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Fins On The Scale

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Fins & Scales

Miles Levin from Pittsburgh wrote:

For fish to be Kosher, the Torah says they need to have fins and scales. I've learned that there aren't any fish or any sea animals which have scales and yet no fins. So why is the qualifier "fins" necessary?


Dear Miles Levin,

Your question is asked by the Talmud some 1500 years ago. (It's fascinating that our Sages knew this fact.)

Simply to identify kosher fish, it would have been enough for the Torah to simply write "scales," since every fish with scales also has fins. However when looking at these specifications as the reason for the fish being kosher, both are essential. Let me explain:

An elementary understanding behind all the laws of kashrut is the concept that the soul is influenced by whatever the body eats. The Talmud states that the kosher birds are the ones that are non-aggressive, so that we shouldn't absorb bad character traits by eating them. This can also explain the requirement for kosher animals having split hooves which are used for fleeing, as opposed to claws used for attacking. Chewing the cud is the compensation to allow these species to flee when necessary but still be able to maintain an appropriate intake of food in harsh environments. In a short stay upon a fertile feeding ground they are able to accumulate enough fodder to survive, and they can flee at the appearance of an attacker and digest their food later.

The same applies to fish: the fins aid retreat while the scales act as a protective covering. Together, they are specifications which classify them as the hunted and not as the hunters.

Sources:

  • Chullin 59a, 66b
  • Niddah 51b
  • Gaon of Vilna on "Sabei Devei Atuna"
  • Ramban Leviticus 11:13


 
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