Totally Kosher

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FAQ

WHY DO WE KEEP KOSHER?

Keeping kosher is a mitzvah, a divine “commandment” and “connection”. Jews eat kosher because G-d commanded them to.

KOSHER BASICS

  • The meat, milk and eggs of certain species of animal are permitted for consumption, while others are forbidden. In addition, a series of laws govern how the animal should be killed and which parts of the animal can be eaten.
  • Meat and milk are never combined. Separate utensils are used for each, and a waiting period is observed between eating them.
  • Fruits, vegetables and grains are basically always kosher, but must be insect free. Wine or grape juice, however, must be certified kosher.
  • Since even a small trace of a non-kosher substance can render a food not kosher, all processed foods and eating establishments require certification by a reliable rabbi or kashrut supervision agency.

Which Animals Are Kosher?

  • A land animal is kosher if it has split hooves and chews its cud. It must have both kosher signs. Examples: cows, sheep, goats and deer are kosher, while pigs, rabbits, squirrels, bears, dogs, cats, camels and horses are not.
  • Fowl: The Torah lists 21 non-kosher bird species – basically all predatory and scavenger birds. Examples of kosher birds are the domestic species of chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and pigeons.
  • Fish and seafood: A water creature is kosher only if it has fins and scales. Examples: salmon, tuna, pike, flounder, carp and herring are kosher, while catfish, sturgeon, swordfish, lobster, shellfish, crabs and all water mammals are not.
  • All reptiles, amphibians, worms and insects – with the exception of four types of locust – are not kosher.

Kosher foods are thus divided into three categories:

  • Meat includes the meat or bones of mammals and fowl, soups or gravies made with them, and any food containing even a small quantity of the above.
  • Dairy includes the milk of any kosher animal, all milk products made with it (cream, butter, cheese, etc), and any food containing even a small quantity of the above.
  • Pareve foods are neither “meat” nor “dairy”. Fish and eggs are pareve, as are all fruits, vegetables and grains. Pareve foods can be mixed with and eaten together with either meat or dairy.

Milk and Eggs

  • A rule of thumb cited by the Talmud is: What comes from a kosher animal is kosher; what comes from a non-kosher animal is not kosher.
  • Thus, only milk of kosher mammals is kosher. 
  • The same applies to eggs: only eggs laid by kosher birds are kosher. In addition, all eggs should be carefully examined before use to ensure that they are free of blood spots.
  • Honey is not considered an animal product, so honey is kosher though bees aren’t.
  • Eggs are carefully examined before use to ensure that they are free of blood spots.

Fruits, Vegetables and Grains 

  • Fruits, vegetables and grains are basically always kosher, but they must be insect free. 
  • Wine or grape juice, however, must be certified kosher. As wine was used in the sacred service in the Holy Temple – and because it can be defiled through its use in pagan rites – Torah law requires that only wine produced by Torah-observant Jews be used.
  • Produce grown in the Land of Israel has special kashrut requirements. “Tithes” must be separated before it can be eaten, fruit from the first three years following a tree’s planting (“orlah”) is unfit for consumption, and special laws govern the produce of shemittah, the sabbatical year.

The Kosher Kitchen

  • Even the slightest residue or “taste” of a non-kosher substance will render a food not kosher. So it’s not enough to buy only kosher food. The kitchen, too, must be kosher, meaning that all cooking utensils and food preparation surfaces are used exclusively for kosher food, and that separate stoves, pots, cutlery, dishes, counter surfaces and table coverings are used for meat and dairy.
  • A general rule of thumb is that any time that hot food comes in contact with another food or a utensil, the food or utensil will absorb its “taste”. Also cold foods and utensils will, under certain circumstances (such as when the food is spicy or salty, is cut with a knife, or it sits in the utensil for an extended period of time), transmit their “taste”. So food prepared in a kitchen or plant in which non-kosher food is also prepared will invariably become non-kosher as well (unless the imbedded taste is first extracted from the utensils in a special koshering process).

Kosher Certification 

  • The intricacies of modern day food technology make it virtually impossible for anyone but an expert in the field to know whether a processed food is free of any trace of non-kosher ingredients. So all processed foods and eating establishments require certification by a reliable rabbi or kashrut supervision agency.

WAITING PERIODS BETWEEN MEAT AND DAIRY

  • The laws of kosher require that in addition to not eating them together, Jews wait a specified period of time between eating meat and eating dairy.
  • After eating dairy and before eating meat, something pareve that does not stick to the palate, can be eaten. The mouth must then be rinsed, or something must be drunken, and the hands must be washed. In addition, many have the custom of waiting a certain period of time – a half-hour or an hour. After eating certain hard cheeses, a six-hour waiting period is required.
  • After eating meat foods, Jews wait six full hours before eating any dairy. The six-hour waiting period is standard for all Jews, except those groups that have halachically established other customs.
  • If a small piece of meat is discovered between the teeth, it is removed and the mouth rinsed, but an additional waiting period is not required (even if six hours have elapsed since eating meat). If even the smallest amount of food is chewed or swallowed, the full waiting period becomes necessary.
  • If food is tasted but immediately eliminated from the mouth before chewing or swallowing, then no waiting period is required. The mouth should be rinsed well.
  • Meat and dairy foods may not be eaten at the same meal, even if they are in separate dishes and even if the waiting time elapses.

FISH WITH MEAT OR DAIRY

  • Fish and meat may not be cooked or eaten together. However, unlike milk and meat, fish and meat may be eaten at the same meal as separate courses. Silverware and plates that have been used for fish may only be used for meat after they have been washed. Between the fish and meat courses, Jews should eat something that does not stick to the palate and take a drink (preferably other than water). Some people also rinse their hands slightly between courses.
  • Customs vary regarding the use of fish and dairy. Most communities permit the combination of fish and butter. In certain communities, fish is not combined with milk or cheese. Fish and dairy may be served at the same meal with separate plates and silverware.

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

  • Fresh fruits, vegetables and grains are, in their natural unprocessed state, kosher and pareve. They do not need kashrut certification and can be used with either dairy or meat. However, once a vegetable is combined with a dairy or meat product, it becomes dairy or meat respectively.
  • Processed vegetables such as those canned or frozen may pose a problem. They are sometimes creamed and may contain non-¬kosher, dairy or meat ingredients; or they may have been processed in vessels used for meat, dairy, or even non-kosher products.
  • A more common problem with vegetables involves possible insect infestation. The prohibition against consuming insects, even very tiny ones – as long as they are visible to the naked eye – is mentioned five times in the Torah and is very strict. In recent years, due to federal regulations restricting insecticide spraying and genetic changes causing some insects to become more resistant to the insecticides, there are increasing amounts of insects such as thrips and aphids infesting some vegetables, especially green and leafy varieties. Although quite small, they are visible to the naked eye and must be removed. Aphids range in size from 2 -5 millimetres (1/16 – 1/8 of an inch).
  • Many vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains must be checked before cooking or eating for the presence of small insects. Packages of pasta are also occasionally infested. Some particularly severe problem vegetables are artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and leafy vegetables.
  • The method of checking depends on the vegetables. Leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce should be checked leaf by leaf. Washing under running water or soaking in salt water is helpful, but the vegetables must also be inspected under a bright light, either daylight or artificial light. Certain vegetables, such as celery and zucchini may be used after they are washed under running water and scrubbed with a vegetable brush.
  • The degree to which insects are present varies according to the region, season, and origin of the produce. If it is known that a certain variety is infested, either avoid it for that season or examine it very carefully to remove all insects.

FISH

  • The only criterion for fish to be kosher is that it has both fins and scales. Fish does not have to be slaughtered or salted as do meat and fowl. Kosher fish include cod, flounder, haddock, halibut, herring, mackerel, pickerel, pike, salmon, trout, and whitefish. Non-kosher fish include swordfish, shark, eel, octopus, and skate, as well as all shellfish, clams, crabs, lobster, oyster and shrimp.
  • The definition of fins and scales must be as designated by Jewish law. Not everything commonly called a “scale” meets the Torah’s criteria. Therefore, it is best to buy fish from a merchant familiar with kosher fish types.
  • When buying fish, either buy it whole so that you can see the fins and scales, or, if the fish is sliced, filleted, or ground, buy only from a fish store that sells kosher fish exclusively. This will ensure that knives or other utensils are used only on kosher fish, and that no other mix-up can occur.
  • Packaged and canned fish, such as tuna and sardines, need reliable kosher certification. Smoked fish must also have certification to ensure that it was smoked only with other kosher fish, and that all other kosher criteria have been met.

KOSHER EGGS

  • Only eggs from kosher fowl are kosher. These include chicken, Cornish hens, ducks, geese, and turkey.
  • The prohibition of eating blood applies even to the smallest drop of blood, and thus any blood spots found in an egg renders the egg non-kosher.
  • Each egg should be opened into a clear dish or glass and checked for blood spots before it is cooked or combined with other food. If a blood spot is found, the whole egg must be discarded, and the cup or dish should be immediately and thoroughly washed with cold water.
  • When boiling eggs, it is customary to boil at least three eggs at a time. Some people have a separate pot just for boiling eggs.
  • If a blood spot is found in a boiled egg, the whole egg must be discarded.

WINE, SPIRITS AND GRAPE PRODUCTS

  • Wine, more than any other food or drink, represents the holiness and separateness of the Jewish people. It is used for the sanctification of Shabbat and Yom Tov and at Jewish simchot. In the Beit Hamikdash wine was poured upon the altar together with the sacrifice. 
  • However, since wine was and still is used in many forms of idolatrous worship, it has a unique status in Jewish law, which places extra restrictions on the making and handling of wine. This includes wine used for non-ceremonial purposes.
  • The production and handling of kosher wine must be done exclusively by Jews. Wine, grape juice, and all products containing wine or grape juice must remain solely in Jewish hands during the manufacturing process and also after the seal of the bottle has been opened. Jews are not allowed to drink any wine or grape juice, or any drink containing wine or grape juice, which has been touched by a non-Jew after the seal of the bottle has been opened.

Yayin Mevushal 

  • Kosher wine (or grape juice) which has been boiled prior to the bottling process is called yayin mevushal. In the time of the Beit Hamikdash, boiling wine rendered it unfit to be brought upon the Altar.
  • Yayin mevushal is not considered “sacramental wine” and is therefore not included in the prohibition against being handled by non-Jews. This wine must, as with all kosher wines, bear the symbol of a reliable supervision organization and it should say yayin mevushal.
  • A wide variety of domestic and imported kosher wines under reliable supervision have been added to the sweet Concords traditionally associated with kosher wines. Many of these wines are yayin mevushal, as indicated on the label. Whether for Kiddush, dining, or a simchah, you are sure to find a fine kosher wine to suit your taste.

Grape Ingredients In Processed Foods 

  • All liquids produced from fresh or dried grapes, whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic, such as grape juice and wine vinegar, are in the same category as wine in Jewish Law. Therefore, foods with grape flavouring or additives must always have a reliable hechsher. Examples are jam, soda, popsicles, candy, juice packed fruit, fruit punch, and lemonade.
  • Alcoholic drinks such as cognac and brandy have wine bases. Liqueurs and blended whiskeys are often blended with wine. All such beverages require kosher supervision, as does herring in wine sauce.
  • Cream of tartar is made from wine sediment and needs rabbinical supervision.

Spirits

  • Locally bottled spirits are generally not kosher, although imported equivalents are often available, as in the case of Smirnoff vs. Absolut vodkas.
  • All “alcopops”, e.g. Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Breezer etc. are not kosher, unless they are imported.

BAKED AND COOKED FOODS

  • All baked goods must have reliable kashrut certification. Some bakeries in Jewish communities carry the certification from a local orthodox rabbi or the kashrut board in that city.
  • In addition, bread, cake and other baked goods from a Jewish bakery with reliable kashrut certification often ensures not only the kashrut of these products but also that they are pat Yisrael. It is preferable to use pat Yisrael products whenever possible. This means that a Jewish person has baked or assisted in the baking of the products. Even if he simply lit the oven he is considered as having assisted.
  • Non-commercial bread and cake that is completely baked by an individual non-Jew is called pat akum and may not be eaten.
  • Under certain circumstances, baked goods prepared with kosher ingredients in a non-Jewish bakery (not by an individual) may be permitted. Such bread is called pat palter. The conditions under which pat palter may be used are 1) that the bakery is under reliable rabbinic supervision to ensure that the ingredients, utensils and all substances coming in contact with the food are kosher, and that 2) comparable pat Yisrael baked goods are unavailable. Many packaged baked goods sold in supermarkets are pat palter, even if certified kosher.
  • For spiritual reasons, many Jews do not use pat palter even in cases where it is permitted. All should avoid its use during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. A hechsher on packaged baked goods does not mean the product is pat Yisrael unless it is labelled as such.
  • NOTE: Commercial breads often contain milk or milk derivatives; check the label to make sure it states that the product is pareve. If bread is dairy, even if it is known to be kosher, there are various problems involved which make it necessary to consult an orthodox rabbi.
  • Certain foods which were completely cooked by a non-Jew (bishul akum) may not be eaten, even if the foods are kosher and are cooked in kosher utensils. 
  • Foods that generally come under the category of bishul akum are 1) Foods that cannot be eaten raw, such as meat or grains. This excludes foods that can be eaten either cooked or raw, such as apples or carrots. 2) Foods that are considered important, “fit to set upon a king’s table”. There are various opinions regarding what are considered “royal foods”.
  • The way the food is prepared (boiled, steamed, pickled, etc.) can also affect its status regarding these laws.
  • If a Jew has supervised and assisted in the cooking of these foods, such as by lighting the fire of the oven or stirring the food, such food is considered bishul Yisrael and is permitted.
  • These laws affect many commercially prepared foods. Some supervising services write the words bishul Yisrael on their hechsher. These laws must also be kept in mind when enlisting the help of a non-Jewish housekeeper or cook.

DAIRY PRODUCTS

  • Jewish law requires that in the production of dairy products, a mashgiach or Jewish supervisor must be present from the beginning of the milking to the end of processing to ensure that only milk from kosher animals is used. Where supervised milk is unavailable, some Rabbinic authorities permit government inspection as sufficient assurance (although not in all countries). All agree, however, that actual supervision is preferable. Milk with such supervision is known as chalav Yisrael.
  • Jewish tradition stresses the importance of using chalav Yisrael products exclusively, and emphasizes that using non-chalav Yisrael dairy products can have an adverse spiritual effect. Even when chalav Yisrael is very difficult to obtain, many people, aware of its positive effect on a Jew’s spiritual sensitivity, go out of their way to acquire these products. Certainly, where they are readily available, one is required by Jewish law to use these products exclusively.

KOSHERING MEAT

  • For generations, the process of koshering (removing the blood from) meat was the domain of the Jewish homemaker, often involving all the family members in the various steps. Today, rather than being a familiar aspect of the Jewish home, koshering is usually done at the butcher shop beyond sight of the consumer. However, many families still do kosher their meat.
  • Whether you entrust the koshering of your meat to a qualified butcher or choose to do it yourself, a working knowledge of the process is an important aspect of our understanding of kashrut.
  • Koshering is the process by which the blood is removed from the flesh of meat and fowl before it is prepared for eating.

PROBLEMATIC INGREDIENTS

Meat/Fowl

  • Many food and beverages contain products/ingredients/raw materials that have components of animal or fowl origin. Examples are: aspartic acid, calcium stearate, magnesium stearate, gelatine glycerides (mono-di), glycerine (glycerol), lanolium lard, pepsin, rennet, steric acid, sterol lactylates, tallow, polysorbates.
  • Many of the above can be produced either from animal or vegetable origin and consequently require reliable Rabbinical Supervision.

Fish 

  • Inosinic Acid, Sodium Guanylate (guanylic acid), Ambergris.

Dairy

  • Casein, Lactic Acid, Lactose, Phenylalanine, Propionic Acid, Whey.

Grape 

  • Vinegar, Acetic Acid, Cream of Tartar, Tartaric Acid, Ethanol (Ethyl Alcohol), Enocianina (grape skin extract).

The following is a short list of products that are used in the food and beverage industry that based on the above could be problematic and require reliable rabbinical supervision:

  1. Enzymes : Many enzymes are obtained from plants, animal tissue and microbial sources. Animal derived enzymes are pepsin, rennet, lyase and catalase.
  2. Flavours – artificial and natural: There are more than 1500 flavour ingredients both of natural extract and synthetic chemicals that may be used in the preparation of a flavour formula. Some examples are : 
    Ambergris – an extract of a growth from some whale intestines 
    Castoreun – an extract of beaver glands 
    Civet produced from the secretion of the civet cat 
    Lipase – an enzyme derived from cat glands.

    Flavour formulation may also contain a variety of food extracts and concentrates including grape wine and cognac, in addition solvents must be added to the formula some of which are from glycerine, polysorbates which can be from either animal or vegetable.

  3. Food Colouring – The colourings are made from either natural or synthetic origin. Some colourings include :
    Carmine – colouring that is extracted from the dried bodies of female insect, Coccus Cacti
    Cochineal – a dye derived from beetles
  4. Gelatine – Gelatine is produced by extracting collagen from beef, calf and pork.
  5. Hydrogenated Oil, Fats and Shortenings – these products can either be made from vegetable, animal or fish.
  6. Emulsifiers/Stabilisers/Anti-caking agents/Anti-foaming agents – all these can either be produced from vegetable or animal.

All of the above mentioned products/ingredients/raw materials must have reliable rabbinical supervision before they can be used in the manufacture of kosher food and beverages.

Kashrut is a complex area of Jewish law, the full extent of which is far out of the scope of this introductory guide. For further information, please consult the following websites:

www.kashrut.com
www.kashut.org
www.star-k.org
www.oukosher.org
www.uos.co.za

The final link on the list belongs to the South African Beth Din, whose site includes their guide to kosher products available locally, searchable online. Many products in South Africa that have been certified kosher do not bear a hechsher, so if in doubt, consult this or the printed guide, or contact the Beth Din’s Kashrut department on 010 214 2600. It is possible to sign up for emailed updates to the Guide, which lists both newly kosher products, and products that are no longer kosher.

With thanks to Chabad.org and uos.co.za for assistance in the drafting of this manual.