Torah Jewish Dietary Law
The Jewish religion includes a strict, well defined set of rules as to what foods are "kashrut" or not and how they must be prepared. No reasons are given for these rules so what those reasons might have been has been debated for centuries.

Setting
Diets


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Overview

As mentioned above, many of the dietary laws are of rather obscure purpose. Some hold Judaism favors eating only "ideal animals", those definitive of their type, in order to be more in tune with God. Since pigs and fish without scales do not match the "ideal" for their type they are forbidden. This may have been a consideration but does not explain many other rules which seem quite arbitrary.

Many authorities suspect a major factor was deliberately making it difficult for Jews to socialize with non-Jews. This may have been desired by the religious authorities because of earlier problems with Jews slipping out of their grasp and fading into the more comfortable non-Jewish population.

Today observance of the laws ranges very widely, as evidenced by Jewish doctors and media moguls commonly found scarfing quantities of forbidden creepy-crawlys in Japanese sushi bars here in Los Angeles. The Conservative and Orthodox communities look very much askance at this.

The largest congregation of Judaism in the U.S. is Reform Judaism. In 1885 the American Reform Rabbis wrote the Pittsburgh Platform which declared kashrut obsolete. This was based on the theory of the time that the laws were hygienic in purpose, but that theory has since been discredited. Kashrut is now thought to be about identity and spiritual integrity.

A large number of Reform Jews still eat pork (probably variable by region), but the trend is away from that. The Reform movement's 1999 Statement of Principles included observance of dietary laws, though not with traditional rigidity (compliance is still a completely personal matter). One Reform rabbi notes that the cookbooks published by his temple included pork and shellfish dishes in the 1920s, shellfish but no pork in the 1970s, and neither pork nor shellfish from the early 1990s on.

Specific Rules

This list is not exhaustive or in sufficient detail to be a complete guide to keeping kosher. It is more a guide to persons who have not but who have found a need to understand the rules well enough to get along. For authoritative detail see the Links section.

If serving Jewish guests you need to determine their level of compliance in advance so you will not screw up. If you find you are dealing with Jews who do keep strictly kosher, give up. Sharing food is simply not on the menu. "This behavior is by design".

  • Animals allowed are those with cloven hooves that chew a cud (ruminants). This includes cattle, sheep, goats, deer and and bison. Pigs, rabbits, camels and rock badgers are specifically forbidden. In addition, approved animals must be slaughtered, all blood drained and otherwise prepared in accordance with kosher law and all under strict rabbinical supervision to be rated "kosher".
  • Animal Products from non-kosher animals, including eggs, milk, etc. are forbidden.
  • Animal Parts:   Some parts of kosher animals are forbidden including organ fats and certain nerves and blood vessels. Removing these nerves and blood vessels is tedious so most slaughterers sell the hind quarters to non-kosher outlets and only kosher the fore quarters. Blood and products made with blood are forbidden.
  • Meat / Dairy:   Meat (birds or mammals) and Dairy (milk and milk products) cannot be eaten together. Some authorities also include fish as meat. Eggs, fruits, vegetables and grains can be eaten with either meat or dairy but fish must not be cooked with or on the same plate with meat. Utensils used to prepare meat and dairy must be kept separate. There must be a period variously stated as three or six hours between eating meat and eating dairy or vice versa.
  • Milk technically must be watched over by a Jew from animal to bottle to make sure it is not mixed with any milk from non-kosher animals. Milk production is so strictly regulated and inspected in the U.S. that most authorities consider it to be kosher without this level of supervision.
  • Birds are specifically listed but turkeys were unknown so there is controversy there. Specifically birds of prey and scavengers are forbidden but chickens, domestic ducks and geese are permitted.
  • Insects:   Certain "winged swarming insects" are permitted but positive identification has been lost so all insects are considered forbidden except in a few communities with a tradition of eating certain ones.
  • Pigs may not be eaten nor any foods derived from pigs. Unlike Islamic law Jews are not forbidden to farm or sell pigs nor to use leather derived from pigs, just forbidden to eat them. Various reasons have been propose which I summarize on my page Pig - Prohibitions.
  • Fish must have fins and scales that can be scraped off without breaking the skin. Fish must be purchased whole so it can be positively identified or from a reliable kosher fish market. Kashrut.com has a list of Kosher and Non-Kosher Fish. Some of the kosher fish have barely enough scales to get by, but they have at least a few.
  • Shellfish are all forbidden including crabs, lobsters, clams, etc.. They come from the sea but don't have fins and removable scales.
  • Rodents are all forbidden including rabbit.
  • Reptiles and Amphibians are all forbidden.
  • Cheese must be manufactured by Jews. Some authorities exempt soft acid set cheeses (farmer's cheese, etc.) but others do not. Kosher hard cheeses are hard to find and very expensive because of the extensive rabbinical supervision required.
  • and products containing it are forbidden. Whey is a byproduct of cheese making and non-kosher rennet may have been used.
  • Fruits and Vegetables can be eaten, but must be inspected to assure they contain no bugs (creepy-crawlys are forbidden).
  • Grape Products (Wine, etc.) made by non-Jews are forbidden. Fortunately actually drinkable kosher wines have become widely available in the U.S..
  • Pareve is a term used for foods that are neither meat nor dairy nor have they had any contact with meats or dairy nor with equipment used to process meats and dairy. Grains, fruits and vegetables are examples. These foods may be served with either meats or dairy without restriction.
  • Utensils:   A kosher home must have two sets of pans, utensils, towels, potholders, trivets, spoon rests, etc. - one for meat and the other for use with dairy products. Any mistakes decertify the utensil and a rabbi must be consulted as to whether or not it can be "koshered". All utensils must be washed in a dishpan reserved for their type, never in the sink.

Kosher Certification

To make keeping kosher easier, there are a number of rabbinical organizations that inspect food production and award (or deny) certification. Certification is generally identified by a symbol on the package the food comes in. Kosher Quest has a good multi-national list of certification symbols they consider reliable and identify the organizations providing the certification.

Links

This list includes a few references of outstanding interest, but by no means includes all sources used to compose this page.

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