SALT - Friday, 22 Adar Bet 5776 - April 1, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg


The Torah in Parashat Shemini establishes that a species of fish is permissible for consumption if it possesses both fins and scales (11:9-10).  The Mishna, in Masekhet Nidda (51b), establishes that any fish that has scales also has fins.  As such, if we can determine that a given species of fish has scales, it may be eaten even if it is not determined that it has fins.

The Gemara, in discussing the Mishna’s comment, raises the question of why the Torah bothered to mention both fins and scales, if essentially, a fish’s status is determined solely based on the presence of scales.  Since in any event a fish with scales definitely has fins, there seems to be no reason for the Torah to specify both properties.  The Gemara answered that the Torah mentioned fins “le-hagdil Torah u-le’ha’adirah” – simply for the purpose of adding more content to the Torah and thereby glorifying it.

The question arises as to how the goal of “le-hagdil Torah u-le’ha’adirah” is achieved through entirely superfluous information.  Seemingly, the idea of increasing and glorifying Torah is that we are provided with a large corpus of material to study and analyze.  How is this achieved by adding a word which contributes nothing of significance?  What value is there to mentioning fins if these are necessarily present in a fish with scales?

Several writers (cited by Rav Shemuel Baruch Deutsch in Birkat Kohen, Parashat Shemini) explained the Gemara’s comment in light of the question we addressed in our last two editions of S.A.L.T. regarding the nature of the simanei tahara – the properties of kosher creatures.  As we saw, these characteristics can be viewed either as the reasons for an animal’s kosher status – meaning, as what actually makes a given animal kosher – or as mere indicators of a creature’s status.  The question can be formulated as whether an animal is kosher because it has these properties, or for some other reason which is indicated by these properties.  The Gemara’s reference to the concept of “le-hagdil Torah u-le’ha’adirah” in this context would seem to support the first perspective, namely, that these properties are the reason for a creature’s status.  If the significance of fins and scales was merely incidental, as they happen to be the physical indicators of a fish’s status, then, seemingly, there would be no value at all in the Torah’s mentioning fins as one of the properties of kosher fish.  The value of mentioning both properties becomes more understandable if we embrace the perspective viewing the simanei tahara as the reasons for a creature’s kosher status.  If both the fins and scales are the reasons why a fish is kosher, then it is meaningful for the Torah to name both properties, even though, practically speaking, the presence of scales suffices for us to declare a species kosher.

It should be noted that this proof relates specifically to fish.  Even if we accept this argument, and prove on the basis of the Gemara’s comment that fins and scales are the reasons for a fish’s kosher status, this does not compel us to accept this approach with respect to animals.  We might still insist that the two properties of kosher animals – split hooves and their chewing their cud – are indicators of their status, and not the reason for their status of permissibility.  (Indeed, as we saw, Halakha accepts the view that an animal born to a kosher species is kosher even if it does not itself feature kosher characteristics, which seemingly reflects the view that the simanei tahara are indicators of an animal’s kosher status.)