“Kashrut,” (pronounced Kah-shroot) meaning fit or proper, is the body of Jewish law dealing with what foods can and cannot be eaten, and how those foods must be prepared to be eaten. Foods that are permitted are called “kosher.”
Contrary to popular misconception, rabbis or other religious officials do not “bless” food to make it kosher; rather, it involves examining the ingredients used to make the food, examining the process by which the food is prepared, and periodically inspecting the processing facilities to make sure that kosher standards are maintained.
Although the details of the laws Kashrut are extensive, the laws all derive from a few fairly simple, straightforward rules:
- Any animal that has cloven hooves and chews its cud may be eaten. Thus any land mammal that does not have both of these qualities is forbidden. Cattle, sheep, goats, deer, and bison are common examples of kosher animals.
- Any fish that has fins and scales may be eaten. Thus, shellfish such as lobsters, oysters, shrimp, clams and crabs are all forbidden. Fish like tuna, carp, salmon and herring are all permitted.
- Birds of prey or scavengers such as eagles, hawks, or vultures are forbidden. Only domesticated fowl such as chicken, geese, ducks and turkeys are permitted. Kosher eggs must come from kosher birds.
- Rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and most insects are forbidden.
- Of the animals that may be eaten, the birds and mammals must be killed in accordance with Jewish law. Animals that died of natural causes or that were killed by other animals may not be eaten. The animal must also be free of disease or flaw. Ritual slaughter is performed in a manner that is painless, causes immediate unconsciousness, and is widely recognized as the most humane method of slaughter possible.
- All fruits and vegetables are permitted, but must be inspected for bugs (which cannot be eaten) and thoroughly washed.
- All grains are permitted.
- Meat and dairy products may not be combined or eaten at the same meal. Fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and grains can be eaten with either meat or dairy. This separation includes not only the foods themselves, but the utensils, pots and pans with which they are cooked, the plates and flatware from which they are eaten, the dishwashers or dishpans in which they are cleaned, the sponges with which they are cleaned, and the towels with which they are dried.