When Hillel, one of the revered Jewish sages, was challenged to teach the Torah while standing on one foot, he gave the famous reply: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: this is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Now, go and study.”
“On one foot,” the basics of the Jewish dietary laws are:
- Not eating pork, shellfish or other unkosher animals
- Not mixing dairy and meat
The rest is *complex* commentary.
The following is presented only as an informative outline of this complex area of Jewish religious law. Because Judaism does not have a universal authority for interpretation of Biblical commandments, the fine points of practice depend upon which school of thought one follows. [One] should always consult one’s own authority on the “halakha,” the body of interpretation of Jewish religious law. (The “shorthand” for this is CYLAH; consult your local authority on “halakha.”) Interpretations of the laws of kashruth can be made only by a competent rabbinic/halakhic authority.
Bear in mind, please, that, along with having Jewish posters who represent the entire spectrum of religious practice, there also may be non-Jewish readers or posters who are interested in the Jewish style of cooking or because the dietary laws are similar to those of their religion. We want everyone to feel equally comfortable and welcome.
Why Jewish cuisine?
Wherever Jews have lived, from the ancient Middle East to the modern Americas, they have eaten the local foods. So what are Jewish foods? They are those local foods which are allowed by halakha and, in some cases, developed or adapted to meet Jewish needs. Jewish cuisine is not only East-European food. Every Jewish community — Ashkenazic, Sephardic, Yemenite, Italian and others — has met the requirements of Judaism in its own way and with its own cuisine.
Reasons, other than kashruth, for Jewish cuisine include:
1. Shabbat: Two Shabbat rules, in particular, have influenced the development of Jewish food. One is the prohibition against removing the unwanted parts of a mixture, such as the bones from fish. This resulted in the development of gefilte fish, which (at least in theory) has no bones.
Better known is the rule against putting things up to cook on Shabbat. Since stews, and other long cooking items may be put up before Shabbat, a range of such dishes was developed. The most well known of these is “cholent” (called “hamin” by Sephardic Jews).
2. Holidays: The effect of the Passover on Jewish food may ultimately have a FAQ of its own, but other holidays have had their effects as well.
Rosh Hashanah, with its emphasis on sweet things, has led to honey cake and “taigelech.” A pun on the Yiddish word for carrots — “mehren” — which can also mean “to increase”, has led to carrot tzimmes. Shavuot, characterized by dairy foods, has led to blintzes and cheesecakes.
What constitutes kosher food?
In determining whether a recipe you want to post is kosher, bear in mind the basic concepts of kosher food: no mixing of dairy and meat; no pork or pork products; no shell fish.
This also applies to food products containing such ingredients. For example, a food coloring made from a shell fish would be considered unkosher and would taint the food in which it might be used. Similarly, using, e.g., an animal fat together with dairy ingredients renders the product unkosher and taints even the implements used in making it.
If a recipe is not in keeping with these basic requirements, consider whether substitutions can be made to adjust it for “kashruth” (e.g., substituting margarine for butter in a meat recipe). If you are unsure of how to make such substitutions, post the recipe and ask for suggestions as how to do so. Please note clearly that the recipe is not fundamentally kosher.
The following provides further details as to which foods are acceptable.
Meat That Is Allowed: Beef Veal Venison Mutton Lamb
1. The animal from which the meat is taken must have been slaughtered in accordance with prescribed Jewish ritual.
2. All liver must be broiled before use in recipes, because of a prohibition against ingesting blood.
All meat must be kashered by (1) soaking and salting or by (2) sprinkling with salt and broiling. Liver may be kashered only by broiling. Ashkenazim generally soak and salt all meat, while Sephardim omit this if the meat is to be broiled. Note that if the meat was not kashered within three days of slaughter, it should be kashered by broiling. For meat which has been frozen.
3. Because the sciatic nerve and certain parts of the fat must be removed in order to eat the meat of the hindquarters (this is a laborious job and takes special training), filet mignon, rump and sirloin steaks, leg of lamb, and London broil usually are not available in kosher form in North America, though they may be in other parts of the world.
Meat That Is Not Allowed
Any animal which does not both chew its cud and have a split hoof, such as rabbit or hare, pig, horse, dog or cat.
POULTRY AND OTHER FOWL
The Torah names the bird species which are not kosher. Since we are not certain to which birds all of these ancient Hebrew names refer, only birds which traditionally have been eaten are allowed; primarily, domesticated fowl.
Please note that they are considered to be meat. They must be slaughtered by a ritual slaughterer (shokhet), and the prohibition against mixing dairy products with them applies, as for with other sources of meat.
Fowl That Is Allowed:
Chicken Turkey Quail Cornish Hens Doves/Pigeon (Squab) Goose Duck Pheasant
Note: All liver must be broiled before use in recipes, because of a prohibition against ingesting blood.
Note: In the U.S., the only fowl which are kosher-slaughtered, commercially, are chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese.
Fowl That Is Not Allowed
In most general terms, birds of prey are not allowed.
Fish That Is Allowed:
Fish must have both fins and scales that are detachable from the skin. All fish which have them are allowed.
Fish That Is Not Allowed
All shellfish (shrimp, lobster, clams, oysters, scallops, etc.) and crustaceans (crabs, crayfish/crawfish, etc.)
Scavengers/”Bottom-feeders” (such as catfish, monkfish), unless they have fins and scales.
Sturgeon (and, by extension, sturgeon caviar) and swordfish — some Conservative opinion finds these acceptable.
FRUITS, VEGETABLES AND GRAINS
All fruits, vegetables and grains are allowed.
Grape Products: Because of the sacramental dimension of wine in Judaism, a special body of laws governs grape products. Kashruth-observant Jews use only those grape products which have proper supervision. This applies to wine, grape juice, grape jelly, vinegar, and all soft drinks that use white grape juice as a sweetener. It does not apply to fresh grapes or raisins.
SEPARATION OF DAIRY FROM MEAT
Meat and dairy ingredients must not be mixed together.
Milk dishes must be cooked and eaten separately from meat dishes.
Meat dishes must be cooked and eaten separately from milk dishes.
This prohibition against mixing dairy and meat also extends to the plates, cutlery, utensils and cooking vessels used in association with them, necessitating a full set of each in a kosher kitchen. In addition, many keep additional sets and equipment which are pareve (neutral).
Sephardic tradition considers glass dishes to be neutral.
Although cheeses are dairy, some cheeses are not kosher if they are made with animal-origin rennet from a non-kosher animal.
The Conservative movement has a broader definition of kosher cheeses.
PAREVE (neutral) Food
Fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits and grains may be eaten with either milk or meat dishes.
NOTE: Some communities do not permit fish and meat to be cooked together, and some do not permit fish and dairy to be cooked together. They may, however, be served at the same meal on separate dishes and with separate utensils.
Pareve (neutral) cooking oils such as vegetable oils and shortenings may be used with both milk and meat dishes.
Flour, without dairy additives, is pareve.
Most insects and other “creepy crawlies” are prohibited. Snails are, therefore, unkosher, and certain food additives or colorings made from insects are unkosher.
One who keeps kosher also will exercise care in using products containing gelatin, which can be of animal origin.
Ashkenazic/Ashkenazim: Refers to the Jews whose origins were in Eastern Europe, particularly Czarist Russia, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany.
Blech: Metal; refers to a metal placed over the lit burners on a stove for use in warming or keeping foods warm during the Sabbath. Also known as a “platta.”
Brakha or bracha: A blessing.
CYLAH: Consult your local authority on “halakha.”
Fleishig or fleishedik: Meat.
Glatt: Means “smooth;” a particularly high standard of “kashruth.” It can also be referred to as “mehadrin.”
Halakhic authority: A rabbi or rabbinical authority (by an individual or a religious group) trusted for making decisions in religious matters.
Hekhsher: Indication on a food product that it has been processed under the supervision of a recognized Rabbinic authority.
Kashruth, Kashrut, Kashrus: The body of Jewish dietary laws.
Kashering or Koshering: These terms are used in reference to making utensils or a kitchen kosher. It also refers to the salting process used for meat (also known as “melikha).”
Kosher: In keeping with the Jewish dietary laws.
Kosher salt: Coarse salt used for koshering meat; i.e., drawing out the blood by soaking in salted cold water (“melikha”). Kosher salt can also be used in cooking.
Mehadrin: See glatt, above.
Melikha: From the Hebrew work for salt (melakh); the salting process for drawing blood from the meat.
Milkhig or milikhdig: Dairy.
Mitzvah: Commandments – things commanded by God to the Jews in the Torah. It has the colloquial meaning of “good deed.”
Pareve: Describes food which is neutral — neither dairy or meat — and which consequently can be used with either.
Platta: Same as “blech.” See above.
Sephardic/Sephardim: Refers to the descendants of those Jews who lived in the Middle East since the post-Second Temple exile and those expelled from Spain and Portugal by the Spanish Inquisition during the late 15th Century. Many of the latter settled in North Africa and other countries of the Mediterranean Basin, the Baltics, France, Holland and England; eventually, also in the Americas.
Shabbat or shabbos: The Jewish sabbath.
Shekhita: Ritual slaughter, a method which is particularly humane, preventing undue suffering to the animal.
Shokhet: A trained ritual slaughterer.
Simkha or simcha: A celebration or happy occasion.
Torah: The Bible.
Treif or taref: Not kosher.