Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson
Kashrut in a nutshell

What is Kosher?

Several factors can cause food to be non-kosher, here a short explanation about four main factors: non-kosher ingredients, mixing of meat and milk, food cooked by a Gentile, and a set time when a food is forbidden.


Rabbi Yisrael Wende

The word kosher is usually associated with foods that are permitted by the Jewish law (Halacha). Like most of the Torah commandments, the basic laws of kashrut are written in the Torah and the sages specified and explained them further. Although kosher laws originate from the Torah and Halacha (which focus more on the spiritual level), many people associate the term Kosher with healthy. The reason could be that some of the laws are in fact related to health and in addition people assume that if there is a Kashrut supervision of the food product, there is less chance that it will contain unhealthy ingredients. Several factors can cause food to be non-kosher, here are four main factors: non-kosher ingredients, mixing of meat and milk, food cooked by a Gentile, and a set time when a food is forbidden.

Non-Kosher Ingredients
Rabbi Yosef Albo (15th century) in Sefer Ha’ikarim writes that we should ideally have been vegetarians, and so to remember this and demonstrate that this is our desire in the world to come, we are permitted to eat only some of the animals in certain conditions . The Torah lists forbidden foods, such as animals and insects. In fact , most of the animals are not Kosher. Of mammals - only those that chew the cud and have split cloves (like cattle and sheep ) are kosher. A fish is kosher if it has fins and scales and a bird is kosher if it is in the "kosher list" - a list passed down by tradition but based on Torah law.
The Kosher cattle and birds can be eaten only if they were slaughtered according to Jewish law, no problem was found in the inner parts and the meat was salted.
With all of the modern industrial processes, many foods contain ingredients which aren’t from a Kosher source , so one should eat only products that display a known kosher symbol

Mixture of meat and milk
Even if the ingredients are kosher, if there is a mixture of meat and milk, the food is not kosher. The mixture is whether the meat and milk were cooked together, eaten together and in many cases, even if the meat was cooked in a dairy pot or vice versa. Many people build two sinks in their home, making it easy to separate meat and milk.

Cooked by Gentiles
For reasons of saving the Jewish people from assimilation and exclusion from idolatry, the sages considered foods cooked by a gentile as not kosher. Bread baked by a private person (not a bakery) is prohibited, unless a Jews helped in the baking, even by adding a small piece of wood to the oven . This applies to other foods to if the dish is good enough to be served for important people. The Ashkenazim consider that also with cooked food, if a Jew helped a bit it is Kosher, while the Sephardim require that the Jew should actually put the food on the fire .
The Halacha is more severe regarding wine, which becomes not Kosher even if only touched by a non Jew. The act of drinking wine together can lead to a very close relation and there is a higher danger of marrying out. Another reason is that wine was brought to idols as part of the act of worship. This rule applies only to wine that has not been cooked or pasteurized and only when the bottle is open.

Time when the food is forbidden
Usually if food is kosher, it is kosher all of the year. There is an exceptional case - chametz on Passover. Chametz is one of the five grains (Wheat, Barley, Spelt, Oats and Rye) which came in contact with water and started rising. Chametz is Kosher all year round but is forbidden during Passover.

These are only four factors from many law of kashrut. One should not rely on the ingredient list but should buy products labeled with a known Kosher symbol or from stores that have a Kashrut certificate.
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