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. Kosher is divided into three categories: Meat, dairy and pareve.
All meat and fowl and their by-products, such as bones, soup or gravy are classified as meat. In order for items to be designated as kosher meat, they must meet the following requirements:
Kosher meat must come from an animal that chews its cud and has split hooves. (Cows, sheep and goats are kosher; rabbits, kangaroos, lions, tigers and fox are not).
Kosher fowl are the domesticated species of chickens, Cornish hens, ducks, geese and turkeys. The Torah names the species of fowl that are forbidden, including all predatory and scavenger birds.
Animal and fowl must be slaughtered with precision and examined by a skilled shochet (ritual slaughterer), a G-d fearing individual extensively trained in the rituals kosher of slaughtering. All utensils used in slaughtering, cleaning, preparing and packaging must be kosher.
Not all parts of kosher animals are permitted to be eaten. The permissible portions , which is the front half of the animal and fowl therefore must be properly koshered before cooking.
Koshering is the process by which the blood is removed from the flesh of meat and fowl before it is prepared for eating. The koshering process, known as melichah (salting), entails the following steps: washing or rinsing off the meat; soaking it in water for a half hour; salting it for an hour; and rinsing it very well three times.
All foods derived from or containing, milk are classified as dairy, including milk, butter, yogurt and all cheese – hard, soft and cream.
Dairy products must meet the following criteria in order to be certified kosher:
They must come from a kosher animal.
All ingredients must be kosher and free of meat derivatives. They must also be produced, processed and packaged on kosher equipment.
Cholov Yisroel (literally Jewish milk) dairy products mean that a Jew was present from the milking of the cow until the supervision of the bottling of the milk or the packing of the Dairy product.
MK-Dairy means that the dairy products are kosher but not necessarily constantly supervised and are NOT Cholov Yisrael.
Kosher fish must have fins and scales. The scales must be visible to the naked eye and must be easy to remove from the skin of the fish, either by hand or with an instrument.
If the scales can be only be removed after soaking the fish in scalding water, there are differing views as to whether the fish is considered kosher. Sturgeon is one such fish, and, in practice, it is not considered kosher.
If a fish is not completely covered in scales – it only has several scales – it is still considered kosher.
Foods that have a neutral status are pareve. This means that they contain no meat or dairy derivatives, and have not been cooked or combined with any meat or dairy foods. Common pareve foods are eggs, fish, fruit, vegetables, grains, unprocessed juices, pasta, soft drinks, coffee and tea and many candies and snacks. The pareve status of a processed food must be indicated on the product.
The following are the main concerns of pareve foods:
Cooking on Meat or Dairy Equipment
The implication simply means that the Pareve food may no longer be eaten with dairy if it is been cooked in an oven used for meat, for example, and vice versa. While one does not have to wait for a certain time period after eating a cooked pareve food before having meat or dairy, it is important to eat something in between to cleanse the mouth.
Cleaning and Inspecting Fruits and Vegetables
While the FDA (Food and Drug Association) allows a certain bug-to-produce ratio, this is much more than what Jewish Law allows. Thus, Kosher-certifying organizations like the MK have experts on Hilchot Tolaim, laws of insects. These experts inspect produce, both local and imported, at the beginning and throughout each season, and then make a decision whether the fruit or vegetable has been infested. In this event, the MK sends warnings to members of the community, specifying which produce and sometimes from which source cannot be consumed. We also prescribe various washing techniques.
For a full list of accepted fruits and vegetables and how to clean them, click here.
Wine: A special rule governs the production of wine. Even if all the ingredients in wine are of kosher origin, it is kosher only if production was done exclusively by Torah-observant Jews.
Basari (Hebrew), Fleishig (Yiddish): A food that contains meat or any animal or fowl by-products; all meat must come from kosher animals and fowl
Chalavi (Hebrew), Milchig (Yiddish): A food that is or contains dairy products; any milk must come from a Kosher animal
Chalav Yisrael: Dairy products that contain milk that has been under produced under constant rabbinical supervision from milking through packaging, ensuring that no milk from a non-Kosher animal has been added
Chametz: Any foods that contain fermented-grain products, which are not kosher only during the eight days of Passover
Kosher: Fit or proper, in terms of Kashruth meaning fit to digest
Hechsher: Certification on processed or previously prepared foods proving the kosher status has been maintained under rabbinic supervision
Mashgiach: A Jewish supervisor with a strong knowledge of Kashruth, who oversees the processing or preparation of food in a restaurant or business.
Pareve: A food that has the neutral status of neither a meat nor dairy product
Pesach: Passover; the eight day festival (seven days when living in Israel) where no fermented-grain products are permitted for consumption.
Shechita: the laws governing the ritual slaughter of animals and poultry; this must be performed by a Shochet
Shochet: Torah-observant Jew who has received rabbinic ordination specializing in the laws of Shechita
Shulchan Aruch: Codified rabbinic interpretation with a detailed explanation of the laws of Kashruth, Sabbath, Holy Days, etc.
Treyf: Not Kosher, therefore not permitted for ingestion to any Jew