Friday, July 20, 2007

A Fishy Email Conversation

I recently had the following email discussion with Lisa Winer, which I thought might be useful to others as well:

Rabbi,
Now that Farmer Jack has closed it is harder to find kosher fish. Is it necessary to go to a place where they have a separate kosher fish knife or is it okay to just buy fish anywhere and rinse the fish off since its all cold.
thanks, Lisa

Lisa,
It's much better to use a place that has a separate fish knife -- the gemara and shulchan aruch speak about a concern that a shamnunis -- a fat residue -- remains on a knife once it's used, even though it's all cold, that's difficult to remove without thorough washing with soap, warm water, etc.
but I'm not sure which place has such a knife...which place do you know of that has a kosher knife? Maybe we can encourage a local store to have such a knife? Perhaps Meijer would be interested. I know that Rabbi Morris has a relationship with them -- perhaps I'll ask him about it. Also, I know that One Stop carries kosher fish that's fresh.
-Rabbi Spolter

Rabbi,
Superior Fish Co. on 11 mile Road (just east of Woodward) has one. You obviously have to select a whole fish and they'll filet, debone and scale it. But it ends up being more expensive and you're obligated to buy the whole fish. This means that I can't buy a salmon unless I freeze it) b/c its just way too much fish. It would be really nice (especially in a community this size) to have a place with a separate fish counter, like Farmer Jack had, where they run specials and you're not obligated to buy the whole fish.
I am not aware of other places have a kosher knife. In Ann Arbor we used to go to a place in Kerrytown that had one. Since they were willing to do this for such a small demand there, II'm guessing other local fish suppliers would be open to it, espcially if they heard from you and Rabbi Morris that there was a demand. My sense from talking to people is that a lot of people just purchase fish anywhere. So, if you are able to sway another fish market to obtain and keep a kosher knife, please publicize this information. It would be especially nice to have this type of convenience at a place where they sell other food items, like Vics or Westborn markets.
Lisa

Rabbi:
I was thinking about your email....even if the fat residue were not properly washed off the knife, wouldnt rinsing the fish off at home get it off? Also, if any residue remained, wouldnt it create a batal b'shishim case -- not enough fat residue on the fish to make it traif? While I understand that its better to use a kosher knife that's been only used for kosher fish, is it really halachikly necessary?
Lisa

Lisa,
You asked a great question, and I looked into the issue further. Fresh fish purchasing has a couple of issues involved:
1. If it's cut, then there is the issue of the knife. You are correct on the first issue: because we cannot assume that the knife was properly cleaned from the (shellfish - for example) residue, we must assume that the residue is still on the kosher fish that was cut from the knife. But, because the fish is still cold, you can rinse that residue of if you scrub the fish with some kind of brush under running water.
Regarding the issue of bittul, we might apply bittul if one accidentally cooked the fish without washing it after the fact (bedieved), but the halachah forbids one from entering into a bittul situation lechatchilah. Perhaps the best option might be to keep your own fish knife, and ask them to put a piece of fresh paper down on the counter and use your knife to cut the fish with your knife in the store. Not practical to carry around, but halachically ideal.
2. Fresh fish nowadays raises another problem, and that's the issue of identification. Most fresh fish is no longer sold whole. Rather, the vast majority of the fillets that you see in the store are filleted in a plant and shipped boxed to the store, where they sell it. So, how do you know that what they say is rainbow trout actually is? What are the identifiable marks? That perhaps was the greater value of the hashgachah in Farmer Jack. Regarding finding another store, I was in Westborn this week, and their fish setup is not at all feasible -- the kosher and treif fish types are all mixed together, and they also sell pre-prepared fish in the same cooler, so there's just too much possiblity of actual treif contamination there. I would also look into Holiday Market. They just hired David Neumark, who was the mashgiach at Farmer Jack, and having him supervise a kosher fish knife, cooler or something like that might be the best bet right now. If you have any other thoughts, please let me know. Also, after we had this exchange, I realized that other people might have the same questions regarding the kosher fish, so I'd like your permission to share this discussion with the shul -- either with or without your name - your choice.
Thanks,
Rabbi Spolter

Rabbi:
When you talk about brushing the fish, do you mean taking the type of brush used for dishes and keeping it for this use only? Or could you take a dish brush used for pareve dishes and scrub it with soap and cold water after brushing the fish? I just want to be sure I understand you correctly after this long discussion!
I'll give the store location more thought and ask around to see if others have any ideas.
Thanks again.
Lisa

Lisa,
You can use any kosher brush -- since it's cold and you're washing it off afterwards.
Rabbi Spolter