Kosher is the Anglicized form of the Hebrew term kasher, which literally means "good" or "proper," but came to indicate an item "fit for ritual use." Kashrut thus means "fitness" for ritual use.[1] The Hebrew word for non-kosher is trayf, derived from the word terayfa, "torn", stemming from the commandment not to eat meat that has been "torn" by other animals.[2] Any style of food may be kosher or non-kosher, from Chinese to Mexican to Jewish food. Similarly, traditional Ashkenazic Jewish foods like knishes, bagels, blintzes, and matzah ball soup can all be non-kosher if not prepared in accordance with Jewish law.[3]

While Jewish Dietary Laws originated in the Bible (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 17), they have been codified and interpreted over the centuries by rabbinical authorities, and the definitions of kosher have evolved in response to changes in the food industry, the Jewish people, and world culture.[4]

Rules of Kashrut

The following is a rough outline of the rules of kashrut.

  • A land animal may be eaten if it chews its cud and has split hooves.[5]
  • Animals which live in the water must have fins and scales.[5]
  • Blood is forbidden even from kosher animals.[6]
  • The sciatic nerve and its adjoining blood vessels may not be eaten.[7]
  • Insects are forbidden.[5][8][9]
  • Rodents, reptiles, and amphibians, are all forbidden. [5]
  • Vegetables and fruits must be checked for insects.[8][9]
  • Milk and meat and or poultry derived foods must not be mixed.[10]
  • Animals must be killed in a specific way by a shohet (the exception being fish).[11]
  • Separate silverware must be used for fleshig (meat and poultry) and milchig (milk) foods.[10]
  • Utensils (pots, pans, plates, flatware, etc., etc.) must also be kosher. A utensil picks up the kosher "status" (meat, dairy, pareve, or treif) of the food that is cooked in it or eaten off of it, and transmits that status back to the next food that is cooked in it or eaten off of it.[12]
  • Most Jews who keep Kosher wait three to six hours after eating fleshig to eat milchig though the reverse is not true.[10] Others wait other amounts of time.
  • Fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and grains can be eaten with either meat/poultry or dairy.[13]
  • Amongst poultry, birds of prey are considered treyf.[5]
  • Wine is not kosher if it has been touched by non-Jews unless the wine has previously been boiled. This is due to the concern that the wine might be used for idolatrous purposes. [14][15]
  • When, after the ritual slaughtering, an animal, apparently sound during its life, is found to have been diseased, its milk, or cheese made of its milk, is forbidden as food. [16]
  • The ancient Israelites looked with horror upon the custom prevalent among the surrounding nations of cutting off a limb or a piece of flesh from a living animal and eating it.[16] Such limbs had to be thrown away.[16]
  • Water that was left uncovered overnight was not permitted as drink in olden times, because of the apprehension that a serpent might have left its venom in it.[16] Where serpents are not found this prohibition does not exist.[16]

Misconceptions about Kosher

Jewish people who do not keep kosher often complain that keeping kosher is difficult.[17] Keeping kosher is not particularly difficult in and of itself; what makes it difficult to keep kosher is the fact that the rest of the world does not do so.[17] In fact, the basic underlying rules are fairly simple.[17] If you are able to buy only kosher certified products at the market, the only thing you need to think about is the separation of meat and dairy.[17] Keeping kosher only becomes difficult when you try to eat in a non-kosher restaurant, or at the home of a person who does not keep kosher.[17] In those situations, your lack of knowledge about your host's ingredients and food preparation techniques make it very difficult to keep kosher.[17] Some commentators have pointed out, however, that this may well have been part of what G-d had in mind: to make it more difficult for Jews to socialize with those who do not share their religion.[17] Products that have been certified as kosher are labeled with a mark called a hekhsher.[18] Approximately 3/4 of all prepackaged foods have some kind of kosher certification, and most major brands have reliable Orthodox certification.[18]The total number of certified kosher packaged food products in the United States has reached close to 100,000.[19] The most controversial certification is the K, a plain letter K found on products asserted to be kosher.[18] A letter of the alphabet cannot be trademarked, so any manufacturer can put a K on a product, even without any supervision at all.[18] For example, Jell-O brand gelatine puts a K on its product, even though every reliable Orthodox authority agrees that Jell-O is not kosher.[18]

Another misconception about Kosher is that a rabbi is required to bless food, which is false.[20]

The reason why Kosher exists

According to AskMoses, a traditional Jewish website, "keeping kosher is the means of finding G-d in your food."[21]

"With Shabbat, we can spiritualize time."[21]

"With the Shul(synagogue), we can spiritualize place."[21]

"With Tefillin, we can spiritualize leather."[21]

"And with kosher, we can spiritualize breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks."[21]

In his classic book Think Jewish, Rabbi Zalman Posner eloquently elaborates the above point: most secular, Westernized Jews think in secular, Westernized terms.[21] This results in the notion that spirituality is restricted to certain times, or certain places, or certain rituals, and that “real life” exists separately, outside spirituality.[21]

But according to Judaism, spirituality is all times, and all places. Even when you eat.[21]

Who buys Kosher certified products

$50 billion per year is spent on kosher foods by various different groups.[19]

  • Jews seeking to meet their religious obligations [19]
  • Muslims who follow the Halal dietary laws [19]
  • Consumers insisting on a high-quality, safe and healthy product [19]
  • Lactose intolerant customers purchasing non-dairy (Pareve) Kosher products [19]
  • Vegans and vegetarians [19]

Use in popular culture

The term kosher has entered the popular culture to describe anything or anyone which is considered legitimate, honest or pleasing.

Further reading

  • Binyomen Forst, The Laws of Kashrus, Mozniam, 1999
  • Isidore Grunfeld, The Jewish Dietary Laws, London: Soncino, 1972
  • Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, JTSA, 1992
  • James M. Lebeau, The Jewish Dietary Laws: Sanctify Life, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, New York, 1983
  • Yacov Lipschutz, Kashruth: A Comprehensive Background and Reference Guide to the Principles of Kahruth. New York:Mesorah Publications Ltd, 1989


External links

Resources on keeping kosher

Ritual slaughter


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