"Jews don’t fish.” It is a phrase I have heard again and again in the two and a half years that I have written this blog. Perhaps there is some kind of anti-fishing bias out there among my fellow Jews. What exactly is not kosher about fishing? Is it true that Jews don’t fish?
The most common Jewish objection that I hear about fishing is that it is cruel to the fish. It is one thing to eat trout since we need sustenance, but to fish for sport is not ethical. One person even wrote to me that if I enjoy being in nature so much, why not go for a hike, instead of torturing the fish?
I share these concerns for the ethics of fly fishing. I practice catch and release. I take steps to insure that the fish are returned to the water with a minimum of disturbance. I would argue that catch and release is better for the planet and the fish. If every fish caught was kept for food, our streams and lakes would soon be empty.
Fishing is not hiking; it is an activity that involves life and death, and connects us to a more primal side of ourselves that we do not often experience in our 21st Century lives. However, when I am on the stream, I seek to make fly fishing as humane and ethical as possible.
Along with concern for the ethics of fishing, perhaps the anti-fishing bias is an unintended result of the Jewish emphasis on eduction. We are the people of the book. Our most holy object is a scroll of writing, the Torah. Education helped our immigrant ancestors get out of the Lower East Side and the crowded inner cities and succeed beyond our wildest expectations in America.
Yet, this emphasis on education also created the stereotype that Jews only care about intellectual pursuits. Somehow it got to be a Jewish cultural value to say that success in sports and outdoor activities like fishing are less worthwhile than getting good grades and succeeding in school.
The fact is that getting into a good college is probably more important than being good at fly fishing. Education gives your more options in life. However, there is nothing wrong with pursuing activities that require you to use your body and not just your mind.
One of the reasons that I love to fly fish is that it gives my brain a rest. Casting a fly rod is about feeling the physicality of the line in your fingers and trying to make a small bunch of feathers and thread land gracefully on the water. Fly Fishing also feeds my soul. Standing in a stream at sunrise, I appreciate the beauty of our world, and feel a deep spiritual connection to all that is around me.
Along with hearing the phrase “Jews don’t fish,” I also receive many emails that begin something like this: “Dear Rabbi, It’s so nice to meet another Jew who loves to fish. I thought I was the only one out there!” I have learned that Jews do fish! And there are plenty of people who find fishing to be a spiritual experience, both Jews and non-Jews. It seems to me that our energy is better spent not worrying about stereotypes, but instead pursuing those activities in life that provide us with fulfillment and meaning, no matter what they are.