Although many Jews know that kosher mammals must have split hooves and chew their cuds and that kosher fish must have fins and scales, very few are aware of the major prohibition of eating bugs, insects and creeping crawling things. (There are certain grasshoppers that are kosher, but most communities do not consume them because of difficulties identifying the precise species.)

In parashat Shemini, five verses declare the prohibition of eating things that swarm upon the earth. Leviticus 11:29-30 lists eight small animals that contaminate people, as well as objects, that come into contact with their dead carcasses.

Leviticus 11:29 reads, וְזֶה לָכֶם הַטָּמֵא בַּשֶּׁרֶץ הַשֹּׁרֵץ עַל הָאָרֶץ , These are the contaminated things, among the teeming animals that teem upon the earth. Although some of these creatures are not clearly identified, they are generally translated as the weasel, the mouse, the “great lizard,” the gecko, the land crocodile, the lizard, the sand lizard and the chameleon.

The Torah, in Leviticus 11:41, reiterates the prohibition. וְכָל הַשֶּׁרֶץ הַשֹּׁרֵץ עַל הָאָרֶץ שֶׁקֶץ הוּא, לֹא יֵאָכֵל , Every teeming creature that teems upon the ground–it is an abomination, it shall not be eaten. This includes snakes, scorpions, worms and other similar reptiles. Leviticus 11:42-44, includes the prohibition of insects that breed in filth or decay.

The Torah concludes, Leviticus 11:44-45, “For I am the L-rd your God, you have to sanctify yourselves and you shall become holy, for I am holy, and you shall not contaminate yourselves through any teeming thing that creeps on the earth, for I am the Lord your God who elevates you from the land of Egypt to be a God unto you. You shall be holy for I am holy.”

As science and technology have advanced, food specialists have alerted us to previously unknown contaminations in our food. The banning of DDT had a big impact on the numbers of bugs that are found in green vegetables and other farm plants. Advances in monitoring equipment have even found contaminants in our nation’s water supply, which may or may not affect our health. As a result of these discoveries, in the past fifteen or twenty years, an entire new industry has sprung up for the kosher consumer to ensure the availability of bug-free vegetables. Shabbat Shalom