Growing up in a Reform Jewish family, a lot of the “rules” around Judaism seemed more like general recommendations to me. Especially when it came down to eating all of the best foods the world had to offer. As you may guess, I didn’t follow a ton of these “recommendations.”
A common question I heard growing up and still hear today is: Can Jews eat shrimp?
The answer is it depends. It depends on whether the person at hand keeps kosher or not. If they keep kosher, then they don’t eat shrimp. If they don’t keep kosher, then shrimp is fair game.
We cover the following items in this post:
- Is Shrimp Kosher?
- Can Jewish People Eat Shrimp?
- Even Though It’s Not Kosher, Do Jews Eat Shrimp?
- Final Thoughts
Is Shrimp Kosher?
Before we further explain our answer above, we should first discuss whether shrimp are considered kosher or not. The short answer is no.
A Quick Overview of What It Means To Be Kosher
In the Jewish faith, there are essentially two classifications for food:
- Kosher food that is “fit for consumption.” Food that is permissible under Jewish law (also known as Halakha). A list of permissible foods is included in the link above.
- Non-kosher food is considered “torn.” Food that is not in accordance with Jewish law should not be consumed in a kosher diet.
As you can guess by now, shrimp is not in accordance with the diet requirements of Jewish law, and is therefore not a kosher delicacy.
Why Is Shrimp Not Kosher?
In Jewish law, sea animals can only be consumed if they have fins and scales. As shrimp don’t meet these requirements, they’re not considered kosher. These requirements are derived from The Torah, the Hebrew bible.
So, if you’re ever at a Jewish wedding or bar mitzvah, and your buddy turns to you and asks, “are shrimp considered kosher?” You can say “no” with confidence, and take the delicious shrimp off their hands.
So, Can Jewish People Eat Shrimp?
This really comes down to whether the Jewish person in question keeps kosher or not. And that often depends on how that person was raised.
- Those who are raised in a kosher household will not eat shrimp as it goes against Jewish law.
- Those who are raised in a non-kosher household can eat shrimp as often as they please. (This is where I fall!)
And oftentimes, the household depends on what denomination (also known as branches or movements) of Judaism that person follows.
- Reform Judaism. Roughly 35% of American Jews identify as Reform. About 5% of Reform Jews keep kosher.
- Conservative Judaism. Roughly 15% of American Jews identify as Conservative. About 24% of Conservative Jews keep kosher.
- Orthodox Judaism. Roughly 10% of American Jews identify as Orthodox. About 95% of Orthodox Jews keep kosher.
My dad was raised in a kosher household, but I wasn’t as he pivoted his approach in adulthood. When I asked him why, he told me that cheeseburgers, shrimp, and lobster were all too good to pass up! After my own testing of each item, many times over, I can comfortably agree.
Even Though It’s Not Kosher, Do Jews Eat Shrimp?
As I stated above, it depends. The home I grew up in and the home my wife and I live in now both allow shrimp. And frankly, shrimp is and was a fan favorite in both.
My first cousins, who grew up one street over from me, would have never eaten shrimp. I have many relatives who have never even tasted it.
And as you saw from the numbers above, even the most strict Jews, the Orthodox, have about 95% of their American population keep kosher. So 5% of that group may even eat shrimp.
Final Thoughts: Do Jewish People Eat Shrimp?
Sometimes Jewish people do eat shrimp, and sometimes they don’t.
- Those who keep kosher do not eat shrimp.
- Those who don’t keep kosher do eat shrimp. Or, better put, they can if they want.
Regardless of what denomination of Judaism we’re speaking about, as we saw from the numbers above, many don’t keep kosher and they eat what they please.
But, if you’re going to an event hosted by a Jewish friend or colleague, please always ask in advance prior to bringing shrimp to the event. A kosher kitchen has strict rules and it can make the hosts very uncomfortable if those rules are broken.
But, if your friends don’t keep kosher, the least you can do is bring some cocktail sauce with you!