Are Poisonous Fish Kosher?

Es zeh toch’lu mi’kol asher ba’mayim kol asher lo snapir v’kaskeses tocheilu (Devarim 14:9)

For a fish to be kosher, the Torah requires that it have fins and scales. The Mishnah (Niddah 6:9) teaches that every fish with scales has fins, but some possess fins without scales. In light of this, the Gemara (Chullin 66b) questions why the Torah gives two requirements to determine a fish’s kashrus. Wouldn’t it have sufficed to make it solely dependent on scales, which are always accompanied by fins? The Gemara cryptically answers that the Torah did so l’hagdil Torah u’l’haadirah — to make the Torah great and mighty. How is this perplexing statement to be understood?

The Zayis Raanan (the commentary of the Magen Avraham on the Yalkut Shimoni) brilliantly elucidates the Gemara’s answer. In his notes on the Rosh’s commentary in Chullin, the Maadanei Yom Tov (3:67 s.k. 5) relates a fascinating episode. Rav Aharon HaRofei brought before him a poisonous marine animal, known in Latin as stinkus marinus, which clearly possessed scales. In contradiction to the Mishnah’s claim, it had four small legs in lieu of fins.

The Zayis Raanan suggests that Chazal were aware of this creature’s existence. They also recognized that independent of the laws of kashrus, people would instinctively avoid eating this poisonous animal. They therefore weren’t concerned that their categorical statement, which seems to permit its consumption, would lead to any practical problems.

The Gemara in Makkos (23b) teaches that because Hashem wanted to give us merits, He increased the number of mitzvos for us to perform, as the verse says “Hashem chafetz l’maan tzidko yagdil Torah v’yaadir” — the same expression used by the Gemara with which we began. Rashi explains that there are many mitzvos, such as the prohibition against eating bugs, which a person would observe independent of the commandment involved. Because Hashem wanted us to accrue additional merits, He forbade them so that we would receive reward for actions which we would perform regardless, but which now have the status of mitzvos.

With this introduction, we can understand the Gemara with which we began. The Gemara questioned why the Torah mentions fins as a requirement for kosher fish when it would have sufficed to mention only scales. However, had the Torah done so, the stinkus marinus would technically be kosher, as it possesses scales. The additional requirement of fins comes to render this animal forbidden.

This is difficult to understand, as this creature is poisonous and people would anyway avoid it. Why was it necessary to add the requirement of fins to exclude it? Based on Rashi’s explanation that Hashem made the Torah great with extra mitzvos to give us reward for what we would have done regardless, we may suggest that this is the intention of the Gemara in Chullin in quoting the same verse. Hashem made the Torah great by adding the requirement of fins to render the stinkus marinus non-kosher and give us reward for following our natural instincts to avoid it!

Parashah Q & A

Q: Why does the Torah repeat (13:1) the prohibition against adding to or subtracting from the commandments, which was already taught in Parashas Va’eschanan (4:2)?

Q: The Torah prohibits (14:1) various forms of mourning the death of loved ones. Why is the mourning period for the more natural and frequent loss of a parent longer (12 months) than that for the unnatural and seemingly more traumatic loss of a child (30 days)?

A: The Vilna Gaon explains that although these two commandments seem identical, they are in fact different. In Parashas Va’eschanan, the Torah forbids adding an additional mitzvah to the 613 in the Torah, or removing one of them. In Parashas Re’eh, the Torah prohibits adding to or taking away from the details of one of the mitzvos, such as placing tzitzis on a garment with three or five corners. This is alluded to in the words of the verse, which emphasizes that all of the words which I have commanded you — in other words, the mitzvos themselves — shall be observed in that form without any additions or subtractions.

A: This question was raised when Harav Yitzchok Hutner, zt”l, and Harav Pinchas Teitz, zt”l, went to comfort Harav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, when he was mourning the death of his wife, a”h. Harav Hutner suggested that with the death of a parent, a person becomes more removed from his connection to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which requires additional mourning. Harav Teitz pointed out that all other relatives can be “replaced” — a person can remarry, have additional children or gain new siblings through his parents having children. The only relative for whom there can be no substitute is a parent, and this unique status merits additional mourning. Harav Soloveitchik posited that the question itself contains the answer. Because the death of other relatives is less natural, our Sages were concerned that a person may overdo his bereavement if he was permitted to absorb himself in his grief, so they limited the mourning period to 30 days, a concern which isn’t applicable to the natural death of a parent. Finally, Harav Yosef Sorotzkin, zt”l, suggests that a person needs the advice of his parents for his entire life. When a parent dies, a child must focus on remembering and internalizing his or her values and priorities, which will guide him for the rest of his life. He does so by mourning the loss and focusing on the memories for an entire year, for this period contains all of the festivals and different periods in life through which a person passes.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email