Promotional art of Sebastian the crab, voiced by Daveed Diggs, as he appears in Disney's new live action remake of "The Little Mermaid."
Promotional art of Sebastian the crab, voiced by Daveed Diggs, as he appears in Disney's new live action remake of "The Little Mermaid."

Daveed Diggs is playing a crab in ‘The Little Mermaid’ — is that kosher?

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This story was originally published in the Forward.

When the live action “Little Mermaid” breaches movie screens May 26, bloated and noisome like the leviathan of legend, viewers may be treated to an unlikely “Hamilton” reunion — and perhaps a question of kashrut.

Oakland native Daveed Diggs is starring as Sebastian the crab, the singing tummler for the “hot crustacean band” who originally appeared in the 1989 classic. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who produced and wrote new music for the remake, is rumored to play Chef Louis, who, at least in the animated film, spends most of his screentime hunting Sebastian in the hopes of serving him for dinner. There’s one interesting rub: Diggs is Jewish and crabs are definitely not kosher.

In theory there’s no problem here — Diggs will not, after all, be eating himself — but it does prove an interesting bit of casting. Jews, after all, were often linked to treyf animals by antisemites. The name marrano, for crypto-Jews in Spain and Portugal, for instance, meant pig and only now are Germans getting around to covering up an antisemitic church sculpture of Jews suckling from a sow.

Daveed Diggs stars in the third episode of "Extrapolations" on Apple TV+.
Daveed Diggs as a rabbi in the third episode of “Extrapolations” on Apple TV+.

Crabs, though, have a different reputation in Jewish texts. As Mark Podwal notes in his “Jewish Bestiary,” the Talmud equates humans to the crab who “first retreats to nooks and corners but eventually becomes brave as a lion.” 

There is also, at least in the case of a hermit crab (Diggs’ Sebastian appears to be a tropical ghost crab), a certain Jewish resonance in how the animal sheds its homes and picks up new ones. That’s my own midrash, drawn from once owning pet hermit crabs named for the “3 Ninjas.”

If one looks to astrology, the crab (cancer) is linked to the month of Tammuz, which, like the pinch of a crab, is painful for Jews due to a number of tragic anniversaries. But, according to the Ohr Somoyach website, the crab also “symbolizes being given over to the pleasures of the flesh,” which certainly sounds like what Sebastian is pushing for during “Kiss the Girl.”

It also notes that “the crab is most at home in water,” which explains his boasting of the benefits of aquatic living in “Under the Sea.” 

Still, one wonders if Diggs’ casting is entirely appropriate — couldn’t they have made him some kind of kosher sea critter, like tilapia? 

In the end, the kosher qualities of “The Little Mermaid” seem like the least of the film’s problems, but I admit I am biased, and more than a little tired of seeing my vibrant childhood remade in muddy-colored CG.

But, as the Bard said, through the words of a Dane even more famous than Hans Christian Andersen, “I should be as old as Gen Z if, like a crab, I could go backwards.” 

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

PJ Grisar
PJ Grisar

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].