Kosher Laws

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Kosher & its Many Meanings:  A View into the Jewish Dietary Laws


              Kosher or kasher means good or proper.  For those who keep kosher, the observance of the dietary laws is an opportunity for obedience to Gd and preserving Jewish unity and identity. There are many theories on the origin of the Biblical dietary laws.  There is the hygiene hypothesis.  It was believed by some that kosher animals were healthier to eat than non-kosher animals. The laws of purity describe the difference between clean and unclean animals and other phenomena related to health. This theory has fallen out of favor among biblical scholars of our time.  The rationale is reasonable when considering the laws prohibiting the consumption of scavenger birds, which at times carry disease.  Shellfish can contain parasites which can harm people and pork can harbor trichinosis if not properly cooked.  There are other animals that carry parasites and fruits and vegetables that are poisonous but are not mentioned in our dietary laws.  Therefore, there is some confusion about the laws when not all problematic foods are excluded from the non-kosher foods.

           Some of the early philosophers held that the laws of kashrut were symbolic. Kosher animals represent virtues, while non-kosher animals represent vices.  This hypotheses has been rejected because there is nothing to support this hypothesis.  Some Jewish scholars believe that some of the inclusion or exclusion of certain kosher laws are irrational, because there is no particular explanation for their existence. There are some of Gds regulations for mankind that the human mind is not capable of understanding.  The dietary laws were possibly given as a demonstration of Gds authority and that man should obey without asking for a reason.

          Another theory which is widely accepted today is that the laws serve as a distinction between the Jewish and non-Jewish folks of the world. It helps the Jewish community to retain its identity. According to the Biblical book of Leviticus, the purpose of the laws is related to ritual purity and holiness.  The Hebrew word for holiness is etymologically related to the Hebrew word distinction or separation. This idea is generally accepted by most Jewish people today and by many Biblical scholars.

          There are countless laws pertaining to the kosher laws.  One must not eat meat and milk without waiting specific amounts of time between the courses.  One reason given for this is that this is a humane statute, as a person must not cook the calf in its mother's milk.

          The kosher laws serve the purpose of helping people to suppress their impulses.  It teaches that we must not have everything that our heart desires.  It teaches self control, which is essential for all humans, be they Jewish or otherwise.  There are too many human beings today who have lost their inner censor and give in to unacceptable emotions, often followed by unacceptable, unhealthy and illegal deeds.

          There are many directives and dictates connected with the kosher laws which are difficult for the uninitiated to comprehend.  For example, for the orthodox Jewish person, it is necessary to have four sets of dishes totally separated from each other:  dairy dishes for milk products, meat dishes for meals which include meat of any kind, Passover dairy dishes, and Passover meat dishes.  There are only certain fish that are kosher.  They must have scales and fins to be acceptable.  No shellfish may be eaten.  There times between three and six hours that kosher eaters must wait between eating dairy foods after having had meat.  The separate dishes must be washed by themselves - not in the same pan.  A very strict orthodox Jew does not eat in other than a strictly kosher restaurant. 

          Animals that are used for food must be slaughtered in a very specific humane fashion that spares the animal as much pain as possible.  All blood must be drained after slaughter and cannot be consumed by the human.

          There is a great deal more to be said about the kosher laws and these can readily be found in your literature, on the computer or the orthodox rabbi in your community.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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