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What is Kosher?
A very basic overview of what is Kosher and what is not Kosher
What is kosher food?
Millions of people, from various religious and ethnic backgrounds, eat kosher food for religious, cultural, health and quality reasons. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Vegetarians, Lactose-Intolerant and others may share an interest in kosher food, but their definitions of kosher food may vary.
Kashrut is the body of Jewish law dealing with what foods we can and cannot eat and how those foods must be prepared and eaten. "Kashrut" is the same root as the more commonly known word "kosher," which describes food that meets these standards.
Contrary to popular misconception, rabbis or other religious officials do not "bless" food to make it kosher. There are blessings that observant Jews recite over food before eating it, but these blessings have nothing to do with making the food kosher. Food can be kosher without a rabbi ever becoming involved with it. Vegetables from your garden for example, are undoubtedly kosher (as long as they are bug-free as bugs are not kosher!).
In our modern world of processed foods, it is difficult to know what ingredients are in your food and how they were processed, so it is helpful to have a rabbi examine the food and its processing and assure kosher consumers that the food is kosher.
Kosher dietary laws are observed all year round. There are additional dietary restrictions during Pesach, and many foods that are kosher for year-round use are not "kosher for Passover." A bagel, for example, can be kosher for year-round use but is certainly not kosher for Passover! Foods that are kosher for Passover, however, are always kosher for year-round use.
Chinese food can be kosher if it is prepared in accordance with Jewish law, and there are many fine kosher Chinese restaurants. Traditional Ashkenazic Jewish foods like knishes, bagels, blintzes, and matzah ball soup can all be non-kosher if not prepared in accordance with Jewish law.
Food that is not kosher is commonly referred to as treif. Originally, "treifa" was a term for one of the categories of non-Kosher meat. The literal meaning of "treifa" is torn or mortally wounded. It is written, "Do not eat meat from an animal torn (treifa) in the field" (Exodus 22:30).
The rabbis interpreted this to mean that any animal or fowl which, as a result of a birth defect, disease or inflicted wound, suffers from a mortally defective organ or limb (or an animal close to death) may be considered a treifa or non-kosher.
Even when an animal which is generally a kosher animal, is slaughtered in a kosher way, the meat could be non-kosher if certain defects in the animal are found. Lesions, lacerations, broken limbs, missing or punctured organs, or the result of an attack by a larger animal are all defects that make an animal a treifa.
Whilst originally the term treifa referred to the meat from an animal with certain defects, today treif is used for all non-kosher products.
All fruits and vegetables are kosher, however, bugs and worms that may be found in some fruits and vegetables are not kosher. Fruits and vegetables that are prone to infestation should be inspected to ensure that they contain no bugs. Leafy vegetables like lettuce and herbs and flowery vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are particularly prone to bugs and should be inspected carefully. Strawberries and raspberries can also be problematic.