There are laws governing every aspect of Jewish life, and this extends to food. The dietary laws are known as kashrut, and they outline the foods that can be eaten and how they should be prepared. The word kosher (meaning “fit” or “proper”) is used to describe food that complies with these laws. Religious objects, too, have to be made in accordance with the rules. Many of the dietary laws are mentioned in the Torah, and others come from rabbinic interpretations. As well as being a biblical command, the food laws also serve a hygienic function and form a strong source of group identity. The degree of observance varies among Jews, with some adhering to all the laws, while others only follow certain rules.
THE KOSHER SHOP
The laws of kashrut are complex, so it is far easier and safer for observant Jews to buy their food from kosher shops. The majority of the packaged foods have a kosher label to show that a rabbi has visited the factory and certified that the food has been prepared correctly.
MEAT AND DAIRY
Animals that have cloven hooves and chew the cud, such as lamb, are regarded as kosher, but pork is not. Animals have to be slaughtered by a trained person to minimize the amount of pain. Blood also needs to be drained from the meat, because it contains the life of the animal. Meat and dairy products cannot be eaten together, and a kosher household must have two sets of utensils and plates to keep meat and dairy products separate.
Foods that are neither dairy nor meat are known as parve and can be eaten with both kinds of meals. These foods include fruit, vegetables, rice, eggs, and lentils. But fruit and vegetables have to be checked thoroughly before consumption to make sure that there are no insects—the Torah considers all insects to be non-kosher.
Only fish with both fins and scales, such as salmon, trout, and cod, are considered kosher. This means that all shellfish and other seafoods are not permitted. These forbidden foods are known as treifah.
There are certain ingredients, that cannot be eaten during Passover. For identification purposes, some food packages have a “Kosher for Passover” label, such as the package above that contains unleavened bread.
Considerable care must be taken when managing a kosher vineyard. The Torah instructs that grapes from a new vineyard cannot be used until the fourth year, and every seven years the vineyard has to be left fallow.
In ancient times, Jews were forbidden to drink wine that may have been part of pagan worship, so they produced their own. Today, strict regulations apply to the production of kosher wine. For example, only observant Jews are allowed to oversee the production. The winery also has a supervising rabbi to make sure that all the requirements have been met before issuing a kosher certificate.
The laws of kashrut are also applicable to ritual objects. These include the shofar, which has to be made from the horn of a kosher animal. The parchment found inside a mezuzah or used for the Torah scroll also has to come from a kosher animal.