1. Myth: Kosher Certified Food Is “Blessed” by a Rabbi

Most commercially available kosher food bears the mark of a kosher certifying agency—agencies represented by rabbis who visit factories and food production plants. There is a common misconception among plant personnel that the rabbi’s purpose is to “bless” the food.

Fact: The Mashgiach Is a Supervisor

The visiting rabbi is a mashgiach, which means “supervisor.” His job is to make sure that the food being produced contains only kosher ingredients, and that the production is done in a way that conforms to Jewish law. His visit has nothing to do with dispensing blessings and everything to do with collecting information.

Read: More About the Mashgiach’s Job

2. Myth: “Glatt Kosher” Means “Super Kosher”

The word “glatt” has come to be (mistakenly) used to imply that something is perfectly kosher, beyond the shadow of a doubt. As such, one can occasionally see a coffee shop or supermarket marketing themselves as selling “only glatt kosher.”

Photo: Abir Sultan/Flash 90 - Art by Yitzchok Schmukler
Photo: Abir Sultan/Flash 90
Art by Yitzchok Schmukler

Fact: Glatt Refers to the Lungs of an Animal

“Glatt,” which is Yiddish for “smooth,” refers to the lack of adhesions on the lungs of an animal. What does this mean? One of the requirements for kosher meat is that the animal be in fine health prior to its slaughter. One way this is ascertained is by checking the lungs of freshly slaughtered animals for holes, as well as for adhesions, which would imply that the lung had been punctured and partially healed or that a hole is developing.

So how smooth must the lung be? There are different standards. The animals whose lungs are so smooth that they are acceptable even according to the more exacting standards are known as “glatt.”

Read: The Ins and Outs of Glatt

3. Myth: Giraffes Cannot Be Slaughtered

An integral part of the kosher process is shechitah, whereby a perfectly smooth knife (chalef) slices through the majority of an animal’s windpipe and esophagus.

There is a common myth that although it is technically a kosher animal (since it chews its cud and has split hooves), the giraffe cannot be made kosher because it is unknown how to perform shechitah on its long, long neck.

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash.
Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash.

Fact: Giraffes Can Technically Be Slaughtered

This is a classic urban legend. The extra long neck just means that there is plenty of space to do shechitah.

So why is there no commercially available kosher giraffe meat? The reason you do not see giraffe meat at your local kosher deli is for the same reason you do not see it at the non-kosher butcher next door: giraffe is not widely farmed, slaughtered, or sold anywhere.

Read: Is Giraffe Kosher?

4. Myth: Kosher Is Not Necessary Now that We Are Clean

There is a persistent belief that the kosher laws, which require that only healthy animals be eaten, strict separation be maintained in the kitchen, and “dirty” animals like pigs be eschewed, were put in place to help the primitive ancient Hebrews maintain hygiene. Thus, the argument goes, kosher is no longer relevant in the era of pasteurization and refrigeration, when we are perfectly capable of avoiding spoilage.

Fact: Kosher Is a Divine Precept

There may be certain health benefits that come along with keeping kosher, and there is no doubt that pigs are generally dirty (and probably not that healthy). However, that is not the reason we keep kosher. We keep kosher solely because G‑d commanded us to do so. This mitzvah is classed as a chok, something beyond our limited understanding, which we do whether or not it makes sense to us.

Read: Kosher Is Not Based on Physical Health

5. Non-Kosher Fish Are All Bottom Feeders

Related to the previous myth, there are many who argue that the Torah does not allow us to eat bottom feeders, who pick up all the filth and impurities found on the bottom of the water.

Fact: Plenty of Kosher Fish Live Down Deep

The only requirement for kosher fish is that they have fins and scales, regardless of where in the water they live. It was actually the great Nachmanides who pointed out that many of the kosher fish happen to live closer to the top, which he argued had a positive effect on the fish, and by extension those who eat them.

However, there is no doubt that there are many kosher bottom feeders, including the carp from which gefilte fish is traditionally made. At the same time, there are also many non-kosher fish living closer to the top.

Read: Are Bottom Feeders Kosher Fish?

6. Myth: Kosher Wine Is Sweet and Thick

For generations, the kosher wine selection was limited to inexpensive stuff that came in square bottles and poured like cough syrup. This led to the misconception that there is an intrinsic link between sugariness and kosherness as far as wine is concerned.

Fact: There Are Hundreds of Wonderful Kosher Wines

For generations, impoverished Jews struggled to purchase kosher wine for Shabbat, and cheap wine, laden with sugar, was the best they could afford. Times have changed, however, and the kosher wine market has grown exponentially. There are now kosher wines to suit every palate and every price point.

Read: What Makes Wine Kosher?

7. Myth: Kosher Salt Is More Kosher Than Other Salt

Looking at the label of the coarse salt sold in your grocery store, you’d be somehow led to believe that it is more kosher than any other salt. After all, why else would it be called “kosher salt”?

Coarse salt is used to remove blood from kosher meat (Photo by Jason Tuinstra on Unsplash).
Coarse salt is used to remove blood from kosher meat (Photo by Jason Tuinstra on Unsplash).

Fact: It Is No More Kosher Than Table Salt

Blood is removed from kosher meat through soaking it and then coating it with relatively coarse grains of salt, which are then rinsed away (read the full procedure here). Technically called “koshering salt,” this salt is commonly labeled as “kosher salt.” However, it is essentially no more or less kosher than any other salt on the market. Salt is a mineral, and pure salt is therefore always kosher. Some brands of salt have a kosher symbol on the package, and that way you know that a reliable kosher certification agency is checking to make sure that nothing else gets mixed into the salt and that it’s 100% kosher.

Read: What Is Kosher Salt?

8. Myth: All Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Are Kosher

Those only nominally familiar with the rudiments of kosher—avoiding certain meats and keeping dairy and meat separate—may believe that all fruits and veggies are kosher. After all, what can possibly be wrong?

A mashgiach inspects for bugs in leafy greens. Photo: Yaakov Naumi/FLASH90
A mashgiach inspects for bugs in leafy greens. Photo: Yaakov Naumi/FLASH90

Fact: There Are Certain Sensitivities

It is generally true that most of the produce in your local grocery store is kosher, but there are certain important things to be aware of:

  1. Bugs are not kosher. This means that lettuce, berries, and other produce that is prone to infestation must be thoroughly checked for bugs.
  2. Israeli fruit is sensitive: Produce grown in Israel must be tithed, and one must also know that the fruit has not grown during the first three years of a tree’s life. For this reason, produce from Israel must be certified by a reputable agency.

Read: The Details of Kosher Fruit and Vegetables

9. Myth: Kosher Symbols With Tiny Hebrew Letters Are Best

There are well over 1,400 kosher certifying agencies in the world today, leaving many of us scratching our heads when trying to ascertain whether an unfamiliar symbol is reliable or not. There is a common misconception that the symbols with tiny (sometimes illegible) Hebrew wording are the most reliable.

Fact: It All Depends

It is true that many of the agencies with the highest standards, often associated with specific Chassidic communities, tend to have more ornate symbols, which include filigree and Hebrew letters—in stark contrast with the minimalist symbols of the major North American agencies.

However, not everyone who hires a designer and registers a corporation is an expert of kosher supervision. In fact, even those with the best intentions and impeccable rabbinic credentials may fail as kosher supervisors without the industry knowledge and technical training that goes into understanding modern food production.

In summation, some of the ornate Hebrew-rich symbols may denote certain higher standards than the mainstream symbols, but this must be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Read: More on Deciphering Kosher Symbols

10. Myth: You Can Use Something Once Without Tevilah

Before a glass or metal utensil can be used to handle kosher food, it must be immersed in a mikvah. There is a common misunderstanding that the vessel may be used once without immersion, but must be immersed before being used a second time.

Fact: Even Once Is Not Allowed

This myth may have developed from the fact that disposable containers need not be immersed before use, leading people to conclude that real dishes may also be used once without immersion. The fact is, however, that this has no basis in Jewish law.

11. Myth: Treif Means Forbidden

To many, “treif” has become the catch-all term to refer to all unkosher food.

Fact: It Technically Refers to an Animal That Was Not Slaughtered

The Hebrew root word T-R-F means to “tear,” referring to an animal that has been mauled and is therefore forbidden, since only animals that meet their deaths through shechitah are kosher.

One may likewise not perform shechitah on an animal that is injured or unhealthy to the degree that it will soon die. Such an animal is also included under the rubric of treifah.

In common parlance, the word treif has further extended (somewhat incorrectly) to include all non-kosher food.

Read: More About the Meaning of Treif

12. Myth: All Vegan Restaurants Are Kosher

Considering that most kosher sensitivities involve meat and milk, it is logical for people to assume that all vegan restaurants are kosher. After all, they reckon, what could be wrong?

Photo by Pille-Riin Priske on Unsplash.
Photo by Pille-Riin Priske on Unsplash.

Fact: This Is Not the Case

If you’ve been reading this list from the beginning, you surely recall that certain kosher fruits and vegetables must be checked for even the smallest of bugs (and avoided entirely when bug removal is not possible), something vegan restaurants do not do. But there are other considerations, including: counters and utensils must be koshered from any residue of non-kosher food, non-Jewish wine is perfectly vegan but entirely not-kosher, and there are also considerations regarding food cooked and baked by non-Jews.

Read: Are Vegan Restaurants Automatically Kosher?

13. Myth: You Can “Plant” Cutlery In Dirt to Make It Kosher

There is an old wives’ tale that if a meat utensil had been used with dairy (or vice versa), it should be “planted” in dirt for several weeks and then it may be used again.

Art by Yitzchok Schmukler
Art by Yitzchok Schmukler

Fact: Being Surrounded by Soil Is Not a Valid Form of Koshering

There is indeed a valid form of koshering a knife that involves shoving it into rough earth 10 times, thus scraping off any unkosher residue that it may have picked up. However, this is a temporary measure that is limited to perfectly smooth knives which will then be used exclusively with cold kosher food. It has nothing to do with leaving your spoon in your geraniums so that you can then use it to stir your coffee once again.

14. Myth: Kosher Is Much More Expensive

When considering going kosher, many are put off by the fear that their food bills will skyrocket.

Stacks of coins of different sizes.

Fact: Most Products Are the Same

The majority of products in the supermarket, besides for actual meat and dairy, are certified kosher, so you will not find that keeping kosher will add much to your grocery bill.

It is true that kosher meat (and chalav Yisrael dairy) products are more expensive. This makes sense when one calculates that kosher meatpackers need to discard animals found not to be kosher and they must also hire additional expert staff and take extra steps to make the food kosher and keep it that way.

However, if you vary your diet and eat a broad range of foods, you may find that the changes to your food bill are relatively minor.

Read: Going Kosher on a Budget