Rabbi Shlomo Brady writes:

Rabbi Haim ben Yisrael Benvenisti penned the first ruling on the ‘fish with the sword,’ writing that Jews eat the fish, despite the fact that it does not have scales once it has landed, since ‘when it comes out of the water, due to its anger, it shakes and the scales are thrown off’

Q All my teachers tell me that swordfish is not kosher, but my grandfather insists that his family ate it when he was a kid. Can you explain this?

– S.F., Tel Aviv

A I first heard about the controversy over the kashrut of swordfish as a college student, when a local Orthodox rabbi told me that the Conservative movement might be correct that it should be kosher. I forgot about the remark, since I was never a big fish consumer (I only started eating tuna a few years ago). Yet a recently acquired taste for fish (aliya will do that to you), plus a fascinating article by Ari Zivotofsky of Bar-Ilan University (B.D.D. 19), from which this column will heavily draw, has resparked my interest.

While the Torah specifies that kosher fish require both scales and fins (Leviticus 11:9-10), an ancient tradition codified by Halacha asserts that all fish with scales necessarily have fins (Nida 51b, YD 83:3). As such, much halachic literature focused on defining halachic scales, a complex project since these coverings vary greatly in different fish. Among other criteria, kosher fish must contain scales attached to their body which can be peeled without damaging the fish’s skin (Rama YD 83:1). Scales that shed when fish mature or leave the water, or alternatively, that develop only later in life, were also deemed acceptable.

Nonetheless, it remains difficult to identify which fish possess the biological traits that match these halachic criteria. For starters, there are myriads of fish which must be carefully examined by competent authorities.

About Luke Ford

Raised a Seventh-Day Adventist at Avondale College in Australia, Luke Ford moved to California in 1977. He graduated from Placer High School in 1984, reported the news at KAHI/KHYL radio for three years, attended Sierra College and UCLA, was largely bedridden by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for six years, and converted to Judaism in 1993. From 1997-2007, Luke made his living from blogging. Living by Beverly Hills (, he now teaches the Alexander Technique (moving the way the body likes to move). Lessons cost $100 each and last about 45 minutes. In 2011, Luke completed a three-year teaching course at the Alexander Training Institute of Los Angeles. His personal Alexander Technique website is Luke is the author of five books, including: » The Producers: Profiles in Frustration » Yesterday’s News Tomorrow: Inside American Jewish Journalism
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