Are locusts and crickets clean animals which can be eaten?


In our Q&A on clean and unclean animals, we say the following:

“The Bible clearly prohibits the consumption of animal meat which it describes as ‘unclean’ in Old and New Testament passages (such as Leviticus 11:1-47; Deuteronomy 14:3-20; and Acts 10:1-21, 28)…

“According to the Biblical designation, certain animals are considered ‘clean’ and their meat is therefore appropriate for human consumption (compare, for example, Leviticus 11:3: ‘Among the animals…that you may eat…’)…

“Among insects, only certain types of locusts may be eaten. However, the biblical designations of those types might not be entirely identifiable today (Leviticus 11:20-23). Soncino states that ‘the word [for grasshopper] denotes a kind of locust, but we are unable to identify it.’ [The Tanakh also states in an annotation that a number of these insects in verse 21, describing locusts, cannot be identified with certainty.] Some claim that today’s ‘grasshoppers,’ as designated by modern Science, and some types of crickets might be fit for human consumption. All other insects and ‘creeping things,’ including Frogs, Lizards, Salamanders, Slugs, Snails (including the so-called ‘edible snail’), Snakes, Toads and Worms, clearly, must not be eaten.”

 We also pointed out that we must be careful with certain designations, translations, and types of Jewish understanding with respect to some animals:

 “Caution is mandated regarding some Jewish publications, listing the swordfish as a clean fish, appropriate for human consumption. The reason for this conclusion is that the swordfish, when young, has scales, but it loses them when growing older. According to the Soncino commentary, ‘fish that possessed fins and scales while in the water, shedding them when caught and brought on dry land, are permitted to be eaten.’ Most, including the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations in America, feel that the swordfish is an unclean animal and should not be eaten…

“Disagreement exists regarding the swan. Although the Authorized Version lists the swan as unclean in Leviticus 11:18, the Jewish Publication Society renders the Hebrew word for ‘swan’ as ‘horned owl,’ while the Jewish Tanakh translation states, ‘white owl.’…

“At one time in recent history, some Jews considered the tapir as a clean animal, until it was discovered that it belongs to the pig family. Again, caution is mandated with some listings of uncommon or ‘exotic’ animals.

“God considers the consumption of unclean animals as a SERIOUS violation of His timeless health law [In applying the spirit of God’s health laws to modern times, smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipe, chewing tobacco or consuming illegal drugs would fall in the same category of prohibited activities]…”

Regarding the locust and the cricket, most English translations of Leviticus 11:22 give the impression that the consumption of those insects is clearly permitted. For instance, the New King James Bible renders Leviticus 11:20-22 as follows:

“All flying insects that creep on all fours shall be an abomination to you. Yet these you may eat of every flying insect that creeps on all fours: those which have jointed legs above their feet with which to leap on the earth. These you may eat: the locust after its kind, the destroying locust after its kind, the cricket after its kind, and the grasshopper after its kind.”

However, the Authorized Version translates “beetle” instead of “cricket,” which is clearly a mistranslation. Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible explains insofar:

“… the beetle after his kind; which is another sort of locust called Chargol, and should not be rendered a beetle, for no sort of beetles are eatable, nor have legs to leap withal, and so come not under the general description given of such flying, creeping things, fit to eat.”

Some other translations give alternate renderings, omitting the “cricket” in their list, but say instead that we can eat: “… every kind of great locust, every kind of long-headed locust, every kind of green locust, and every kind of desert locust” (Revised English Bible). The New Jerusalem Bible tries to stay closer to the original Hebrew, by rendering verses 22-23 in this way: “These are the ones you may eat: the various kinds of migratory locust, the various kinds of solham locust, hargot locust and hagab locust. But all other winged insects on four feet you will regard as detestable for eating.”

The “Elberfelder Bibel” is even more specific, in only stating the Hebrew name for the first type of locust as well: “These are the ones you may eat: The Arbe according to its kind and the Solam according to its kind and the Hargol according to its kind and the Hagab according to its kind.”

The “neue Lutherbibel 2009” states it this way: “Of these you may eat the locusts which are: the Arbeh with its kind, the Solam with its kind, the Hargol with its kind and the Hargab with its kind.” Very similar are the renderings of the “Luther Bible” of 1891 and of 1984, as well as the “Menge Bibel” and also the “Schlachterbibel” [all sticking to the original Hebrew].

The “revidierte Lutherbibel 2017” and the “Zürcher Bibel” render the passage similar to the “Elberfelder Bibel”, stating in an annotation that these are names of different kinds of locusts which cannot be identified or specified in detail today. The modern translation, “Hoffnung für Alle”, includes the identical annotation.

It should be noted that virtually none of the more established German translations, as far as we can tell, includes or specifically mentions the “cricket” (“Grille” in German) in the list of the four kinds of locusts which can be eaten.

The Benson Commentary writes:

“… how to distinguish these locusts from the rest is difficult, if not impossible to us. They were, however, well known of old in the eastern countries. For locusts, though unusual food with us, were commonly eaten by the Ethiopians, Lybians, Parthians, and other eastern people bordering upon Judea. And as it is certain the eastern locusts were much larger than ours, so it is probable they were of different qualities, and yielded better nourishment.”

The Geneva Study Bible agrees, stating: “These were certain types of grasshoppers, which are not now properly known.”

Barnes Notes on the Bible adds:

“In the uncertainty of identifying these four creatures, it has been suggested that some of the names may belong to locusts in an imperfect state of development. Most modern versions have taken a safer course than our translators, by retaining the Hebrew names.”

In this regard, Jewish understanding, traditions, interpretations and rulings as to which kinds of locusts can be eaten are of little help. wrote:

“The Torah gives us a number of signs to discern which species are permitted. The Mishnah sums up the signs: ‘… Of locusts: all that have four legs, four wings, leaping legs, and wings covering the greater part of the body, are kosher. Rabbi Yose says: [In addition to the signs] its name must be chagav [locust].

“In other words, even with the signs, there must be a tradition that the locust bears the name chagav. As the Talmud tells us, there are 800 non-kosher species of grasshoppers and locusts, and there are only eight that are kosher. Since, for the most part, we are no longer able to ascertain which species of locusts are kosher, we refrain from eating any locusts…

“Although some communities have a tradition regarding the permissibility of certain species of locusts, most communities refrain from consuming any species due to the lack of a clear tradition… According to most opinions, unless someone’s family belongs to a community that has a clear tradition to eat these locusts, one should refrain from eating them.”

This rather strange “ruling” is explained by as follows (apart from the fact that the Bible only allows for the consumption of four types of locusts, and not eight):

“Since it is difficult to identify the species that are kosher to be eaten, rabbinic law maintains that Jews may only eat locusts if they are from a community that has a strong tradition as to which are kosher. Some rabbinic authorities rule that a person from a locale that doesn’t have a tradition about a certain species of animals… may rely on those that do.”

It goes without saying that such rulings and traditions, by limiting them to the Jews living in a certain community, are without much value for Christians.

Therefore, as we have no way of knowing which four types of locusts from the “800 non-kosher species of grasshoppers and locusts” are fit for consumption, the safest course of action might perhaps be to avoid the consumption of locusts and crickets altogether.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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