NOSH AND FOOD:Wild and woolly kosher fare

“All winged swarming things that walk on fours shall be an abomination for you. But these you may eat among all the winged swarming things that walk on fours … locusts of every variety; all varieties of bald locust; crickets of every variety; and all varieties of grasshopper.” (Leviticus 11:20-22)

Grasshoppers anyone?

There it is, chapter and verse, although you can find lots of disagreement on the Internet. In fact, one reply on the Star-K kashrut site, says, “The Torah states that certain types of grasshoppers are kosher. However, we no longer have the ability to identify which type is kosher. Therefore, we refrain from eating all grasshoppers.”

Others say some Yemeni and Moroccan Jewish communities have a “continuous tradition” (mesorah) of eating such creatures — and they know which are OK and which are not.

Two Jews, three opinions. Nonetheless, I don’t think I saw grasshopper on the menu in Morocco. In fact, the last time I sampled such fare was on a dare in college. Somebody had sent a box of chocolate-covered grasshoppers to a friend. They weren’t half-bad, though I must admit I didn’t check the kashrut seal at the time and I never repeated the experience. However, my husband enjoyed fried locusts while he was serving in the Peace Corps in Tanzania. “The texture was like Rice Krispies and the taste was a little bit nutty, like pecans,” he said.

Apart from locusts, nutty foods of all varieties abound, and at least some Jews have permission to eat them. (Check with your rabbi.) According to the Orthodox Union, which certifies more than 660,000 products as kosher (www.oukosher.org), addax, antelope, bison, cow, deer, gazelle, giraffe, goat, ibex and sheep are among the kosher meats, biblically speaking. In the United States, mainstream kosher organizations accept only such fowl as chicken, turkey, duck and goose.

Addax? I don’t eat any creature that sends me to the dictionary, but if you’re curious, it’s “a large light-colored antelope,” or, according to the www.ou.org site, “a larger antelope with impressive, long, spiraling shofars.”

Giraffe? While it is a kosher species — it has cloven hooves and chews its cud — and finding a spot on its neck to render it kosher would not foil a well-trained shochet, you’re not going to find it at a Bay Area meat market or even through an Internet source. I checked.

“So why don’t we eat giraffes? Because we no longer have a continuous tradition of eating this species, and we may not introduce any animals that we do not have a distinct tradition, even if they possess all the kosher signs,” writes the Aish HaTorah rabbi (www.aish.com).

“There is an additional, practical reason for not eating giraffes,” he continues. “It is estimated to cost the exorbitant price of $100 per pound. …

“But don’t worry. When Moshiach comes and re-establishes the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, this issue will be resolved. Then we could all go out for 15-foot giraffe deli sandwiches. I can hear it now: ‘Pass the mustard and the ladder, please!'”

While kosher giraffe has yet to make it to American dinner tables, many exotic products are available. You can find bison, deer and kosher caviar (from salmon or white fish, not sturgeon). In fact, you can even find foie gras from Strasbourg, France, at www.markys.com, which should not make the animal rights activists happy. A 5-ounce block will set you back $50.

That’s often the story with delicacies, kosher and otherwise. They’re not easy to come by and they’re expensive. You can’t find bison and deer in the refrigerator cases of local kosher butchers — and we know what halachah has to say about hunting. Jackie Mason reportedly said, “Jews don’t hunt. They shop. That way they don’t have to hang their leftovers on the wall.”

Joking aside, you can find kosher bison and deer online. A 5-pound bison flanken, for London broil or cholent, costs $49.99 at www.kosherbison.com, where bison products carry OU certification. A 6-pound brisket is $92.99, and five pounds of bison burgers are $53.99, plus shipping. Other Web sites for kosher bison include www.mercola.com/forms/bison.htm and www.Blackwing.com.

But if you’re hankering for venison, Musicon farm in Goshen, N.Y. (www.koshervenison.com) carries OU certification and will ship via UPS Next Day Frozen. The minimum meat delivery order is $50, plus an additional $2 per pound for frozen, plus the delivery charge. So if you purchased a whole carcass at $9 a pound (average carcass 52 pounds), and had it frozen and shipped … you do the math.

Wanting to do an in-depth probe of kashrut, a couple of yeshiva students went to Israel to study the principles a couple of decades ago. They wound up putting on an unusual banquet — grasshoppers, game birds and all, and it was all kosher, at least according to some sources. The amusing story by Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky and

Dr. Ari Greenspan, originally written for the New York Jewish Observer, is online at www.star-k.com/cons-keep-basics-birds.htm.

Why are so few birds considered kosher today, even though 24 traditionally have that designation? In one word, “Tradition!” write Zivotofsky and Greenspan. “The only birds that are treated as kosher are those for which a reliable tradition exists that in the previous generation it was treated as kosher.”

Determined to dine on pheasant — which, biblically speaking, is kosher — they found out that a Yemeni rabbi could attest to the kashrut of the bird, but they had to visit him with two live pheasants that he could slaughter personally. That accomplished, they investigated the Guinea fowl, carrying two in cages from rabbi to rabbi all over Jerusalem. When one rabbi opened the cage to inspect, one of the birds bolted. Finally, an old Algerian schochet recognized the bird and attested to its kashrut, having slaughtered one some 50 years before.

With the birds all rounded up, Moshe Basson, the noted chef-owner of Eucalyptus in Jerusalem, prepared the menu: “chicken, turkey, duck, goose, muscovy duck, mallard, pigeon, dove, pheasant, partridge, quail, guinea fowl, sparrow, cow udder, lamb, bison, water buffalo and deer.” And for dessert? Roasted and boiled kosher grasshoppers, Yemeni style.

Of course, Ashkenazi participants debated among themselves whether the grasshoppers (chagavim) that a rabbi from another community considered kosher were in fact kosher according to their own rabbinic standards. Some said yes, others no. Decades later, Star-K offers its own disclaimer: “Rabbinic authorities have not investigated the halachic correctness of information presented in this article.”

Nor have they investigated this one. So if somebody brings a plate of grasshoppers to your next synagogue potluck claiming they are kosher, you’re on your own.

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent is a retired former senior editor at J. She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at ghentwriter@gmail.com.