Kashrut: Jewish Dietary Laws

The Fundamental Rules

Some Specifics

The Rationale

Helpful Information

A Discussion


The Fundamental Laws of Kashrut:

The rules of Kashrut derive from seven simple principles. Here is a simplified version of these laws:

1.Certain animals may not be eaten at all. This restriction includes the flesh, organs, eggs and milk of the forbidden animals.
2.Of the animals that may be eaten, the birds and mammals must be killed in accordance with Jewish law.
3.All blood must be drained from the meat or cooked out of it before it is eaten.
4.Certain parts of permitted animals may not be eaten.
5.Meat (the flesh of birds and mammals) cannot be eaten with dairy. Fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and grains can be eaten with either meat or dairy. (According to some views, fish may not be eaten with meat).
6.Utensils that have come into contact with meat may not be used with dairy, and vice versa. Utensils that have come into contact with non-kosher food may not be used with kosher food. This applies only where the contact occurred while the food was hot.
7.Grape products made by non-Jews may not be eaten.

( from "Dietary Laws", Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 6, 26-45)

Some Specifics:

Kashrut prescribes that a large number of animals are not to be eaten. Any animal who has cloven hooves and chews its cud may be eaten; such animals as the camel, badger, hare and the pig then may not be eaten. Sheep, cattle, goats and deer are all kosher and may be eaten. From the water, anything that has fins and scales may be consumed; prohibiting all shellfish. Things get more complicated when discussing birds as the Torah has a list of forbidden birds but offers no categorization.

Along with the rules dictating which meats Jews should and should not eat came rules on how the consumable animals could be killed. This ritual slaughter, called shechitah, is often referred to as humanizing the process of killing animals as the laws insure that the animal suffers as little as possible (Kosher Living). The shochet (the name for the Jewish slaughterer) must by law kill the animal in such a way that the animal does not suffer needlessly. And all the blood is drained and covered. The shochet makes a quick, deep stroke across the animal's throat with a perfectly sharp blade. It is important that the blade have no nicks or unevenness to ensure that there is little pain. No animal which dies of natural causes or which has been killed by another animal may be eaten. It is also mandated that a rabbi oversee the entire procedure in order for the food to be considered kosher.

One must also wait between eating meat and dairy for a period from three of six hours.

It also must be noted that any cooking utensils that have been used to cook non- kosher foods are therefore non- kosher. A true kosher household should have at least two sets of all cookware-- one for meats and the other for dairy. Should a dish become impure, it must either be buried or purified by a rabbi.

The Rationale Behind The Laws:

The reasons behind the draining of blood at the time of slaughter are mandated in the Torah. The Torah explicitly prohibits the consumption of blood because of the belief that the life of the animal is contained in the blood.

Lev. 7:26-27

"Moreover you shall eat no blood whatever, whether of fowl or of animal, in any of your dwellings. Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people."

Lev. 17:10-14

"If any man of the house of Israel or of the strangers that sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood. Any man also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with dust. For the life of every creature is the blood of it; therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off."

The Laws prohibiting the consumption of meats and dairy together originates in a phrase quoted three times in the Torah;
"Do not seethe a kid in it's mother's milk" (Ex. 23:19; Ex. 34:26; Deut. 14:21). The web site Kosher Living also suggests that this law is indicative of Judaism's uniquely intense desire to separate life from death.

The laws prohibiting consuming grape products made by non- Jews derive from the laws against idolatry. Wine was routinely used in rituals of ancient religions and sanctified for pagan purposes. This law not only affects wine and grape juice, but also baking powder as it is made with cream of tartar which is a by- product of wine making.

In a site written for Jews who do not observe Kashrut, the author offers several reasons why this practice is rewarding:

1. Identification and solidarity with worldwide Judaism
2. The ethical discipline of avoiding certain foods or limiting one's
appetite because of the growing scarcity of food in parts of the
3. The avoidance of certain foods traditionally obnoxious to Jews,
providing a sense of identification with past generations and
their struggle to remain Jews.
4. The authority of ancient biblical and rabbinic injunctions.
5. The desire to have a home in which any Jew can eat.

from: Fallacy: Reform Jews Ignore the Laws of Kashrut

Helpful Information:

How do you know if something you buy in the grocery store is kosher? Here are some of the most widely used and recognized kosher certification symbols. Seeing any of these on the package of the product you are purchasing usually ensures that it is safe for kosher consumption. As it is not possible to put a patent on a letter of the alphabet, many companies can get away with simply imprinting the letter K on their products and claiming them to be Kosher when they are not-- Jell-O is widely cited as doing this.

A Discussion:

The influence of gender and power on these dietary laws is fairly clear. Meats are only made kosher, and thus edible, through the guidance of a rabbi-- inherently a male. The Shochet, the actual person who commits the
ritual slaughter, is almost always a male as well. It is easy to see the gender imbalance here as such foods are always made kosher (acceptable) by a male. The influence of gender and power on these dietary laws is fairly clear. Yet the difficult and inconvenient restrictions regarding cooking and cookware become the responsibility of the primary homemaker-- almost always a woman. So while men hold the capacity to make such food kosher, the
cook or primary homemaker--again, generally a woman-- holds only the ability to make the food inedible, unclean and unacceptable. So it is the men who hold the power to create foods that are kosher and yet it is the woman's. Yet the difficult and inconvenient restrictions regarding cooking and cookware become the responsibility of the primary homemaker-- almost always a woman. So it is the men who hold the power to create foods that are kosher and yet it is the woman's responsibility to painstakingly prepare these foods and ensure that she uses the appropriate cookware for its corresponding product, coordinate Kosher meals, and also to be a diligent shopper in order to avoid purchasing an incorrect product and polluting her meal and home. While homes today may not be so gendered as to have the woman being sole charge of meal preparation and such, it is still the societal norm that these aspects of family life are the woman's responsibility.

Some Links for More Information on Kashrut: