Contact Us

Why Don’t Fish Need Shechitah?

Why Don’t Fish Need Shechitah?

Why is there a ritual way of slaughtering and preparing all kosher animals except for fish?

 Email

Question:

Why is there a ritual way of slaughtering and preparing all kosher animals except for fish?

Answer:

When the Jews were in the desert and started complaining about the lack of meat, Moses turned to G‑d saying, “If sheep and cattle were slaughtered for them, would it suffice for them? If all the fish of the sea were gathered for them, would it suffice for them?”1

From the fact that the verse specifies slaughter in reference to sheep and cattle, but gathering in reference to fish, we learn that it is enough to simply gather fish out of water without slaughtering them.2

However, the question remains. What is the reason that fish are treated differently than other animals?

A somewhat cryptic Talmudic passage seems to address this question:

A Galilean lecturer expounded: Cattle were created out of the dry earth, and are rendered kosher by the severing of both organs [of the neck]; fish were created out of the water, and are rendered fit without any ritual slaughtering; birds were created out of mud3 and are therefore rendered fit by the cutting of just one organ.4

There are a number of explanations for this fascinating piece of Talmud. Here is one of them:

In Jewish teachings, as well as in ancient philosophy, all of creation is divided into four elemental categories: fire, air, water and earth.5 The earth is considered to be the lowest of the elements. Then comes water, which is more refined; followed by air, which hovers above the water; and finally fire, which constantly strives to reach higher.

The Talmud seems to be saying that the kosher requirements depend on how an animal was created. Cattle (and to a lesser degree birds) were created from the “earth,” and therefore require slaughter. Fish were created from the more elevated element of “water,” and therefore don’t require any type of slaughter.

A mystical explanation

The great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (the Ari, 1534–1572) taught that every creation possesses a “spark” of divine energy that constitutes its essence and soul. When a person utilizes something toward a G‑dly end, he or she releases this divine spark, realizing the purpose for which it was created. Thus, one who makes a blessing, eats, and then uses the energy from the food to perform a mitzvah elevates the spark of divinity that is the essence of the food.6

But some divine sparks are harder to get to than others. Because cattle were created from earth—which is considered the coarsest of the elements—they require more preparation to be elevated, and must be slaughtered according to Jewish ritual. Fish, on the other hand, were created from the more refined element of water. Therefore, merely gathering them (drawing them out of the water) suffices, and all one needs to do in order to elevate the G‑dly spark in fish is to make a blessing, and then use the energy from what you have eaten for G‑dly pursuits.7

Footnotes
2.
Talmud, Chullin 27b.
3.
In Genesis 1:20 birds are listed among the creatures of the water, while in Genesis 2:19 they are listed among the creatures G‑d created from the earth. Therefore, the Talmud concludes that birds were created from a mixture of soil and water.
4.
Talmud, loc. cit.
5.
See, for example, Bamidbar Rabbah 14:12.
7.
See Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer ha-Levi Edels (Maharsha) on Talmud, loc. cit.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
23 Comments
1000 characters remaining
David A. Silver Spring, MD February 17, 2017

Kashrut & Fish To answer one of the questions posted, please remember that if you purchase fish in a non-kosher store (i.e. a store that sells non-kosher fish), there are many issues. First, you have to make sure that the fish itself is from a kosher species. To verify that, the skin must still be on the fish. Second, even if you can, you have to make sure that the knife and the cutting board and anything else that comes into contact with the fish must be kosher. In most cases, this will be very difficult if not impossible, which is why -- if possible -- one should purchase his/her fish in a kosher store. If you live in a community where such a store doesn't exist, ask your local Orthodox rabbi what you should do. Reply

David A. Silver Spring, MD February 17, 2017

Veganism If the total message of veganism was simply preservation of the planet and using our resources in a sustainable fashion, I think everyone would be all for it. Here is the definition of veganism I found on google: "Vegans, in addition to being vegetarian, do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics, and soaps derived from animal products." As an observant Jew, I will not stop wearing tefillin because veganism demands it of me. I will not stop having kosher mezuzahs because veganism dictates I need to. I will not stop using eggs at my seders or my pre-fast meals. I will not even deprive my children of the sweetness of a new year by taking away their honey for "Yehi Ratzon." Judaism was around for thousands of years before veganism, and will survive well after it has disappeared. Thank G-d that Chabad will help ensure its continuance. Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel July 21, 2015

Fish do get particular treatment in the Tanakh, regarding a summary of the Creation prior to the Shabbat. According to Exodus XX 8-11 (which we recite Shabbat morning), during the 6 days of creation the heavens, earth and sea and all therein were made. It does not say thereon. It therefore gives fish (and birds) specific mention and implies that the contents of the sea were not to be forgotten, since the rest were already included.

Since fish were specially recognized, their status is different to that of land-based or air-based creatures and they are not needing the same treatment for Shechitah. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin (Author) July 20, 2015

Re: confused Although fish don't require Shechitah, you still have to make sure that you are eating a kosher fish. When buying fish you should either buy it whole so that you can see the fins and scales, or, if the fish is sliced, filleted, or ground, buy only from a fish store that sells kosher fish exclusively. Reply

Dals LA July 15, 2015

Confused So because a fish doesn't need shechita does that mean halachically you could eat a non kosher sushi restaurant and only eat raw fish? Reply

Jack F San diego via chabaduc.org June 26, 2015

Kashrut is about human consciousness Fish are a lower form of animal life than mammals and birds. One spiritual purpose of Kashrut is to make humans conscious of the fact that when they eat meat, they are killing an animal in order to do so. The complex ritual process of slaughter and kashering and the prohibition of mixing meat (the result of killing the animal) with milk (the stuff of life) provides the basis of this consciousness. Fish, because they are a lower form of life, are not treated as fleischig and therefore fish are considered pareve, which means they may be eaten with dairy food. Reply

meyer zuckerman ocala via jewishmarion.org June 26, 2015

Cattle are mammals but birds and fish are not. Yet there is a common characteristic that mammals share with birds - they are warm blooded.
The warm blooded require shechita and the cold blooded do not,. Reply

Anonymous Germany June 26, 2015

Paradise was vegan Genesis: And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. After being kicked out of paradise is when meat eating starts Reply

Anonymous June 26, 2015

Fascinating! Thanks for posting! Reply

Alice Jena Richmond Hill June 25, 2015

Why don't fish Once again, I plead with my fellow Jewish sisters and brothers to observe the perfect Kosher life style: Veganism....or at least be assured that we eat only unfertilized eggs that are coming from hens that were permitted to be safe and well fed, roam in the farm lands and sheltered with protection; before being gathered for consumption by humans. That is true cruelty -free Kosher-Pure foods.

Let us help preserve this beautiful gift from Hashem: OUR PLANET. Thank you. Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL June 25, 2015

You bleed, I suffer! I feel your pain! If it bleeds, it suffers! any living creatures and anything that has blood has to feel pain. Its not because fish cant talk that they don't feel pain! While there is a list of fish we can or cannot eat, they have to be the most clean animals that exists being constantly in fresh or salty water. The same care for killing any other animals should be taken when killing fish. As for "grasshoppers", really! are they really kosher? don't they also feel pain? Reply

David Lloyd-Jones June 25, 2015

Rabbi Kolakowski,

I was taught that locusts are kosher if, when you turn them over, they have the word "truth, " אמת, written on their bellies. I was also taught that a person starving would have the acuity of vision to see exactly these squiggles in the wrinkles of any locust's belly.

-dlj.
Reply

Anonymous USA June 24, 2015

Fish dont need shechita I would like to thank you for such wonderful teaching. This is what my soul desires the most, to learn everything of Hashem, blessed is He, commandments. Iam greatful! I truly wish that I could contribute more for your efforts in bringing these teachings to all of us. I can help the Sages of Israel, this is what my King placed in my heart, and I do. It is not much but I will keep on trying to do my best. You are all great teachers my dear Chabad Rabbis. B"H Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel June 24, 2015

There must be more to it than that Surely one criterion in slaughtering of animals is to reduce the amount of pain and suffering that the animal feels. Presumably, then by this the fish do not need to be killed by decapitation or blood vessel severing because they have no physical feelings. However the claim that fish out of water will die is not very accurate for carp, which can survive at least half an hour without water and are often dispatched with several blows to the head. Reply

N June 24, 2015

Fish aren't the only ones I was just wondering if shechitah was perhaps a way to ensure that no blood is consumed, but of course did not think of Locusts .
The mystical explanation in this article was very intriguing.
Does it imply that in some aspects humans are less refined than sea creatures -
or does it only apply to animals that are consumed by humans? Reply

Weld Stone New York, NY June 23, 2015

Too philosophical The question is a very basic and moral one, and should not be answered with the esoteric.

I was thought that the purpose of Kosher-slaughtering was to kill the aminal in the most humane way poassible (see article on Chabad .org "What-is-Shechita").

Does the prohibition against causing another being pain not apply to beings of the sea? Reply

daniel wells macon June 14, 2017
in response to Weld Stone:

I wonder since fishing with a hook looks to be painful? Reply

Rabbi Yitzchak Kolakowski Kauneonga Lake, NY June 23, 2015

Fish aren't the only ones Kosher Locusts (Grasshoppers) also do not require shechitah. However, Ashkenazic Jews and most Sefardic Jews generally do not have a mesorah as to which grasshoppers are kosher. Yemenite Jews have a mesorah. Moroccan Jews also had a mesorah, but the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh zya frowned upon consuming locusts, I think because people weren't beki'im in which were Kosher, and he blamed a locust plague in Morocco on the practice of eating them. Reply

Donald Weinshank 48823 June 23, 2015

List of Kosher fish by Orthodox ichthyologist -- very helpful Somebody once asked me why marlin are treif. Referred him to a list. Marlin are not bony fish but in the same group as sharks, catfish etc. with cartilage, not bone. Reply

Nechamah Goldfarb Brooklyn June 23, 2015

I also learned that cattle, sheep, and birds were offered on the mizbeach, but fish were not, and that puts them in a different category. Now, it could be the reason they were not offered is because of all that you wrote above. But I always kept in mind that about fish-- they were not offered on the mizbeach. Reply

Meyer Chein June 22, 2015

Something is fishy about this article. Reply

Related Topics