Hamburgers can be kosher but ham cannot. Butter can be kosher but butterflies cannot. Jelly and fish can be kosher but jellyfish cannot. Jewfish are kosher but so are hogfish, which is very confusing.
Even more confusing is that there are many Jewish lawyers but lawyer fish (a freshwater cod) is not kosher. Jewish mothers love to badger their children while they sit there and stew, but guess what is not kosher? Badger stew.
Clearly, the name alone does not tell you if a particular creature is or is not kosher.
If you want to understand which critters are kosher, you have to start with the Torah. It tells us that kosher land animals are those that have split hooves and chew their cud. “Chewing your cud” means to chew for a second time parts of food regurgitated from the stomach.
Some scholars have pointed out, however, that split hooves and chewing cud have deeper significance.
They note that a cow’s split hooves symbolize a person’s ability to split their selfish desires from their selfless pursuits, whereas chewing cud symbolizes self-examination and reflection.
These are important spiritual concepts but a novice may not appreciate the deeper meaning. So, if you’re out on a first date, do not mention that, spiritually speaking, you have split hooves and chew your cud.
Trust me, it will not be taken the right way and your date, like your hooves, will split.
The Torah also tells us that certain land animals, no matter what, are not kosher, including the pig.
Nowadays, there exists a kosher fake bacon product called “Facon” which apparently is a decent facsimile of the real thing but somehow seems insulting to pigs.
The Torah also tells us that sea creatures are kosher if they have fins and scales. According to some rabbinic authorities, any fish that has scales also has fins and therefore (barring special circumstances) if a fish has scales, it should be considered a kosher. (See, e.g., Talmud, Niddah, 51b.)
The same type of deductive reasoning, however, does not apply to other aspects of Jewish life. A rabbi with only a few index cards does not necessarily mean a short Shabbat sermon. And a musician with the last name Springsteen is not necessarily Jewish.
Unlike land animals and fish, the Torah does not provide an express litmus test for kosher birds. Instead, it lists nonkosher birds, including 20 different species.
Based on this list, rabbinic authorities have deduced some telltale signs for identifying kosher birds.
Kosher birds include certain species of chicken, duck, geese, turkey and, believe it or not, dove. Of course, I’ve never seen anyone make dove schnitzel. (I’ve also never seen anyone make a cholent popsicle, but the day isn’t over yet.) But if Jews do not want to eat dove, it’s no big deal. As they say, no harm, no fowl.
Nonkosher birds include pelicans, ostriches and vultures. This is just one reason your mother never treated your illness with vulture noodle soup.
Generally speaking, rodents, reptiles, amphibians and insects are not kosher. So if you are kosher, do not eat lizard latkes. Come to think of it, even if you are not kosher, do not eat lizard latkes. The same goes for cobra kugel, roach rugelach or hamster herring.
The Torah, however, actually states that certain winged insects are kosher including red, yellow, white and spotted gray locusts. Notwithstanding, many rabbinic scholars agree that locusts should not be consumed. For obvious reasons, you also should avoid locust-flavored breath mints.
Bottom line: Some creatures are kosher and some are not, and there is way more to keeping kosher than just identifying permitted animals. So, if you are unsure whether a particular animal is kosher, seek rabbinic guidance before consumption, unless you are eating a (certified) animal cracker.
Jonathan Kranz stalks kosher game in Englewood, N.J.