The blog of the Roaring Fork Valley (Reform) Jewish community
77 Meadowood Drive • Aspen, CO • 81611
Rabbi David Segal and Cantor Rollin Simmons

Friday, March 15, 2013

Locusts: to eat or not to eat?

Jessica Slosberg, Director of Education
Aspen Jewish Congregation
March 15, 2013 • Parshat Vayikra

We are now in the book of Vayikra or Leviticus, which consists of about three months of rules. There are rules about pretty much anything and everything you can imagine. Sometimes when I have a question I like to go through Vayikra and see if it is addressed directly or indirectly (it is a Hebrew school teacher thing). There are rules for sacrificing, building, clothing, slaves; the list goes on. And, of course, there are rules about food. What we can eat – what we can’t eat – how we can eat what - who can eat what when.  Educators, rabbis and parents go to great lengths to make this book interesting, which is no small task– there is even an iPhone app (see me later for details). 

Now as an educator, I am always gleeful when there is a real-life application (beyond the iPad) and this year we have one. As we approach Pesach there is incredibly large swarm of locusts in Egypt and moving to Israel. Now the locust swarm happens every year; but this is one of the biggest and being so near Passover is chuckle worthy in itself. However, there is a ferocious debate in Israel and that is: Are they the kosher kind of locust? Are they kosher for everyone? Who can serve them? And, of course, who is the correct person to say they whether they are kosher or not.

We are going to skip ahead a few chapters. In Vayikra 11:22-23 it says: “These you are allowed to eat: any kind of locust, and any kind of bald locust, any kind of cricket, and any kind of grasshopper. But all [other] winged swarming things, which have four feet, are a detestable thing unto you [and should not be eaten.”

The problem is, by the time the Talmud was codified most communities had lost the mesorah, the knowledge and tradition of eating locusts – as in which are kosher and which aren’t – except in Northern Africa and Yemen. These communities have continued to eat locusts all the way through. Now one rabbi already has said these locusts should be considered not kosher by all Israelis. A different rabbi said that he needs to examine them first before he can make a determination; he works for Institute for the Study of Agricultural Torah Commandments in Israel.

A similar locust event happened in 2005, and rabbis determined that they were the kosher kind of locust. It was even determined that Ashkenazi Jews, who traditionally side on the most stringent interpretations of the law, could eat them if they were served by a Jew from North Africa and Yemen.
This got me thinking about the value of experience. It also seems that in this day and age we all want to be experts – on everything. Having so much information at our fingertips makes it easy to forget that we are not actually experts on everything. Sometimes we need to be willing to defer to the real expert – the one with experience. Not only does this not make us weak it but in fact we become stronger and it shows that we are willing to grow. As Albert Einstein said, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”  I know this is something that I struggle with, wanting to be THE expert – sometimes I am and sometimes I am not. But every time I know I don’t have to be the expert and can ask for help I consider that a victory. It is not always easy but I am making baby steps.

Hopefully we all can recognize in our lives when we are the experts and when we should just eat the locusts. 

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