Who’s who of my community

From the lofty heights of theology I come down to reality. It is my blog, so I can whine a bit if I want to. Again I’m struggeling with my path and thinking about abandoning everything. It’s not theological doubts, or that it is difficult to live as a Jew (although it really is!), or antisemitism that might make me leave Judaism. It is the feeling that my community doesn’t give me anything and there is no point in going there.

I live in the middle of Jewish nowhere, with only a very small community here. This is the typical attendance list for a Friday kabbalat shabat service: The rabbi, the chazan (cantor, prayer leader), 2-3 old Russians, 2-3 (Russian) yeshivah guys, 2 converts, the messianic woman, the foreign Jewish visitor, 1-2 would-be-converts, 1-5 non-Jewish visitors. The last three in this list vary and may be male or female.

Now let’s see who I will talk to at kiddush. The rabbi, the yeshiva guys and the successful converts are all very haredi and all male. I’m female and more modern. Mostly they don’t talk to me and anyway they disappear pretty quickly because their wives are waiting at home with the children. The old Russians are pretty much secular, but have known each other for possibly 20 years and we cannot talk because we have no common language (they only speak Russian). Anyway, they are about two or three times my age. So who’s left? Usually, I either help the would-be-converts or the visitors to understand what the service was about, explain various Jewish holidays and try to prevent the messianic from talking too much about crazy stuff. Or I talk to the Jewish visitor and tell him that yes, this is normal turnout.

There is just nobody I can be friends with. The differences in age and/or outlook are too great. Sometimes a student or an intern is new in town, but after she/he has been to services once, she/he never shows up again. Why should she/he? We have a student group, I’ve been there a few times. They are nice, but I am not a student anymore and feel just too old for the crowd. And I’m inconveniencing them, because I’m the only non-Russian and they have to switch language for me (which they can do without a problem, but somehow normally they prefer to speak Russian).

So why should I go to services or community events? Why should I even make an effort to fit in? At the moment I really don’t see the point. And that makes me very sad.

Multiple authors of the Torah and literal truth

In my last post I have written about the question of whether the Torah’s relevance or divine origin are negated if it were written by multiple authors (spoiler: I don’t think so). In this post I would like to offer my opinion on why this topic is still so hotly debated in so many places of the J-blogosphere.

I think the issue people actually mean when they discuss the authorship of the Torah is this: Does every single word in the Torah come directly from G-d? This matters, because halachot (religious rules) are attached to different spellings, certain words in context, or a specific order of verses. If the document is written by a human and not dictated by G-d, all of this may not mean anything. Note that here even divine inspiration does not quite suffice. It has to be word-by-word revelation if you want to attach meaning to every letter.

But this is really in no way connected to the authorship problem. G-d can dictate different parts to different people. Even if G-d dictated X to person A and then (maybe even at a later point) told person B to insert Y at place P, the result is that the text is directly from G-d. G-d can choose several people to write down his exact words, it really does not matter who or how many people wrote the document if it is the word of G-d.

At this point we can get sidetracked by several seemingly related questions. Why are there different writing styles? What about similar documents like the Code of Hammurabi? Why would G-d "trick us" by making the Torah appear like one book written by one author? Or conversely, by making it appear as the work of several people? But while these questions might be interesting to discuss as theological questions, they do not say anything about whether the Torah is the word of G-d. If I believe the Torah is the word of G-d, I can explain everything in a consistent way. Also, if I believe the Torah is not the word of G-d, I can explain everything in a consistent way. There cannot be a proof for G-d’s authorship anyway. Fundamentally it is a question of belief.

So, in my opinion, people feel threatened by the possibility of multiple authors to the Torah because they take it as an attack on their literal reading of the text. Somehow people automatically assume that multiple authors means human authors. The automatic response is not "G-d talks to many people and he ordered each person to insert exactly this exactly at this point", but "you are a heretic". But this does not follow. The fact in itself that there are different writing styles or multiple authors does not automatically does not automatically mean G-d cannot have dictated every word*. While I don’t really share the view that every word of the Torah has been dictated by G-d verbatim (more on that later, maybe), if you want to believe that, I don’t see a logical reason why absolutely have to reject the documentary hypothesis.

Ok, I read this again later, too many negations in this sentence. Let’s try this: G-d can have dictated every word, even if we somehow were able to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that different people were doing the writing.

Does it matter who wrote the Torah?

Lately I have read a few things about "who wrote the bible" aka the documentary hypothesis, refutations of it and such things. I am not sure what I believe and I haven’t researched it enough to offer any opinion. What I want to talk about is the question whether it really matters.

So the basic dispute is about whether the Torah (the five books of Moses) was written by one person (Moses), or by several (at least four different people). I think there are two questions to be asked: If it were true that the Torah was written by several people, what would that say about (a) its relevance, and (b) its divine origin.

So, first let’s look at relevance. Would the Torah be automatically irrelevant if written by several people? No. Books written by several people can be relevant. There is no one claiming that the entire Tanach or the Talmud was written by one person. Both books are still pretty relevant for most Jews. Christianity bases the faith of Jesus on the gospels and there are four of them, written by different authors. I don’t think anybody claims they were written by the same person. They are still the basis of the faith in Jesus. So no, single authorship is no requirement for relevance.

What about divinity? Does "divine" mean "single author"? I don’t think so. Tanach and Talmud are not just any books, they are divine (maybe it’s not the same level of divinity as Torah, but still). For Christians all four gospels are divine books. I’m sure there are other examples of multi-author revelations in other religions. If G-d can inspire one person, he can inspire several persons. Even if instead of "inspire" we use "revelation" in the sense of G-d dictating every word, there is no inherent problem. There are Christians who believe that every word of the bible was dictated by G-d (Verbal dictation). This definitely means G-d dictated to different people, but surely G-d can do that. So no, a multi-author document can be divine.

To summarize: Having multiple authors does not in itself make the Torah irrelevant or the work of mere humans. Unfortunately most proponents of the documentary hypothesis present it in a way that at least implies one of the two points. But this doesn’t mean this is a justified conclusion.

Pessach-related stuff from my search terms

It’s always fun to see which search terms people used to come to my blog.

what is safflower used for
I’m not sure, I only know you can make oil out of it which presumably can be used for everything other oil is used for. I have a post on whether safflower seed oil can be used on pessach (spoiler: yes).

isswiss muesli hametz
Muesli usually contains some of the five grains that are chametz: Wheat, barley, rye, spelt, oats. So I say, yes, it’s probably chametz – unless it’s kosher-le-pessach muesli ;)

kasha kitniyot
If we are talking about the same thing, kasha is some porridge-like stuff. Whether it is kitniyot depends on what it is made of, usually that would be buckwheat, sometimes millet or other grains like wheat. Wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and oats are chametz. Buckwheat and millet are kitniot.

string beans on pessach 2013
The situation does not change (or at least should not change) for a specific year, so the answer from 2013 should still be good for today. Unfortunately the situation seems to be tricky, divided between those that say that there is no problem with string beens as they are vegetables, and those that say they are beans and thus kitniyot (links and discussion in my post about beans).

is sodium bicarbonate chometz?
No it is not! (this is relevant because baking powder is made out of sodium bicarbonate)

is ginger kitniyot
No, it’s a root, not a seed, why should it be? The question is valid for other spices that are seeds, though.

“pumpkin flour” passover
Ok, I have no idea what you mean, but most people say pumpkin seeds are not kitniot and so if you make flour out of it that should be fine.

Chametz – a lesson in empathy

Three incidents made me think about the connection between pesach and food allergies or diet choices. A while ago I wanted to invite a friend and she told me that she is lactose intolerant and gluten sensitive. As I am a vegetarian it took us some time to find a dish we could both eat. Another time one of my guests for pesach was lactose intolerant. And finally I remember myself at several occasions bringing my own food for pesach to make sure I have something to eat.

One message pesach teaches (in my opinion) is to make people more sensitive to the fact that some people have limitations in what they can or cannot eat. Some by choice, some not. And that it can be difficult to find food that accomodates this need – just like finding kosher lePesach food can be difficult.

Pi in the Torah

If something has a diameter of 10 cubits, what is its circumference? We all learn at school: take the diameter (10) times Pi, so we get 31.415 and small change. What does this have to do with the Torah? Simple, there is a verse in I Kings 7:23 where it seems that King Solomon (or whoever wrote it down) got his maths wrong:

And he made the molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and the height thereof was five cubits; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.
(I Kings 7:23)

What do most people think? Easy, the number 30 given in the text is just an approximation when you approximate Pi by 3. Case closed. However, you can apparently prove from this that the Torah must be divine, because it contains the value for Pi. How? Well…

The word circumference is kav (written as kuf vav) in Hebrew, but in this verse it is written with an extra he at the end. There are several occurrences in the Torah where you pronounce something different than what is written, this is called kri vs. ktiv. Some people argue that there is hidden meaning in them. So in this case Pi is hidden in there and finding it works like this:

  • The numerical value of “kuv vav” is 106 (kuf = 100, vav = 6).
  • The numerical value of “kuv vav he” is 111 (kuf = 100, vav = 6, he = 5).
  • 111 / 106 = 1.04716981132
  • Pi / 3 = 1.0471975512

These ratios are the same, so the exact value of Pi is hinted in this verse – because G-d put it there.

First obvious objection: But the two numbers are not the same, they differ after the fifth decimal! TrueTorah replies that the thickness of the walls of the vesser may not be included in the calculation or that the vessel may not have been perfectly round. This does not really make a lot of sense, why would a hint to Pi be included in the description of an object that is not really round? And if there is some sort of approximation going on – why start any explaining? We could stay with the face value of 30 being an approximation.

Next objection: Why wouldn’t the ratio be Pi directly, Why Pi divided by 3? Why not use 106/111? Why 3 and not 2 or 4? Too many degrees of freedom, a statistician would say. There are many other fractions that give an approximate value for Pi (Comment by nachman on December 29, 2013 at 8:15 PM). And if you are free to change nominator and denominator or multiply a fraction with other things, there are many many possibilities of finding something. Or something else (tomorrow’s stock values anybody?).

And the next objection: The Vilna Gaon is credited with this interpretation. Wikipedia says he lived in the 18th century. The source given in the TorahTrue article is a journal article from 1962! Good values for Pi have been known earlier, we can assume Jewish scholars knew them as well. So why did nobody notice this before? And if it is that difficult to find, why put it there in the first place?

Last objection: Even if we accept this is a reference to Pi, it does not prove that G-d put it there. The old Greeks and Egyptians knew that the ratio between a diameter and a circumference of a circle is fixed and calculated various approximations (Pi – Antiquity). So a maths freak might have put the reference into the text as an inside joke
( Happy Pi Day ).

So I really don’t think you can make an argument for the divinity of the Torah out of this. This does not mean that the Torah is not divine either or that there is no G-d. Just that this is a stupid argument and should not be used to convince people to believe in Judaism.

Happy Pi day!

Note: This post was scheduled to appear on Pi day even though it is shabat, but written beforehand.

Why are beans kitniot (an attempt for a historical explanation)?

In the post on beans and kitniot I mentioned crop rotation as a possible reason for the fear that beans and grain may become mixed up. I just found an interesting article that explains why this was only a concern for Ashkenazim but not for Sephardim:

But there is a good reason for the emergence of this custom in specifically Ashkenazic lands. Ashkenazic communities, and the custom of kitniyot, originated in the temperate regions of northern France and the Rhineland. The climate there differed from the Mediterranean climate of Sephardic communities in two key respects: its summers were far milder, and it rained all year around. Each of these elements produced a change in agricultural practices. The milder summer meant that one could harvest twice each year, once in the winter and once in the summer, thus making the land more productive. Specifically, it was in the temperate regions of northern Europe that the three-field system of crop rotation was developed.
When the same field is used to plant a type of grain one year and a type of legume the next year, there are inevitably stray stalks of grain growing amongst the kitniyot. Under the two-field system of the Mediterranean and Middle East, a field would be planted one year and left fallow the next. Thus, legumes were not planted as frequently, and even if a particular field was changed from grain to legumes, there would be two years’ separation between the crops. The admixture of standing crops would have only been an issue in Ashkenazic lands.

A second difference pertains to the sheaving of harvested grain. In semiarid lands, crops were harvested in the early summer and gathered in the autumn, before the start of the rainy season. Thus, Shavu’ot, in the early summer, is a harvest festival, while Sukkot, in the early autumn, is a gathering festival. Because there was no rain expected during this interval, the harvested grain could be left in sheaves or heaps out in the field where they grew; there was no concern that rainfall would ruin them. This was not the case in Ashkenazic lands, where rain could fall any time throughout the year. There, special structures had to be built for grain storage near the fields. Since there was more than one harvest throughout the year, the same granaries were used for different crops—grains during one harvest and legumes during the next. Thus, the very structure where wheat had been heaped a few months earlier would be home to a heap of legumes just a few months later. Once again, this concern was completely absent in Sephardic lands.

(Elli Fischer: Why Sephardim Eat Kitniyot but Ashkenazim Don’t)


What is chametz really?

In a previous article I listed the five grains that can become chametz: Wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats.

Where does the list come from? It appears in the Talmud, Mishna Pesachim 2:5, which lists in Hebrew חיטים (chittim), שעורים (se’orim), כוסמין (kusmin), שיבולת שועל (shibbolet shu’al) and שיפון (shifon). The only certain translations that can be mapped to actual species of plants are the first two, chittim means wheat, and se’orim is barley.

The other three are unclear. Rashi translates kusmin as spelt, shibolet shu’al as oats and shifon as rye which gives the above list. But according to the research of Dr. Yehudah Felix as reported by Rabbi Dov Linzer in Are Oats Really one of the 5 Species of Grain?, he seems to have confused some things. Spelt makes the list, though as a candidate translation for shifon. The other two are probably another type of barley and emmer wheat. No rye and no oats.

So what do we do with this information? Do we change the list? And what are the consequences? Oats are the only one of the traditional five grains that does not contain gluten and people with gluten sensitivity rely on the opinion that one can fulfill the obligation to eat matza with matza made from oats. Have they been making invalid brachot? Conversely, if anybody ate emmer wheat on Pesach, is he punished with karet (cut off)?

We can get to a similar problem fron another angle. Scientifically speaking, what does "leaven" really mean? Rabbi Gidon Rothstein in his article A More Flexible Future Orthodoxy argues that maybe the sages just assumed what was common knowledge at the time, they took for granted that these five were the only grains to become leaven. Now we have a greater understanding of the processes behind leavening, for example we know that yeast is a crucial ingredient. If the list of five species is not tradition handed down from Sinai but the sages’ own interpretation, he argues that we might well include all leavening agents to the category of chametz.

While there are only slight chances that either scientific understanding of leavening processes or an identification of the exact species denoted by the Hebrew words in the Mishna will change the traditional list of grains that can become chametz, this is another fascinating instance where science and Tora collide.

Mr. Spock

A hero of my childhood has died. Leonard Nemoy, better known as Mr. Spock on Star Trek, is dead. I have spent countless hours watching the series (re-runs, I’m much too young), the movie, I have read every Star Trek novel I could get my hands on and played Spock in countless hours of make-believe stories. Now he is dead. It feels like part of my childhood has ended.

Star Trek may not be Jewish, but it represents many Jewish values. Spock, like every person aboard the Enterprise, was honest, trustworthy and reliable, behaving with intelligence, sensibility and integrity. If I had to chose one word, I would say he was a real mentch. Spock tried to maximize his abilities and to become more than he was. He never stopped learning. But instead of being focused only on his own gain and advancement, he also selflessly gave everything for the community when needed. In the words of Spock himself: "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few".

Spock has values that he takes pride in and defends. But instead of isolating himself, he reaches out to other cultures and tries to understand them. The mission of the Enterprise is to "seek out new life and new civilizations". With the understanding that we might not love everything about a different culture, nor do we need to love it, but we should normally respect it. The crew of the Enterprise often treads the fine line between respect for others and standing for their own values. Because if we tolerate everything, our values become arbitrary. But if we cannot accept the rights of others to lead their lives according to their values, we become tyrants. And sometimes we might even need to rethink our values in light of the new things we have learned.

Star Trek, with Spock as one of its central and most well-known figures, shows us a future we would be proud to have. A time to look forward to, a united earth with no wars. Where people work together with respect and integrity. Where there is tolerance, but also a grounding in values. Where the pursuit of knowledge is one of the greatest goals. Maybe even a time that has messianic traits.

The world has lost a symbol. But, with the words of Dr. McCoy when Spock dies in "The Wrath of Khan": " He’s really not dead, as long as we remember him". And we will.

Goodbye Mr. Spock. We will miss you.

Going kosher, step by step

Going kosher seems a daunting task. There are so many rules, so many details to consider! I certainly know that in the beginning I felt I would never be able to do all of that. So is it useless to try? No. The secret lies in going slowly, step by step. And then suddenly, the task is not so daunting at all.

Here is a proposal for small steps to try one after the other. How long you stay at each step or if you switch them around somewhat is up to you. But whatever you do, don’t take on too much at a time. Do one step and stay there until you are comfortable and it comes automatically. Only then continue. Don’t despair if you fail now and then. It might take months, a year or even longer. It does not matter. It is a process of internalization that everybody has to tackle at his own pace. And how hard it is depends also on your surroundings. If there is no way of getting kosher meat for you, you can still do other things.

So here is my proposal for steps:

  1. Avoid insects in your salad and vegetables, i.e., wash them properly – that wasn’t so hard, was it? In fact, you may already do that.
  2. Eliminate animals that can never be kosher from your diet, e.g., pork, shellfish, rabbit, snake, shark, eel, …
  3. Avoid milk-meat combinations that were cooked at the same time or are eaten together, e.g., pizza or lasagna with meat, cheeseburger, sauces for meat that use cream, …
  4. Avoid eating milk and meat at the same meal, e.g., no coffee with milk after a steak, no yoghurt dressing for the salad before the steak, …
  5. Buy only kosher meat at a kosher butcher.
  6. Wait the appropriate amount of time between eating meat and milk (check with your local rabbi).
  7. Separate your dishes, one set for meat, one for milk.
  8. Check the kashrut for non-meat products and buy only those with kosher symbols or if they are on the kosher list (depending on your country). This is again best done step-by-step, chose two items you buy regularly and switch to a kosher version, then another two, until everything you buy is kosher.
  9. Kasher your kitchen.

Congratulations! You made it!

I know many people who have different standards in their home and outside. This is ok. For example you are at step 5 in your home, but at your mother’s you are still at step 3 because she refuses to buy kosher meat. That is fine for the time being. Honoring your parents is also very important and they should not become resentful towards your new (or new-found) religion. Take your time and let them make their own journey alongside you. Or if you are completely kosher at home but still eat vegetarian meals in your non-kosher canteen at work. Chose the pace you are comfortable with and don’t try everything at once.

Going kosher is like a diet or in fact any other deep change in your habits. If you want it to stick, you need to go slow and give yourself the time to make it an integral part of your self. Good luck!

[Edit Feb 25th: Adding separate dishes]

What makes eggs (non-)kosher?

When I started observing kashrut, the first question I had about eggs was whether they were considered to be milchig (dairy) or fleishig (meaty). They are produced by animals like milk, so that could be an argument for treating them like dairy. On the other hand they are "potential meat" in the sense that they could develop into a bird, so that could be an argument for treating them like meat. In the end, I learned that eggs are considered parve (neutral, neither milk nor meat) – which of course fits best!

So what makes an egg kosher? Simple, it has to come from a kosher bird (see the list of kosher birds). Most commercially sold eggs in Western countries are from chicken (or they are labeled as non-chicken and much more expensive if not), so there shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

The only complication is that eggs may contain blood spots. If you crack open an egg and find blood, you should discard the egg. It is a good practice to open the egg into a separate bowl before putting it with the rest of the eggs/dough/whatever you are making to avoid having to throw out the other food if one egg has blood. Boiled eggs need not be checked, but some have the custom to discard the egg when they see a red spot during peeling. Kashrut agencies and kashrut books contain detailed advice about what sort of spots eggs can contain and in which cases you should discard them (e.g., Eggs and Blood Spots by the OU).

This should cover everything for the home-use of eggs. Industrial egg products are a very different story and may require supervision (if you really want to know why… R. Zushe Blech: Industrial Eggs – Not As Simple As It May Seem).

What makes a piece of meat (non-)kosher?

If you buy a piece of meat in a kosher supermarket, what exactly is it that makes it kosher? Or the other way around, what is wrong with a normal piece of meat I buy at a random supermarket?

Basically there are four things that need to be (properly) done to any piece of meat to make it kosher:

  1. The meat must come from a kosher animal.
    Basically, a land animal has to have split hooves and chew the cud (see this post for details), there’s a limited list of allowed birds (see this post for details). Meat from a non-kosher animal, e.g., pork, can never be kosher, no matter what you do.
  2. The animal must be slaughtered properly.
    It is forbidden by Torah to consume blood (Leviticus 7:26). The main goal of Jewish slaughter (shechita in Hebrew) is to get as much blood out as possible, while being as fast as possible in order to cause as little pain as possible. This is accomplished by cutting the throat in one quick stroke with a very sharp knife. Also the internal organs are inspected for any things that may make it nonkosher. There are lots of specific rules and the slaughtering has to be performed by a trained professional.
  3. The correct parts of the animal have to be taken.
    The sciatic nerve and specific fats around the vital organs may not be eaten and have to be removed. Again, the rules are very specific and you need to be trained to do this right.
  4. The meat must be soaked in water and salted.
    Again, the goal is to get the blood out. The meat is soaked in water for more than 30 minutes, then salted and left to lie in salt for an hour, then rinsed and washed.

At least the first three steps and most of the time also the last step is done at the kosher butcher, so you need not worry about it too much from a practical point of view. If you are ever in the situation where you have to soak and salt your meat, refer to a book or a competent rabbi for the details (e.g. there are a few pages about it in "The practical guide to Kashrus" by R. Shaul Wagschal).

Note that the above rules apply to land animals and fowl, they do not apply to fish. Fish have to have fins and scales to be kosher, but they do not have to be drained of blood and do not have to be slaughtered in a specific way. Any part of fish can be eaten.

I hope this clarifies a bit what distinguishes a kosher piece of beef from a non-kosher one. The whole process is done by a person trained in slaughtering and the relevant rules who is called shochet. There is no rabbi or clerical person needed. No "blessing of the meat", mystical ceremony or anything is done. Jewish slaughter is a traditional way of getting the blood out.

Is it antisemitism to vandalize a synagogue?

Last summer, in the wake of the Gaza war, some youths threw a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue. The judge has now ruled that there was no antisemitic background to the act. Several people have protested that any act against a synagogue should be classified as antisemitism (e.g., Leonid Goldberg: Fehlurteil in Wuppertal [German]). In this case I agree that the background was probably antisemitic. If the attackers really only wanted to protest against Israel’s war, why would they chose a Jewish target? It is antisemitism to hold all Jews responsible for the politics of Israel.

But I also think that it is dangerous to generalize too much. Every case should be judged based on the actual facts. Not every act against a Jew or Jewish property is automatically antisemitic. A certain portion is just random criminality. If you shout "antisemitism" too often, you are not going to be believed when it really matters.

Two examples to make my point. First, an example from my community. One Saturday morning the congregation arrived to see a small wall in front of the synagogue destroyed. Antisemitic vandalism was of course the first thought, but as it turned out it was just drunken party goers who happened to walk by and destroy random objects all along the street. As a second example, take the process against Nechemya Weberman, an orthodox Jew and convicted pedophile. Many people shouted antisemitism. Is it antisemitism to punish wrongdoings if the offender is a Jew? No, it is not, every criminal should be punished, irrespective of his/her religion.

So is it really such a strange question to ask whether vandalizing a synagogue is antisemitic? No. Antisemitic motives should rank high on the list of possible reasons (as should anti-islamic feelings for mosque, anti-abortionists for an abortion clinic, etc), but the actual reasons may be different.

What is the purpose of life?

No, I’m not trying to give the definitive answer here (which btw is 42). When I am depressed, I very much doubt that my life has any meaning. I am not going to win the nobel price, write music like Bach, books like Goethe, or prevent the third world war or anything really important. So does my life matter?

“Limdu Heitev” (Yeshayah 1:17) – “Learn to do good” says Rashi. We do not find anywhere in the Torah that man is commanded to be a lamdan and expert in all fields of the Torah. For the goal of learning Torah is not to be a lamdan, but rather a good person; to do good and to be good to others.
(Rav Mendel of Kotzk, cited from rationalist Judaism blog)

Somehow, this is consoling. Don’t try to gain immortality by being the best [scientist|musician|polititian|writer|…] that has ever lived. Try to be a good person, be good to others. And of course, if it makes you happy, or if it makes you a better person, be the best [scientist|musician|polititian|writer|…] you can be! But your life is not wasted if you are not one of the five most important people on earth.

List of kosher insects

Well this is an easy post. The short answer is: Avoid insects, they are not kosher (see Deuteronomy / Devarim 14:19).

Simple, you might think, I don’t care for them anyway. Well – are you sure you are not eating insects? There are two ways that you could be. First, you overlooked them in your vegetables or fruit (a lot can be said on the matter, see e.g., the Star K guide for vegetable inspection or Failed Messiah’s Rabbis Ban Strawberries – Again). The solution to this problem is awareness and thorough washing. Second, some food additives are made out of insects (Non-Vegetarian Food Additives) and they cleverly hide behind the innocuous label "natural flavor". To ensure none of them are in your food, you would have to trust some supervision, either by rabbinic or vegetarian/vegan institutions.

The long answer starts with the fact that there are some exceptions to the rule, insects you are allowed to eat. This needs a source:

All winged swarming things that go upon all fours are a detestable thing unto you. Yet these may ye eat of all winged swarming things that go upon all fours, which have jointed legs above their feet, wherewith to leap upon the earth; even these of them ye may eat: the locust [arbeh] after its kinds, and the bald locust [sal’am] after its kinds, and the cricket [chargol] after its kinds, and the grasshopper [chagav] after its kinds. But all winged swarming things, which have four feet, are a detestable thing unto you.
(Leviticus / Vayikra 11:20-23)

This lists four types of locusts that you may eat. But before you run out to the meadows… only these four species of locusts are permitted. One of them has been identified to be the schistocerca gregaria, the most common variety in North Africa (Rabbi N. Slifkin: The Locusts Are Coming! Yum!). So unless you know how to identify this type of locusts, maybe you should refrain from eating them. As an aside: Locusts are not meat according to halacha, like fish they are parve.

Locusts have not played a big role on the menus of most kashrut observing Jews until in 2013 a swarm of a kosher locust species crossed the border from Egypt into Israel. This lead to quite a few culinary experiments, you can get a taste [pun intended] of it through these articles (Adventures in Locust Hunting, Eating locusts: The crunchy, kosher snack taking Israel by swarm). If you happen to come across some kosher locusts, here are a few recipe ideas: Locust Chips (French Fries), Honey Spiced Locusts, Moshe Basson’s locust pasta. Enjoy!