A kosher fish mentioned in the Talmud that tastes like pork has been identified by Bar-Ilan University researchers and brought here surreptitiously from Iran.
Called shabut in Arabic, the fish lives in the rivers of Iraq and Syria as well as Iran.
The fish was brought over from Iran, preserved in formaldehyde, by Dr. Zohar Amar of BIU's department of Eretz Yisrael studies and archeology and Dr. Ari Zivotofsky of the Inter-Disciplinary Center for Brain Studies. They, along with experts from the Agriculture Ministry, are now studying the possibility of raising shabut (known scientifically as Barbus grybus).
Making the fish available here, they say, should gladden the hearts of immigrants from Iran as well as Israelis who keep kosher but would like to know what pork tastes like.
The Babylonian Talmud, which contains numerous discussions about the fish, specifically notes that some of its organs taste like pork (although how the sages were able to make the comparison is not clear).
The great commentator Rashi wrote that it was the brain of the fish that tasted like pig meat, and that it served as a kosher option for people who yearned to eat the forbidden meat.
Most modern researchers believed that the shabut, which can grow to up to two meters and 60 kilograms, was one of several species of fish surviving in the Mediterranean Basin and in Europe. But the BIU researchers, who specialize in the study of animals mentioned in Jewish holy books, maintain that their fish is the shabut. Rabbi Yosef Haim, known as the Ben-Ish Hai, and other Iraqi sages of recent generations recognized it as kosher.
According to Midrash Shimoni, a compilation of rabbinic writings, "Seven hundred pure [permitted] fish were exiled with Israel to Babylonia, and all returned except for the shabut and in the future it will return."
An anonymous resident of Iran served as the liaison for the researchers, who spent six months finding and researching the fish. Fish farmers in the Beit She'an Valley are already investigating the possibility of breeding the species.Kosher 'pork of the sea' makes aliya from Iran