By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)
In this study I would like to learn about eating from a kosher perspective. We have all heard the proverb: You are what you eat. This is especially true as it applies to Torah observance. The Torah observant person learns that his ability to absorb and understand spiritual matters depends on eating only kosher food. The word kosher means fit or proper. As such, it can be applied to things other than food, and also to processes. Kashrut is a term used to apply to the whole area of kosher foods.
When we read about food in the Torah, we must understand that if it is not kosher, it is not called food. There is no such thing as non-kosher food in all of the scriptures. This is an important concept.
Three mitzvot, commands, are given primarily to the woman of the house: Kashrut, family purity (menstrual separation), and Sabbath. Not because they don’t apply to men, but because The Holy One, blessed be He, has seen fit to give the woman the desire to build the home. In fact, we understand that the woman is the house. The building of a home of holiness necessitates these mitzvot.
The kosher home is a substitute for the Temple and the kosher table is a substitute for the mizbeach, the altar. By eating kosher we can transform our homes into a place of holiness.
When we eat kosher foods, according to the command of The Holy One, blessed be He, we transform the food into spiritual nourishment. The mitzvah (good deed) of kashrut makes us physically holy. It literally separates us from the entire world. When you eat only kosher food, your life, family, and friends will never be the same again. You will enter the sphere of holiness where the neshama, the soul, will flourish!
The Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, gave a literal interpretation of the verse:
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 8:3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of HaShem.
He explained that it is not the food itself which gives life but rather the spark of G-dliness, The Word of HaShem, that is in the food. All matter has within it some aspects of the “G-dly sparks” that give life and existence to the world. When we eat, the digestive system extracts the nutrients while the neshama, the soul, extracts the G-dly spark found in nature. Yeshua echoed these words when He was tempted by the tempter:
Matityahu (Matthew) 4:3-4 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of G-d, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of G-d.
In this study I would like to examine some of the rules for kosher foods.
Bread is treated as the highest of all foods. As such, there are more stringencies associated with bread than with other foods.
Before we eat bread, we wash our hands. We wash from a container which is a gathering of waters as it says in Bereshit (Genesis) 1:9. After washing our hands, we make a blessing. From the time we wash our hands until we eat the bread, we abstain from talking and from other activities so as to connect the washing with the bread.
After washing, we hold the bread in our hands and make a special blessing, the HaMotzi. This blessing is used only for bread. This blessing can be found in the siddur (the prayer book). We find that Yeshua also said this blessing:
Marqos (Mark) 14:22 While they were eating, Yeshua took bread, made a blessing and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
After eating bread we say the Birchat Hamazon, the blessing after the meal. This blessing, which is found in the siddur, is the way we observe the commandment:
Wine is another special area of kashrut. Kosher wine is prepared only by Jews. At all our special times of joy, we drink wine. We have wine before the Sabbath and most festivals. We have wine at a brit (circumcision) and at the wedding feast.
All manner of fruits, vegetables, and plants are kosher. We see this in:
Bereshit (Genesis) 1:29 Then G-d said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
One way to easily eat kosher is to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. It is important, though, not to eat the insects that are often found with fresh fruits and vegetables. Insects, in general, are not kosher (Yuk!), crickets, grasshoppers and the like, are the exceptions.
HaShem told us how to determine what land animals we can eat in:
Vayikra (Leviticus) 11:1-8 HaShem said to Moses and Aaron, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud. “‘There are some that only chew the cud or only have a split hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is ceremonially unclean for you. The coney, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is unclean for you. The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is unclean for you. And the pig, though it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.
If it walks about on four legs, then it must have a split hoof and chew the cud in order to be kosher. The Torah tells us that rabbits chew the cud but don’t have a split hoof, so they are not kosher. Likewise, the pig has a split hoof but does not chew the cud, so it is not kosher. The Torah has special things to say about those who eat swine flesh (pork):
Yeshayah (Isaiah) 66:17 “Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following the one in the midst of those who eat the flesh of pigs and rats and other abominable things--they will meet their end together,” declares HaShem.
Some animals, like the horse, chew the cud but have hooves that are not split. These animals are not kosher.
So, beef cattle, deer, sheep, and goats are all kosher animals. Antelope, giraffe, and moose are also kosher animals. To eat any of these animals, they must be slaughtered in a special way. The slaughterer uses a razor sharp knife to slit the throat in a painless way. After the animal falls asleep, the blood is drained from the carcass. Compare this painless death to the modern slaughterhouse where sledgehammers and guns are often used to kill the animals.
The carcass is then examined for any disease, lesion, or tumors that have the potential to kill the animal within one year. If any of these are found, the meat is sold to the Gentiles (they will eat anything ;-).
When the meat is taken home, it will be soaked in cool water for half an hour. It is then placed on a perforated board and covered with course salt for an hour. After an hour the salt is removed and the meat is ready for cooking. The meat is salted to draw out any vestige of blood. Broiled meats need not be salted, as the broiling will remove the blood. This is to fulfill the commandment:
II Luqas (Acts) 21:25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.“
The liver from a kosher animal requires a bit more work to remove blood. The organ must be split and salted. It also must be broiled to bring out all the remaining blood.
Birds are a special category of animals. The Torah actually lists all the birds that cannot be eaten:
Vayikra (Leviticus) 11:13-19 “‘These are the birds you are to detest and not eat because they are detestable: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, The red kite, any kind of black kite, Any kind of raven, The horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, The little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, The white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, The stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat. “
In practice, we normally eat only the birds, which have been understood from tradition, to be kosher. The common ones are the chicken, turkey, ducks, and geese.
Poultry must be salted in order to remove the blood. Poultry must also be slaughtered correctly. Buying kosher certified chicken usually solves both of these issues.
Eggs from any kosher bird are also kosher as long as they do not contain any blood. So, an ostrich egg is not kosher because the ostrich is not a kosher bird. Eggs from kosher fish are also kosher.
An egg found in a slaughtered bird is treated like meat and cannot be eaten with dairy foods.
The Torah permits us to eat certain insects. These insects are specified in:
Vayikra (Leviticus) 11:20-25 “‘All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be detestable to you. There are, however, some winged creatures that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper. But all other winged creatures that have four legs you are to detest. “‘You will make yourselves unclean by these; whoever touches their carcasses will be unclean till evening. Whoever picks up one of their carcasses must wash his clothes, and he will be unclean till evening.
These creatures may be what Yochanan (John) the Baptist ate:
As a priest, we can be sure that Yochanan (John) was very careful to eat kosher.
All other insects are strictly forbidden. You may not eat them. Chocolate covered ants are not kosher. This stringency becomes important relative to fresh fruits and vegetables. Lettuce is especially known for having insects and their larvae on the leaves. Fruits and vegetables must be carefully inspected and all insects must be removed (Don’t you dare inspects your Mother’s salad! Her honor is far more important than the potential to eat an insect.)
When canning or freezing, you must be careful to cut fruits and vegetables open to inspect them for insects. So, what is worse than finding a worm in your apple? Finding only half a worm (yuk)!
If an animal is found in the sea, it must have fins and scales in order to observe the commandment:
Vayikra (Leviticus) 11:9-12 “‘Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams, you may eat any that have fins and scales. “‘Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams, you may eat any that have fins and scales.
So, halibut, trout, salmon, and the like are all kosher.
Catfish, though they have fins, are not kosher because they do not have scales. Shrimp, lobster, and crab have no scales and are not kosher.
Clams, mussels, and oysters have neither fins nor scales and are not kosher.
The Shulchan Aruch says that the blood of a fish is permitted as long as it is not gathered together in a container. In other words, we don’t have to salt fish.
Fish may not be cooked together with meat or eaten from the same dish. It may be eaten at the same meal but it must be served from a dish that is parve (neither meat not dairy).
II Luqas (Acts) 21:25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”
According to the Shulchan Aruch, if we have bleeding gums, we may swallow the blood. But, if that blood gets on a piece of bread, which is subsequently removed from the mouth, we must discard it. We may not consume our own blood once it leaves the body.
Milk, cream, butter, and cheese are some of the most common foods eaten. Since these are generally made from milk
taken from a kosher animal, what could be non-kosher? Well, one of the things
that make milk non-kosher is blood from the cow. A cow with mastitis can render
the milk non-kosher. In the
The enzymes used to make hard cheeses can come from either animal or vegetable sources. Since we don’t mix meat and dairy, the animal source enzymes are problematic. Further, all kosher cheese requires supervision by a Jew.
We said before that kosher products come only from kosher animals. Why, then, is honey kosher while bees are not? The answer is that bees process plant pollen to make honey, rather than secreting the honey. Since plant products are kosher, honey is kosher.
The Torah forbids us to mix meat and dairy products at the same meal. This is to fulfill the command:
Shemot (Exodus) 23:19 “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of HaShem your G-d. “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.
Shemot (Exodus) 34:26 “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of HaShem your G-d. “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 14:21 Do not eat anything you find already dead. You may give it to an alien living in any of your towns, and he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. But you are a people holy to HaShem your G-d. Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.
One of the reasons for doing this is to avoid mixing the death of an animal with that which gives life to the animal.
In general, we wait twenty minutes to an hour, after eating soft dairy products, until we eat any meat of poultry. In the case of cheeses that have been aged over six months, or cheeses that have holes, we wait six hours before consuming meat or poultry.
After we consume meat or poultry, we wait six hours before we consume any dairy product.
We must be careful not to use the same loaf of bread for both meat and dairy. This is how we have an unusual meal at Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. At this meal we eat soft dairy with one of the special loaves. After we eat this, we clear the table, rinse our mouth, reset the table, get the second loaf of bread, and after twenty minutes, we eat the second meal with meat. With this procedure we emphasize the two loaves.
So, how do we have butter on our baked potato with our steak dinner? Well, we use parve margarine. Parve means that this product can be used with either meat or dairy. This technique can often be used to accommodate food mixtures, which are impossible in the kosher world.
Another technique is to use kosher vegetarian chicken, beef, or sausage flavored vegetable protein to eat with dairy products. These meat substitutes are excellent!
Finally, many kosher cooks use fish instead of meat. Since fish is like parve, it can be used with dairy products.
In our day, food has become very complicated. We use machines to process food which add an additional level of complexity when it comes to kosher. For example: Were the previous potato chips, processed on this line, made with non-kosher ingredients? If the answer is yes, then the plain potato chips are not kosher.
Modern methods employ so many different ingredients that it is extraordinarily difficult to determine what is, or is not kosher. For example, the red color in some candy is made from carmine. Carmine is made from ground up insects, which are definitely non-kosher.
Some ingredients are so changed from their origins that it is tough to know whether they are kosher. For example, the enzymes used to make cheese can come from the lining of a cow’s stomach, or from plant sources. If it is made from a cow, then we may be transgressing the mixing of meat and dairy.
For all the above reasons, it is proper and reasonable to
use foods that are certified kosher. Kosher
certification comes in many different symbols. One of the most common in the
Another reason for eating kosher foods is because they often taste much better than their non-kosher companions. I have noticed that, in general, the really good ice creams are all kosher. The lower quality, cheaper, ice cream is rarely kosher. I also noticed that kosher poultry tasted so much better than their non-kosher companions, that I never wanted to eat another non-kosher chicken or turkey. In short, kosher generally tastes better.
Kosher food means that the physical food is also proper nourishment for the neshama, the soul. “Soul”, or kosher, food was designed by the Creator to accomplish the proper results in our souls. If we fail to follow the Manufacturer’s specifications, we can be sure that the body and soul will not give the intended service. We, literally, ARE what we eat. Since food provides the energy that connects our soul with our body, it is important that we provide the proper nutrition to our souls.
It is very difficult for most people to understand that we will not have proper spiritual insight and wisdom if we eat non-kosher foods. But, this is how HaShem designed us. Eating kosher food is the greatest single thing that you can do to increase your spiritual insight. Our ability and desire to study Torah are directly affected by what we eat.
But, the most important reason for eating kosher is because The Holy One, blessed be He, has commanded it. For us, His children, this should be enough.
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“The Metsudah Kitzur Shulchan Aruch”, Volume II, A new linear translation and commentary by Rabbi Avrohom Davis.
“Kitzur Shulchan Oruch”, Volume I, by Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried.
“Spice and Spirit, The Complete Kosher Jewish Cookbook”, A Lubavitch Women’s Cookbook Publication.
“The Complete American-Jewish Cookbook”, by Anne London and Bertha Kahn Bishov.
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This study was written by
Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David
Comments may be submitted to:
Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian
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