Food is central to life. The need to eat is perhaps the most primal, basic, and recurring of human needs. Aside from the times during the day in which food is actually being consumed, time is dedicated to cooking it, exercising to keep its effects in check, and using the restroom to relieve the waste. Much of why people work hard all day is in order to make money to put food on the table. A large percentage of the life of the average person is occupied with food.

There is arguably nothing more misunderstood in the Jewish faith than the laws and meaning of kashrut, the dietary laws of the Torah. While almost everyone has heard of the idea of keeping kosher, few know its intricacies and significance. Kosher is not about lox, potato pancakes, and matzah-ball soup. Instead, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and foods of every other ethnicity can potentially be kosher. Kosher is also not food that was simply ‘blessed by the rabbi.’

Kosher is the diet plan for the soul, in that they are the foods prescribed by G‑d in the Torah for consumption by the Jewish people.

The word ‘kosher,’ in Biblical terms, means ‘fit’ or ‘appropriate’.1 The sages elaborate that kosher means something that is usable, especially in reference to foods. It is worth briefly stating exactly which potential foods are kosher. A fully detailed explanation of the intricacies of the Jewish dietary laws is beyond the scope of what is being dealt with here. The following is simply an overview of what makes food kosher:

  • All fruits and vegetables are kosher.2
  • Animal kingdom:

1) Any land animals that have both split hooves and chews its cud are considered kosher, if the animal only has one or none of those features, it cannot be eaten.3

2) Birds are not given signs, there are just 24 mentioned that are not kosher, and the rest are considered kosher.4

3) Fish must have both fins and scales to be kosher.5

All land animals and birds must be killed through shechita, traditional ritual slaughter.6 If the animal dies by any other means, it is not kosher.7 Furthermore, it should be mentioned that the sciatic nerve,8 blood, and forbidden fats9 are also prohibited and must be extracted after slaughter.

Additionally, milk and meat may not be eaten together.10 The byproducts of any kosher animal, like eggs or milk, are also kosher, and that from a non-kosher animal is not.11 Parenthetically, insects are prohibited as well.12