In earlier articles in JHOM, we discussed how the rabbis recognized the importance of diet in the preservation of health. The following talmudic passages relate to the benefits of a fish diet.

"He who makes it a habit to eat small fish will not suffer with indigestion; more than that, small fish make a man's whole body fruitful and strong."[1] Apparently, however it does not hold good of fish which had been preserved in salt, for it is said: "A small salted fish sometimes kills on the seventh, the seventeenth, and twenty-seventh day of the month, and some say the twenty-third. This applies only to the case where it has been roasted, but not roasted thoroughly; but if it has been well roasted, there is no objection. And when it has been well roasted, it only applies to the case where one does not drink beer after it; but if he drinks beer after it, there is no objection."[2]

The Torah enumerates various ways of distinguishing between permitted and unclean fish: only fish with both fins and scales are permissible; all others — including shark, swordfish, monkfish, rockfish, skate, and eel, are forbidden. This division corresponds to a large extent to the biological classification into bony and cartilaginous fish, the latter being prohibited according to Jewish law. Many fish may be classified, biologically speaking, halfway between the two categories, and became the subject of controversy between different schools of thought for generations — foe example, sturgeon, which has tiny scales that do not overlap on its tail.

Otherwise, fish is an easy option because it is considered parve, i.e., it may be eaten in a meal with either meat or dairy foods. When eaten at a same meal at which meat is eaten, traditional Jews generally serve fish on a separate plate, and some people eat something hard like bread and drink something in between the fish and the meat. Unlike meat, fish does not need to be ritually slaughtered or salted.


[1] Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 40a [back]
[2] Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 44b [back]

related Based partly on Everyman's Talmud by Abraham Cohen. Schocken Books, 1995.

FISH Table of Contents



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