Gone fishin’: Sophomores reel in halacha

Nate Erez, Staff Writer

As the sun rose last Friday morning, Mrs. Williams’ 10th grade Tanach class ventured out into the Pacific to catch some fish and learn what makes them kosher or traif.  Students and chaperones boarded the fishing boat *Spitfire*  and six hours later had caught one red snapper, three ling cod, 45 rockfish and 110 sculpin  in total. 

Mrs. Williams planned the trip as part of her unit on kashrut, taking Rabbi Sabo, science teacher Mr. Buckley, and senior Emilio Lari along to help.

“We were learning about the laws of kashrut in class and we wanted to bring the halacha (Jewish law) more to life.” Mrs. Williams said. “We thought a fishing trip could provide an experiential opportunity to bring the classroom into our lives.”

Throughout the morning, whenever a fish was reeled onto the boat, students would examine it and determine whether it had fins and scales — and if scales, whether they were the proper kind.  Kosher fish have scales that can be scraped off, while scales that take skin off them when they’re removed mean a fish is traif — that is, improper for Jews to eat.

Parents dropped the 20 sophomores off at Shalhevet at 6 a.m. and the chaperones then drove everyone to  Marina Del Rey, where they boarded the boat. After the *Spitfire* departed out of the bay, students were given a quick fishing lesson, which seemed to pay off because everyone who dropped a line in the water caught at least one fish.

Almost all of the students on the boat were first-time fishermen, and many just liked being outside for a change.

“It was fun,” said Shira Hakim. “It was good to do something different and creative.”

Most of the rockfish that were caught were small flounders called sand dabs. Michael Lenett caught the largest fish among the students — a ling cod that weighed 11 pounds and was almost 22 inches long, the second-biggest  caught on the boat that day. Deckhands offered to fillet and clean the fish for a dollar so they could be easily prepared and cooked at home. 

Everyone from Shalhevet caught kosher fish, though another fisherman on the boat caught something traif: a shark. A shark has scales, but they can only be removed by scraping off the skin, thus making it non-kosher. When the boat’s crew was filleting the shark, it was discovered that it had been pregnant and little unborn sharks were found in its body.

Meanwhile, the 110 sculpin which were caught were okayed by Rabbi Sabo as kosher, but the ruling was later questioned because *The Artscroll Series Kashruth,* by Rabbi Yacov Lipschutz, listed sculpins as non-kosher. 

A closer reading, however, showed that the fish caught Friday were a variation of sculpin known as the Califiornia Scorpionfish which are indeed kosher, and a completely different genus from the non-kosher Atlantic sculpins. “I saw immediately it was full of *kaskassim* [scales],” Rabbi Sabo said when told of the dispute later. “Sometimes it’s so clear, you don’t need a book — no rabbi, you don’t need anyone.”

The trip was enjoyable for most, but many students as well as teachers had trouble battling sea sickness. An anti-nausea pill was offered but several students vomited anyway. Mr. Buckley also had trouble keeping his food down, though he was a good sport about it.

“I don’t care,” Mr Buckley said after throwing up. “That was a good burrito.”

When it was over, everyone on the trip came home before Shabbat with the pungent smell of the sea and a goodie bag of fish.

“The fishing trip was an amazing bonding experience that no one will forget,” said Sarah Badreau. “We didn’t only have a fun time but we also got to learn.”