Are locusts kosher?

Locusts are on our minds lately. We just finished reading about the plague at the Pesach seder and now we are hearing about swarms of locusts that are attacking Africa. To top it off, in Parsha Shmini, locusts are listed as kosher!

In Vayikra, 11:21-22 we read “These you may eat of all flying insects that walk on four legs, those which have knees extending above their legs so that it hops on the ground with them. Of them, these you may eat; the locust (arbeh), to its kind, the solom locust to its kind, the grasshopper, to its kind and the chagav hopper, to its kind,”

Ibn Ezra explains that they are called “Arbeh” from the word “harbeh”, as there are many of them.

In the Talmud, Chulin 65a, we learn the reason why the Torah says “to its kind” after each of the four types of locusts are listed: “It comes to include (four more species of locust) as kosher the vineyard tziporet, the Jerusalemite yochana, the artzuvya and the harzavnit.”

In the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), Yoreh Deah 85, we learn:

Kosher signs for locusts: All that have four legs and four wings, and its wings cover most of the length of the circumference, and has two legs to jump with, even if it doesn’t have now, but is destined to grow them over time. And even if it has all of the signs, it is not permitted unless its name is “chagav” or they have a tradition that its name is chagav.

Between the Torah, the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch, we see eight types of locusts that would be considered kosher as well as more if they fit in to the species mentioned above. So why don’t we see locusts on the menu at kosher restaurants?

The Yeminite Jews actually did have the tradition of eating the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria). This tradition was lost right before the Jews of Yemin made aliya in the middle of the 20th century.

The Jews of Djerba and Tunis, Tunisia had the tradition of eating locusts until at least the mid 18th century.

We see that the Jews of Yemen and Tunisia followed traditions that knew which type of locust was acceptable and kept that tradition for centuries.

Rabbi  Joseph Hertz in his Chumash wrote: “None of the four kinds of locust mentioned (in the Torah) is certainly known. For this reason also, later Jewish authorities, realizing that it is impossible to avoid errors being made declare every species of locust to be forbidden.”

Moshe Basson, executive chef and owner of Eucalyptus restaurant in Jerusalem which specializes in Biblical food, explains that you won’t find locusts on the menu at the restaurant since they are not everyone’s tradition and therefore according to Rav Ovadia Yosef z”l, they wouldn’t be considered kosher for everyone. However, he has been known to cook them on demand, especially during the locust infestation that hit Egypt and Israel in 2013.

May we be able to put all of the plagues behind us.