By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
On Monday afternoon, May 24, renowned kashrus and Torah scholars met in the ballroom of Merkaz HaSimcha, 1898 Bay Street (off Avenue M and East 19th Street). The assembled had gathered to participate in a seminar on the topic of worms found in fish. The Vaad HaKashrus of Flatbush, whose Rav Ha’machshir is Rabbi Meir Goldberg, sponsored the event. Rabbi Yair Hoffman chaired the seminar and the main speaker was Rabbi Schneur Zalman Revach of the Machon Mechkar L’Mitzvot HaTluyot BaAretz (Institute for the Study of Agricultural Torah Commandments within the Land of Israel).
The purpose of the seminar was clearly stated as that of sharing information and not to decide matters of kashrus. Worms were to be identified and hands-on experience was to be shared with the participating rabbis. Specially lit platforms were set up for examination of different cuts of fish. In addition, an ultra violet (UV) light was brought in. A large video screen was positioned so that everyone would be able to follow the actions being performed.
Worms were quickly identified and pulled out of their place of somewhat hibernation. Most surprisingly, a good number of the parasitic worms, identified as “anisakis,” were still alive and wiggling, as they were held up, for exhibit, by tweezers. Of course, observing the worms, some of which were more than an inch long, was not exactly appetizing. Nevertheless, kosher or non-kosher judgment was not declared. The event specifically was a workshop for those in the field of kashrus certification.
The kashrus of fish that potentially has the worms, as well as the worms themselves when embedded in the flesh of the fish, is a matter of debate. Different types of fish as well as different parts and different processing determines kashrus. Names of leading rabbis have been quoted as forbidding the fish. Other rabbis of equal standing have declared the fish kosher for consumption. Rosh Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and Kashrus Authority for the OU, Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, stresses that fish under his certification is unquestionably kosher.
Rabbi Belsky is reported to have gone to Israel and sought to meet with poskim there, who have declared some types of fish prohibited for consumption. Supposedly, the gabbaim (handlers) of those rabbis did not allow access to Rabbi Belsky. Should that be the case, their actions can be deemed outrageous. Rabbi Belsky is the leading posek for the American Yeshivish world. In addition, as the kashrus authority for the OU, literally millions of Jews, in America and abroad, abide by his rulings.
Questions about the anisakis center on its origins. Do they develop from within the fish or do they enter fish from outside. Rabbi Revach explained that the anisakis attach themselves to the soft underbelly of a fish. When the fish are caught and die, their underbelly sections begin to decay. The anisakis then bore through the soft decaying meat and usually remain in the bottom parts. If the fish are immediately and completely processed after capture, the fish are unquestionably kosher.
Rabbi Revach indicated that, depending on the type of fish, farmed fish, as opposed to wild fish, have a much less likelihood of anisakis or other non-kosher parasitic worms. Further, since most Jewish fish suppliers bring just the upper cuts to our markets, the possibility of anisakis is remote. Much more can be said about the issue, but determination of kashrus must be left to the kashrus certification agencies. As in all kashrus matters, one is advised to seek counsel from one’s own rav as to reliability and acceptability of any kashrus certification.
Much appreciation for the invaluable insights into the matter must be given to Rabbi Meir Goldberg, respected Rav Ha’machshir of the Flatbush Vaad Hakashrus, who brought so many different kashrus agency representative together under one roof. Participants in the highly informative and important meeting were: Rabbi Zechariah Adler, Kehillah Kashrus; Rabbi Dovid Babad, Tartakover Beis Din; Rabbi Yechiel Babad, Tartakover Rov; Rabbi G. Bald, Irgun Shiurei Torah; Rabbi Binyomin Bess; Rabbi Moshe Y. Blumenberg, Tartakover Beis Din; Rabbi Moshe Busso, Shaarei Tzion; Rabbi Avraham Brykman; Rabbi Dovid Cohen, cRc of Chicago; Rabbi Usher David, Rosh Yeshiva Emek Halacha; Rabbi Yosef Eisen, Vaad of the Five Towns; Rabbi Doniel Epstein, OU; Rabbi Moshe Farkas; Rabbi Dovid Fingerer; Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, cRc of Chicago; Rabbi Chaim Goldberg, OU; Rabbi Meir Goldberg, Vaad Hakashrus of Flatbush; Rabbi Tzvi S. Goldberg, Vaad Hakashrus of Flatbush; Rabbi Yisroel P. Gornish; Rabbi Yehuda Green; Rabbi Moshe Harari Raful; Rabbi Shmuel Heinneman, Star K; Rabbi Yair Hoffman; Rabbi J. Horowitz, Merkaz HaTefillah; Rabbi Yosef H. Ilovits, Machon l’Bedikas Tola’im; Rabbi Jakobowitz, Rosh HaMashgichim Nirbator; Rabbi Yitzchak Kaufman; Rabbi Meir Kurcfeld, Star K; Rabbi Ahron Mandel, Vaad Hakashrus of Flatbush; Rabbi Berish Schapiro, Naroler Rebbe; Rabbi Chaim Schwartz, Vaad of Queens; Rabbi Mordechai Teitelbaum, Vaad Hakashrus of Flatbush; this writer, Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, Igud HaRabonim; Rabbi Moshe Yaged; Rabbi Yudel Shain; Rabbi Yaakov Wagschal, New Square Kashrus; Rabbi David Weber, Mashgiach for R’ Asher Eckstein, Belzer Dayan; Rabbi Mosher Weiner, Kashrus Information Center/ Kashrus Information Service; Rabbi Avraham Weisner, KCL; Rabbi Avrum Leib Weiss; Rabbi Luzer Weiss, NYS Kosher Law Enforcement; and Rabbi Yosef Wikler, Editor Kashrus Magazine.