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Kosher inDepth

TheHebrew word "kosher" literally means "acceptable." Foodsthat are permitted by the Torah and prepared acpiersonforcongress.comding to Jewish law arekosher. Below are some of the basic principles that make up the kosher dietarylaws.

KOSHER SPECIES

1. Animals

TheTorah (Leviticus 11:3) lists the characteristics of permitted animals as thosewith fully split hooves, who also chew their cud (ruminants). Kosher animalsare always mammals and herbivores. The kosher animals commonly eaten today arethe cow, goat and sheep -- and sometimes deer and buffalo.

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2. Birds

TheTorah enumerates 24 forbidden species of birds, and the Talmud explains that,among other signs, all birds of prey (vulture, hawk, eagle) are forbidden. Inpractice today, we eat only those birds for which there is an establishedtradition that the bird is kosher -- e.g. chicken, turkey, duck and goose.

Asfor "kosher eggs," they must come from a species of kosher bird (e.g.chicken).

3. Fish

TheTorah (Leviticus 11:9) teaches that a kosher fish must possess both fins andscales. (Fins help the fish swim, and scales are a covering over the body.)Even if the fish has only one scale or one fin, it is permitted. Tuna, forexample, have very few scales, yet is kosher. Other popular kosher fish arebass, carp, cod, flounder, halibut, herring, mackerel, trout and salmon.

Crustaceans(such as lobster and crab) and other shellfish (such as clams) are not kosher,because they lack scales. Further, all aquatic mammals (e.g. whales anddolphins) are not kosher.

Andyes, there are kosher varieties of sushi and caviar -- providing it"s from akosher species (fins and scales), and that it was prepared only with kosherutensils (knife, cutting board, etc.).

4. Insects

Manyare surprised to discover that four species of grasshoppers are kosher(Leviticus 11:22). However, all other insects are not kosher. One might thinkthat this has little practical application to our modern eating habits. But intruth, many leafy vegetables (lettuce, broccoli) often contain insects and mustbe carefully examined before they can be eaten. Some fruits like raspberriesand strawberries are also problematic. Rabbis have developed specific methodsto properly check these fruits and vegetables for insects.

KOSHER SLAUGHTERING

1. Shechita

Besidesbeing from a kosher species, kosher meat requires that the animal/bird beslaughtered in the manner prescribed by the Torah (Shechita). (Fish donot have this requirement.) In this procedure, a trained kosher slaughterer (shochet)severs the trachea and esophagus of the animal with a special razor-sharpknife. This also severs the jugular vein, causing near-instantaneous death withminimal pain to the animal.

2. Bedika

Afterthe animal/bird has been properly slaughtered, its internal organs are inspectedfor any physiological abnormalities that may render the animal non-kosher (treif).The lungs, in particular, must be examined to determine that there are noadhesions (sirchot) which may be indicative of a puncture in the lungs.

3. Nikkur

Animalscontain many veins (e.g. Gid HaNashe) and fats (chelev) that areforbidden by the Torah and must be removed. The procedure of removal is called"Nikkur," and it is quite complex. In practice today, the hindquarter of most kosher animals is simply removed and sold as non-kosher meat.

4. Salting

TheTorah forbids eating of the blood of an animal or bird (Leviticus 7:26); fishdo not have this requirement. Thus in order to extract the blood, the entiresurface of meat must be covered with coarse salt. It is then left for an houron an inclined or perforated surface to allow the blood to flow down freely.The meat is then thoroughly washed to remove all salt. Meat must be kosheredwithin 72 hours after slaughter so as not to permit the blood to congeal. (Analternate means of removing the blood is through broiling on a perforated grateover an open fire.)

ADDITIONAL PROHIBITIONS

1. Meat and Milk

TheTorah forbids eating meat and milk in combination, and even forbids the act ofcooking them together (as well as deriving benefit from such a mixture). As asafeguard, the Sages disallow the eating of meat and dairy products at the samemeal, or preparing them with the same utensils. Therefore, a kosher kitchenmust have two separate sets of pots, pans, plates and silverware -- one formeat/poultry and the other for dairy foods.

Onemust wait up to six hours after eating meat products before eating dairyproducts. However, meat may be eaten following dairy products (with theexception of hard cheese, which also requires a six-hour interval). Prior toeating meat after dairy, one must eat a solid food and the mouth must berinsed.

2. Chalav Yisrael

ARabbinic law requires that there be supervision during the milking process toensure that the milk comes from a kosher animal. In North America, many peoplerely on the Department of Agriculture"s regulations and controls assufficiently stringent to fulfill the rabbinic requirement for supervision. Some,however, do not rely on this, and will only eat dairy products that are designatedas Chalav Yisrael (literally, "Jewish milk").

3. Bishul Akum

Bishul Akum is a Hebrew term meaning, "cookedby a non-Jew." As a rabbinic safeguard against assimilation, certain foodscooked by a non-Jew are considered not kosher. While the details of this laware many, the basic rule is that any cooked food which: 1) could not have beeneaten raw, and 2) is important enough to be served at a fancy meal table, maynot be eaten if cooked by a non-Jew.

Ifa Jew assists with lighting the fire or the cooking, the food may be eaten evenif it was cooked by a non-Jew (assuming, of course, that the food itself waskosher in every other way).

KOSHER PRODUCE

1. Grains

Inkeeping kosher, there is a grain-related issue called Chadash and Yashan-- literally "new" and "old." The Torah (Leviticus 23:14)says that if a grain (such as wheat) was harvested prior to Passover,then we may not eat that grain until after (the second day of) Passover.

Thismeans that we have two kinds of grain: grain that hasn"t celebrated its firstPassover is (temporarily) forbidden as Chadash, while grain that hasbeen around long enough to already have a Passover under its belt is Yashan,and permitted to eat.

Anothergrain-related issue is Challah. (This is not to be confused with the braidedbread that we eat on Shabbat.) When one kneads a significant amount of dough(over 2.5 pounds) for baking purposes, a small portion of the dough is removedand burned. (In the times of the Holy Temple, this portion was given to aKohen.) Once challah has been separated from the larger dough, the dough is"kosher" for baking into bread or other items.

2. Fruits

Fruitthat grows during the first three years after a tree is planted is called Orlahand is not kosher to be eaten. This law applies to trees both in Israel and theDiaspora. If you plant a fruit tree in your backyard, you cannot eat the fruitfor three years, and there is a special procedure to render the fruitpermissible to eat in the fourth year. (Consult with a rabbi.)

3. Israeli Produce

Trumah and Maaser are terms forvarious tithes that apply to Israeli-grown produce, to be given to the Kohenand Levi. Untithed foods are called Tevel and are not kosher to beeaten. If you"re visiting Israel, or even if you"re buying Israeli oranges ortomatoes in your local supermarket, you should make sure that proper titheshave been taken from all grains, fruits and vegetables.

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TheTorah (Leviticus ch. 25) says that every seven years, agricultural work mustcease in the Land of Israel. This is called Shmita -- the seventh,sabbatical year. Produce that grows on land that was "farmed andworked" during the seventh year is not kosher. Today, with the return of aJewish agricultural industry to Israel, the laws related to Shmita areonce again very relevant. So if you"re buying Israeli produce, make sure thelaws of Shmita were properly observed.