10/25/2011

The End of "Eat Fish Out" Orthodoxy?


Despite my surname and, presumably, the occupation of one of my patrilineal ancestors, I do not eat fish. The taste of fish makes me gag.
It was therefore never difficult for me to paskin that one may not eat out at non-certified fish restaurants and sushi bars. I had no problem accepting the conventional wisdom of the Orthodox establishment that there were often cases of mixing and mislabeling. Though I had never gone into a fish restaurant to check out the situation first hand (I can only recall being asked about this issue once), I trusted the wisdom I grew up on, which did not acknowledge a category of Orthodoxy that eats fish out.In any event, it appears that the conventional wisdom was, in fact, wise. A new Boston Globe expose shows that the phenomenon of mislabeling fish, especially by restaurants, is phenomenally high. Some of the substitute species - swai and some types of escolar, for example - are not kosher. I would be curious to know whether there are statistics about mislabeling fish in kosher restaurants and/or guidelines that kosher certifications agencies have in place to prevent mislabeling. I also wonder whether such an agency would certify an establishment that it knows to be substituting one kosher species with a kosher but inferior species. Is this a possible niche for the Tav Ha-Yosher?

[On a lighter note, perhaps this uncertainty about the identity of fish species explains the origin of the name of one such species. ?מה היא? מה היא ]

10 comments:

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

Yeah, I remember this philosophy from when I was growing up. Cousins of mine assured me they were strictly kosher. When I asked why I'd seen them in McDonalds they assured me they only ordered the fish burger.

Benjamin E. said...

Was your argument based on an *actual belief* in the conventional wisdom that there is mixing and mislabeling, or simply because that is the argument one uses ("you can't be sure they didn't substitute another fish") to shut down eating fish out because of other concerns, like concerns about equipment, other ingredients, or some other concern?

In other words: Should the sting operation have demonstrated that in fact restaurants are accurate in 99% of cases, would you (A) still hold the same position, and if so, would you (B) still use the same argument?

(One might say given their example here: Given that mahi mahi and swordfish were found to always be accurate, do you feel differently about those [swordfish obviously only if you think it's kosher to begin with]? You could certainly say given the problems with all other fish, you'd better just not trust any and not make distinctions, but in theory, at least.)

I think it's interesting because, for example, when it came to milk, R. Moshe Feinstein basically decided that the rationale for chalav yisrael was based on an actual concern for substitution and that it was not simply the rhetoric we use - and given no concern, one may drink the milk.

Benjamin of Tudela said...

Shhhh...

you may be making yet another previously kosher food go the way of the broccoli

ADDeRabbi said...

Ben E. - good question. It was more of a gut sense/ collective intuition than a reasoned argument. The basic sense is that there's too much room for error. "Basar she-nit'alem min ha-ayin". RMF's permit was based on the fact of government regulation.

I think the concern arises mainly in restaurant settings, where there's mixing and mislabeling going on. You're asking whether the packaged stuff at Wal-Mart needs a hashgacha. Good question. I don't know.

Larry Lennhoff said...

(Reposted from Facebook)
Blu Greenburg was one proponent of eating fish out, but she took it to a level most people I know didn't. She was more machmir - order a plain fish, no sauce, have it double wrapped in aluminum foil and baked. Most people I know who ate fish out just ordered fish off the menu and questions of taste transfer etc. never entered their minds.

goyisherebbe said...

Nobody mentioned the issue of bishul akum, food cooked by a non-Jew. That in addition to the cooking vessels being non-kosher, and who knows what else touched it. Eat fish out orthodoxy is a position not merely of ignorance, it is a position of willfully not wanting to find out that there is a problem. The Am Ha-Aretz Militant.

ADDeRabbi said...

GoyisheRebbe - there's no problem of bishul akum for any species that can be eaten raw, e.g., as sushi.

Charlie Hall said...

"She was more machmir - order a plain fish, no sauce, have it double wrapped in aluminum foil and baked. "

I can't see why that would not be completely kosher l'chatchila as long as the fish were an obviously identifiable kosher species, like salmon or tuna, that are eaten raw (as in sushi).

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erin said...

Stumbled on this post while trying to find out wether obscure species of fish being substituted are kosher... and now there are statistics :) Thought you might be interested in this:
http://www.care2.com/causes/restaurants-could-be-serving-fish-that-will-give-you-explosive-diarrhea.html