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KASHRUT , from the Hebrew word kasher (Eng., kosher), meaning "acceptable" (see Est. 8:15), denotes anything permitted by Jewish law for use. More specifically, it connotes the Jewish dietary laws. Kashrut pertains directly to (1) permitted and forbidden animals, (2) forbidden parts of otherwise permitted animals, (3) the method of slaughtering and preparing permitted animals, (4) forbidden food mixtures, and (5) proportions of food mixtures prohibited ab initio but permitted ex post facto. The rules of kashrut are derived from biblical statute, rabbinic interpretation, rabbinic legislation, and custom, as outlined below.

Biblical Law

According to the Bible, animals permitted for Jewish consumption must have fully cloven hooves and chew the cud (Lv. 11:3). Forbidden fowl are listed (Lv. 11:1319, Dt. 14:1118), as are forbidden insects (Lv. 11: 2122, Dt. 14:20), but no characteristics are presented for determining their forbidden status. Fish must have fins and scales (Lv. 11:9, Dt. 14:9). Both Jews and gentiles are forbidden to eat flesh torn from a living animal (Gn. 9:3). Jews are not to consume the blood of permitted animals or the fat that covers their inner organs (Lv. 3:17, 7:23), that is, tallow or suet. Both this blood and this fat were to be offered on the altar of the Temple in the case of animals fit for sacrifice (e.g., Lv. 1:1112). In the case of an animal permitted for ordinary consumption but not for sacrifice, the blood is to be poured on the ground and covered (Lv. 17:13, Dt. 12:16). The same is the case with the blood of fowl slaughtered for ordinary use. Animals that died of internal causes or that were killed by other animals are not to be consumed (Ex. 22:30). Also, the sciatic nerve of slaughtered animals is not to be eaten (Gn. 32:32). Finally, a kid is not to be cooked in the milk of its own mother (Ex. 23:29, 34:26; Dt. 14:21).

Rabbinic Interpretation

The rabbinic sources present a number of important and wide-reaching interpretations of these biblical laws which are seen as being themselves "oral Mosaic traditions" (halakhah le-Mosheh mi-Sinai). Thus, the rabbis determined that all birds of prey are forbidden for Jewish consumption (ul. 5.6). The requirement that fish have fins and scales was qualified to include any fish that had scales at any point in its development even if they subsequently fell off (B.T., ul. 66ab). Milk from nonkosher animals was forbidden because it was judged as having the status of its source (Bekh. 1.2). An important exception to this rule is the honey of bees, which the rabbis determined does not have anything from the bee's body in it (see B.T., Bekh. 7b). The Babylonian Talmud presents criteria for distinguishing between permitted and forbidden fat (B.T., ul. 49b). The blood drained from permitted animals and fowl after slaughter is covered with soil or ashes (ul. 6.7).


The method of slaughtering permitted animals and fowl, known as sheiah, is not explicated in scripture but is seen as the prime example of a law commanded orally by Moses, to whom it was divinely revealed (B.T., ul. 28a). The throat of the animal or bird must be slit with a perfectly smooth blade by a highly trained and supervised slaughterer (shoe ), who recites a blessing before cutting across the gullet and windpipe, severing the jugular. Detailed regulations govern the process; internal irregularities found in the lungs and other organs render even properly slaughtered animals unfit for consumption by Jews (erefah, Hul. 3.1ff.). Various procedures are presented for draining the blood from the slaughtered animal, such as opening the arteries and veins, soaking and salting the meat, and broiling the meat over a flame. The laws that required Jews to eat meat slaughtered by a trained shoe often determined where Jews could and could not live, and the presence of a kosher butcher has, in modern Jewish history, often symbolized the existence of an observant Jewish community.

Milk and meat

In the area of mixing milk and meat, rabbinic interpretation considerably expanded the biblical prohibition of simply not "cooking a kid in its mother's milk." The rabbis extended this law from animals fit to be offered on the altar (i.e., the lamb) to all animals and fowl in order to avoid any possible confusion (B.T., ul. 104a). The Talmud interprets the threefold mention of this prohibition in the Pentateuch as entailing three distinct prohibitions: (1) eating, (2) cooking, and (3) deriving any monetary benefit from such a mixture of meat and milk. These prohibitions were elaborated by requirements for the use of separate dishes and utensils for meat foods and milk foods.

Rabbinical Legislation

In addition to the interpretations presented as ultimately Mosaic, the rabbis legislated additional rules in connection with those seen as biblical or traditional. All insects were forbidden because it was assumed that there was no longer to be found the necessary expertise to distinguish between those permitted and those forbidden. (az [David ben Shemuʾel ha-Levi] on Shulan ʿarukh, Yoreh deʿah 85.1). Because of concern that gentiles might mix milk from nonkosher sources in the milk they sell to Jews, and that cheese from gentiles might contain nonkosher rennet, the precaution arose that milk and cheese must be prepared under Jewish supervision (ʿA.Z. 2.6). When this was not a likely possibility, however, this precaution was relaxed (Responsa Tashbatz, 4.1.32). The rabbis ruled that whereas one may follow a milk meal with a meat meal (except when hard cheese was eaten), after washing the hands and rinsing the mouth, one must wait a period of time before consuming a milk meal after a meat meal.

Because at times meat foods and milk foods are accidentally mixed, the rabbis developed a number of rules to determine whether or not the mixture could be used ex post facto. Generally, if the ratio is 60 to 1 or more, then the smaller substance is considered absorbed (bael ) in the larger substance (B.T., ul. 97b), provided the smaller substance neither changes the flavor of the larger substance, or gives the larger substance its actual form, and provided the smaller substance is not still found intact.

In order to discourage social contact between Jews and gentiles which might lead to intermarriage and assimilation (B.T., ʿA.Z. 36b; J.T., Shab. 3c), and because non-Jewish wine might have been produced for idolatrous purposes, the rabbis forbade Jews to drink wine or wine products made by non-Jews (B.T., ʿA.Z. 29b). However, because certain non-Jews were no longer considered idolators, and for other reasons, a number of authorities relaxed some (but not all) of these prohibitions. (See, for example, Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Forbidden Foods 11.7; Mosheh Isserles's Responsa, no. 124.)


Custom determines a number of kashrut regulations, often being divergent in different communities. If certain fowl is not customarily eaten in a particular community, then this custom has the force of law there for no other reason. Although the hindquarters of permitted mammals may be eaten after the sciatic nerve has been totally removed, because of the great amount of energy and time required by this procedure, and because of the greater availability of meat in modern times, it has become the custom in Western Europe and America (but not in Israel) for the hindquarters of slaughtered animals to be sold to non-Jews as a regular practice rather than their being eaten by Jews.

Because of the rabbinic requirement for the internal examination of slaughtered animals (bediqah ) to determine whether or not any abnormalities were present before slaughtering, elaborate methods of certification have evolved to guard against error or fraud. Often there are today competing rabbinical groups giving approval to different sources of kosher meat inasmuch as demands for reliability vary. Also, advances in food technology have led to the requirement that most processed foods be rabbinically certified (heksher ) as not containing any forbidden substances.

Because of the custom in many Hungarian communities not to consume meat with certain irregularities nevertheless permitted by rabbinical legislation, the practice of certifying meat as gla kosher (Yi., "smooth," without blemish) arose. In America, since the immigration of many Hungarian Orthodox Jews after World War II, gla kosher has become a connotation of a stricter and more reliable level of kashrut.

Custom varies as to how long one is to wait after consuming meat before consuming milk. Moses Maimonides (1135/81204), followed by most other authorities, required a six-hour interval (Mishneh Torah, Forbidden Foods 9.28). Other authorities require a much shorter interval (B.T., ul. 105a; Tos., s.v. le-seʿudata ). Customarily, eastern European Jews and Sephardic Jews and their descendants follow Maimonides; German Jews and their descendants wait three hours; and some Dutch Jews of Sephardic origin wait as little as slightly over one hour.

Orthodox and Conservative Judaism generally follow the same standards of kashrut, based on biblical, rabbinic, and customary rules. Conservative Judaism, however, tends to follow more lenient options within the law itself, such as not requiring cheeses manufactured in the United States to be certified kosher. Reform Judaism, because it does not regard halakhah in toto as authoritative, does not, therefore, regard kashrut as binding. Some Reform Jews as an individual option do follow kashrut completely, and others follow at least those rules that are biblically explicit.

Theological Interpretation

Although scholars have long recognized similarities between the biblical laws and other ancient Near Eastern customs, the laws of kashrut are traditionally considered to be uqqim, that is, laws about which "Satan and the gentiles raise objections" (B.T., Yomaʾ 67b), namely laws without apparent reasons. Nevertheless, Jewish theologians have attempted to penetrate their deeper meaning to discover hidden reasons for them.

Because of the frequent biblical mention of holiness (qedushah ) in connection with these laws (e.g., Lv. 11:4445), a number of the rabbis emphasized that their very unintelligibility is a test of one's full acceptance of the authority of God's law (e.g., Gn. Rab. 44.1). However, even here the general reason of holiness is taken to mean separation of Jews from gentiles (Lv. 20:26). The importance of this general motif is seen in texts from the Maccabean period (c. 150 bce), when the forced assimilation of Jews usually began with making them eat forbidden foods (Dn. 1:8, 2 Mc. 7:1ff., 4 Mc. 5:1ff.). In rabbinic law one is required to die as a martyr rather than violate kashrut, when the violation is clearly symbolic of general apostasy (B.T., San. 74a).

Some of the earliest and latest rationales for kashrut have emphasized the moral intent of having Jews refrain from foods that are either taken from cruel animals (Letter of Aristeas, 142147) or, also, symbolize bad moral traits (S. R. Hirsch, Horeb, trans. M. Hados, New York, 1951). Interestingly, early Christian criticism of Judaism argued that Jewish preoccupation with these laws actually leads to the neglect of morality (Mk. 7:1423).

Maimonides saw the reasons for these laws as being based on both considerations of safe and healthy diet and the avoidance of some ancient idolatrous practices (Guide of the Perplexed, ed. Shlomo Pines, Chicago, 1963, 3.48; cf. inukh, no. 92). This emphasis on physiological reasons is followed by other Jewish scholars, such as Shemuʾel ben Meʾir in the twelfth century (e.g., on Lv. 11:30 re B.T., Shab. 86b) and Moses Nahmanides in the thirteenth century (e.g., on Lv. 11:9 in his Commentary on the Torah ). Others, however, reject this whole approach as unduly secular (e.g., Avraham ben David of Posquières on Sifra: Qedoshim, ed. I. H. Weiss, 93d; Zohar 3:221ab). The qabbalists, based on their view that every mundane act is a microcosm of the macrocosm of divine emanations (sefirot ), worked out elaborate symbolic explanations of how the laws of kashrut reflect the cosmic economy and of their spiritual effect on human life. Among these mystics were, in the fourteenth century, Menahem Recanati, author of aʿamei ha-mitsvot and, in the fifteenth century, Yitsaq Arama, author of ʿAqedat Yitsaq. In these classic qabbalistic treatments of kashrut, forbidden foods were seen as imparting the cosmic impurity of the demonic forces that work against the godhead.

See Also

Food; Passover.


The literature on kashrut is enormous, in both English and Hebrew. The following English works are particularly useful: J. J. Berman's Shehitah: A Study in the Cultural and Social Life of the Jewish People (New York, 1941); Samuel H. Dresner and Seymour Siegel's The Jewish Dietary Laws, 2d rev. ed. (New York, 1966); Isidor Grunfeld's work by the same name, especially volume 1, Dietary Laws with Particular Reference to Meat and Meat Products (New York, 1972); Isaac Klein's A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice (New York, 1979); and my Law and Theology in Judaism, vol. 2 (New York, 1976). Two very different approaches to understanding the relationship between dietary and other purity laws can be found in Jacob Neusner's The Idea of Purity in Ancient Judaism (Leiden, 1973) and Mary Douglas's Purity and Danger (London, 1966), and in Douglas's "Critique and Commentary" on Neusner in his volume, pp. 137142.

David Novak (1987 and 2005)


views updated May 17 2018

pa·re·ve / ˈpärəvə/ (also par·ve) • adj. Judaism prepared without meat, milk, or their derivatives and therefore permissible to be eaten with both meat and dairy dishes according to dietary laws.


views updated May 29 2018

pareve (parve) Jewish term for dishes containing neither milk nor meat. Orthodox Jewish law prohibits mixing of milk and meat foods or the consumption of milk products for 3 hours after a meat meal. See also milchig; fleishig.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Kashrut (food ritually fit for consumption): see DIETARY LAWS.

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