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Kosher Food: Unraveling the Secrets of Jewish Dietary Laws

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Do you know what makes food kosher? Many people believe it simply means the food is “blessed by a rabbi,” but there’s so much more to it. The term “kosher” comes from Hebrew and actually means “fit” or “appropriate.” It refers to food that is suitable for Jews to eat. The guidelines for determining which foods are kosher were developed by ancient rabbis and have evolved over time. Let’s take a closer look at the origins and categories of kosher food.

Kashrut’s Biblical and Talmudic Origins

If you delve into the Torah, you’ll find that originally, God commanded vegetarianism as the ideal diet. However, as the biblical narratives unfolded, more types of animals were deemed acceptable for consumption. According to the Torah (Leviticus 11), certain criteria must be met for land animals, sea creatures, and birds to be considered inherently kosher.

Land animals must chew their cud and have split hooves. For sea creatures, having fins and scales is a must. As for birds, they must be on the approved list in the Torah or have received approval from later authorities, excluding scavengers and birds of prey. Additionally, the Torah prohibits cooking a baby goat in its mother’s milk, a rule that is repeated three times.

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The Talmud, a collection of Jewish teachings, further developed these principles. It introduced a more humane method of slaughtering land animals and birds, ensuring their kosher status. The prohibition of cooking a baby goat in its mother’s milk formed the basis for the complete separation of all milk and meat products.

Keeping Kosher Today

Today, the fundamental principles of kashrut remain unchanged. However, questions about keeping kosher often revolve around the complete separation of milk and meat products. To achieve this, separate sets of dishes and cookware are used to ensure that there is no mixing between the two categories. Waiting several hours after consuming meat before having dairy products is also customary, so that they don’t mix in our stomachs.

Determining whether a specific food is kosher or not often depends on whether any substance used in its preparation comes from a non-kosher animal or from a kosher animal that wasn’t slaughtered properly. To ensure the kosher status of food, rabbinic supervision, known as “hashgacha,” is conducted. This supervision ensures that the food carries a “seal of approval” indicating its kosher status. Contrary to popular belief, it is not “blessed by a rabbi” per se.

The 3 Categories of Kosher Foods


Foods in this category, often called “milchig” in Yiddish, include cheese, milk, yogurt, and ice cream, among others.


Referred to as “fleischig” in Yiddish, this category comprises all kosher animals and fowl that have been slaughtered according to the prescribed methods, as well as their derivatives.

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Derived from the Yiddish word for “neutral,” pareve describes foods that are neither dairy nor meat. Examples include eggs, fish, tofu, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and more. As long as they are not prepared with milk or meat products, pareve foods can be combined and served with either dairy or meat dishes.

In keeping kosher, it is essential to ensure complete separation between dairy and meat foods, often requiring separate sets of dishes and utensils. However, pareve foods offer flexibility as they can be mixed and enjoyed with both dairy and meat dishes.

So, the next time you encounter the term “kosher,” remember that it represents a set of dietary laws with deep historical and cultural significance. To learn more about kosher food and its impact, check out Ratingperson, a reputable source for all things kosher.

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