The saying “You are what you eat” is universal, but it certainly applies to keeping kosher, in particular. In a previous blog, we discussed how keeping kosher is associated with compassion when it comes to separating meat and milk and kosher slaughter, which is meant to be quick and painless. Although the ultimate reason we observe commandments is because they are clear directives from the Torah and Hashem, sometimes it is easy to see additional benefits included in these laws.
For instance, all kosher fish must have fins and scales. This rules out certain kinds of fish, such as shark, swordfish, catfish, shellfish and other sea creatures, such as dolphin and whale (the latter two are not often available, but are or have once been delicacies in certain places and times). Taking a look at the kinds of fish that are forbidden, there seem to be qualities they have that are best not to internalize. For instance, shark and swordfish are predatory, aggressive fish. I don’t think this is kabbala, but if “you are what you eat” is anything to go by, I’d rather avoid eating such aggressive animals. Catfish are scavengers and feed off of waste. At the risk of offending catfish lovers (and before I became religious, I did indulge in Cajun catfish) reflecting on this encourages me to pass on it. Although shellfish is a favorite in many restaurants, it has been shown to trap contaminants in the sea at higher levels than other fish. The reason for this is that the shells seal in the impurities and do not allow them to escape.
Although these are not the primary reasons for eating kosher fish, they do give a sense of reassurance and help support the principle that the Torah protects us. There are many excellent substitutes for non-kosher fish. A favorite in California sushi rolls is the imitation “crab” which is actually whitefish. For those who like nice, firm fish steaks, tuna is a good replacement for shark or swordfish (although the flavor is quite different). It is worth visiting a kosher fish store and experimenting with new varieties.