By Lia Blanchard
While perusing the Art of Appreciation website, I noted that several baskets described the ingredients as “certified kosher”. I knew this meant the food and its processing location and methods were sanctioned by an agency as meeting Jewish dietary laws, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I decided I wanted to know more.
It turns out that Jewish dietary laws – kashruth – are interpreted differently by different groups. This is a result of Jewish families living in and adopting the food cultures of various parts of the world, the development of multiple denominations of Judaism, and the effect of modern technology and food preparation techniques. For this reason, there are several kosher certification agencies in the U.S.; some follow very strict standards, while others are more lenient. About.com has a great article talking about the different kosher certification agencies and their standards and symbols.
What are the rules?
I discovered that explaining “the rules” would be quite difficult, considering the various interpretations. Therefore, this is a very general overview.
- Certain animals may not be eaten at all, including pigs, rabbits or any other rodent, shellfish, birds of prey or scavengers.
- Of the animals that are allowed to be consumed, it must be slaughtered in accordance with Jewish law, and certain parts may not be eaten at all.
- Meat and dairy products may not be consumed together, and utensils used for meat and dairy must be kept separated.
- Fruits and vegetables must be free of insects.
- Grape products produced by non-Jews may not be consumed.
Why non-Jews might prefer kosher food
According to the About.com article, Muslims account for 16% of the U.S. kosher market because Islamic dietary laws are similar to Jewish dietary laws. But there are non-religious reasons for “keeping kosher” as well. Vegetarians and lactose-intolerant consumers often seek out kosher foods because they are free of animal and dairy by-products. The Wall Street Journal has noted that many kosher food producers are actively marketing to non-Jewish consumers.
There is a lot of information regarding the specifics of “keeping kosher”. If you would like to learn more, Judaism 101 has a lot of information, or you may want to consult a kosher certification agency directly.