The Laws of Kashrut Explained


The Jewish dietary laws are known as the laws of Kashrut. These originate from the Torah or the five books of Moses, but some have been elucidated in the Talmud. Most of the laws of kashrut have no defined reason. The Torah instructs us to maintain these laws to make ourselves holy. The main tenets of Kashrut are listed here.

What is Kosher Animal?

An animal is considered to be a kosher animal if it chews its cud and has cloven hooves. Both of these signs must be present. The Torah specifically warns against animals that have one but not the other sign. The pig is the only animal that has cloven hooves but does not chew its cud. There are a few that chew their cud but do not have cloven hooves.

For meat to be kosher, an animal must be slaughtered in a kosher way. A very sharp knife is used to cut through the jugular vein in a single movement. This causes instant and painless death. It is forbidden to eat blood which is considered to be the life-force. The blood of the slaughtered animal is buried. Coarse salt is used to ensure that all the blood has gone.

Jacob fought with the Angel of Esau injuring his thigh. Therefore we do not eat the hindquarters of an animal – unless we first remove the sciatic nerve – a very difficult process. The animal must be inspected for disease. Any sign of disease renders the meat unkosher.

Birds that are considered kosher by tradition are considered kosher.

Birds that do not have feathers of cannot fly are not kosher. Birds are slaughtered in the same way as animals.

Fish must have fins and scales. Again, we generally consider fish that have traditionally been considered kosher to be kosher.

Fruit and vegetables are generally kosher. They can be rendered unkosher because of infestation by insects.

The Torah lists a specific species of locust as kosher, but we cannot identify this today. Today, no insects are kosher. Reptiles are not kosher and may not be eaten.

Separation of milk and meat

One of the most important laws is the separation of milk and meat. This originates from a commandment not to cook a kid in its mother’s milk. This was extended to all meat and milk. Birds are counted as meat. Traditions vary, but a period between 1 hour and 6 hours must elapse before eating milk products after a meat meal. Separate dishes are kept for milk and meat.

Fruit, vegetables, and grains are parev – they are neither milk nor meat and can be eaten with either.

When baking bread, a portion had to be broken off and reserved for the Kohanim or priests. Today, that portion is burned. Most beer and whiskey is kosher but anything produced from grapes has to be produced by Jews to qualify as kosher.

Any processed products have to be inspected to be considered kosher.

All utensils used to store foods, cook or eat from must be kosher. They cannot be used for non-kosher foods.

Passover lasts for 8 days and presents special laws of kashrut. All this is based on the commandments relating to eating matza or unleavened bread. The house and workplace must be cleared of chametz and special sets of dishes and cooking utensils are used for the period.

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