Should Karaites Boycott Shawarma?

Shawarma? Should've Warned Ya.

Shawarma? Should’ve Warned Ya.

My mouth was watering as I was getting ready to place my shawarma order. My friend, one of the founders of the Karaite Jewish University, politely said, “Shawn, there’s a problem. That fat on the top of the shawarma is chelev and it is forbidden to eat.”

I couldn’t believe that a restaurant in Israel with a kosher certification would serve something forbidden. So I placed my order and devoured some of the most delicious shawarma I’d ever had.

That was 2006 and it took me a few years to learn my friend was right; that shawarma probably wasn’t biblically permissible.

One difference between Karaite/biblical dietary laws and the Rabbinic laws of kashrut concerns the permissibility of eating the fat of a sheep’s tail [Hebrew: alyah]. Alyah is a form of chelev [i.e., forbidden fat] and is specifically prohibited in the Book of Leviticus. (See Leviticus 3:9-10; 3:17; 7:23.) But, under the Rabbinic tradition (and interpretation of Tanakh), alyah is permissible. (See Rambam’s Mishneh Torah Halacha 5.)

As I’ve learned over the past six-or-so years, alyah is actually the most common type of fat used to flavor shawarma – even non-lamb shawarma. Alyah is the main reason why shawarma is so unbelievably good. But it is also the reason why I’ve decided to be very careful when ordering shawarma, even at certified kosher establishments.

In hindsight, perhaps, this is the fundamental point of being a Karaite. Instead of simply relying on a certification that some ingredient was permissible to eat and instead of ignoring my friend’s opinion; I should have investigated the matter for myself.

So, no, I’m not actually calling for a boycott of shawarma. But I am suggesting that Jews (all of us) look into halakhic issues to the best of our own abilities.

*  *  *

Editor’s note: I have emailed a well-known Rabbinic institution to better understand the disconnect between the Karaite view and the Rabbanite view of alyah. If I get a response, I will post it.

Today is the 3rd day of the 3rd week of seven weeks. Today is the 17th day of the counting of fifty days from the day of the waving of the Omer on the morrow after the Sabbath.


Filed under Karaite Jewish University, Kashrut

12 Responses to Should Karaites Boycott Shawarma?

  1. I had no idea….todah for sharing!

    • Zvi

      Up until several years ago there used to be a link to an audio file on the Karaite Korner site named “Biblical Kosher” that explained this.

  2. Eddie

    The entire tail fat is sacrificed and is hence rendered UNkosher to eat.
    The rabbis permitted themselves of this middle-eastern delicacy, despite the clear prohibition in the Torah.
    There are several functions to this rabbinic antinomianism:

    a) differentiation of the newer (Talmudic) testament from the Old testament.
    b) Keeping Israel in a state of impurity, to prevent the Geulah – since the return of prophecy will expose the falseness of rabbinism to the masses.
    c) Personal physical benefit.

    • Eddie

      Rabbinic view is not based on any principled reading of the text – contrary to their alleged rules of interpretation, eg R’ Yishmael’s 13, the succesors of the Talmud blindly accept whatever interpretation is made, even if it contradicts the Torah.

  3. Sammy

    Very interesting..I’ll ask my rabbis here in the UK!

  4. Sha'ul Bentsion

    I guess I was lucky. Just recently I was in Israel and I almost had shawarma. I ended up not having it because they don’t serve lamb during Chag haMatsot. It’s insane that they would do such a thing! But I agree with you. I must also make mention of the fact that Chag haMatzot seemed like business as usual even for burger places. They all had bread made with baking soda. Cakes were everywhere as well. You could hardly notice it was Chag haMatsot, sadly.

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  8. David Zarmi

    I am not totally familiar with all the details and want to learn more myself, but just in terms of practical Rabbanite halakha (which I follow), there is a split between halakha ashk’nazit and s’faradit. ashk’nazim do not eat the khelev of the sheep but s’faradim do. So it probably depends on the restaurant. I don’t know what the rabanut allows exactly, but I was told that rabanut s’tam allows it. rabanut m’hadrin for sure does not and neither of course does eda kharedit.

  9. Adir

    Hi! Here in Argentina we do not use sheep tail, so if you ever come to Buenos Aires I’ll be wery glad to buy you some delicious and very casher shawarma.

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