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Kosher Worms & Insects

 

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Although the Torah clearly prohibits the consumption of worms, or all other insects for that matter, there are, however, some interesting exceptions to the rule. The Torah’s prohibition on consuming insects applies only to those things that “live in the seas and in the streams”, “fly in the air” and “creep on the ground”.[1] So severe is the prohibition on eating any such creepy crawlers that often the consumption of a single insect is a concurrent violation of multiple prohibitions.[2] 

Among the insects which are permitted to be eaten are grasshoppers, which the Torah explicitly permits.[3] Nevertheless, one will rarely see grasshoppers on the menus of kosher restaurants since it is unclear which of the many species of grasshoppers are the ones which the Torah actually permitted. As such, a decision was made to ban the consumption of all grasshoppers in fear of possibly eating one of the forbidden species, many of which look nearly identical to the permitted ones.[4] There are certain communities, however, most notably Yemenite ones, where the consumption of certain species of grasshoppers is routine. 

There are also a number of circumstances in which the consumption of worms is permitted. For example, worms which are found within a fish are often permitted to be eaten along with the fish itself. There are generally two types of worms which can be found inside a fish – those in the flesh of the fish and those in the intestines. It is only the worms which are embedded in the flesh of the fish which are permitted.[5] Worms which are found in the intestinal tract, evidence of having been recently swallowed, remain prohibited.[6] For more on this issue, see here: link.

Similarly, one will often find worms in cheeses that are hard,[7] aged,[8] or otherwise prepared in a way that gives the cheese a very sharp taste. These worms are kosher and are permitted to be eaten as long as they remain embedded within the cheese. However, if they leap off or otherwise separate from the cheese, they are then forbidden to be eaten.[9] Some authorities even allow the consumption of worms which have separated from cheese as long as they have not gotten further than the plate or serving dish.[10] 

Additionally, it is permitted to eat a worm that grew in a fruit that had been detached from its source of growth and had never been exposed to the air. However, worms and other insects which grew in a fruit while it was still attached to the tree are forbidden to be eaten.[11] If one is in doubt whether a worm that is found in a fruit is of the permitted or forbidden species, the fruit may not be eaten.[12] 

It is permitted to grind stalks of wheat which are found to be wormy as long as the flour will be properly sifted following the grinding.[13] It is also permitted to eat burnt or pulverized worms, insects, and other non-kosher products when there is a medical benefit in doing so.[14] Honey is a kosher product even though it is the by-product of non-kosher insects.[15]

Another exception to the prohibition on consuming insects applies to certain aquatic species. As mentioned, insects are only prohibited if they grew in seas, rivers, or lakes. Worms and insects that grew in water originating in containers or cisterns are permitted to be consumed when swallowed in the course of drinking directly from such sources.[16] For example, one who is forced to drink water directly from a well would be permitted to do so without having to first check the water for any bugs. On the other hand, one who transfers well water into a cup would be required to first check the water before drinking it as any bugs which might be present would no longer be in their natural source, and are therefore forbidden accordingly.[17] In the olden days unpasteurized vinegar would often breed certain bugs which were permitted to be consumed along with the vinegar.[18] Such vinegar is no longer on the market today.

It is interesting to note that the Torah only prohibits insects which are visible to the naked eye.[19] Insects which are only visible through a microscope are permitted to be consumed in the normal course of eating.[20] So too, insects that have fully withered and dried are often permitted, as well. Even when worms and bugs are technically permitted, it is commendable to make the effort not to consume them due to the concern of “baal teshaktzu”, the prohibition to engage in anything which might be considered disgusting.[21] Indeed, even worms that are technically permitted to be eaten should be avoided as they are said to cause both spiritual and physical harm.[22] 

Some time ago a controversy erupted in New York City concerning bugs which were repeatedly found in the public water supply. As a result, a number of halachic authorities ruled that the New York City drinking water must be filtered prior to consumption. Other authorities insisted that this was not required as the bugs were not visible to the naked eye and therefore permitted. It was also suggested that the municipal water supply chain is halachically identical to a cistern in which case there would be no prohibition on consuming such bugs. According to the latter approach, however, the water would only be permitted when drunk directly from the faucet – certainly an unrealistic arrangement for a household that regularly drinks tap water. [23] 


[1] Vayikra 11

[2] Makkot 16b

[3] Vayikra 11:22

[4] Taz Y.D. 85:1

[5] Y.D. 84:16

[6] Chullin 67b

[7] Taz;Y.D. 89:4

[8] Aged cheese is loosely defined as being aged six months or more. Shach Y.D. 89:15

[9] Y.D. 84:14, Rema Y.D. 84:16

[10] Shach Y.D. 84:46

[11] Y.D. 84:6

[12] Y.D. 84:7

[13] Y.D. 84:14

[14] Y.D. 84:17

[15] Y.D. 81:8

[16] Y.D. 84:1

[17] Rema Y.D. 84:1. For more on bugs and water see: Darkei Teshuva 84:9,28

[18] Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 84:36, Binat Adam;Klal 38:49, Tuv Taam V’daat;Kuntres Acharon 53

[19] Y.D. 84:4

[20] Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 84:36, Igrot Moshe Y.D. 2:146

[21] Avoda Zara 68b

[22] Shabbat 90a

[23] For more on the New York Cite water supply controversy see: The Laws Of Pesach (Rabbi Blumenkrantz) Chapter 29

 
 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

28 Responses

  1. HAGTBG says:

    In an age where the search for bugs has become a fetish. Where we sell light boards (such as our ancestors used) and restaurants are forced to hire full time mashgichim just to clean vegetables. Where the chief rabbi of Israel had to bar “certified” lettuce because they put so much pesticide in it that its actually harmful to humans he contended. Where that lettuce is probably being sold anyway. Where the only lettuce you can generally hope to see in all but the fanciest restaurants in the US are iceberg because it, nutritionally dead as it is, is the only one cost-effective for kosher restaurants to sell. Where rabbis have tried (sometimes successfully) to prohibit fish, strawberries, raspberries, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, broccoli, artichokes etc. this article noting “even worms that are technically permitted to be eaten should be avoided as they are said to cause both spiritual and physical harm[22]” is exactly what we need.

    Bugs are everywhere. In every food product you eat. It is unavoidable. Do you eat anything from a can? Congratulations you eat bug parts. The USDA allows it. The OU must clearly allow it. Where was that discussion?

    Similarly, one will often find worms in cheeses that are hard,[7] aged,[8] or otherwise prepared in a way that gives the cheese a very sharp taste. These worms are kosher and are permitted to be eaten as long as they remain embedded within the cheese. However, if they leap off or otherwise separate from the cheese, they are then forbidden to be eaten.[9]

    I do not believe historical responsa is an adequate source as to what one will “often” find in modern cheeses, including artisinal ones.

    Second, these are larva. Not worms. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casu_marzu This cheese is an exception to my contention above that most modern cheeses are not crawling with bugs.

    According to the latter approach, however, the water would only be permitted when drunk directly from the faucet – certainly an unrealistic arrangement for a household that regularly drinks tap water. [23]

    Are you making a contention here that these are the only two options? Filter or only water directly from the tap? I suggest there are more opinions then that.

  2. Ari Enkin says:

    Thank you for your feedback.

    I have no position on the tap water issue. I was just reporting what I heard. I assume most people use the water as normal without any such precautions.

    Ari Enkin

  3. Superintendant Chalmers says:

    Which authorities are lenient on the NYC water because the bugs are not visible? I find this hard to believe because I myself have seen them with my naked eye, and they certainly are visible.

  4. Y says:

    The general issue raised by HAGTBG — that bug-checking is treated a a “fetish” — is worth considering, and would be a worthwhile topic for a future post on this site. Correct me if I am wrong, but detailed requirements for checking vegetables are a 20th century phenomenon.

    1. If less stringency in bug-checking was good enough for the gedolim of previous generations, then why isn’t it good enough for us now?

    2. Is there a difference between the charedi and modern/centrist orthodox approaches to bug-checking (as with tzniut, illustrated by R’ Henkin’s book Understanding Tzniut)? If not, should modern/centrist Orthodox authorities develop a competing approach?

    3. Is there a good reason why halacha should become more strict with time, or does such a trajectory threaten the legitimacy and success of Orthodoxy?

  5. Y.Aharon says:

    While this post appears to be halachically correct, I would add another caveat to the ‘ba-al tishaktzu’ issur that may be engendered in eating visible worms of any sort. The rationale for eating worms in the flesh of fish, or in cheese, or in stored fruit/vegetables is that they were presumed to have been native to those food items, i.e. they were neither formed in the sea, on land, or derived from flying insects – the torah’s stated categories of forbidden sheratzim. If those suppositions are untrue, then there remains little rationale for deviating from the torah’s prohibitions against consuming worms. Now, we know that worms don’t arise from the food matter in which they find themselves. They result from eggs layed in the cheese or in stored fruit by forbidden insects, or worms swallowed by the fish. Why should the Shulchan Aruch be followed on this matter any more than its pesak on when bein hashemashot starts (the Mechaber and Rema follow Rabbenu Tam’s assumption of a 2nd sunset)? Both are based on an unaccepted rationale. The difference, I imagine is that outstanding later authorities (the Gra and R’ Shneur Zalman) have decried the pesak on the start of bein hashemashot and insisted on ceasing melacha prior to actual visible sunset. No one of such stature, to my knowledge, has insisted on not eating the traditionally acceptable worms. Perhaps the issue is not much relevant in modern times when visible worms are uncommon in food (I’d rather not rehash the anisakis controversy).

  6. H says:

    If not, should modern/centrist Orthodox authorities develop a competing approach?

    See Rav Henkin’s son’s book here:
    http://www.michtavim.com/EitamHenkin5770.pdf

  7. Shlomo says:

    Do you eat anything from a can? Congratulations you eat bug parts. The USDA allows it. The OU must clearly allow it.

    That is explicitly allowed by halacha. Bug parts are batel beshishim like any other non-kosher food in miniscule proportions. However, whole bugs are NOT batel – that is the law of “briyah” – so they must be checked for.

    On the “lenient” side, though, it is worth noting that the law of “briyah” is only derabanan. On a deoraita level, a small whole animal mixed into your food is still batel. So if you eat a fig without checking it, that is only an issur derabanan. If you eat a piece of lettuce without checking, it may still be deoraita, depending on whether bugs on the surface of the leaf are considered to be “mixed in” or not. The difference between deoraita and derabanan is quite relevant in cases of safek, eating at another person’s house, etc.

  8. HAGTBG says:

    On a deoraita level, a small whole animal mixed into your food is still batel. So if you eat a fig without checking it, that is only an issur derabanan. If you eat a piece of lettuce without checking, it may still be deoraita, depending on whether bugs on the surface of the leaf are considered to be “mixed in” or not.

    According to the above referenced shiur, checking on any food item that does not have a 50% infestation rate is rabbinic. There is basically no standard food product with a 50% infestation rate – including lettuce – unless you adopt a very, very large standard as to the overall quantity (e.g. 1 bug in two truckloads of lettuce being deemed a “50%” infestation rate).

    There is no vegetable that I have ever used with a 50% rate so I do not know of any deoraita circumstance that would arise in a person’s home.

  9. Shlomo says:

    According to the above referenced shiur, checking on any food item that does not have a 50% infestation rate is rabbinic.

    Yes, that’s also true, but I’m not sure everyone agrees with you about the metziut (frequency of infestation)

  10. HAGTBG says:

    Yes, that’s also true, but I’m not sure everyone agrees with you about the metziut (frequency of infestation)

    Maybe they are able to see bugs that I do not. I have only found bugs once or twice in preparing them and I have prepared vegetables somewhat more then 2-4 times.

  11. IH says:

    I personally make a salad from unpackaged heads of romaine lettuce just about every day. I have yet to see a whole bug that doesn’t get washed away with a quick rinse under the tap – which one would want to do anyway even if not checking for bugs. And even those are exceedingly rare.

    I have never found any type of whole bug in an head of broccoli, nor in asparagus, nor brussels sprouts nor cauliflower – all vegetables I regularly buy unpackaged in Fairway or a green-grocer. Of course, I rinse them all under the tap in any case.

    If there is anything that is deserving of closer attention in the sphere of Kashrut, it is the factory slaughter and processing of meat.

  12. Shlomo says:

    In my limited experience with lettuce (I don’t like the taste), I find a bug in something like one-third of the heads, and if I find one, I usually fine others in the same head.

    If you are not finding bugs, it could be because they aren’t there, or else because you don’t look carefully or don’t know what to look for…

  13. HAGTBG says:

    What kind of bugs are you finding Shlomo?

  14. IH says:

    Shlomo — you mean like the aphids in the video here: http://star-k.org/cons-vegdetail.php?ID=52? I’ve never seen these in a fresh Romaine lettuce I’ve bought in a reputable green grocer. Of course, I would never buy a lettuce that looks like the one filmed here (the one on the bottom left) irrespective of any bug issue.

  15. Shlomo says:

    Generally I find black bugs. Small, but not the sort that people would colloquially call “microscopic”. They don’t move.

    I live in Israel, maybe things are different in the US.

  16. IH says:

    Do they rinse off in the sink with the tap at full force?

  17. Hirhurim says:

    I’ve found small black bugs also but they rinse off with water.

  18. Shlomo says:

    If I recall correctly, they rinse off, but perhaps not if they are in crevasses.

  19. Shlomo says:

    By the way, my sister, who eats much more lettuce than me, also finds bugs frequently in lettuce, and says there is not much difference between normal and “bug free” in this regard. However, she does not find bugs in parsley and similar herbs, though they are commonly regarded as highly infested.

    In Israel we are expected to check rice, legumes, and flour as well. My experience, confirmed by word on the street, is that you never ever find bugs in these foods. Yet the most lenient psak I have ever seen in this regard is that beshaat hadchek you can suffice by checking only a sample.

  20. emma says:

    “I have never found any type of whole bug in an head of broccoli”

    I have. I don’t buy organic broccoli for that reason. I have seen insects in conventional broccoli too, though fewer in recent years than previously, and never particularly common.

  21. If it is not too much trouble, would someone who has “The Laws Of Pesach” Rabbi Blumenkrantz Chapter 29_ be able to scan that section of the book in and upload it?

    Many thanks,

    Rael

  22. I found 1 confirmed alive and 2 seemingly dead bugs in a head of broccoli I washed and checked today. The live bug was actually walking around on the plate of unwashed broccoli as I was moving through the florets in handfuls. The 2 dead “bugs” looked very similar to the live one, but were found floating in my white colored washing/agitating bowl. I could see the legs etc of the live one, but not of the supposed dead ones. After each occasion of finding a dead bug, I didn’t find any more after another wash/agitation.

  23. Synapse says:

    Shlomo,

    Just to say that the other day I did find a bug in a bundle of cilantro that looked like it had been there for a while (was dead), but the vast majority of times they’ve been bug free.

  24. TheWonderingJew says:

    Would eating the bugs found in cheese (which Ramah 84:16 allows) make one milchig, i.e. could he, in theory, eat the bugs with meat?

  25. [...] Some claim that a strict approach to fruits and vegetables is urgently needed because “the bugs we have did not exist in Europe” and “the pesticides and farming methods of today attract more bugs than in days gone by” and the like. This may or may not be true. However, it is quite possible that our European ancestors, who would literally celebrate the arrival of any vitamin and nutrient-filled fruit or vegetable to their village (hence the custom to recite “shehecheyanu” on a new fruit), didn’t even wash their fruits and vegetables before eating them. Did they have running water? Would they have used their precious and limited well-drawn water to wash their vegetables? And if they did, would it have been in a manner that even remotely resembles the extent that Rav Vaye holds that the halacha demands? Does anyone realize that this precious well-drawn water was likely more infested with bugs than the vegetables themselves would have been? (See here: link) [...]

 
 

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