What is Kosher in the Jewish Tradition?

Thank you, Gail Katz, for answering our question this week!

The word “kosher” in Hebrew means “fit” or “suitable.” It doesn’t only have to be applied to food. What is kosher means legal and proper.  But Kosher is often applied to food that is fit for a Jewish person to eat. The laws of kosher have nothing to do with matters of health that prevent disease and sickness.  Medical decisions have nothing to do with kosher food.  The laws of keeping kosher have to do with learning self-control with regard to food and having the need for self-discipline.  The very first law that God gave to humankind (Adam and Eve) had to do with food – not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The permissible animals under Jewish law are all animals that eat plants only – they do not eat other animals. Kosher animals also have to chew their cud and have a split hoof.  So cattle, sheep, goats, and deer are kosher animals. For fish to be kosher they have to have both fins and scales.  So fish that are not permitted are eels, catfish, shark, porpoise and whale.  Shellfish are NOT kosher, so no shrimp, lobster, oysters, crabs or scallops. Most domestic birds are kosher like turkeys, chickens, ducks, and geese. Wild birds are not kosher. Any living creatures that crawl or creep on their belly are not kosher (like insects, snakes, eels). For an animal to be kosher, it also must be killed in a way that causes the least suffering to the animal. Since the Torah forbids the eating of any blood, the meat must be soaked and salted to cause the blood to be drained off.  Meat and dairy products cannot be eaten together, cooked together, or even served in the same pot.  Jews who keep kosher have separate dishes and eating utensils for meat and dairy products.