A red locust.
|Halakhic texts relating to this article|
|Babylonian Talmud:||Chullin 65a-66b and Avodah Zarah 37a|
|Shulchan Aruch:||Yoreh De'ah 85|
|Other rabbinic codes:||Exodus Rabbah 13:7|
Kosher locusts are varieties of locust deemed permissible for consumption under the laws of kashrut (Jewish dietary law). While the consumption of most insects is considered to be forbidden under the laws of kashrut, the rabbis of the Talmud identified four kosher species of locust. However, the identity of those species is in dispute.
Source in the Torah
The Torah states in Shemini (Leviticus 11:21-22), the 26th weekly biblical lection (פָּרָשָׁה, parashah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading:
Yet these may you eat of every winged swarming thing that goes upon four, which have legs above their feet to leap with upon the earth. These of them you may eat: the locust (arbeh) after its kind, and the salʿam after its kind, and the ḥargol after its kind, and the ḥagav after its kind. –Leviticus 11:21-22
Sources in the Talmud
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The Talmud states in Hullin 59a: "Any kind of grasshopper that has four walking legs, four wings, two jumping legs and whose wings cover the greater part of its body is kosher."
According to Yemenite tradition, the edible locust referred to in the Torah is identified by the figure resembling the Hebrew character chet ( ח) on the underside of the thorax. The most common of these in Yemen was the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), and whose color ranged from yellowish-green to grey, to reddish in colour when it reached full-adulthood (Hebrew: ארבה, Arbeh; Aramaic: גובאי, Gobai; Arabic: الجراد, Al-Jaraad). What made matters worse for identification purposes was that, in Yemen, the locust and the grasshopper were given the same Arabic name (Jaraad = locust), although Jews in Yemen recognized the differences between the two genera.
In spite of the reference of other edible locusts in the Pentateuch, such as the Chargol (Aramaic: ניפול, Nippul; Arabic: الحرجوان, Al-Harjawaan), and the Sal'am (Aramaic: רשון, Rashona; Arabic: الدبا, translit. Al-Daba), the tradition of recognizing and eating these specific kinds had been lost in Yemen, prior to their emigration from Yemen in the mid-20th century CE. Only certain species of the Chagav (grasshopper) were still eaten in Yemen, such as the species now known as the greyish or brownish Egyptian locust (Anacridium aegyptium), thought by some to be an edible grasshopper, even though it was known in Arabic by its generic name al-Jaraad (Arabic: الجراد).
In 1911, Abraham Isaac Kook, the chief rabbi of Ottoman Palestine, addressed a question to the rabbinic Court at Sana'a concerning their custom of eating grasshoppers, and whether this custom was observed by observing their outward features, or by simply relying upon an oral tradition. The reply given to him by the court was as follows: "The grasshoppers which are eaten by way of a tradition from our forefathers, which happen to be clean, are well-known unto us. But there are yet other species which have all the recognizable features of being clean, yet do we practice abstaining from them. [Appendage]: The clean grasshoppers (Hebrew: חגבים) about which we have a tradition are actually three species having each one different coloration [from the other], and each of them are called by us in the Arabian tongue, jarād (locusts). But there are yet other species, about which we have no tradition, and we will not eat them. One of which is a little larger in size than the grasshoppers, having the name of `awsham. There is yet another variety, smaller in size than the grasshopper, and it is called ḥanājir (katydids)."
Manner of preparation
Several methods were applied in the preparation of locusts, prior to eating them. One of the more popular ways was to take the locusts after gathering them and to throw them into a pot of boiling salt water. After cooking for a few minutes, they were then removed from the pot and placed within a heated oven in order to dry them, or else spread out in the sun to dry. Once dry, they would take-up the locusts and break-off their heads, wings and legs and discard them, eating only the thorax and abdomen. Another method was to stoke an earthenware stove and, when fully heated, to cast them while alive into the cavity of the stove. Once roasted, they were taken out and a brine solution was sprinkled over them, before spreading them out in the sun to dry, usually upon one’s rooftop.
In the Jewish community of Djerba, Tunisia, the consumption of locusts was forbidden by a takkanah of rabbi Aron Perez mid-18th century. The implication therefore is that they were regularly consumed in that community at that time.
The Halakha regarding locusts, and all kosher animals for that matter, is that one is allowed to eat a specific type of animal only if there is a "continuous tradition", also known as a Masoretic text, that affirms that it is kosher. It is not enough that the locust seems to conform to the criteria mentioned in the Torah. This does not mean that one must possess a 'personal tradition' in order to eat locusts. If one travels to a place where the people do have a tradition, the new arrival would also be allowed to eat them. The Yemenite Jews and some others had such a continuous tradition.
It is also worth pointing out that the common names used in the Bible refer only to color and broad morphological generalities shared by many Middle Eastern species. Also, although it is often useful for identification, the geographic location of these locusts in the text is unclear. Using primarily color to identify insect species is a notoriously unreliable approach. Insects that come to adulthood will have slightly different colors based on season, diet, and prevailing climate. Which species of locust are actually being referred to in the text is therefore nearly impossible to ascertain. This will further complicate adherence.
"None of the four kinds of locust mentioned is certainly known (RV Margin). 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." 
Jews who live in consonance with ritual laws normally consult a rabbi when questions on ritual practices arise.
How and by whom Kosher locusts were eaten
The author of the Aruch HaShulchan points out that locusts were not considered a delicacy—rather they were food for the poor.
The Midrash in Shemot Rabba hints that one way to eat locusts was to pickle them:
"Once the locusts came, the Egyptians rejoiced and said 'Let us gather them and fill our barrels with them.' Hakadosh Baruch Hu (a name of God, literally meaning: "The Holy One, Blessed be He") said 'Wicked people, with the plague that I have brought against you, are you going to rejoice?!' Immediately God brought upon them a western wind ... and none were left. What does it mean that none were left? Even those that were pickled with salt and sitting in their pots and barrels were blown away...."
- Abramowitz, Jack. "Knee-High to a Grasshopper: The obligation to examine locusts for signs of being kosher". OU.org. Retrieved March 20, 2013.
- Amar 2002.
- Amar 2004, pp. 151-153.
- Amar 2004, p. 106.
- יבנאלי, שמואל (1952). מסע לתימן : בשליחות המשרד הארץ ישראלי של ההסתדרות הציונית בשנות תרע"א-תרע"ב 1911-1912 (in Hebrew). Tel-Aviv. pp. 187–199.
- Amar 2004, pp. 110-111.
- Amar 2004, p. 120.
- Amar 2004, pp. 120-121; 146.
- יבנאלי, שמואל (1952). מסע לתימן : בשליחות המשרד הארץ ישראלי של ההסתדרות הציונית בשנות תרע"א-תרע"ב 1911-1912 (in Hebrew). Tel-Aviv. pp. 187–199.
- Amar 2004, p. 147: The ḥanājir is described as a jumping grasshopper found in grasses, smaller than the edible locust, and whose color is either greenish or yellowish-brown, possessing a pointed tail. This species is also endemic to the land of Israel, and it has been identified with the katydid. One of the clear signs of the family Tettigonioidea is the long pipe-like organ for laying eggs, belonging to the females, [and] which resembles a sword or a bend similar to a sickle. (Original Hebrew:ה"חנאג'ר" מתואר כחגב קופצני הנמצא בדשאים, קטן מן הארבה הכשר וצבעו ירקרק או חום-צהבהב, בעל זנב מחודד. מין זה גדל גם בארץ והוא מזוהה עם החרגול. אחד מהסימנים המובהקים של משפחת החרגוליים (טטיגוניוידיא) הוא צינור ההטלה הארוך של הנקבה שהוא דמוי חרב או כפוף דמוי חרמש.)
- Amar 2004, p. 49: Whenever a plague of locusts visited their places [...] they'd gather the locusts fallen to the ground, just as they would gather forsaken eggs. At home, they would soak the locusts in a pot of boiling water, they would then spice them and cool them off. [...] Such a description repeats itself in an interview that I made with Jews who recently came-up to Israel from Yemen. After boiling the locust in boiling water, they would dry it in the sun, usually upon the rooftops of the houses [...] S. Bannei Moshe wrote on his method of preserving the locusts in his memoirs: After stoking the oven 'they would empty the content of the sacks carrying the locusts into it, while they were still alive, and cover-up [the mouth of] the stove for a few hours. Then they'd remove them, sprinkle upon them a solution of salt mixed with water, and spread them out in an open-place for a number of days. After drying, they would pack them [for storage]'. (Original Hebrew: כל אימת שמיתקפת חגבים פוקדת את מקומותיהם... [היו יוצאים] לאסוף את החגבים הנושרים ארצה כאסוף ביצים עזובות. בבית משרים את החגבים בקדירת מים רותחים, מתבלים ומצננים... תיאור זה חזר על עצמו בראיון שערכתי עם יהודים שעלו לא מכבר מתימן. לאחר חליטת הארבה במים רותחים היו מייבשים אותו בשמש, בדרך כלל על גגות הבתים... כתב גם ש' בני משה בזכרונותיו: לאחר הסקת התנור "היו מריקים את שקי הארבה לתוכו בעודו חי ומכסים את התנור למספר שעות. אז מוציאים אותו, מתיזים עליו מלח מהול במים ושוטחים אותו במקום פתוח למספר ימים. לאחר שנתייבש היה נארז".)
- Valensi, Lucette; Udovitch, Abraham L. (1984). Juifs en terre d'islam : les communautés de Djerba. Archives contemporaines. p. 18. ISBN 2-903928-05-3.
- Amar 2002, p. 193: This emerges from a letter sent by R. Aharon Perez. of Djerba (d. 1766) to R. David Eliyahu Hajaj from the city of Kafsa in the south of Tunisia. From this letter we see that during R. Aharon Peretz’s time, locust eating was an accepted practice. It was also accepted by the eminent rabbis of Djerba, among them R. Nissim K’iat, and R. Aharon Perez. himself attests that “I, too, used to love to eat it more than any other delicacy.” Then a copy of R. H. ayyim ben Atar’s book, Peri To`ar, came into his hands, and after reading it, R. Perez. was convinced that it was right, and that the eating of locusts should be forbidden. R. Aharon Perez. stopped eating locusts but refrained from publicizing his decision, since it was still accepted practice to eat locusts in Tunis. When the prohibition against eating locusts was publicized in Tunis (a city whose rabbinical court was considered to have the higher authority), R. Aharon also issued a declaration in Djerba.
- Amar 2004, pp. 85; 88: [p. 85] An explicit tradition of eating grasshoppers existed among all the Jews of Yemen, in their various factions. The Jews of Yemen were experts in what concerns the kinds of locust, and they had a regular practice of eating them… [p. 88] ...All Jews in Yemen, in all their dwelling places, were accustomed to eating locusts, city dwellers and villagers alike, as well as among their various factions: those who espouse to the Baladi-rite and those to the Shammi-rite, the kabbalists and the non-kabbalists. In recent generations, there began to infiltrate into Yemen the halachic works of other Jewish centers, and some of them even succeeded in influencing the original customs of Yemen. Thus, for example, the news of Rabbi Ḥayyim Ben Attar’s ruling against the eating of grasshoppers reached Yemen. Although this [specific] ruling had no impact on Yemen, in any rate the rabbis of Yemen made an effort to reinforce their ancient custom. The first to come out in defense of the tradition of eating grasshoppers in Yemen was Rabbi Yihye Qoraḥ (1840–1881), one of the last of Yemen’s sages. (Original Hebrew: (עמ' 85) מסורת ברורה של אכילת חגבים היתה בקרב כל יהודי תימן לפלגיהם השונים. יהודי תימן היו בקיאים במיני הארבה והם נהגו לאכול מהם תדיר... (עמ' 88) ...אכילת חגבים היתה נהוגה אצל כל יהודי תימן בכל מושבותיהם, עירוניים וכפריים כאחד, ולפלגיהם השונים: בעלי הנוסח הבלדי והשאמי, העקשים והדרדעים. בדורות האחרונים החלו לחדור לתימן חיבורים הלכתיים ממרכזים יהודיים אחרים, וחלק מהם אף הצליחו להשפיע על מנהגי תימן המקוריים. כך, למשל, הגיעה לתימן שמעה של פסיקתו של הרב חיים בן עטר כנגד אכילת חגבים. אף שלפסיקה זו לא היתה כל השפעה בתימן, בכל זאת טרחו רבני תימן לבצר את מנהגם הקדום. הראשון שיצא להגנת מסורת אכילת החגבים בתימן היה הרב יחיא קורח (ת"ר–תרמ"א), מחכמי תימן האחרונים.)
- Qafih, Yosef (1982). Jewish Life in Saná. 1982: Ben-Zvi Institute. p. 218.
The Jews of Yemen would collect the locust and eat it – although not all species, rather, only known species accepted by them from their ancestors, based on the tradition passed down generation after generation that they are clean; and there are known species where the tradition held by them from their ancestors denotes as unclean, even though they possess all the signs of cleanness described in the Torah and in the Halacha. Among the unclean kinds are considered the following species: `awsham, ḥanāğir, ġazzāleh, usādat ḥanaš (the snake’s pillow), among others. All of the species are known to them by eye-inspection. Usually, the unclean kinds do not come in great swarms, but multiply during the rainy season, especially among the grasses and weeds. However, the clean kinds come in swarms, ‘all of them by banding together’ (Proverbs 30:27). Also the clean kinds are divided into four types; the best of them all is the one which is reddish in color; below it – that which is called ḥarḍiyyeh, of a grey and spotted color; below it, that which is yellowish in color, while below it is that which is whitish in color. This last one is inferior [to the rest] in terms of eating, on account of its thinness, and its limbs being more fibrous. The most praiseworthy is that which is reddish in color, especially at the time of its reproduction, when it is then fat and its taste is pleasant to the palate. (Original Hebrew: יהודי תימן היו לוקטים ארבה ואוכלים אותו, אך לא כל המינים, אלא רק מינים ידועים, המקובלים בידיהם מאבותיהם, על פי המסורת איש מפי איש, שהם טהורים; ויש מינים ידועים, שמסורת בידיהם מאבותיהם, שהם טמאים, אעפ"י שיש בהם כל סימני טהרה המפורשים בתורה ובהלכה. בין הטמאים נחשבים המינים הללו" "עושם", "חנאגר", "ג'זאלה", "וסאדת חנש", ועוד. כל המינים מוכרים להם בטביעת-עין. בדרך כלל אין המינים הטמאים באים במחנות גדולים אלא מתרבים בימות הגמשים, בייחוד בין דשאים ועשבים. אבל המינים הטהורים באים מחנות מחנות, ויצא חצץ כולו (משלי ל, כז). גם המינים הטהורים נחלקים לארבעה סוגים; משובח שבכולם האדמדם; למטה ממנו – "חרצ'ייה", אפור ונקוד; למטה ממנו הצהבהב, ולמטה ממנו הלבלבן. זה האחרון גרוע לאכילה, מחמת רזונו, ואיבריו סיביים יותר. משובח הוא האדמדם בייחוד בזמן רבייתו, שאז הוא שמן וטעמו ערב לחיך.)
- Hertz, Rabbi Dr. J.H. (1960). Soncino Press (London), ed. 'Pentateuch and Haftorahs: Hebrew Text, English Translation and Commentary. p. 451, note on v. 22. ISBN 0-900689-21-8.
- Amar, Zohar (2002), "The Eating of Locusts in Jewish Tradition After the Talmudic Period" (PDF), The Torah u-Madda Journal, 11
- Amar, Zohar (2004), The Locust in Jewish Tradition (in Hebrew), Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University, ISBN 965-226-257-9
- Laws of Judaism concerning insects From the Torah and Maimonides’ Code of Jewish Law