Leviticus 11:9-12

These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you: They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.

Deuteronomy 14:9-10

These ye shall eat of all that are in the waters: all that have fins and scales shall ye eat: And whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye may not eat; it is unclean unto you.

The laws of Kashrut with respect to fish are fairly clear from the Torah text. Whatever has fins and scales is allowed; if it doesn't, it's not.

As it happens, it seems that there aren't any fish with scales that don't have fins. At least, nobody has found any yet. The scales need to be large and removable with a knife or by scraping without tearing the skin of the fish. This rules out things like sharks, which have tiny sandpaper-like scales.

In theory, fish which have scales when young but lose them later are kosher, but in practice it's not so clear. Two common fish of this sort -- sturgeon and swordfish -- are generally considered non-Kosher, although some authorities permit them. All shellfish are obviously ruled out. The term used for fish that isn't kosher -- abomination -- is an uncommon word also used in the Torah's prohibition of homosexual sex and using unfair weights and measures.

Fish and Meat

According to the Shulchan Aruch, meat and fish may not be eaten together. The reason for this prohibition is unclear. Some say it is seen as ostentation to be combining these two foods. Other mystical reasons are also suggested. In any case, this prohibition only extends to eating meat and fish in the same course, and if fish and meat are on the same plate it doesn't make them treyf. It is customary to have a drink between a fish course and a meat course.

Fish and Judaism

Fish are seen as a symbol of fertility, probably because they give birth to so many young. During the creation of the World, God blesses the fish to "be fruitful and multipy" (Gen 1:22). Jacob blesses his grandchildren Ephraim and Menasseh that they "grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth"(Gen 48:16). The Hebrew word translated in that verse as meaning 'grow' is va'Yidgu and seems to be derived from Dag, fish.

As such, fish are seen as good luck. There is a Jewish tradition that creatures of the water are immune from the Evil Eye. Kabbalists use them in good-luck amulets. Fish is traditionally served at Moroccan Jewish weddings. Fish is sometimes served on Rosh Hashanah, accompanied by a plea that "we be fruitful and multiply like fish". The head of the fish also sometimes eaten on Rosh Hashanah, asking that we "be like a head and not like a tail".

It is seen as important to have fish on Shabbat, and many people will go to a lot of effort to have some, often Gefilte fish in Ashkenazi tradition, or a spiced fish of some type in Sephardi tradition.

Some Kosher fish

Anchovy
Barbel
Bass
Bream
Brill
Brisling
Carp
Coalfish
Cod
Dab
Flounder
Gefilte Fish -- Ok, so it's not technically a type of fish, but it's very Jewish.
Grayling
Haddock
John Dory
Ling
Mackerel
Mullet
Perch
Pike
Pilchard
Plaice
Roach
Salmon
Sardine
Smelt
Sole
Sprat
Tench
Trout
Tuna
Whitebait
Whiting

Some non-kosher fish

Angelfish
Angler Fish
Beluga
Catfish
Conger Eel
Dogfish
Eel
Huss
Monkfish
Ray
Rock Salmon
Rockfish
Skate
Sturgeon (and therefore Caviar)
Swordfish (See above)
Turbot

And all Shellfish and Seafood, which basically is anything that isn't a true fish. This list is in no way exhaustive; consult your local rabbi for the straight dope

Bibliography:

  • Klein, Isaac: A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice JTS, New York, 1979
  • Roden, Claudia: The Book of Jewish Food Viking, London, 1997
  • Rose, Evelyn: The New Complete International Jewish Cookbook Robson, London, 1992 (2000)
  • Siddur Kol Ya'akov, Artscroll, Metsorah 1990

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