the specific creatures that landed in the south this week.
“I haven’t examined them myself yet, so I’m not writing about it,” Revach says. “Rabbi Yosef is Babylonian (Iraqi). The Babylonians didn’t eat locusts, but other communities did, the Yemenites and Moroccans, for example.
“We’ve allowed the desert locust common in Israel, which arrived in 2005, for consumption, because it’s traditionally called locust,” continues Revach. “As for the current ones I don’t know. Bring me two or three, I’ll tell you right away whether you can eat it or not.”
Revach says he hasn’t tasted locusts himself. “To this day I haven’t tasted locusts. It didn’t attract me,” he says. “I just don’t like many sorts of food.”