What is kosher?
The following is an outline of a very intricate and complicated set of rules that make up the
laws of Kashruth. It is meant only to provide a general overview of Kashruth. A competent
rabbi must always be consulted for proper interpretation and implementation of the law.
Answer: The Hebrew word "Kasheir," or "Kosher," means fit or proper. When applied to
food, the term indicates that an item is fit for consumption according to Jewish law. The
word "Kashruth" refers to the general subject of Kosher food.
There are three categories of Kosher food - Meat, Dairy and Parve (or Pareve).
1. Meat - For an animal to be Kosher, it must have split hooves and chew its cud. (Examples:
cow, goat, lamb.) Non-Kosher animals include pig, horse, camel and rabbit. Kosher fowl
include chicken, turkey, goose, and certain duck. Animals and fowl must be slaughtered by a
specialist, called a shochet, and then soaked and salted in accordance with Jewish law. All
carnivorous (meat-eating) animals and fowl, and the blood of all animals and fowl, and any
derivatives or products thereof, are not Kosher.
2. Dairy - Milk and milk products (cheese, cream, butter, etc.) of a Kosher animal are Kosher-
Dairy. These may not be eaten in combination with meat or fowl.
3. Parve - Foods which contain neither meat nor dairy ingredients are called "Parve." All
fruits, grains and vegetables in their natural state are Kosher and Parve. Fish which have fins
and scales are Kosher and Parve. Some examples are salmon, halibut and carp. Not Kosher
fish species include sturgeon, catfish and swordfish. All shellfish, eel, sharks, underwater
mammals, and reptiles are not Kosher. A Parve item can become either dairy or meat when
it is cooked together with food in either category. (Example: fish fried in butter is considered
dairy, not Parve.)
Certain grain products and their derivatives, although Kosher the rest of the year, may not
be used during Passover. In addition, in many communities legumes are not permitted on
Passover. Kosher for Passover items may be made only with utensils that are Kosher for
Passover according to Jewish law.
The separation of meat and dairy products also applies to the utensils used for storing,
preparing and serving these foods. Therefore, completely separate sets of pots, dishes,
cutlery, etc. must be used for meat and dairy foods. Kosher food prepared in pots used
previously for preparing non-Kosher food may become not Kosher.