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Eels are known for their long, snake-like bodies. Although they sure look like snakes, eels are actually fish and come from the order Anguilliformes. Their spinal column consists of more than 100 vertebrae, which gives them great flexibility. There are close to 800 species of eels in the world, ranging in length from
two inches to thirteen feet. All eels have elongated, narrow bodies with long dorsal and anal fins that often extend over most of their body length. (The dorsal fin is located on its back, while the anal fin is located
at its bottom.)

Most species of eels live in the shallow waters of the ocean and burrow into sand or mud or among rocky crevices. Sometimes, eels can be found living together in holes, or “eel pits.” Eels are usually ambush predators, hiding in their burrows or coral reefs in wait of their prey. Some eels, however, are more aggressive hunters and pursue their prey by using their long bodies to reach into holes and crevices.

The moray eel is perhaps the most well-known eel, with close to 200 species of it occupying both deep and shallow tropical oceans worldwide. Moray eels tend to remain in the crevices deep in the ocean rather than venturing onto shore. The largest populations of moray eels are found around tropical coral reefs.

Moray eels generally reach five feet in length, but can grow to lengths of ten feet. They vary from each other inboth size and color, but all moray eels are fairly similar in appearance. They have large eyes, a mouth that contains large, sharp, backward-curving
teeth that can inflict serious wounds, and an elongated body that is slightly flattened toward the tail.

The moray eel is a carnivorous creature and is often one of the most dominant predators within its environment. It is a nocturnal hunter which preys on other eels, fish, crustaceans such as crabs, and mollusks including squid and cuttlefish. Even though the moray eel has poor hearing and eyesight, it has an acute sense of smell, which makes it such a formidable predator. The moray eel, however, has its own predators to be wary of –
such as groupers, barracudas, sharks, and larger moray eels. But since it spends the majority of its time hiding, it is able to remain out of sight from predators and at the same time be in a position to ambush any unsuspecting prey that passes it by it.

That’s Shocking!

Some species of fish look like eels, and are called eels; however, they are not true eels. One example is the electric eel. Despite its name, the electric eel is actually a type of knifefish and is more closely related to the catfish than it is to a true eel. 

When electric eels attack prey or feel threatened, they are capable of releasing a 600-volt electrical charge. This charge
is about five times the amount of power that is in a standard
wall socket!

Fins & Skins

Although it seemingly has both signs that indicate that it is a kosher fish – fins and scales, theeel is not kosher. This is because not all scales are considered to be a “kosher sign.” In order to be considered a “kosher sign,” the scale must be easily removable without damaging the fish’s skin. Bony tubercles and plate-like or thorn-like scales thatcan be removed only by removing part of the skin with them are not considered scales in this context. Since the eel’s “scales” fall into this category – they are part of the eel’s skin and cannot be easily removed – the eel is not kosher.

Torah Talk

Among all [creatures] that are in the water, you may eat these: Any [of the creatures] in the water that has fins and scales, those you may eat, whether [it lives] in the seas or in the rivers. (Bamidbar 11:9)

Fish must have two signs in order to be permissible for our consumption: fins and scales. The Torah states clearly that if either sign is missing, the fish is impure and unfit for our consumption. Accordingly, if a piece of fish that has scales but does not have fins was placed on a plate before us, by these rules, we would have to decline eating it. However, since we have not seen the entire fish, we could raise the possibility that maybe the whole fish from which the piece was taken did have fins, but the fins were cut off and thrown away.

Hazalcome to our aid by telling us: Any fish that has scales has fins, but there are fish that have fins but no scales (Niddah 51b). As such, we are permitted to eat the piece of fish on our plate, although we see only one of the two required signs – scales but not fins – because we are assured that if it the fish has scales, it must have had fins as well.

Today, over 30,000 species of fish have been classified, and not one of them has scales but does not have fins. How did Hazalknow, in those ancient times, about facts that scientists have only recently discovered? The mefarshimon the Gemara (see Tosafot on Hullin 66b) explain that Hazalknew these facts because Hashem Himself, Who created all the fish that exist in the world,  revealed this information to them through Moshe at Har Sinai.

Thus, not only have those who wish to refute the words of Hazalbeen unsuccessful, they have been disproven by their own claim. After searching the whole world to find a fish that had scales and no fins, scientists recently thought they found a candidate…only to discover that that fish has a fin, as well!

Did You Know?

Eels can actually crawl across land to get to other ponds and rivers!

The shock of an electric eel has been known to knock a horse off its feet!

Eels can swim backward as well as forward.

Eels that live deep in the sea are usually gray or black. Eels that live in tropical areas have bright patterns and colors on them.

On record, the heaviest eel ever captured was a long­finned eel which weighed 98.5 pounds. It was caught in the Clarence River of New Zealand in 1926.

Moray eels have the ability to tie their bodies into knots! They use this ability to gain leverage when tearing food.

Garden eels live in burrows on the sea floor. They poke their heads from holes in the sand, while most of their bodies remain hidden.