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The circled U indicates that this can of tuna is certified kosher by the Union of Orthodox CongregationsEnlarge

The circled U indicates that this can of tuna is certified kosher by the Union of Orthodox Congregations

The laws of Kashrut (כשרות) ("keeping kosher") are the Jewish dietary laws. Food in accord with Jewish law is termed kosher, from the Hebrew term kasher (כשר), meaning "fit" (in this context, fit for human consumption). Food not in accord with Jewish law is termed treifah or treif (טרפה) ("torn"); the term originally referred to animals which had been slaughtered after being mortally wounded by wild beasts and therefore were not fit for human consumption.

The basic laws of kashrut are in the Torah, their details explicated in the oral law (the Mishnah and the Talmud) and codified by the later rabbinical authorities. From the context of the laws in the Biblical book of Leviticus, the purpose of kashrut is related to ritual purity and holiness.

Table of contents
1 Types of foods
2 Vegetarianism
3 Kashrut and animal welfare
4 Identification of kosher foods
5 Reason for the Biblical dietary laws
6 How kashrut is viewed by Judaism today
7 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links

Types of foods


Kosher mammals must both have cloven hooves and chew their cud. All kosher mammals are
artiodactyl herbivores that can be domesticated, such as cows, goats, deer and sheep. The Torah specifies certain birds that are not kosher; in general, scavengers are considered non-kosher. Modern halakha on kashrut classifies the flesh of both mammals and birds as "meat"; fish however are considered to be 'parve' (פרווה), neither meat nor dairy.

Jewish law states that kosher animals must be slaughtered according to a strict set of guidelines, the slaughter (shechita) (שחיטה) being designed to minimize the pain inflicted. A professional slaughterer, or shochet (שוחט), uses a large razor-sharp knife with absolutely no irregularities, nicks or dents. A single cut is made across the throat, severing both carotid arteries, both jugular veins, both Vagus nerves, the trachea and the esophagus, usually causing death in 3-4 seconds. (If done improperly the death could take minutes; this is true for any method of slaughtering.) If the knife catches even for a split second, or is found afterward to have developed any irregularities, the animal is not kosher (nevelah) and is sold as regular meat to the general public.

Once killed, the animal is opened to determine whether there are any irregularities or growths on its internal organs, some of which can render the animal non-kosher. The term "Glatt" kosher, although it is often used colloquially to mean "strictly kosher", properly refers to meat where the glatt (גלת) (lungs) are carefully examined for adhesions (i.e. scars from previous inflammation).

Large blood vessels must be removed, and all blood must be removed from the meat, as Jewish law prohibits the consumption of the blood of any animal. This is most commonly done by soaking and salting, but also can be done by broiling. An interesting fact, little-known outside of Jewish communities, is that the hindquarters of a mammal are not kosher unless the sciatic nerve and the fat surrounding it are removed (Genesis 32:33). This is a very time-consuming process demanding a great deal of special training, and is rarely done outside Israel, where there is a greater demand for kosher meat, since all meat sold in Jewish towns is required to be kosher by law. When it is not done, the hindquarters of the animal are sold for non-kosher meat.


Milk and milk-derived products derived from kosher animals are always kosher. All milk from cows, goats, and sheep is kosher. In practice, many Orthodox Jews use only "Cholov Yisroel" (חלב ישראל) milk and dairy products; this label means that the milk has been under constant rabbinical supervision from milking to bottling, to make sure that it is not admixed with the milk of a non-kosher animal. In the past this was a serious issue; today this is not a practical concern in the USA or in most western countries. As such, most Modern Orthodox rabbis and all Conservative rabbis hold that FDA supervision is sufficient for milk and dairy products to be considered automatically kosher.

No mixing of meat and dairy

Milk products and meat products may not be eaten together in the same meal, much less cooked together. Jewish law thus mandates a set of fence laws that prevent this from happening. Jewish homes have two sets of silverware, cookware, cups, and dishes. One is for milk (Yiddish milchig, Hebrew halavi) dishes, and one is for meat (Yiddish fleishig, Hebrew basari) dishes. This prevents any trace of meat or dairy from being accidentally mixed. (Foods that contain neither milk nor meat are considered "neutral" -- Yiddish pareve, Hebrew parve.)

Jewish law considers glass (and some say Pyrex) to be non-absorbent; thus, one could use just a single set of glass plates and dishes. In practice, this is rarely done not only because of the cost, but also because it is held that it would weaken the traditional system of kashrut observance. However, it is common within most religiously observant households to allow drinking glasses to be used for both dairy and meat meals, as long as they are thoroughly washed.

Various customs are observed for how long it is necessary to wait after eating meat before eating dairy foods again. Most views hold that there is no wait needed to have meat soon after eating dairy, so long as the mouth is thoroughly cleaned. After eating meat, however, waits of three hours and six hours before consuming dairy products are the most common practices, though some communities wait only one hour (Dutch Jews).


All foods which do not fall into the categories of meat or dairy are considered 'pareve' or neutral, and can be consumed freely with either meat or dairy. This includes all fruits and vegetables and foods derived exclusively from such sources; salt and other non-organic foodstuffs. Fish is considered pareve, and may be eaten directly before or after both meat and milk, but see Fish and Seafood below.


All fresh fruits and vegetables are kosher. Jewish law requires that they be carefully checked and cleaned to make sure that there are no insects on them, as insects are not kosher (except certain Orthoptera, see below). In the last century the laws of kashrut have become much stricter in the Haredi Jewish community; they refuse to eat many vegetables, such as broccoli, because they hold that it is too difficult to remove tiny insects from such vegetables. Responding to this issue, some companies now sell thoroughly washed and inspected produce for those without the time or patience to do it themselves.

Canned and frozen foods

Most such goods are usually permissible since manufacturers add only water and spices during the packaging process. Sometimes, however, fruits or vegetables are prepared with milk products or with non-kosher ingredients such as non-kosher meat broth. Orthodox Judaism thus holds that canned and frozen goods should generally not be consumed unless there is a hechsher (mark of rabbinical certification of kashrut) on the product. Conservative Judaism often is more lenient, and holds that a careful reading of the ingredients is sufficient.

Grains and cereals

Unprocessed grains and cereals are kosher. Processed items (e.g. dry cereals, baked goods) often contain small quantities of non-kosher ingredients. As such Orthodox Judaism holds that these goods should generally not be consumed unless there is a hechsher (mark of rabbinical certification of kashrut) on the product. Conservative Judaism often is more lenient, and holds that a careful reading of the ingredients is sufficient.

During the 8 days of Passover there are additional restrictions on what foods may be eaten. Jewish law forbids Jews from eating any leavened or possibly leavened product made from wheat, rye, barley, spelt, or oats.


Eggs from kosher birds are kosher; they are also considered pareve (neutral, neither milk nor meat). Traditionally, eggs are examined in a glass cup to ascertain that they contain no blood. Partially-formed eggs found inside slaughtered birds may be eaten, but they must undergo the same process of blood removal as the animal, and these eggs are considered to be fleishig (status of meat).


Kosher birds include: capon, duck (domestic), goose (domestic), chicken, turkey, guinea fowl and many others. As a general principle, scavenging birds such as eagles and vultures are not considered kosher, and others (generally) are.

Leviticus outlines the non-kosher birds and the rest are all kosher. In practice, however, only the birds that Jews have a tradition of eating are actually eaten.

Insects and Other Invertebrates

With four exceptions, all insects and other invertebrates (including those usually consumed as seafood) are forbidden as treif (un-kosher). The exceptions are a type of locust from the Arabian peninsula, encompassing four distinct species. The tradition for identifying which species of locust were and were not kosher has been lost among all Jews except the Jews of Yemen. (One hypothesis links these kosher insects to the Biblical manna which was provided as food for the Israelites in the desert).

In the summer of 2004, a controversy arose in New York City over the presence of copepods in the city water supply. While some authorities hold that these creatures are microscopic and therefore negligible, others note that these (tiny crustaceans) are almost the size of a small insect, such as a gnat, and far larger than a bacterium or other single-celled creature; and in fact can be detected by the naked eye. As of this writing a definitive ruling has not been produced, but many families have begun using filters on their drinking and cooking water supply.


Hard cheeses are made from milk and rennet, and the kashrut of such cheeses is a matter of debate in the religious Jewish community.

Rennet is the enzyme used to turn milk into curds and whey; most forms of rennet derive from the lining of the stomach of an animal. Kosher rennet may be made from the stomachs of kosher animals slaughtered in conformance with the laws of kashrut, or may be made from vegetable or microbial sources. The Mishna and Talmud (in Avodah Zarah and Hullin) state that cheese made with rennet derived from a non-kosher animal is non-kosher. Orthodox authorities follow this ruling, and hold that rennet is a "d'var ha'ma'amid" (דבר המאמעמיד), something that changes the status of the food so much that any amount makes the food it is added to non-kosher. Conservative authorities classify rennet as something that has changed so much from its original form that it is a "d'var chadash" (דבר חדש), "something new", and thus is no longer un-kosher. In practice Orthodox and some Conservative Jews eat only cheese made with kosher rennet, while other Conservative Jews follow the Conservative ruling and eat any hard cheese.

Fish and Seafood

To be kosher, a fish must have both fins and scales. The lack of either characteristic renders that species of fish unkosher. Examples of unkosher fish include shark, catfish and eels. All shellfish, such as crabs, lobster, and shrimp are not kosher. All sea mammals, such as dolphins, whales and seals are not kosher. All other sea animals, such as octopus, squid and jellyfish are also not kosher.

Seaweed and other sea plant life are all kosher.

The kashrut of swordfish and sturgeon are controversial, as they have scales as young fish, but lose them later in life. Orthodox authorities have ruled that these fish are not kosher, but many Conservative rabbis rule that they are kosher.

Fish is not considered to be meat, but rather neutral or 'pareve'; however, the laws of kashrut require fish and meat to be consumed separately. Unlike the seperation between milk and meat, a seperate set of dishes is not required, but dishes must be washed in between. Thus at a Sabbath meal, where traditionally there is a fish course and a meat course, there will always be a seperate fish fork and fish plate, to avoid having the inconvenience of rinsing mid-meal. The Bet Yosef also forbids eating fish with dairy products; though most authorities attribute this to a printing error, some (particularly Sephardi Jews) follow this ruling.


A controversial topic is the status of gelatin. This substance comes from the processed bones of animals. If the source of gelatin is a kosher animal that was properly slaughtered according to Jewish law, or a kosher fish, then such gelatin is considered kosher by all Jews. All other gelatin is usually considered treif (non-kosher). However, a number of prominent rabbinic authorities have noted that gelatin undergoes such extensive processing and chemical changes that it no longer has the status of meat, and as such may be considered pareve and kosher. Most Conservative Jews, and a significant minority of Israeli Orthodox Jews, accept that all gelatin is kosher.


A related subject is the kashrut of wine. The Talmud mentions the law that wine handled by non-Jews (stam yayin) and by idolators (yayin nesech) is forbidden for consumption. The main reason for the former is to limit intermarriage by limiting social interaction with non-Jews. The latter is forbidden because any form of food possibly dedicated to an idol is forbidden for any form of benefit.

These laws refer only to wine and wine-derived products (e.g. cognac). Spirits and beer fall outside the scope of this prohibition.


Genesis 1:29 states "And God said: Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit - to you it shall be for food." According to many classical Jewish Bible commentators, this means that God's original plan was for mankind to be vegetarian, and that God later gave permission for man to eat meat because of man's weak nature. However, others argue that people may eat animals because God gave Eve and Adam dominion over them. Few prominent rabbis have been vegetarian, a notable exception being the first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, Abraham Isaac Kook.

Halakha strongly encourages the eating of meat at the Sabbath and Festival meals, and some Orthodox Jews who are otherwise vegetarian will nevertheless consume meat at these meals. Many Orthodox authorities have ruled that it is forbidden for an individual to be vegetarian for animal rights reasons; however, they have also ruled that vegetarianism is allowed for pragamatic reasons (if kosher meat is expensive or hard to come by in their area), health concerns, or for reasons of personal taste (if someone finds meat unpleasant).

Kashrut and animal welfare

The practice of kosher slaughter emphasizes the sharpness of the knife and the accuracy and precision of the skill of the shochet, in order to slit the jugular of the animal with an absolute minimum of pain and suffering. In general, over the years authorities have ruled that any unnecessary suffering by the animal can render otherwise kosher meat traife. Nevertheless, the method of slaughter used in strict adherence to Jewish law has been criticized as being inhumane by many animal rights organizations, in particular because animals are killed without the use of anesthesia, often administered to beef by firing a bolt into the brain or by electric shock to the head. (Traditional kashrut would often not allow for anesthesia, as it may severly injure the animal before it is slaughtered, rendering it Treifa.) This has resulted in several restrictions or even an outright ban on kosher meat in a number of countries, though other countries grant ritualistic slaughter such as kashrut special exemption from the relevant regulations. However, some bans were in place before animal rights had become a general public concern.

Animal rights groups claim it can take several minutes for the animal to die after kosher slaughter and thus would cause immense suffering. Jewish groups point to studies showing that the technique is no more painful than conventional techniques, and in most cases quicker and less painful; the emphasis on flawless procedure and tools contrasts with the often sloppy production line methodology of the slaughterhouse resulting in failure to stun the animal, as often described by animal rights advocates in other contexts. However, the conclusions of these studies are sometimes rejected by animal rights advocates. In addition, there are campaigns to have the practice of ritualistic slaughter globally banned.

In some ways, modern slaughtering practices and kashrut practices clash, although both may have good intentions re hygiene and animal welfare; for instance, kashrut prohibits slaughter of an unconscious animal, for reasons of avoiding consumption of a diseased animal as well as the possibility of inhumane means of anesthesia, and relies on the skill of the shochet and the sharpness of the knife to slit the jugular as painlessly as possible. On the other hand, for reasons of hygiene, modern slaughterhouse regulations prohibit the carcass of an animal from falling into the blood of another, so that animals are often suspended by a leg before being slaughtered; they would normally be stunned by a blow to the head to prevent suffering in this process, but the prohibition of slaughter of an unconscious animal prevents this for kosher slaughter. Of course, other, more humane, methods of supporting the carcass of the animal after it is slaughtered are available, but since they are more expensive and not routinely used for nonkosher slaughter, slaughterhouses are reluctant to adopt them, and when they do often greatly raise the price of the meat to compensate for the nonstandard technique.

Many Jewish organizations suspect that covert anti-Semitism may also be an influence behind the efforts to ban kosher meat, partly because of a distinct anti-Semitic element among the opponents of ritualistic slaughter, partly because of the age of some bans.

Identification of kosher foods

Store-bought foods can be identified as kosher by the presence of a hechsher, a graphical symbol that indicates that the food has been certified as kosher by a rabbinic authority. The most common symbol is the "OU": a U inside a circle, standing for the Union of Orthodox Congregations. Each organization, however, has its own copyrighted symbol, and the other symbols are too numerous to list.

The hechshers of certain authorities are sometimes considered invalid by certain other authorities. A solitary K is sometimes used as a symbol for kashrut, but as this symbol cannot be trademarked (the method by which other symbols are protected from misues), it does not indicate anything other than the fact that the company producing the food considers it to be kosher.

Another way to check the kashrut of an item is to read the list of ingredients; however, many observers of kashrut do not consider this to be sufficient. It can, however, identify obviously unkosher substances present in food.

Producers of fooditems and foodadditives can contact Jewish authorities to have their product deemed kosher. A committee will visit their facilities to inspect production methods and contents of the product and issue a certificate if everything is in order.

For various reasons, such as changes in manufacturing processes, previously kosher products can 'lose their hechsher'; a change in lubricating oil to one containing tallow, for instance. In such cases, the supply of preprinted labels with the hechsher may still find its way onto the now nonkosher product; for such reasons, there is an active 'grapevine' among the Jewish community identifying with very little time lag which products are now questionable, as well as products which have become kosher but whose labels have yet to carry the hechsher.

Reason for the Biblical dietary laws

According to the Biblical book of Leviticus, the purpose of the laws is related to ritual purity and holiness. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "holiness" is etymologically related to the Hebrew word for "distinction" or "separation." This idea is generally accepted by most Jews today, and by many modern biblical scholars. Cultural anthropologist Mary Douglas has written an important work on just how the Israelites may have used the idea of distinction as a way to create holiness. Her seminal work, Purity and Danger (1966), is still studied today.

In Jewish philosophy it is recognised that of the 613 mitzvot, a large number cannot be explained rationally. They are categorised as "chukim", comprising such laws as the Red Heifer (Numeri 19).

"Some Jewish scholars have held that these dietary laws should simply be categorized with a group of laws that are considered irrational in that there is no particular explanation for their existence. The reason for this is that there are some of God's regulations for mankind that the human mind is not necessarily capable of understanding. Related to this is the idea that the dietary laws were given as a demonstration of God's authority and that man should obey without asking for a reason" (William H. Shea, Clean and Unclean Meats, Biblical Research Institute, December 1988).

The view exists in two forms, one stating that these laws do have a reason but that the ultimate explanation for mitzvot is beyond the human intellect, and another stating that these laws have no meaning other than to instill obedience. Many Jewish sources subscribe to the former view, while the latter has been rejected by most classical and modern Jewish authorities, and by modern biblical scholars. For example, Maimonides holds that all the laws given by God have a reason, that we are permitted to seek out what these reasons may be, and that we should feel comfortable in knowing that rational reasons exist for all of God's laws in the Torah, even if we are not sure of what some of these reasons are. For Maimonides, the idea that God gave laws without any reason is anathema.

One theory widely accepted today is that the laws serve as a distinction between the Israelites and the non-Israelite nations of the world. Gordon Wenham writes:

"The laws reminded Israel what sort of behaviour was expected of her, that she had been chosen to be holy in an unclean world."

These laws had the added effect of preventing socialization and intermarriage with non-Jews, helping the Jewish community maintain its identity. Wenham writes that "circumcision was a private matter, but the food laws made one's Jewish faith a public affair. Observance of the food laws was one of the outward marks of a practising Jew, and this in turn enhanced Jewish attachment to them as a reminder of their special status" (Gordon J. Wenham, "The Theology of Unclean Food," The Evangelical Quarterly 53, January March 1981, p.6-15).

Although the symbolical explanation for kashrut has been largely rejected, a number of authorities maintain that the laws are intended to promote ethical and moral behaviour. A recent authority who has reexamined the symbolic/ethical meaning of kashrut is Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany, 19th century).

The laws of kashrut were once thought to have been based on hygiene. It was believed by some that kosher animals were healthier to eat than non-kosher animals. It was also noted that the laws of purity (Leviticus 11–15) not only describe the difference between clean and unclean animals, but also describe other phenomena that appear to be related to health. Thus, it was natural for many to assume that all the laws of kashrut were merely hygienic in intent and origin. One of the rabbinical authorities that mention the hygiene hypothesis is Maimonides (in his "Guide for the Perplexed").

For a number of reasons, this idea has fallen out of favor among biblical scholars:

This is not to say that there could be no connection between the priestly laws of kashrut and hygiene. As in the dietary codes of many societies, it only makes sense that, over time, hygiene would likely play some role in the development of the dietary laws of Leviticus.

During the first few centuries of the common era some philosophers held that the laws of kashrut were symbolic in character. In this view, kosher animals represent virtues, while non-kosher animals represent vices. The first indication of this view can be found in the 1st century BCE Letter of Aristeas (par. 145-148, 153). It later reappears in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, and in the writings of some of the early Church fathers.

This hypothesis has long since been rejected by most Jewish and Christian scholars. Modern biblical criticism also has found nothing to support this hypothesis.

How kashrut is viewed by Judaism today

Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism hold that Jews should follow the laws of kashrut. Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism hold that these laws are no longer binding. Most Jews in Reform Judaism have considered these laws a hindrance, rather than a facilitator, of piety; this is still the mainstream Reform position. Some parts of the Reform community have begun to move towards a more traditional position. This tradition-leaning faction agrees with mainstream Reform that the rules concerning kashrut are no longer binding, but holds that keeping kosher is an important way for people to bring holiness into their lives. Thus Jews are encouraged to consider adopting some or all of the rules of kashrut on a voluntary basis. The Reconstructionist movement advocates that its members accept some of the rules of kashrut, but does so in a non-binding fashion; their stance on kashrut is the same as the tradition-leaning wing of Reform. The different movements' positions on kashrut are reflective of their broader perspectives on Jewish law as a whole.

In English, the term kosher is frequently used in a metaphorical sense to mean "acceptable" or "approved", which is its conventional meaning in Hebrew. It is also part of some common product names. For example, "kosher salt" is a form of salt which has irregularly-shaped crystals, making it particularly suitable for preparing meat in accordance with Kashrut law because the increased surface area of the crystals absorbs blood more efficiently. Likewise, a "kosher pickle" is a particular style of pickle that originated in kosher delis.

See also

Further reading

External links