Friday, December 25, 2009

Are Imaginary Animals Kosher? Are They Jewish?

If  you think you've heard it all about "Is It Kosher?" and "Who Is a Jew?", you haven't.  In less than two months, Tachyon Publications will publish The Guide to Kosher Imaginary Animals, by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.

This short, witty book (96 pages), in the planning stages for years and the result of blog posts and comments on the Internet since 2007, reflects on the physical characteristics of a variety of mythical and imaginary animals, and makes mostly tongue-in-cheek decisions as to whether or not they are suitable for ritual slaughter and consumption by kashrut-observing Jews.

The comments on this blog and on others are as funny as the post itself and would be a suitable basis for lengthy discussion around the table at a Purim Seudah.  We found it very much in the spirit of last year's Purim edition of The Kustanowitz Kronikle, in which the front page feature article was "Rabbis to Require Shechita For Many Fruits and Vegetables."

References to The Guide as it nears publication are cropping up in the Jewish media.  The Forward is publishing an article about it in its January 1, 2010 issue (now online), and with the viral nature of the Internet, you'll be seeing a lot about it before February 15.

Which makes us go one step further and ponder a question to which we have not yet found any answers:  Are any of the Dr. Seuss creatures kosher?  How about The Sneetches, The Lorax, Humming Fish, Brown Barbaloots, or Swomee Swans?  And if they're not kosher to eat, do their physical and emotional characteristics make them Jewish and obligated to eat only kosher food?

Let's analyze the possibilities:  First of all, we have to decide if the Sneetches are birds or mammals.  Since they don't have any visible mammary glands, we would rule out that category.  The Torah doesn't give us kosher characteristics for birds, only forbidding birds of prey and specifically named species.
Looking at the Sneetches, we would conclude that they are indeed members of the bird family, and since we couldn't find Sneetches mentioned in the scriptures, they are very likely kosher.  Swomee Swans are kosher because all swans are kosher.  Dr. Seuss' drawings do not clearly show scales on humming-fish, so their kashrut is as yet undetermined.  Brown barbaloots appear very similar to bears, which are not kosher animals. 

With regard to other Seussian creatures, we can rule out kosher status for The Cat in the Hat, and all cat-like and dog-like creatures, e.g. Marvin K. Mooney.  Other creatures that resemble non-kosher species, such as Yertle the Turtle, Horton the Elephant, and the Fox in Socks should not show up on your dinner table.

But if they're not kosher, might they be Jewish?

The Lorax, who speaks for the trees, sounds an awful lot like many Jewish environmentalists. The Zaxes, in both North-Going and South-Going varieties, are as stubborn as many Jews we know, and might have some Jewish genes.  And our friends the Sneetches exhibit characteristics of snobbishness and jealousy that we might recognize among our friends and families.

We invite you to comment on these monumental halachic and sociological questions by clicking on "Comments" just below this post, and continuing a lively discussion.
 (A tip of the kippah to Esther Kustanowitz, who spotted the article in the Forward and brought this subject to our attention.)


  1. I'll start the discussion by mentioning a book by Rabbi Natan Slifkin, Sacred Monsters:
    Mysterious and Mythical Creatures of Scripture, Talmud and Midrash. In this book, Rabbi Slifkin explores conflicts between the Talmud and science in the context of Torah mysteries of zoology. The Talmud and Midrash discuss a wide range of bizarre creatures, including mermaids, unicorns, griffins, dragons, sea-serpents and phoenixes, as well as strange biological concepts such as spontaneous generation. Dragons, griffins, and sea serpents would be classified as reptiles and therefore inherently non-kosher, but a phoenix? a unicorn? Maybe, and maybe not. And mermaids are probably out as food, but could you marry one? Discuss among yourselves!

  2. I love the Seuss angle! Thanks for covering this! My wife Ann hopes to do a book tour later in 2010 going to synagogues talking about the Kosher Guide.


  3. A man may love a mermaid, but where will they build a home? "Food for thought," indeed.