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What is Kosher?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

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A. Kosher is a Hebrew word meaning “fit.” The Torah lays down guidelines for what’s fit, kosher, for a Jew to eat—and what’s not. Here are the general rules:

Fresh fruits and vegetables are never a problem unless they have bugs (certain vegetables, such as lettuce or broccoli, are commonly infested with insects. These vegetables must be carefully inspected before consumption); or they were grown in Israel (Israeli produce must be tithed and (generally) may not be from a Sabbatical year. Rabbinical certification is necessary to ensure that the tithing and Sabbatical laws were observed).

Meat must come from cud-chewing mammals with hooves that are split, and must be slaughtered and processed in a specific, “kosher” way. Poultry are limited to chickens, ducks and certain other non-predatory birds (see How do I know whether a particular bird is kosher or not?), which must be prepared in the same manner as kosher beef. The consumer can know if meat/poultry is kosher by looking for a Kosher certification on the packaging.

Kosher seafood must have fins and scales. Grains, beans, and legumes (without additional ingredients) are cool. Wines, beverages and anything liquid are only good if they’ve got a kosher symbol on their label (also see Does 100% juice need Kosher certification?).

Kosher today means that a Kosher certification company has inspected the production process from start to finish. They check every vat, oven, conveyor belt, container and piece of packaging machinery to really make sure that nothing non-kosher gets in your food
B. Any product, substance, solid, liquid, derivative, stuff, powder, goo or whatever that comes from an animal that’s not kosher, is not kosher either. Also, it’s not kosher if the animal wasn’t slaughtered in the “kosher” manner. Thus, if any of those are in the ingredients of another product, that product’s not kosher. That’s why…

C. Kosher today means that a Kosher certification company, such as Organized Kashrut Laboratories (“the OK”), has inspected the production process from start to finish. They check every vat, oven, conveyor belt, container and piece of packaging machinery to really make sure that nothing non-kosher gets in your food.

How do I keep kosher?

1. Kosher made simple

For kosher food, just look for the kosher labels on the package: circled K or U, Star-K and others. (A plain K1 don't mean much.) They tell you that they’re certified kosher. See What are all those kosher symbols?

Footnotes

  • 1. American Trademark and Copyright laws do not apply to a solitary letter, and anyone can put a K on a product.
TAGS: meat, poultry, fish, wine

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COMMENTS

Pickles

Posted by: Christopher Wagner, Allston, MA, 02134 on Apr 29, 2005

Is it possible to locate a "Non"-Kosher Dill Pickle?

Editor's Comment

From my understanding, Kosher Pickles are thus called because Kosher Salt is a primary ingredient in the pickling process. [See What is "kosher" salt? And why is it more kosher than other salts?] Also I am told that these pickles were an integral part of the Kosher Delicatessens in the early 20th century. Either way, be sure that your "Kosher" pickle has a reliable rabbinic supervision before throwing it into your grocery cart.

Kosher meat ...is it really kosher?

Posted by: Lequida Jennings, Sulphur Springs, TX on Mar 10, 2006

I've been hearing about rendering plants and the fact they sell their finished product for cow,horse, and other animal food. This product is a combination of different dead, diseased animal products. If that is the case, an animal that has eaten this cow or chicken feed, has taken in their bodies, unclean animal remains....which would render them not kosher. Are the kosher meats in the grocery market really kosher from start to finish?

Editor's Comment

A kosher animal remains kosher even if it has ingested non-kosher foods.

RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Kosher » About

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Chabad
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
Kashrut
Laws of Kosher (Jewish dietary laws).