I put together this overview of the history and issues surrounding swordfish’s controversial place in kosher dietary laws so that you can hopefully answer the question: Are Swordfish Kosher?
See also: Is Mahi Mahi Kosher?
Swordfish was considered kosher and eaten regularly by Jewish communities for centuries.
However, in the 1950s, some Orthodox rabbis began to prohibit swordfish based on an interpretation of kosher rules requiring fish to have scales.
The initial ban on swordfish by prominent American Orthodox rabbis was rejected by Conservative authorities and many European Orthodox rabbis.
The debate continues today with reasonable rabbi opinions on both sides.
Key Positions in the Swordfish Controversy
|View on Swordfish
|Lack of noticeable scales on adult fish
|Historic tradition, tiny scales present
|Mesorah (chain of tradition)
|Varies by individual choice
The central issue is a Torah requirement that fish must have fins and scales to be considered kosher.
Do Swordfish Have Scales?
Yes, Swordfish have clearly visible, easy-to-remove scales as juveniles.
However, as the fish matures, the scale structure changes so that only the tips of the scales are visible on adults.
- In the 1950s, American Orthodox Rabbi Moshe Tendler contended that the lack of visible exterior scales on adult swordfish means it should be considered not kosher.
- This ruling shocked many Orthodox rabbis in Europe and the Mediterranean, where eating swordfish had never been controversial.
Final Verdict: Is Swordfish Kosher or Not Kosher
The kosher status of swordfish remains complex: While some Orthodox rabbis prohibit it, many also allow it based on the longstanding tradition of Mesorah.
There is extensive historical evidence of swordfish being treated as kosher over centuries. Reform authorities generally consider it a matter of individual choice.
- Swordfish was considered kosher for centuries until modern re-evaluation.
- Orthodox authorities divided based on interpretation of what constitutes scales.
- Conservative movement permits it based on mesorah (chain of tradition).
- Issue remains controversial but with strong cases on both sides.