OU Mashgichim checking the gut cavities of sardines have, in the past few months, discovered what appears to be small, white, parasitic worms in and around the internal organs of some sardines (a separate issue from the krill in the stomach of some sardines from Canada). In the following Teshuva, Rav Belsky Shlita concludes that these are the same anisakis worms which Halachah permits as being דרני דכוורא. These worms have migrated from the flesh of the fish to its gut. Rav Belsky’s conclusion was scientifically borne out by scientists at New York City’s Museum of Natural History utilizing the latest technology of DNA bar-coding analysis using DNA Sequencing with Capillary Electrophoresis.

Worm-Infested Sardines

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Daf HaKashrus is a monthly publication of the OU (old archives are here: link). The following is from the latest issue, Vol. 19 no. 8 (Sivan 5771, June 2011), pp. 45-47, reprinted with permission:

OU Mashgichim checking the gut cavities of sardines have, in the past few months, discovered what appears to be small, white, parasitic worms in and around the internal organs of some sardines (a separate issue from the krill in the stomach of some sardines from Canada). In the following Teshuva, Rav Belsky Shlita concludes that these are the same anisakis worms which Halachah permits as being דרני דכוורא. These worms have migrated from the flesh of the fish to its gut. Rav Belsky’s conclusion was scientifically borne out by scientists at New York City’s Museum of Natural History utilizing the latest technology of DNA bar-coding analysis using DNA Sequencing with Capillary Electrophoresis.

אחרי אשר ביררנו בתשובה ארוכה שהתולעים הנמצאים בבשר הרבה מיני דגים הם המה אותם התולעים שהתירו חז”ל בפירוש והוקבעו להלכה ולמעשה בפוסקים ובשו”ע להיתר והם הנקראים דרני דכוורא (חולין ס”ז ע”ב) מיהו אח”כ פרצה הפתעה חדשה דבסרדינים הופיעו תולעים בחלל הבטן ואף בכיס הביצים, ונתעוררה שוב שאלה להלכה אם אותם הם בכלל המותרים (דרני דכוורא) או האסורים הנקראים קוקיאני בלשון הגמרא. והנה דבר זה הועלה על שולחן הבירור ההלכתי וגם בירור המציאותי. ואחרי עיון רב בדברי גדולי הפוסקים ובירור אחר בירור יצא לנו דגם אלה בכלל מה שכיוונו להם חז”ל באמרם (חולין ס”ז ע”ב) דדרני דכוורי שריין.

והנה הבאנו שם בתשובה דברי המהרא”י זצ”ל (מבעל תרומת הדשן) בהגהות שערי דורא (שערי דורא אות מ”ז) וז”ל – הכי נהוג שלא להקפיד לאכול דגים שיוצאין מגופן תולעים לבנים ורגילין לצאת מקצת ולחזור, ואנו קורין אותן שויברי”ן ולפעמים נמצאו במיעיהם אותן תולעי’ וכשנמצאים במיעיהם רגילים להשליכן איפשר משום דמאוסין עכ”ל. הרי, דאם מכירים את אלו התולעים ויודעים שהם דרני דכוורי, יכול להתירם אף כשנמצאים בתוך מיעיהם. ולפי טביעת עינינו, תולעים אלו הם בדיוק אותם תולעים שגם נמצאים בתוך בשר הדג, שגם הם דקים ארוכים ולבנים וכרוכים ב’ וג’ ביחד.

אולם עיין בספר בית אפרים חלק שלישי תשובה ט”ו וז”ל – ורק דקמאי דהוי בקיאי בהו הי מינייהו מורנא דגביל מיניה והי מינייהו קוקיאני דאתו מעלמא וקאזלי בתר חזותא, והאידנא דלית בקי ניחוש לכולהו דלמא לאו מיניה גבלי ואעפ”י שאא”ז בס”ק ל”ו כ”ז משמע דגם האידנא יכולים להוכיח מורנא הידוע להם בט”ע שעלול לינקב ולצאת היינו לענין הידוע שתולעים אלו יצאו מבפנים מבשר הריאה וכמבואר מדבריו דהיכא שנמצא תולע במקום הנקב ממש… עכ”ל.

מיהו עיין בספר שלחן גבוה יו”ד סי’ פ”ד ס”ק נ”א וז”ל – גם הנמצאים בשדרה של דג כבתוך הבשר דמי ושרי, ומה שנהגו להסיר אותם תולעים דקים לבנים וארוכים שנמצאים בשדרה של דג הנקרא קייפ’אל בלעז תחת בני מעים סמוך לטיבורו היינו משום מיאוס או משום דלאו כ”ע

דינא גמירי דשרי דאותן לא נכנסו לא דרך פיו ולא דרך חוטמו מפני שהם שנים שלשה כרוכים זה בזה עכ”ל. הרי להדיא דלא רק התולעים שבבשר נידונים כדרני דכוורי אלא אף התולעים המופיעים בחלל הבטן מחוץ לבני מעיים מותרים כיון שלא נשתכחו דרך בית הריעי ולא דרך האף. כיון שאין פתח מן החוץ לתוך חלל הדג כל מה שנמצא בתוך חלל הבטן חוץ לבני מעיים מותר כאילו הם בבשר עצמו. ודבר זה יש לדייק מלשון הרשב”א בתורת הבית הקצר (בית ג’ שער ג’) וז”ל תולעים הנמצאים במעי בהמה ואפילו בין עור לבשר אסורים, לפי שאין דבר שבבהמה מותר אלא בשחיטה וכו’ ואין צריך לומר הנמצאים במעיה שאותן מן החוץ הן באים ואסורין משום שרץ השורץ על הארץ, וכן הנמצאים במעי הדגים אע”פ שאינם נמצאים דרך בית הרעי, פעמים שהתולעים נכנסים דרך אזנו בשעה שהוא ישן, תולעים הנמצאים בדגים בין עור לבשר או בתוך הבשר מותרין שאלו באמת מבשרן נגדלו ולפיכך מותרים עכ”ל. ונראה להמעיין מלשונו הטהור של הרשב”א זצ”ל דרק מה שנמצא דרך האוזן או בית הרעי אסור ולא מה שנמצא תוך חלל הבטן.

ובכדי לברר דבר זה עד מקום שהיד מגעת חיפשנו למצוא הבקיאים היותר מובהקים לחשוף ולברר המציאות עד תכליתה. וב”ה שמצאנו בקיאים במעבדות של המוזיאון של היסטוריה טבעית (Museum of Natural History) בעיר נוא יארק והם קבלו על עצמם לעמוד על מציאות מה שלפנינו, והם טרחו ועמלו ע”י כלי מחקר היותר חזקים וחדשים בעולם כולל DNA bar-coding analysis using DNA Sequencing with Capillary Electrophoresis ומצאו שכל מה שלפנינו הם בדיוק אותם שהעידו עליהם הפוסקים שהם דרני דבשר הדג. ואף שבזמן בית אפרים לא היו בקיאים בהם ובשמותיהם האידנא שפיר יש בקיאים. ולכן הדרא דינא דהמהרא”י למקומו, דכל שמכירין את התולע ויודעים בבירור שהוא דרני דכוורי הרי הם מותרים אף כשנמצאים בבני מעים.

ישראל הלוי בעלסקי
כ”ה אדר ב’ תשע”א

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

32 comments

  1. ein ladayan ela mah sheinav root (or does readind dna sequencing count?)?
    KT

  2. It seems to me that R. Belsky’s reliance on the findings of scientific experts may be an important precedent. especially giving his declaration of the superiority of contemporary science over that of previous generations.

  3. where do you get whole sardines like that? the ones I buy always have the head and tail cut off (even the non-“skinless and boneless” ones have no head or tail).

  4. The gut is often not in canned sardines.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sardine

    Canned sardines

    An open sardine can
    Canned sardines in supermarkets may actually be “sprat” (such as the “brisling sardine”) or round herrings. Fish sizes vary by species. Good quality sardines should have the head and gills removed before packing.[5] They may also be eviscerated before packing (typically the larger varieties). If not, they should be purged of undigested or partially digested food or feces by holding the live fish in a tank long enough for them to empty their digestive systems.[5]

    From a manual on fish canning
    http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/003/T0007E/T0007E05.HTM
    4.1 Sardine and Sardine-like Fish

    Sardines are usually canned by one of two methods; the first is inferred to as the traditional Mediterranean method (so named because of its origin, although nowadays similar technology has been adopted elsewhere and is generally described as the “raw pack method” and the second is a method incorporating a hot smoking step, rather than in can pre-cooking. The latter method is commonly practised in Western European countries.

    4.1.2 Norwegian method

    The major difference between the Norwegian and Mediterranean methods of canned sardine manufacture is that with the former the fish are not eviscerated and are usually hot smoked, whereas the Mediterranean method includes evisceration and pre-cooking.

  5. “Rav Belsky Shlita concludes that these are the same anisakis worms which Halachah permits as being דרני דכוורא. These worms have migrated from the flesh of the fish to its gut. Rav Belsky’s conclusion was scientifically borne out by scientists at New York City’s Museum of Natural History utilizing the latest technology of DNA bar-coding analysis using DNA Sequencing with Capillary Electrophoresis”

    it seems to me rav belsky has two factual premises: (1) these are the same worms and (2) the worms migrate from the flesh to the gut. The DNA sequencing only confirms (1), but isn’t (2) the point of controversy re: what the reality actually is?

  6. I wish to second Emma’s point. I am very surprised at Rav Belsky’s apparent conclusion as to the point of origin of the anisakis worm in sardines. He is well aware that the migration is just the opposite, from worms ingested while feeding on smaller fish or crustaceans, i.e. the gut, to the flesh of the new host of the parasite. The basis of the heter, it seems to me, is that the anisakis only exists outside of another sea creature in the form of microscopic eggs or new larvae, i.e. it’s not in the category of sheretz hamayim – not that it’s “created” inside the salmon or sardine and then migrates to the gut of those fish. The argument that the anisakis is definitely what the gemara in Hulin calls the permissible durni is questionable – particularly if one attempts a general heter on this worm.

  7. Y. Aharon – Nu, so you think we should assur it? Because the argument you make has no basis in Shas and poskim and has no precedent. Your argument is purely science based and will not fly.

  8. My understanding is that the scientists concluded the migration was from the flesh to the stomach and not vice versa, but that’s just based on my recollection of casual conversations with the rabbis involved.

  9. Rafael Araujo, au contraire, I specifically mentioned a basis for a heter (not that I’m in a position to rule on a halachic matter). I objected merely to the claim that evidence for the presence of the anisakis worm makes it mutar wherever it’s found. That presumes a positive identification of this worm with the durni mentioned in Hulin. I don’t understand the basis for such a claim. Perhaps the gemara was matir a worm found in fresh-water fish – not the anisakis. The anisakis worm found in the gut of a fish would be much like the kukiyani worm that is assur in such a case – were it not for the scientific finding that this worm parasitizes a succession of various sea hosts from tiny crustaceans to smaller and larger fish. If its only form that doesn’t reside in a sea creature is microscopic, then it may not be classifiable as a sheretz hamayim.

    Gil, a reference to the relevant Wikipedia article will reveal the findings of the complicated life cycle of the anisakis worm. It definitely moves from the alimentary canal to the flesh since it enters the fish when it swallows an infected smaller fish or crustacean.

  10. i don’t understand how DNA sequencing could tell you about the lifecycle of the worm.

  11. Y. Aharon: I lack your confidence in Wikipedia.

    Emma: I guess if they find the same parasites at different stages of growth and development, they can tell where they grow.

  12. Gil,
    The image Y. Aharon is talking about is pasted into Wikipedia from the CDC. ISTM that the question is, when we ask where did the worms we find in the gut come from, how far back do we mean. Most immediately, they seem to have come from within the fish. Before that, however, they migrated to within the fish from the gut. So, what is the relevant point of reference.

  13. MDJ: All I’m saying is that I posed that same Wikipedia question to one of the rabbis involved and his response was, who are you going to believe Wikipedia or top scientists in the field? If you want more info, call the OU and ask for the fish guy.

  14. My point is, it’s not trusting wikipeida, it’s trusting the CDC. As for “the best guy in the field”. As a doctor who is always being asked by my (frum) relatives for “the top lung guy” or whatever, I have to say that the notion that there are “top guys” who know things that mere experts in the field don’t is pretty much nonsense. I will trust the CDC, whose job it is to understand infectious disease transmission, over “top people”. I will consider what the “top people” have to say only if they directly address the CDC info. Furthermore, far more likely that that the CDC and other experts disagree about something so basic as the worms lifecycle is that the OU “fish guy,” who is not as much an expert as either the CDC or his source, misunderstood his source or the diagram.

  15. “I posed that same Wikipedia question to one of the rabbis involved and his response was, who are you going to believe Wikipedia or top scientists in the field?”

    Pyrex

  16. I am singularly unimpressed with the flippant answer provided R’ Gil. I don’t know that the rabbi involved is aware of the status of the scientists consulted or has interpreted their words correctly. The information on the life cycle of the anisakis worm is widely known and is not dependent on some anonymous author of the wikipedia article. Nor is that article highlighted by an editorial caveat which would be the case if there was a disagreement among writers on this topic. Moreover, it is obvious that the worm enters the fish via an ingested infected smaller fish or crustacean. The dominant migration path is then from the gut to muscle tissue. Nor is it apparent that the aniskasis juvenile larvae that is ingested by its first host is microscopic. I note that the star K article on the subject claims that it is more than 0.4 mm long. Nor has evidence been provided that the anisakis is the durni worm that Hulin 67b permits in fish. Rashi, for one, understands that the durni is a worm that is found between the skin and flesh of a fish. The anisakis, in contrast, is found primarily in the gut and muscle tissue. I also note that the kukiani worm in this sugya is ruled assur based on some remote conjecture as to foreign origin, even when not found in the intestines – despite the view of Rav Ashi to the contrary. According to Tosafot, the host of the kukiani is a fish rather than an animal.

    Given the above, it should be incumbent on those who permit potentially infected fish to be eaten without inspection to offer supporting evidence. The fact that the Acharonim of prior generations permitted worms in the flesh or other parts of fish, may not be sufficient to override concerns about a torah prohibition against sheretz hamayim, now that we know that these worms aren’t native to the fish that we wish to consume.

    I, particularly, don’t understand the attitude that the worms found in the stomach of sardines aren’t a problem. If the manufacturer is not going to eviscerate the sardines before canning, then the worms could be in the gut, as well. The above gemara in Hulin would consider worms in the gut to be definitely foreign and assur. DNA evidence that these worms are the usual anisakis, should not be sufficient to overturn a conclusion of the gemara. If scientific evidence is to override all prior considerations, the it must be applied across the board, i.e., to the question of worm origin which is definitely from a source foreign to the fish consumed and ultimately to a tiny free-swimming worm.

  17. Classical teshuvos do not give the scientific background but if I happen to speak to Rav Belsky, I’ll let him know that it is now incumbent on him to give supporting evidence and not just name the scientific institute whose scientists he is relying on. That is evidently a new standard of halakhic correspondence to which he is now being held, at least from people unwilling to pick up the phone and call the people with the information. Really, you know the organization and their contact phone numbers are on the website. They have a rabbi dedicated to answering phone calls who will gladly answer whatever he can and direct you to subject matter experts.

    Unlike others here, even AFTER reading a Wikipedia article I still don’t claim to be an expert.

  18. Gil — The troubling flippant answer wasn’t yours, it was the involved Rabbi you asked. If that was the response you received, what do you think the answer will be when Ploni Almoni calls the OU on the phone?

    And, frankly, wouldn’t it be easier all around to ask them questions by e-mail and get written responses from an authorized expert?

  19. That’s what he meant? That rabbi is my buddy and probably just had bigger things on his mind. It didn’t bother me one bit.

    Writing something like that would be a big task because it would eventually show up on a blog and be dissected. You can speak more freely when it isn’t in writing and subject to unsympathetic interpretation.

  20. I don’t understand the last paragraph. What unsympathetic interpretation can there be of the factual analysis? People may disagree on how to interpret the factual analysis into psak, but that is their prerogative in any case.

    In my opinion, there is an unhealthy amount of opacity in the system which is bad for the OU, bad for its members and bad for Halachic Judaism. Sunlight is the best disinfectant….

  21. I think that’s a naive view.

  22. Perhaps, but in the absence of transparency, there is no logical reason to believe that OU Kosher is anything but a business that cares first and foremost about itself. I.e. the worst-case unsympathetic interpretation.

  23. True but the reward for additional transparency will be bigger problems and more headaches.

  24. Gil, your sarcastic non-answer to my questions is equally unimpressive. I raised issues from the gemara in Hulin and the basic commentaries, as well as the scientific aspects. My question on the factual basis of the statement made in the posted Daf Hakashrus article that the anisakis migrates from the flesh to the gut is based on the widely held view that the migration path is just the opposite. That specific issue needs to be addressed by the OU. A simplistic assertion that their experts know more than the writer of the Wikipedia article won’t do. Nor does the DNA evidence indicate anything other than the identity of the worm wherever it’s located – not its point of origin. Furthermore, the assumption made by those who permit anisakis infected fish that those worms are the permissible durni of Hulin 67b should require some support other than stating this was an assumption made by earlier poskim.

    Furthermore, the implication of the Daf Hakashrus article is that the OU certifies sardines that have not been eviscerated. Mention is made of the issue of undigested krill (a sheretz hamayim) in the digestive track of the fish, but no explanation of why that isn’t a problem. The posted photo also shows the entire sardine – including the head. Why would the OU certify fish known to harbor worms when even the digestive tract is not removed?

    As to Rav Yisroel Belsky, I have been a supporter of his stances as well as a former classmate. We have met on a few occasions at weddings, but not for over 20 years. If we do meet again, it will be of a social nature rather than an occasion to question him on the basis of his position on the anisakis issue. I agree with a previous commenter that his reliance on scientific data is commendable as is his assertion that we now know more about the world than prior generations. I just wish that he would carry out that viewpoint more consistently in this case.

  25. I’m surprised that they couldn’t help you when you called the OU. That hasn’t been my experience. Even though Rav Belsky is only there on Thursdays, Rabbis Polsky, Goldberg and Loike could certainly have spoken with you about this.

  26. R’ Gil, you apparently misunderstood a phrase of mine. I haven’t called the OU kashrut people, although I have some connection to Rav Belsky, Rabbi Luban, and Rabbi Safran. I may do so if this issue gets more heated. I’m puzzled at the excerpts cited from the current Daf Hakashrus and the t’shuvah of Rav Belsky on worms in sardines. He is, apparently, matir the worms found in the ‘bnei mei’ayim on the basis that they are the anisakis worm which has traditionally been permitted. However, the permissibility of the latter is based on the general language of the Shulchan Aruch (SA) regarding worms under the skin (or in the flesh). By the same token, worms found in the bnei mei’ayim are forbidden. How does one accept one undisputed halacha and disregard another? If scientific evidence on the identity of the anisakis wherever it’s found can overrule such halachot, then it can do so for the external origin of that worm. At the least, it seems to me, evidence would need to be presented that the early, free-swimming juvenile form of the worm is microscopic (in order to remove it from the category of sheretz hamayim).

  27. I note that Rabbi Adlerstein of Cross-Currents has posted essentially the same questions on the Daf Hakasrus article that I had raised here. He also stated that the issue of the journal with the article in question has not been officially released. I wonder if some editing is in progress. If not, then it is sure to raise controversy. It seems to me that some official response, preferably from Rav Belsky, would be in order.

  28. Thank you for pointing that out. I forwarded it to the relevant rabbi, who is currently out of the office. While they don’t usually respond to blogs, especially when they weren’t directly asked, I’m hoping they will make an exception this time.

    The issue of Daf HaKashrus has been released — I”ve received e-mails based on my mention in it — but that section of the OU website has not been updated in ages.

  29. Lawrence Kaplan

    I find Gil’s view that one should not write a serious article about a complex and controversial halakhic issue because it might be subject on blogs to an unsympathetic dissection to be puzzling. It seems that Gil hasn’t gotten over the mauling– justified in my view–meted out by bloggers on this blog to the — seriously flawed in my view– RCA/Bush paper on brain death.

  30. I think you just haven’t been following some of the less savory Orthodox blogs that regularly distort, dissect and twist anything that emanates from the Jewish establishment. This is what I wrote about regarding the airbrushing out of Hillary Clinton from the Osama picture.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: