The Laws of Kashrut

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk



Fit, proper or correct are three possible translations of the Hebrew word “Kosher”. This word has entered American English in a slightly altered sense, meaning genuine or permissible.

There are few non-Jews who know the origin of the Jewish Kosher laws and there are vast numbers of Jews who are also ignorant of the source of these laws. Many people imagine that these are ancient sanitary measures on the grounds that the pig, which we do not eat, may at one time have had diseases which affected humans. Believing this, these theorists say that pork is now government inspected and therefore free of disease. Hence, say these believers, we can now eat pork in safety. The trouble with this view is that the kosher laws are far more than merely a prohibition against pork. Furthermore, meat from permitted animals was also infected in pre-sanitary days, so that such reasoning would have prevented Jews from eating any meat.

The fact is that the Torah, i.e. the Five Books of Moses, include our dietary laws, which are also interpreted and augmented by Rabbinical scholarship.

There are seven laws of kashrut. These are: 

1. Some animals may not be eaten at all. Look at Leviticus 11:3 and 4. This tells us that we can eat animals which divide the hoof and chew the cud. Therefore, we cannot eat those which do not have both attributes. Then read the remainder of Leviticus 11. Here we find that we are also prohibited from eating the camel, the rock badger, the hare and the pig. Sheep cattle, goats and deer are kosher.

Leviticus 11:9 tells us that we can eat fish which have fins and scales but not those which do not have both. Rabbi Isaac Klein (1905-1979), our great teacher, taught in his Guide to Jewish Religious Practice that we can eat the swordfish, which was at one time believed to be trefe, i.e. prohibited. He shows that according to Deuteronomy, 14:4, domestic animals and numerous other animals may also be eaten.

It may be surprising to some that cheese and wine also have to be “kosher” to be used by observant Jews.

2. Animals which may be eaten must be slaughtered according to Jewish law. This means that we cannot eat even permitted food if it is not so slaughtered. Our enemies pretend that kosher slaughter is not humanitarian despite the fact that it is far less painful and much more considerate of the animal than any other method in use. In Switzerland, in Belgium and in other European countries kosher slaughter has been prohibited in order to make Jewish life as difficult as possible. It ought to be remembered that the first anti-Jewish law the Nazis made in 1933 was the prohibition of kosher slaughter.

3. All blood must be drained from the meat or broiled out before it is eaten.

4. The genital and rear end parts of permitted animals cannot be eaten. The sciatic nerve may not be eaten nor may some of the fat around the vital organs.

5. Meat cannot be eaten with dairy. This prohibition is derived from Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21. There the Torah tells us not to “boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”

6.This separation includes all kitchen utensils and dishes, towels, tablecloths and anything else used to prepare or eat a meal.

7.Grape products may only be used if produced by a Jew. This is not true of foods other than grape products. The reason for this law is that wine was commonly used by religions viewed as idolatry by the ancients and by us.

There are Jews who do not observe the kosher laws because they view them as antiquated. This is a matter of choice and cannot be criticized. However, the reason for maintaining the kosher laws is not antiquated at all. Self control and an effort to be a thoughtful and principled person are not antiquated. Those who eat only kosher must constantly think about the most basic of human drives, hunger, and control it. Those who eat only kosher are of course not entitled to claim that only they are self controlled decent persons. In addition it is utterly out-of-order to call kosher Torah-true Jews “gastronomical Jews” so as to indicate that those who prefer to emphasize prophetic Judaism are morally superior. We Jews do not need to insult one another. There are many others more than glad to do so.

Let us respect the kosher laws and let us remember that they are given us in the Torah. Too many Jews do not know this and cannot answer the questions of our non-Jewish friends as to the origin of these laws. Tell those who are not Jewish but base their religion on the Torah that they can see the kosher laws in their own scriptures.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Grandparents:  A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002), & Man's Ascent to Reason (2003).

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