Kashrut — The Facts

Kashrut is not simply a set of rules about permitted and forbidden foods; Kashrut is a way of life. The act of eating which is so basic and which is so easy to perform in an undisciplined manner, requires constraints and controls to elevate it, since Judaism seeks to raise up aspects of life from the mundane to the holy.

Kashrut is used to describe food that is ritually clean and edible, Kosher meaning ‘fit to eat’. The basic laws of Kashrut are given In the Bible and are further expanded in the Talmud. The laws fall into two categories:

1) Food prohibited under any circumstances.

2) Foods that are not categorically prohibited but which may be eaten only if prepared in a certain way.

Most of the laws of Kashrut are given in the context of holiness. Indeed, immediately following the laws of forbidden kinds we read “for I am the Lord your G‑d. Sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy” (Lev.il:44).

Respect and dignity are at the forefront of the kashrut ethos in every aspect; from the act of slaughter and the preparation of food to stimulating appetite and satisfying hunger. 

Many lessons can be learnt from the laws of Kashrut. Here are just a sample: When we buy food, prepare it and eat it, we are reminded that we live by the laws of the One who creates life and gives food and that it is only by divine sanction that we can take the life of animals for food. Indeed, killing animals for sport is expressly forbidden and only the most humane way of killing animals for food is permitted — Shechita — ritual slaughter. The laws governing Shechita insists that the act be as painless as possible and that the Shochet (the person fulfilling the act of Shechita) be a religious person to whom notion of cruelty would be abhorrent.

In addition, the moral face of the Kashrut system is underlined by the fact that not only do we discipline our own meat-eating habits but we do not eat any animals which are themselves meat-eating. The Rabbis tell us that the laws of Kashrut also teach us compassion, for example we are not permitted to slaughter a calf on the same day as it’s mother or take an egg from a nest when the mother bird is nearby. These potential acts of cruelty and harshness and are prime examples of the ethical sensitivity of Jewish law.

Finally, we are a people united as much by our stomachs as by our minds. Somehow, an awareness of others who operate within identical and very specific parameters creates a strong bond of kinship. Just as Shabbat and holiday celebrations foster a sense of ‘community’, so does personal observance of Kashrut become a tie that binds us to each other.

Hopefully, you should now have some idea of the importance of kashrut in Jewish life. To find out how you can keep kosher or become kosher whilst living on campus, read on. This booklet aims to tell you how to make your kitchen kosher, or cope within a non-kosher kitchen and once this is done what foods can be bought and how they should be prepared.