Kosher 101: Basic Kashrut

Israel Recipe’s introduction to Kashrut Guide is here with Kosher 101: Basic Kashrut

If you’re new to keeping kosher, or if you’re unfamiliar with some of the more basic rules, or if you are simply just curious about the practice of Kashrut, then Kosher 101: Basic Kashrut is the guide for you! This basic guide, or cheat sheet, outlines the basic rules of modern Jewish dietary law. As always, questions of practice or other inquiries should be directed to your local rabbi for further explanation or consultation.

Kosher 101: Basic Kashrut

Shopping for spices at the Shuk (Market). Photo: IsraeliAbroad

We will eventually cover the “Why” of keeping kashrut, but that’s a bit to heavy for our Kosher 101: Basic Kashrut post. Here we will go over the basic rules of Jewish dietary law while touching slightly on some more in-depth topics. We’ll give a brief overview of “why Jews keep kosher” but for now, if you’re curious for an in-depth look at the question then take a look at this article from MyJewishLearning.

For the Israeli Recipe Kosher Fish List: Click Here

For the Israeli Recipe Kosher Animal List: Click Here
For the Israeli Recipe Guide to Kosher Certifications: Click Here
What is “Jewish Food”? Click Here to Find Out
Why is the Jewish/Israeli Mediterranean Diet considered the World’s Healthiest Diet? Click Here

Kosher 101: Basic Kashrut

What is Kashrut?

Kashrut is the term given to Jewish dietary law. The common phrase “keeping Kosher” means that one follows the laws for what we eat, how it’s prepared and the circumstances for eating. These rules are always in place and vary depending on the time of the year. When Passover is observed, for example, Kosher law dictates refraining from eating leavened bread.

Why do we observe the laws of Kashrut?

In short, because it’s laid out specifically in the Torah, in the books Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Exodus. You can read more that in the resources listed below the page. Traditionally, explanations come from several ideas: first, that it is a form of instilling self-control. Another is that it transforms every meal into a religious experience, that one cannot eat a meal without properly checking each item to make sure it conforms with law, and prayer before and after the meal further instills Jewish values and faith.

Non-traditional explanations range from primitive forms of healthy eating habits (Pork can contain worms and disease at higher rates than beef for example, or that eating milk and meat together causes digestion issues). Again, we won’t get too deep into this topic on this page.

Kosher 101: Basic Kashrut Rules

Kashrut can get complicated quickly. For in-depth laws and queries, the resources below are fantastic. When in doubt, I lean on the Chabad resources as they are some of the strictest yet most widely agreed upon interpretations. For our purposes, we will quickly hit each topic as accurately as can be done without writing the “Sefer Torah.”

Meat

To start, we will touch on the topic of land animals. Quickly, some animals are allowed to be eaten while others are forbidden. If an animal is deemed non-kosher, then all parts of that animal are non-kosher. If an animal is kosher, then it must be slaughtered under kosher law (one quick slice of the neck, no pain or anguish for animal pre-slaughter and draining of the blood) and all parts of it may be eaten with several exceptions. These include the sciatic nerve and several blood vessels surrounding it, plus the fat found around the vital organs and liver. We call this the “chelev.”

Kosher animals include cattle, deer, buffalo, goats and sheep. Non-kosher animals include carnivores, pigs, camels, etc. Check out our Kosher Animals List for more.

As for poultry, there is a list in Lev. 11:13-19; Deut. 14:11-18 describing which may or may not be eaten. The basic idea is that birds of prey (scavengers included) are not kosher and the rest are fair game. Turkey is a toss up, but most regard it as being kosher, like chicken, ducks, geese, etc. Again, check out our Kosher Animals List for more.

Meat cannot be mixed at any time with milk or any dairy products. They must be eaten separately after a period of time. Fish may be mixed with dairy, but some forbid fish to be eaten with meat.
All insects, rodents, reptiles and amphibians are unkosher and forbidden. Again, that includes their milk, eggs, fat, and organs. A great trivia question is this: What is the only product made by unkosher animal that can be considered kosher? The answer is honey!

Kosher 101: Basic Kashrut

Kosher Cheese can be hard to come by. Photo: IsraeliAbroad

Dairy and the Separation Between Meat and Milk

“Do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” This fundamental idea is written not once or twice, but three times in the Torah (Ex. 23:19; Ex. 34:26; Deut. 14:21) making it one of the cornerstone ideas in Judaism. It is therefore forbidden to mix meat and dairy so much so that separate utensils (more on this below under the Utensils topic) ought to be used.

To guard against breaking this prohibition, rabbis have extended this law to include not eating milk and poultry together. The Talmud prohibits cooking meat and fish together or serving them on the same plates because it is considered to be unhealthy (but you can eat one after the other).
Eating fish, eggs and dairy together is permissible and common. In any good “Jewish Deli” you’ll see lox, egg salad and cream cheese all loaded on top of bagels.

So by now you must be wondering how long you must wait between eating meat and then milk or vice-versa. A common practice is waiting to eat dairy 6 hours after eating milk, and 4 hours after eating milk before you eat meat again. These times vary, with some waiting only a nominal amount of time before eating meat after milk so long as the mouth is clean from the aforementioned dairy.

Topic: Fruits & Vegetables (excluding Grapes)

Moving on to fruit and vegetables, they are permitted but in order to be considered kosher must be thoroughly inspected for bugs and worms first. Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and herbs ought to be carefully inspected. The Kosher Certification Organization named Star-K has a great guide to insect inspection found by clicking here.

Some vegetables such as seaweed are so difficult to inspect that many will not eat them. Beat wrap has become a popular replacement for seaweed in sushi in parts of Jerusalem. It’s quite a sweet twist to the Japanese staple.

Kosher 101: Basic Kashrut

Utensils

This is a shocking subject to most non-Jews or those who aren’t familiar with kashrut – that there must be a separation between “meat” and “dairy” utensils. Separate pots, pans, dishes, forks, knives, spoons, bowls, etc. should all be separated and used separately. Mixing renders food unkosher.

A kosher kitchen will have two sets of silverware, dishes, pots and pans, bowls, and more! This can even extend to separate dishwashers, sponges and drying racks/towels. As you can imagine, the level of observance in keeping a kitchen kosher ranges from household to household.

Basic Odds and Ends

• Grape products made by non-Jews may not be eaten. Grapes are an item used in Jewish rituals, wine, etc. therefore they have special rules pertaining to them.
• Since blood is considered non-kosher and forbidden, blood spots in eggs can render not only the food unusable but also the pan unclean. A trick is to always crack eggs into a separate glass bowl and check for blood before cooking, adding or mixing in to a recipe.
• While you can learn more in our Kosher Certification section, rules such as “Bishul Yisroel” (a religious Jew involved in food prep) or “Cholov Yisroel” (a religious Jew involved in the entire milking process to bottling) are followed but not by all traditions.
• Kosher Certification Organizations list their rules and custom and can for the most part be relied upon to give you peace of mind while shopping.
• Mislabeling is one of the biggest issues facing those who are trying to observe the laws of Kashrut in a 21st century society. Chabad has a great guide on Shopping for Kosher Food to avoid most pitfalls.
• Yes, there is a Kosher Slurpee List! Check out KosherQuest’s list of kosher slurpees.

Resources

MyJewishLearning
Judaism 101
Chabad
Star-K Kosher Ceritifcation Organization
KosherQuest Searchable Kosher Database

 

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