The Hebrew word kosher means “fit.” The kosher laws define the foods that are fit for consumption for a Jew.
The kosher laws were commanded by G-d to the Children of Israel in the Sinai desert.Moses taught them to the people and wrote the basics of these laws in Leviticus 11 andDeuteronomy 14; the details and particulars were handed down through the generations and eventually written down in the Mishnah and Talmud. To these were added various ordinances enacted through the generations by the rabbinical authorities as “safeguards” for the biblical laws.
Throughout our 4000-year history, the observance of kosher has been a hallmark of Jewish identity. Perhaps more than any other “mitzvah,” the kosher laws emphasize that Judaism is much more than a “religion” in the conventional sense of the word. To the Jew, holiness is not confined to holy places and times outside the everyday; rather, life in its totality is a sacred endeavor. Even the seemingly mundane activity of eating is a G-dly act and a uniquely Jewish experience.
Keeping kosher is a mitzvah, a divine “commandment” and “connection.” We eat kosher because G-d commanded us to, and by fulfilling the divine will we connect to G-d.
Our sages also point out the various advantages of the kosher laws: the health benefits, the humane treatment of animals, their unifying effect on a dispersed people, and their role as shield against assimilation.Nachmanides, the great 12th century sage and kabbalist, points out that “the birds and many of the mammals forbidden by the Torah are predators, while the permitted animals are not; we are instructed not to eat those animals, so that we should not absorb these qualities into ourselves.” Kashrut can thus be seen as “spiritual nutrition”: just as there are foods that are good for the body and foods that are harmful, there are foods that nourish the Jewish soul and foods that adversely affect it.
None of the above, however, are “reasons” we keep kosher. Rather, the reverse is true: because it was commanded by the Creator of our bodies and our souls, the kosher way of life will obviously be beneficial to both.
- The meat, milk and eggs of certain species of animal are permitted for consumption, while others are forbidden. In addition, a series of laws govern how the animal should be killed and which parts of the animal can be eaten.
- Meat and milk are never combined. Separate utensils are used for each, and a waiting period is observed between eating them.
- Fruits, vegetables and grains are basically always kosher, but must be insect free. Wine or grape juice, however, must be certified kosher.
- Since even a small trace of a non-kosher substance can render a food not kosher, all processed foods and eating establishments require certification by a reliable rabbi or kashrut supervision agency.
Written by rabbi Y Tauber and the Judaism website, Chabad.org.
For more information visit http://www.chabad.org/generic_cdo/aid/113424/jewish/Kosher.htm