Kashrut: Jewish religious dietary laws
This post is also available in Italiano
What do we mean by kosher?
By kashrut we mean the set of rules that teach us which foods are permitted (kosher) according to the Jewish law and how to prepare them.
These rules, which limit human freedom in choosing between pure and impure animals, have the precise importance of reminding us that only God is the master of the universe and that, for this reason, we must have pity, not only towards human beings, but also towards animals.
Do you say kasher or kosher?
Kasher (כָּשֵׁר) means “fit” for consumption in Hebrew. In Italy we usually pronunce the word like they do in Israel, “kasher”, but most people abroad – especially in the English-speaking world – prefer the ashkenazi pronunciation “kosher”. It’s still precisely the same thing, so no worries about how you pronunce the word!
How do you tell a food is kosher?
Kosher animals are ruminant quadrupeds with split hooves, such as cattle, sheep, and goats. However, only one of these two conditions is not enough for the animal to be kosher; this is the case of the pig and the camel, which are in fact, forbidden.
Fowls, geese and ducks are kosher, while birds of prey are forbidden.
We can eat fish with scales and fins, so molluscs and crustaceans are forbidden.
Our meat is special (and eating blood is forbidden)
Another very important rule is that of not feeding on the blood of animals, since blood is the symbol of life; this is the reason why the animal must be killed with a special system (shechitah), designed not to make the animal suffer, and to eliminate as much blood as possible from the meat. The meat, to be consumed, must be immersed in water, sprinkled with salt, and finally washed again.
We also can’t mix meat and milk in the same meal
There is still another very strict ban which we must abide in reference to meat: we cannot eat meat and milk (or dairy products) together. The specific order is found in fact in Exodus and Deuteronomy, where we can read: “you shall not cook a goat in its mother’s milk”.
For this reason, several hours must elapse between the time when meat-based foods are eaten, and the time when milk-based foods are eaten. In addition, separate containers and dishes must be used for meat and dairy products.
Hence we have 3 types of food: milky (halavi), meaty (basari) and not meat nor milk (parve).
How about wine and drinks?
In order for a wine to be considered kosher, Sabbath-observant Jews must supervise the entire production process, from the time the grapes are collected until the wine is bottled. On top of that, for the extra religious people, there is a type of kosher wine called mevushal (which means “cooked”), that is boiled for additional safety before being bottled, because it’s believed that boiling wine ensures it will stay kosher even if subsequently touched by a non-Jewish person.
Mevushal wine is often used in kosher restaurants so as to allow the wine to be handled by non-Jewish personnel, but you really don’t want to drink it if you can avoid it: non-boiled kosher wine is much better, and Israel produces amazing wines you should really try.