Kosher Food, Dietary Rules, Customs and Why

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Kosher gummi bears
Kosher comes from the Hebrew word kasher, meaning "proper", “ritually acceptable” or "lawful". It became common in English in the mid-19th Century and can be used as an adjective, for example, "kosher meat." In the mid-1920's, the word took on a more general meaning, used to refer to anything that was acceptable. The Hebrew word kashrut means “ritual suitability” and refers to the Jewish dietary laws. These dictate how to prepare, store, and eat food and how to slaughter animals that are permitted for consumption. Foods that are permitted to eat under kashrut are “kosher.” Non-kosher foods are known as treyf.

Kosher is usually used in reference to food but sometimes can refer to non-food items. Kosher Foods are food that are prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. The laws describe mainly which foods are acceptable and how they should be prepared. According to these laws "animals that chew the cud but do not part the hoof [cloven hooves]; fish with fins and scales; and birds other than those prohibited in Leviticus xii” may be eaten. This primarily means that Jews are not supposed to eat pork or shellfish. Kosher food laws prohibit certain food and define methods of preparation for others. These laws are viewed as a way of sanctifying the individual and maintaining separation between Jews and Gentiles.

Seth Adam Grossman wrote in China Today: “Kosher just might be the best known Judaic term. Jews and non-Jews alike, even if they know nothing about Judaism, are likely to have heard about kosher food. If you ask the average person what kosher means, the answers you will most likely hear are "Kosher means a Rabbi blessed the food," that "the food is very clean and sanitary," or "Kosher is part of the ancient Jewish health code." In fact, kosher is none of these. To sum up kosher in one sentence: "Kosher is a comprehensive dietary discipline designed to promote Jewish spirituality." [Source: Seth Adam Grossman, China Today, December 2010 |*|]

“Any kind of cuisine can be considered as kosher as long as it's made in accordance to Jewish law. What makes it complicated is that it is generally not possible for the average person to judge the kosher status of an item. Many ingredients can be kosher or non-kosher, depending on their source of origin. The product may be made from kosher ingredients, but processed on non-kosher equipment. Many ingredients are listed only in broad terms, with no breakdown of the many complex components that make up the actual item.” |*|

Websites and Resources: Virtual Jewish Library ; Judaism101 ; ; Yivo Institute of Jewish Research ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook ; ; Jewish Museum London

Kosher Dietary Rules

Kosher dietary rules are based primarily on passages in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, As an expression of God's will, the dietary code is said to promote a life of holiness (Exod. 22:30; Lev. 11:44–45; Deut.14:21). There are eight main regulations: 1) Only animals with cloven hooves and that chew their cud can be eaten. Commonly, pork is forbidden because pigs do not chew their cud. 2) Similarly, only fish with scales and fins may be eaten, which means shrimp and lobster are unfit for consumption. 3) Animals that are eaten must be slaughtered in accordance with Jewish law. This is primarily to ensure that the animal's death is painless and quick. 4) The blood must drain from the animal, which is typically the result if the animal is slaughtered quockly. 6) This law prohibits eating certain parts of the animal, including certain nerves and fats. 6) Meat and dairy products can not be eaten together. 7) Utensils that have come into contact with dairy may not be used to with meat, and vice versa. 8) Grape products, including wine and juices, produced by non-Jews may not be consumed. [Source:]

The rule on the separation of milk and meat products and utensils is rooted in Torah scripture: "you shall not boil a kid in its mothers milk," Exodus xxiii: 19). When eating at a kosher restaurant or a house where a kosher meal has been prepared there are separate dishes and utensils for meat dishes and dairy dishes. Not eating meat and dairy products together means that you are not supposed to eat cheeseburgers, meat with a cheese sauce, meat and potatoes with butter or milk tea. Kosher kitchens often have color-coded utensils: with red for meat products and blue for dairy products. Some restaurants hire a full-time “mashgiyah” , who keeps watch over the kitchen to make sure it stays kosher. Restaurants need a kosher seal of approval, called a “hecsher” , from a local Jewish authority. Imaginative kosher cooks make cream sauces with cashews, coconuts and soy milk.

Some Jews follow the kashrut dietary laws strictly while others do not follow them at all. The National Jewish Population Survey estimates that about 25 to 30 percent of American Jews adhere to the dietary laws to some degree and that about 17 percent adhere to the regulations regarding meat all the time. For centuries, rabbinic scholars have been needed to interpret the kosher food laws and apply them to ever-evolving contemporary conditions. Not so long ago, most food products were made in the family kitchen, or in small factory or community store, so it was relatively easy to ascertain if the product was reliably kosher. Today, industrialization, transcontinental shipping and mass production have created a situation where most of the foods we eat are treated, processed, cooked, canned or boxed commercially in industrial settings, which can be located hundreds or thousands of miles away from home.

J.M Oesterreicher wrote in the New Catholic Encyclopedia: Rabbinical tradition requires that animals be slaughtered by a shochet, , an expert slaughterer who must see to it that the animal dies with the least possible pain and that blood is allowed to flow off freely. The cook, too, must observe certain regulations: the meat is to be cleansed and salted, so that every drop of blood will be drawn out. All vegetables are allowed. Some kinds of fowl are permitted; others are not. Because meat and dairy products may not be eaten together; two separate kinds of dishes are used, and a six-hour interval must be observed between a meal with meat and one with milk or its derivatives. Reform Judaism has discarded the idea of kasrut and the laws regulating kosher food, although some of its adherents will, out of a loyalty to parents or to the Jewish past, abstain from pork. While many observant Jews modify the strict requirements of the Law to suit the demands of modern life, they expect their rabbis to observe, in their stead, the traditional rules uncompromisingly [Source: J.M Oesterreicher, New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1960s,].

Mitzvot Related to Food and Drink

Kosher Instant Mashed Potatoes
Mitzvot are Jewish laws or commandments. The folling are ones relates to and N172 — Not to eat any unclean animal
N173 — Not to eat any unclean fish
N174 — Not to eat any unclean fowl
N175 — Not to eat any swarming winged insect
N176 — Not to eat anything which swarms on the earth
N177 — Not to eat any creeping thing tha breeds in decayed matter
N178 — Not to eat living creatures that breed in seeds or fruit
N179 — Not to eat any swarming thing
N180 — Not to eat any animal which is a nevelah
N181 — Not to eat an animal which is a treifah
N182 — Not to eat a limb of a living animal
N183 — Not to eat the gid hanasheh (sinew of the thigh-vein)
N184 — Not to eat blood
N185 — Not to eat the fat of a clean animal

N186 — Not to cook meat in milk
N187 — Not to eat meat cooked in milk
N188 — Not to eat the flesh of a stoned ox
N189 — Not to eat bread made from grain of new crop
N190 — Not to eat roasted grain of the new crop
N191 — Not to eat fresh ears of grain
N192 — Not to eat orlah
N193 — Not to eat kilai hakerem
N194 — Not to drink yayin nesach (libation wine for idol worship)
N195 — No eating or drinking to excess
N196 — Not to eat on Yom Kippur
N197 — Not to eat chometz on Pesach
N198 — Not to eat an admixture of chometz on Pesach
N199 — Not to eat chometz after noon of 14 Nissan
N200 — No chametz may be seen in our homes during Pesach
N201 — Not to possess chametz during Pesach

N202 — A Nazir may not drink wine
N203 — A Nazir may not eat fresh grapes
N204 — A Nazir may not eat dried grapes
N205 — A Nazir may not eat grape kernels
N206 — A Nazir may not eat grape husks
N207 — A Nazir may not rend himself tameh for the dead
N208 — A Nazir may not rend himself tameh by entering house with corpse
N209 — A Nazir may not shave

N210 — Not to reap all harvest without leaving a corner for the poor
N211 — Not to gather ears of corn that fell during harvesting
N212 — Not to gather the whole produce of vineyard at vintage time
N213 — Not to gather single fallen grapes during the vintage
N214 — Not to return for a forgotten sheaf
N215 — Not to sow kilayim (diverse kinds of seed in one field)
N216 — Not to sow grain or vegetables in a vineyard
N217 — Not to make animals of different speces
N218 — Not to work with two different kinds of animals together
N219 — Not preventing a beast from eating the produce where working

Kosher Food and the Talmud

Kosherness is spelled out in the Talmud, which also recommends eating locusts from time to time. The Bible classifies locusts and grasshoppers as “clean.'” They are meaty insects that people ate in times of famine or when locusts are up fields and pastures.

Jews are forbidden by the Bible from the eating of birds, four-footed beats with "paws" (wildcats, lions, foxes, wolves, dogs and cats), water dwellers with scales or fins (eels, shellfish, whales, dolphins, sturgeons, lampreys, and catfish), "all winged insects that go upon all fours" (with the exception of locusts, crickets and grasshoppers "which leap upon the earth"), "camel, rock badger and hare" and animals that "chew the cud" but are not "cloven footed" (pigs).

Kosher food is a good example of how the Talmud derives an extraordinary number of laws and ideas from a simple sentence or phrase. The sentence “Thou shall not eat anything with the blood” (Leviticus xix 26) is taken to mean that one can not eat: 1) any animal that still has life in it; 2) any animal parts that still have blood in them; 3) before one prays for pure life (based on the connection of blood with life); 4) sacrificial meat while blood is still in the basin; 5) on the day a judge gives out a death sentence. Connected with the prohibition is warning that gluttony will lead one down the road to ruin.

“Glatt” is a specific kind of kosherness in which the animals has been examined and no imperfections have been found on the skin and no puncture marks have been found in the lungs, a common sign of disease. This has traditionally meant that cows must have no spots and the feathers of chicken must all be the same color. The opposite of “glatt” is “trayfe” , which means torn. This refers to animals with imperfections.

What Is Kosher and What Isn’t

Seth Adam Grossman wrote in China Today: “Examples of foods that could be considered kosher: the meat of the "fore quarter" of cattle or animals with split hoofs that chew their cuds (slaughtered ritually). Fish must have scales and fins to be kosher. So shark, no good…yes fins, but no scales, the same goes for rays of any kind, and eels as well. Wine is inherently kosher but it must be certified as kosher. Unlike beer and spirits, which are typically kosher and do not need certification, wine has a separately distinct set of kosher rules. [Source: Seth Adam Grossman, China Today, December 2010 |*|]

“The opposite of kosher, as applied to food is treif or trefah, meaning "not suitable for use," or "forbidden." Trefah literally means, "torn by a wild beast." The concept forbids eating, cooking or torturing a live animal in anyway. Some foods that are considered trefah include: blood, swine, rabbit, all shellfish, and wild birds such as wild hen, wild duck.” |*|

Daniella Cheslow of Associated Press wrote: “The biblical rules that govern Jewish diets include a blacklist of animals that may not be eaten, like pigs, vultures or fish without scales. Beef is kosher, pork is not. Trout is kosher, crab is not. Religious Jews abide by these rules to the letter, but probably wouldn't think to replace standards like beef or chicken with permitted alternatives like the water buffalo or pheasant served at the dinner. [Source: Daniella Cheslow, Associated Press, July 29, 2010]

Nathan Jeffay of wrote: “Most challenging are birds, which are deemed kosher only if an oral tradition exists saying that they are... As different species were known by different names in the Diaspora, this process also involves a clear identification of the bird being referenced in a given oral tradition...In theory, it’s easy to determine whether a fish is kosher: If it has fins and scales, it is. But in reality, it can be tough to call... The swordfish is widely considered nonkosher, as it supposedly doesn’t have scales.”[Source: Nathan Jeffay, July 28, 2010]

Jews, Muslims and Pork

Kosher Jew with kosher food
Muslims and Jews (and some Christians) are forbidden from eating pork. The Jewish and Christian God spoke out twice against eating pork in the Old Testament (in Genesis and again in Leviticus), denouncing the pig as an unclean animal that "pollutes if it is tasted or touched." Allah delivered essentially the same message to Mohammed in the 7th century, but revoked the Biblical taboo on eating camel flesh.

Pork is the only food that the Koran specifically forbids Moslems to eat. The Koran states: "Forbidden to you (as food) are carrion and blood and swine-flesh.” By contrast Jews are forbidden by the Bible from the eating of birds, four-footed beats with "paws" (wildcats, lions, foxes, wolves, dogs and cats), water dwellers with scales or fins (eels, shellfish, whales, dolphins, sturgeons, lampreys, and catfish), "all winged insects that go upon all fours" (with the exception of locusts, crickets and grasshoppers "which leap upon the earth"), "camel, rock badger and hare" and animals that "chew the cud" but are not "cloven footed" (pigs).

In the fifth and forth millennia B.C. in Mesopotamia, 30 percent of bones excavated in Tell Asmar (2800-2700 BC) belonged to pigs. Pork was eaten in Ur in pre-Dynastic times. After 2400 B.C. it had become taboo. In Egypt, pigs were eaten, but there was prejudice against pork associated with Seti, the God of Evil.

In an attempt to explain why pork was forbidden, the 12th century Jewish-Muslim physician Maimonides wrote pig flesh "has a bad and damaging effect upon the body." But he didn't offer any specifics. In the 19th century, the discovery that trichinosis was caused from eating undercooked pork was offered as evidence to back up Maimonides assertion.

Why Is Pork Forbidden?

Pigs are by far the most efficient protein and fat producing animal domesticated by man. They converts grains and tubers into high-grade fats and proteins more effectively than other animals. Almost 25 percent of the food by weight fed to pig is converted to meat, compared to 14 percent for chicken, 13 percent for sheep and 6.5 percent for cattle. In addition females produce litters that average eight piglets after a four gestation period. The piglets in turn can be fattened up to a 400 pound hog in six months.

Why is pork forbidden then? Scholars have generally argued that pork was forbidden because pigs have traditionally been regarded as dirty animals because they eat excrement and wallow in mud produced from their own urine and are associated with trichinosis, a disease is caused by the quarter-inch-long trichina worm, a kind of roundworm which digs into the muscles and produces cysts that can be fatal.

Columbia anthropologist Marvin Harris has said something else must be involved. "Hungry cows will eat human excrement with gusto," he wrote. "Dogs and chickens do the same thing without getting anyone very upset...The pig is a vector of human disease, but so are other domestic animals freely consumed by Moslems and Jews. For example, undercooked beef is a source of parasites, notably tapeworms, which can reach a length of sixteen to twenty feet within a man's intestines." Cattle, sheep and goats are sources of anthrax, brucellosis and other human diseases.

Pork Taboo and the Environment

Kosher McDonalds in Buenos Aires
Harris offers a natural and environmental explanation for the prohibition of pork. Pigs, he argued, were originally primarily tubor-eating forest and swamp creatures that had difficulty living in the deserts of the Middle East because they don't sweat and therefore can't cool themselves. Their habit of rolling around in urine and excrement is a way to keep cool. Pigs also have difficulty living in arid regions because they can not subsist off of grass alone, they are difficult to herd over long distances, and they don't produce milk.

When pigs were first domesticated there were vast forest areas in what is now Turkey and the Middle East. Ten thousand years ago, Harris argues, there was enough water and shade to support small number of pigs, but as the population in the Middle East grew, deforestation degraded the environments best suited for pigs. As a result pigs became a luxury that most people couldn't afford, their dirty behavior increased in the hot conditions and the taboo against the animal developed.

Unlike other domesticated animals, pigs are prized as source of meat and little else. They can't be ridden, milked or used to pull or carry things.

Jewish Views on Animals and Hunting

According to the BBC: “Judaism teaches that animals are part of God's creation and should be treated with compassion. Human beings must avoid tzar baalei chayim - causing pain to any living creature. God himself makes a covenant with the animals, just as he does with humanity. The way Jews should treat animals is encapsulated in Proverbs 12:10: ‘The righteous person regards the life of his beast.’ Psalm 145:9 says: ‘ His tender mercies are over all His creatures.’” [Source: July 17, 2009 BBC |::|]

“The Talmud specifically instructs Jews not to cause pain to animals, and there are also several Bible stories which use kindness to animals as a demonstration of the virtues of leading Jewish figures. Judaism also teaches that it is acceptable to harm or kill animals if that is the only way to fulfil an essential human need. This is because people take priority over animals, something stated very early in the Bible, where God gives human beings the right to control all non-human animals. Human beings are therefore allowed to use animals for food and clothing - and to provide parchment on which to write the Bible. |::|

Kosher Glattkosher turkey

“Genesis, the first book of the Bible, states that God has given human beings dominion over all living things. Dominion is interpreted as stewardship - living things are to serve humanity but human beings, as part of their dominion, are required to look after all living creatures. Genesis 9: 1-3 reads: And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. |::|

“The Bible gives several instructions on animal welfare: 1) A person must feed his animals before himself (Deuteronomy 11:15); 2) Animals must be allowed to rest on the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10, and Deut 5: 14); 3) An animal's suffering must be relieved (Deuteronomy 12:4) Jews are instructed to avoid: A) Severing a limb from a live animal and eating it (Genesis 9:4); B) Killing a cow and her calf on the same day (Leviticus 22:28); C) This demonstrates that Judaism accepts that animals have powerful family relationships; D) Muzzling an animal threshing corn (Deuteronomy 25:4); E) Harnessing an ox and donkey together (Deuteronomy 22:10). |::|

“Hunting for sport is forbidden, and has been strongly denounced by a number of important rabbis, as has staging animal fights for sport. The Bible teaches that hunting animals is something shameful. Leviticus (17:13) instructs Jews to pour out the blood of hunted prey and cover it with earth. This teaches that hunters should be ashamed and should hide the evidence of their killing. |::|

“Jewish teaching allows animal experiments as long both of these conditions are satisfied: 1) There is a real possibility of a benefit to human beings; 2) There is no unnecessary pain involved. |::|

Kosher Feast Features Locusts and Sparrows

Reporting from Jerusalem, Daniella Cheslow of Associated Press wrote: “The men behind a unique six-hour eating marathon in Jerusalem want diners to know two things about locusts: First, they taste great stir-fried, and second, they're kosher. When 240 observant Jews sat down to the 18-course dinner earlier this month, they were served a veritable zoo of animals that were unlikely candidates to be eaten under traditional Jewish dietary laws, known as kashrut. Eating kosher, the organizers want to say, does not just mean chicken soup and matzo balls; the list of animals eaten by Jewish communities around the world throughout history is longer and stranger than most people think. "It's about keeping a 2,500-year-old tradition in our hands," said Ari Greenspan, one of the organizers. "We have such a rich tradition but because of commercial food production, the only things slaughtered today are those that are financially feasible and grow quickly." [Source: Daniella Cheslow, Associated Press, July 29, 2010 :/]

“The dinner's organizers — Greenspan, a dentist, and Ari Zivotofsky, a rabbi, both 47 — have spent decades investigating the nether reaches of the kosher kitchen. The two met as teens in a Jewish religious school near Jerusalem. When they learned kosher slaughter, they realized the list of permitted animals was under threat because people were dying and taking little-known traditions with them. Some dietary directions not spelled out clearly in the Bible — particularly methods of poultry slaughter — must be passed down orally by a living witness, Greenspan said. :/


“Without witnesses, more animals may go the way of the peacock. It was one of 30 birds pictured in a 150-year-old Italian book on kosher poultry, but no one alive remembers how to slaughter it in a kosher way, the organizers said. So today peacock is off the Jewish menu. The two traveled to more than 40 countries, interviewing aging kosher butchers and documenting traditions like eating locusts, common among the Jews of Yemen. The research culminated in the $100-a-head dinner. :/

“Dishes included sparrows, doves, deer, roasted elk and grilled cow udders. Pheasants flown in from Rome were rolled into cinnamon pastille pastries. Greenspan and Zivotofsky found three kosher butchers, from Algeria, France and Israel, who remembered how to properly slaughter guinea fowl. A cadre of rabbis and academics explained each course to the diners. They also discussed long-running debates over the kosher status of some animals, such as swordfish, which was also served. Zivotofsky read from a ruling by a 16th-century rabbi who said that swordfish has scales in water, meaning it is kosher, though the rabbi claimed the scales fall off when the fish is out of the water. That made it suspect enough that Zivotofsky wouldn't eat it at the dinner, though others did. :/

“The organizers also restored a species to the kosher menu: the shibuta, a fish mentioned in the Talmud, the ancient commentary on the Bible that defines Jewish law. It is believed to refer to the Barbus grypus, a carp that grows in the Euphrates River. After the U.S. invaded Iraq, Greenspan said, he asked a military rabbi to confirm the fish was kosher. It was. At the dinner, shibuta from Turkey was served as a fried fish cake. :/

“The locusts were nearly a disaster. "We had someone raising them for us in Israel, but then there was a heat wave," Greenspan said. "They all died. We were up a creek. Locusts are the big hit of dinner." The organizers heard about an institution in Britain that grows insects, and Greenspan called a British cousin who brought the locusts to Israel in his suitcase. Accountant Gadi Levin tore off the six legs of one of the brown locusts, about the length of his thumb, and bit into its crunchy body. Stir-fried, the locust was earthy and redolent with soy sauce. "It was delicious," said the 37-year-old South African-born Israeli. "It tasted like a barbecue crisp." :/

Nathan Jeffay wrote in The dish was udder of cow, which, as the many rabbis in attendance pointed out, is recommended by the Talmud for anyone who wants to experience a taste similar to meat-and-milk without breaking Jewish law. It tasted spongy and decidedly creamy....It was preceded by the Talmud’s recommendation for observant Jews who want to taste pork: a fish the rabbis called shibuta. This is thought to be the barbus grypus, a kind of large freshwater carp. Research by the organizers indicated that this was the first time that shibuta had been served at a kosher meal in Israel since the First Temple era. [Source: Nathan Jeffay, July 28, 2010]

Giraffe and Water Buffalo Kosher But Not Ostrich

A chance encounter in Israel between veterinarians and a giraffe in June 2008 led to a rabbinical ruling that Giraffe meat and milk are kosher. Tim Butcher wrote in The Telegraph, “According to a report in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, vets were asked to treat an adult, female giraffe at Israel's largest zoo, the Safari Park in Ramat Gan. The team, led by Professor Zohar Amar, took a routine sample of milk and found that it clotted in the way required by Jewish law for kosher certification. They submitted more milk for verification by the rabbinical authorities and the paper reported that a ruling was made that giraffe meat and milk are acceptable for observant Jews. [Source: Tim Butcher, The Telegraph, June 2008]


“The giraffe belongs to the family of grazing animals that have cloven hooves and chew the cud, thereby making them consistent with kosher rules, but the milk test was the final confirmation. "Indeed, the giraffe is kosher for eating," Rabbi Shlomo Mahfoud, who accompanied the researchers in their work, said. "The giraffe has all the signs of a ritually pure animal, and the milk that forms curds strengthened that."

“But Dr Yigal Horowitz, the zoo's chief vet, said this did not mean there would suddenly be a surge in demand of giraffe food products in Israel. "This does not mean that tomorrow we are going to drink giraffe milk or eat soup made from giraffe necks," he said. "After all, this is an animal in danger of extinction."

How about ostrich. The Torah contains a list of non-kosher birds, predominantly scavengers and predators. Kosher birds include duck, chicken, and turkey. Ostrich is not kosher. In the mid 2000s, water buffalo meat was declared kosher by Israel’s chief rabbinate. The kashrut certification was issued by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar following a request by two researchers from Bar-Ilan University. According to to ynet news: “In order to declare meat kosher it is not enough for the specific animal to bear the signs mentioned in the bible testifying to its kashrut. According to the Halacha (Jewish law), there must also be a "tradition" testifying to the fact that the same animal was consumed in the past by kosher-keeping Jews.”

Nathan Jeffay wrote in “Water buffalo was declared kosher by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate in 2006. This was after years of research by Greenspan, Zivotofsky and others in which they completed biological studies to prove that water buffalo chew their cud and have cloven hooves as required by Halacha, or Jewish religious law. To satisfy the Chief Rabbinate, Greenspan and Zivotofsky also had to satisfy extra stringencies — to gather testimonies of slaughterers and prove that water buffalos have no upper front teeth. To this end they delivered a water buffalo skeleton to the desk of Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar. [Source: Nathan Jeffay, July 28, 2010]

Kosher Food Abroad

marrow bones

In the United States, the magazine Kosher Today estimated that $185 billion of the $500 billion annual retail grocery sales is certified kosher. Many products such as flour, rice and all produce is kosher by definition and doesn’t require labeling.

The market for kosher food is growing and is consumed by various groups for various reasons. Muslims are among the biggest consumers because they can count on all kosher foods as being pork-free. Vegetarians know that products marked “pareve”, or “dairy” contains no meat. Vegans and lactose-intolerant in turn know to avoid “pareve” foods.

In some cases, certifying that all the ingredients of a kosher product are kosher can be time consuming. It can require going through long lists of ingredients and poking through warehouses and factories and checking the lists of ingredients on the bottles and containers of the ingredients for the main product.

Kosher delis have long been a fixture of New York City. Many were opened up in early and mid 20th century by Jewish immigrants at a time when many Jews regularly ate and regularly got their food from such delis. In the 1960s there were 300 kosher delis in New York City and its suburbs. Since then many have closed down and only a handful are left.

Berlin Supermarket Features Kosher Food

in 2011, the Berlin supermarket “Near and Good” began featuring kosher food. Tom Heneghan of Reuters wrote: “In a city weighed down by memories of its Nazi past, even small signs that Jews are a part of normal daily life again take on deeper meaning. One such sign appeared last month when a local supermarket began selling kosher food. Stocked on shelves and in freezers next to other German and imported goods, the food prepared according to ancient Jewish dietary laws is presented like any other product. Yehuda Teichtal, a Brooklyn-born Hasidic rabbi who advised the Nah und Gut (“Near and Good”) supermarket on its selections, is thrilled to see this in Berlin. “This was the center of darkness and evil, where the Nazis planned the extermination of Europe’s Jews, and now you can go into a normal supermarket and there’s a sign that says kosher,” he said. [Source: Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor, Reuters, October 28, 2011 -]

“German Jews who keep kosher had a handful of restaurants and small specialty shops around the city where they could find religiously permitted food. But Teichtal, who runs the Berlin center of the worldwide Chabad Hasidic movement, thought more Jews would eat kosher food if they didn’t have to get to those small shops with their limited opening hours to buy it. “If you have to go to one shop to buy wine, another to get fruit and veg and a third to buy a piece of gefilte fish, that’s one thing,” he said. “If a person goes to one supermarket and does all their shopping, it’s a completely different ballgame.” -

“So he scouted around for a supermarket ready to try a new line of products and found Nah und Gut, an upscale establishment in the affluent Wilmersdorf section of western Berlin. Many Jews live in the area and several of the city’s synagogues are nearby. “We always try to have different products from around the world,” explained store manager Stefan Voelker, who is not Jewish and describes kosher food as “a bit multicultural, a bit exotic.” -

The kosher products — everything from wine, beer and cheese to chocolate-covered matzo bread and frozen steaks and chicken nuggets — have interested curious non-Jewish shoppers and brought in several hundred new Jewish customers, he said. Voelker’s biggest problem is not customer acceptance or rejection, but logistics. Almost all his kosher products come from other countries, mostly Israel, Poland, France, Belgium and Britain, and ordering small shipments can be expensive and unreliable. Teichtal, who stressed his interest in the sale of kosher food is strictly religious and not financial, said he was searching around Europe for large wholesalers who could offer more regular supplies. -

“About 3 km (2 miles) away at Kosher Deli, Maurice Elmaleh has different concerns. He’s worried the new competition could hurt the small specialty kosher shops like his. “The shops that already exist have problems to stay open,” he said in his sparse shop as a customer picked up a fresh loaf of braided challah. “There are more Jews eating kosher, but the number is small compared to the number of Jews in Berlin,” he said. “Only about 10-15 percent of them keep kosher.” “Rabbi Reuven Yaacobov, the community’s kosher expert who moved here from Uzbekistan 11 years ago, estimated that up to 6,000 of Berlin’s Jews kept kosher and demand was steadily rising. “When I came here, there were only three shops selling kosher food. Now there are seven,” he said. -

20120505-Koscher_Geschaft Vienna.jpg
Koscher Geschaft in Vienna

“People buy kosher food for various reasons. “There’s no single trend,” he said. “Some say it is healthier, others say they tried it and it tasted good, others say they want to be closer to God.” He disagreed with Elmaleh about the supermarket. ”More competition is good because prices will fall,“ he said. ”Many Jews say kosher food here is too expensive. Also, if I wanted to get new customers for a kosher shop, I’d have to do a lot of advertising. But Jewish shoppers go to supermarkets anyway. Then it’s like the sweets at the check-out counter — you see them and buy them. “Once you’ve tried kosher, you’ll ask for more,” he said.” -

Kosher Vending Machines

In the mid 2000s, two friend from the New York area introduced the U.S.’s first kosher vending machines. Kim Severson wrote in the New York Times, “The nation’s first glatt kosher vending machine that can shoot out a hot knish was installed at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. The machine also crisps up kosher mozzarella sticks, cheese pizza and onion rings. And in a few weeks, freshly grilled hot dogs in warm buns will be for sale there, too. Not from the same machine, of course. That wouldn’t be kosher. [Source: Kim Severson, New York Times, August 15, 2007 ^=^]

“The vending machines are called Hot Nosh 24/6. “To make it a little Jewish sounding we called it nosh, and we added the 24/6 to give a little cuteness to it,” said Doron Fetman, who with his partner, Alan Cohnen, created Kosher Vending Industries. Although Orthodox and some Conservative Jews do not use electric devices during Sabbath, the creators of Hot Nosh 24/6 will leave that choice to the customer. Despite their name, the machines will be ready to serve 24/7. ^=^ ▪ “Ruby Azrak, a street clothing magnate who launched Russell Simmons’s Phat Farm line, is backing the project. Mr. Azrak, who refers to himself as “a Syrian Jew from Brooklyn who keeps kosher but doesn’t wear a yarmulke,” has one of the machines in the stylish garment district office where he runs the House of Dereon, the clothing line of the singer Beyoncé. “If you’re in Brooklyn and you eat kosher, it’s no problem,” he said. “But if an Orthodox Jew is stuck in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where are you going to eat? If you walk into an airport, there is nowhere to eat. If you walk into a hospital for a good thing like your wife giving birth or a bad thing like someone is sick, there is nowhere to eat.” ^=^

“Over the next couple of months, the men will install Hot Nosh machines at a handful of colleges, malls and hospitals in the tri-state area. They’ll put some at Jewish day schools in Brooklyn and at the Sloatsburg rest area on the New York Thruway, the largest one on the way to the Catskills. Their business plan calls for 2,000 machines in the next two years in ballparks, malls, airports, military bases — pretty much anywhere people might be willing to pop in a few dollars for something hot and kosher. ^=^

kosher gumballs

“From a culinary perspective, this is the kind of food that would make the pharisees of local, seasonal food fall to their knees and beg for mercy. The frozen knish is thawed in a microwave compartment, then crisped by what Mr. Fetman calls “a convection oven on steroids.” The hot dogs, individually sealed in plastic so they can stay in the machine for up to 21 days, are heated in seconds with a combination of grilling and infrared technology. The bun is warmed in a separate oven. ^=^

“The men who developed the machines grew up together in New Jersey and run the business from an office in Rockland County, New York. A year ago they started talking about how frustrating it was to travel and not be able to eat anything at airport restaurants. They discovered a company called KRh Thermal Systems in California, which had created machines it describes as “fully automated mini-restaurants.” Over the past few years, Kraft, Tyson and other food companies have used them to sell pizza, chicken strips and grilled sandwiches in hotels and offices. But the men behind Kosher Vending Industries think that’s a limited market. ^=^

“At Hackensack University Medical Center, the kosher vending machines solved a vexing food problem. The hospital has Orthodox staff members and an increasing number of patients from Orthodox communities in New Jersey and upstate New York, said Irma Newdorf, the assistant director of nutrition and food management. Although the cafeteria offers kosher sandwiches and yogurt , it sells no hot food and is not open 24/7, or even 24/6.” ^=^

Kosher Food from China

Even though most Chinese don’t know what it means and finding kosher food in China is next to impossible, China is the fastest-growing source if kosher-certified food in the world, with over 500 factories producing approved products — everything from meats to lipstick-shaped candy — as of 2008.

A single rabbi from New York flies to China and certifies food made at 300 plants. The rabbi told the Los Angeles Times his job is far than routine. Chinese can’t resist tugging on his beard, he said, and know little about making food kosher until he tells them. In Tibet he had turn down a request by herders who made the dairy protein caissen from yak milk because they produced it independently at home under circumstances that were hard to check out. At a fish factory he once check 27,000 fish by hand for three days straight to make sure all had fins and scales.

China has quickly become the world's largest exporter of kosher food products. Seth Adam Grossman wrote in China Today: “With China a leading manufacturer for almost every industry and with trade partners around the globe, it's little wonder that China would become the fastest-growing exporter of kosher goods on earth. Yes, China. The kosher food market represents around US $165 billion per year worldwide and much of it is produced here. [Source: Seth Adam Grossman, China Today, December 2010 |*|]

“According to a 2007 report from the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, however, the world population of Jews is only around 13.2 million. This number is far less than the number of people in just one major city in China, and of those only around 3,000 live in China. Today there are only small pockets of Jewish people living full time in China and merely one kosher restaurant operating in Beijing. So how did the kosher food market get so big in light of such a relatively small market?” |*|

blue towel for dairy products and red for meat

“Often consumers tend to assume "kosher" is similar to "halal." Halal of course is a much larger market in China and the world at large, with its population of over 1.66 billion followers. Although the slaughtering rituals of Jewish people resemble those of Muslims, kosher and halal are two different concepts – different in meaning and spirit. |*|

“The opposite of kosher, as applied to food is treif or trefah, meaning "not suitable for use," or "forbidden." Trefah literally means, "torn by a wild beast." The concept forbids eating, cooking or torturing a live animal in anyway. Some foods that are considered trefah include: blood, swine, rabbit, all shellfish, and wild birds such as wild hen, wild duck. Many of these non-kosher foods are standard fare in China. |*|

“Canned, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables are the most common kosher products from China, but many chemical additives and finished products like candy and juice concentrate are also certified here. Large-scale food exhibitions cover a variety of products that include both kosher and halal. One trade show that brings these cultures and their food products together is the well-reputed FIC Food ingredients Asia-China show mounted in Shanghai every year that specifically covers additives with over 1,000 exhibitors from home and abroad and more than 70,000 professional visitors. It constitutes an industry summit and features academic conferences and technical seminars. |*|

“Orthodox Jews in China have few places to buy the foods required by their diet outside of the Western supermarkets located in large cities... Almost all of the kosher food produced in China is slated for export, although more and more of the products, like additives, are being used domestically to produce the completed products for export. This figure has been estimated at close to US $1.25 billion in kosher certified exports annually worldwide. Its consumers are predominantly based in the United States and most are in fact non-Jews, simply people seeking healthy and safe products, according to a 2005 survey by Lubicom, a marketing firm specializing in research on kosher products.” |::|

“Food produced in a kosher manner is viewed as healthier, which is one reason for kosher food's popularity among non-Jews and in turn, its large market. Half of China's US $2.5 billion exports of food ingredients to the United States are kosher, up 150 percent from two years ago, according to Bloomberg News. Another attraction for customers is the way kosher meat is processed, since the slaughter of meat products must be sanitary. The kosher food business in China has enjoyed tremendous growth. Last September, following intense international publicity regarding tainted food products, Chinese regulators began requiring companies to use packaging codes to identify the factories of origin for products.” |*|

Overseeing Kosher Certification in China

kosher microwaves: blue for milk products and red for meat

Seth Adam Grossman wrote in China Today: “The Chabad in Beijing is the base of Rabbis Shimon Freundlich and Nososn Rodian, both of whom are members of a small group of kosher certifiers, or mashgihim who travel back and forth across China on average three times a week. They are the only rabbinical team in China overseeing the 500 or so factories and plants that produce kosher products for export. The Chabad also serves as the temporary home of Beijing's only kosher restaurant.Dini's is named for Rabbi Shimon's wife, and it moved there when its previous spot was torn down to make way for some shiny new development. [Source: Seth Adam Grossman, China Today, December 2010 |*|]

“Since the threat of contamination from non-kosher items is high, the factories must strictly be used for only kosher items and the rabbis must train them in the critical aspects of production. Factories that violate these rules can face fines or even blacklisted by the certifying bodies. Providing kosher supervision means paying strict attention to a product's components. Instead of conducting scientific health tests, kosher inspectors check a company's compliance with rules about its ingredients and preparation. Kosher certification costs US $3,000 to 5,000 per year on average, with over 500 factories producing foods and additives sanctioned by the ancient dietary laws. |*|

“The Orthodox Union's China team of Rabbi Mordechai Grunberg, Rabbi Donneal Epstein and Zhu Yanan handle the OU's rapid growth in China. Many inspectors are flown in each year from the U.S. and Israel to handle the ever-expanding industry...In Chinese factories where sweeping changes are required to make a product kosher, inspectors usually decline to certify. A huge emphasis is placed on sanitation and cleanliness and attention to how things are prepared, such as ensuring vegetables are clear of dirt and bugs and paying strict attention to a product's components. Rabbi Shimon explained his method for training some of the factories interested in koshering in that "they must think of it in terms of, say someone accidentally eating peanuts when they have a food allergy." |*|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine,, London, Library of Congress, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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