Save the Sea Turtles!

I was in the middle of teaching a Hrebrew class in Parshat HaShavua at a Jerusalem nursing home this past week when all of a sudden one of the women stopped me and asked me why I was talking about Jewish people not being allowed to eat a “tazav”, translated in modern Hebrew as a turtle.


The woman claimed that nobody eats turtles and she wanted to know what book I was reading that talks about such things.


I surprised her by telling her that I was reading straight from the Torah, from Parshat Shmini Vayikra 11:29: “These also are unclean to you…vihatzav…”


She sent me home with an assignment to find out if anyone really eats turtles today.


I found her question posted on Yahoo answers on the internet: “Can Humans Eat Baby Turtles?” One answer said that “Green Turtle and Snapping Turtle are edible and are often used in soup. In the US it is often illegal to trap turtles because they are endangered.”


An article in National Geographic Kids called “Sea Turtle Soup, No Thanks!” by Catherine Clarke Fox teaches us that eating Sea Turtles turns out not to be good for anybody:

 Sea turtles have been on Earth for millions of years, but they are in danger of going extinct. The main threat to them is people who kill them for food, according to Dr. Wallace J. Nichols of the California Academy of Sciences and The Ocean Conservancy.

But the latest news may slow turtle hunting: Dr. Nichols and other scientists have found that sea turtles (family Cheloniidae) absorb a lot of pollution from the ocean, including pesticides and heavy metals like mercury and cadmium. These toxins are health hazards for both turtles and humans and can cause permanent damage to their bodies. Sea turtles also carry the bacteria salmonella, which can cause severe diarrhea in people. Research shows that many people get sick and even die from eating sea turtle meat.

If you’re from the United States, chances are you haven’t had sea turtle on your dinner plate. “My daughter is four, and she thinks eating sea turtles is gross,” says Nichols. Besides, all seven species are protected by the United States Endangered Species Act, which makes it illegal to harm or kill these amazing animals. “But there are kids–-and adults—around the world who do still eat them,” explains Nichols. “Our first goal was to save turtles; now we want to save people too.”

He wants to get the word out to people who still think turtle steaks or soup make good eating. And he wants people to understand a bigger message: that we should protect the oceans. “The health of the ocean, the health of the animals in the ocean, and our own health are all connected. For a long time we didn’t really make those connections,” explains Nichols. “Now it’s clear that a clean ocean is really good for us too because of the food we eat from there.”
 The laws of Kashrut are often difficult for us to understand. Why are some animals kosher and not others? Why are some animals that seemingly would never be eaten even mentioned?  The answer is that we don’t know when some of the animals will become popular in different parts of the world and therefore every animal must be covered. 

Although we don’t always know God’s reasons for why some animals are not kosher, scientific discoveries often  prove that it may be better for everyone if certain animals are left alone.