3.0 Kashrut: Introduction

Why keep kosher?

The first commandment given to humankind was about food: "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die'" (Genesis 2:16-17). Why this commandment? Why not the command to till the earth and subdue it? Why not some other command? Why is this one the very first, and therefore most prominent?

Perhaps the reason is that there is nothing more personal, nothing which we are so inclined to think of as nobody's business but our own, as the question of what we choose to put in our mouths. Which of us has not grown irritated with someone who says to us, "Do you think you should eat that?" We feel intruded upon. And for many of us, even when the doctor tries to regulate our diet, we feel invaded, diminished, demoralized.

So, the command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was a relationship test in the Garden. Would Adam and Chava respect God's right to regulate their lives, even to the point of restricting their diet? They failed the test - and most of us Jews do as well, three times a day, every day. Kashrut is not primarily about food - it is all about relationship. Every time a religious Jew eats a kosher meal, she is reminded that she is a Jew, and that God is really God. And when we fail to eat like Jews, we weaken our awareness that we are part of a holy people, and that the God who established a covenant with us has rights over our lives.

Keeping kosher is also about honoring the very nature of being Jews, "a people that dwells apart, that shall not be numbered with the nations." Every time Jews eat kosher, they remind themselves, their children, and all around them that they are Jews. By eating kosher we are meant not only to stand apart from the other nations, but to stand together with each other - eating kosher is a means of group identity and cohesion. And wherever that practice is abandoned, group identity and cohesion suffers. But something far more crucial is compromised as well - the honor of God. Maybe we should paraphrase Ahad Ha'am here: "It was not the Jews who kept kosher, it was kashrut that kept the Jews."

When we eat the way Jews eat, we honor God - we tell God, ourselves, and all who observe us, that Hashem is our God and we are Hashem's people. And isn't that a good thing? Again, it's all about relationship. It's easy to say that we love God. But Yeshua reminds us that words are not enough - they never are. "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). And that applies also, even first, to food.

3.1 Kashrut: Decisions & Commentary

3.1.1 Fundamental Requirements. All pork products, shellfish, and food containing their elements (e.g., lard) are to be avoided.

All fruits, grains and vegetables are kosher. Fish with fins and scales are also kosher.

These basic laws of kashrut are first enjoined in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. However, the distinction between animals that are tahor (ritually pure) and those that are not tahor is already found in the story of Noah (Genesis 7:2). While Noah and his family are permitted to eat all animals (Genesis 9:3), only those that are tahor may be offered as sacrifices (Genesis 8:20). As a priestly people set apart for Hashem from all the nations of the world, Israel is summoned to limit the animals it consumes so that its table may be analogous to the temple altar.

While many have argued that these dietary laws have hygienic value, the Torah itself provides a different rationale: "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (Leviticus 11:44; see Deuteronomy 14:2).

Peter's vision in Acts 10 suggests that the nations of the world are now being called to share in Israel's holiness, without losing their character as nations distinct from Israel. Therefore, they may now become holy, like Israel, without adopting Israel's dietary regimen. However, Acts 10 does not imply that Israel may fulfill its own particular priestly calling apart from that regimen. Following Conservative Halakhah, we consider swordfish and sturgeon acceptable as part of our basic practice. Meats (except from the hind quarters) from cattle, lamb, goat, or deer, and from most common fowl (e.g., chicken, turkey, goose, duck) may all be eaten.

The traditional dispute over swordfish and sturgeon concerns the status of their scales. According to Ramban, the Torah refers only to scales that can be detached from the skin of the fish. The scales of the swordfish and sturgeon can be removed from the skin, but only with difficulty. Thus, Orthodox authorities generally regard these fish as non-kosher, whereas the Conservative movement has ruled them kosher.

This dispute also affects the kashrut of caviar, which is derived from sturgeon.

On the prohibition of meat from the hind quarters of permitted four-legged animals, see decision

3.1.2 Gelatin, Cheese, Wine.

3.2.1 For our basic practice we will adopt the standards of the Conservative Movement that treat all gelatin and cheese as acceptable.

"Some substances that originate in animal sources undergo such complete change as a result of chemical treatment that they can no longer be regarded as 'meat' products. This is the case with both gelatin and rennet, which Conservative authorities have ruled are kosher." (S. Dresner, Keeping Kosher [United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 2000], 63.)

3.2.2 All wines or other alcoholic beverages are acceptable. In the case of Jewish ceremonies only kosher wine or grape juice should be used.

"When wine is used for the fulfillment of a mitzvah, such as circumcision, weddings, kiddush, and havdalah, it is proper to use wine that is certified kosher" (Dresner, 64). The fact that the wine was produced by Jews and the production process supervised by Jewish religious authorities adds to the sacred character of the occasion.

3.1.3 Shechitah and Removal of Blood.

3.3.1 The most basic Biblical dietary law, addressed not only to Israel but also tothe nations of the world in Noah, involves avoiding the eating of blood (foods that are cooked in or with blood). Concern to guard this core dietary law led to the institution of shechitah - the Jewish ritual slaughter of animals (which removes the vast majority of the blood) - and the special preparation of meat (which removes the remainder). Therefore, ideally it is recommended that only meat slaughtered and packaged under reliable kosher supervision be purchased.

The prohibition of ingesting blood, enjoined on all humanity in Genesis 9:4 and confirmed in Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25, is given when human beings are first permitted to eat meat (Genesis 9:3). Permission to eat meat is a concession to the violence that precipitated the flood (Genesis 6:11, 13). The prohibition of eating blood, the one universal dietary restriction, immediately precedes the prohibition of murder (Genesis 9:5-6) - the shedding of human blood. Thus, this universal dietary law expresses the biblical value of reverence for life.

It is striking that all carnivorous animals are ritually impure, according to Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. The nations of the world are forbidden to eat the blood of animals, but Israel must go a step further - it must avoid even the meat of animals that consume the blood of other animals. In this way the value of reverence for life is doubly reinforced.

Because it is not specifically a Jewish prohibition but a universal one, the commandment not to eat blood (along with many other universal commandments) is not what we are calling here a "basic practice." It is assumed that all Yeshua-believers should desire to keep this commandment and thus, within reasonable limits, will avoid consuming blood.

The prohibition against eating blood is elucidated in Ezekiel 33:25, where the prophet speaks these words of condemnation on behalf of Hashem: "You eat with the blood" (which probably means, "You eat meat with the blood in it"). Thus, Jews must purge meat of blood to the extent that this can be reasonably accomplished. This is done through kosher slaughter and additional measures.

While shechitah refers specifically to the kosher slaughtering of an animal, in the above decision the term is used more broadly to cover both the kosher slaughtering (done by a shochet) and the processing and preparation of the meat (done by a butcher). The latter is technically called porging and involves (1) removal of residual blood remaining after shechitah; (2) removal of fats prohibited by the Torah (Leviticus 3:17); and (3) removal of the sciatic nerve, as required by Genesis 32:33 (see below). Given the evident basis of these practices in the Written Torah, the institution of shechitah should be honored among us as Messianic Jews, and if at all feasible we should seek to purchase meat slaughtered and packaged under reliable kosher supervision. Most meat labeled kosher has been salted to remove the blood. One should investigate to see if this is the case with kosher meat one has purchased. If it is not the case, one should remove the blood oneself through salting or broiling.

For a detailed description of the process of salting and boiling, see Klein, 350-57.

Liver requires broiling because of the preponderance of blood in it.

"Because it contains an excessive amount of blood, liver can be koshered only by broiling, and should not be soaked. Even if liver is to be cooked in some other way, it must first be broiled." (Dresner, 62) While the purchase of meat slaughtered and butchered under reliable kosher supervision is highly recommended, given the difficulty in many places of obtaining kosher meat our basic practice will not involve eating only such meat. It will involve urging that we avoid meat from the hind quarters of permitted four-legged animals (a practice rooted in Jacob’s injury in Genesis 32).

Cuts that are acceptable according to our basic practice include Chuck, Rib and Ribeye, Shank and Brisket, Skirt and Flank. Also permitted are London Broil (when from the shoulder), and Cubed Steak and Ground Beef (when they do not contain elements from the hindquarters).

Cuts that are to be avoided include Top Loin (Strip or Shell) Steak, T-Bone, Porterhouse, Tenderloin, Sirloin, Tri-Tip, and Round. (London Broil from the Bottom or Top Rounds are likewise to be avoided.)

The angel who wrestled with Jacob "wrenched Jacob's hip at its socket" (Genesis 32:26). The Torah tells us that this event is remembered by Jacob's descendants through a dietary restriction: "That is why the children of Israel to this day do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the socket of the hip, since Jacob's hip socket was wrenched at the thigh muscle" (Genesis 32:33). This dietary restriction remains a Jewish practice, and involves the removal of the sciatic nerve by a kosher butcher (m. Chullin 7:1-6). Since this procedure is very difficult even for a trained kosher butcher, it is customary in the diaspora to set aside the hindquarters and sell them to non-Jews.

If it is not feasible to obtain kosher meat or practice vegetarianism, and if we purchase meat of permitted animals from another source, our basic practice - in accordance with Genesis 32:33 - entails avoiding meat from the hindquarters.

3.1.4 Separating Meat and Dairy.

Our basic practice involves avoiding the consumption of meat products (including fowl) and obvious dairy products (or foods containing obvious dairy products) together in a given meal. Meat may be eaten after eating obvious dairy foods without any time interval, though they should not be present together at the same table. After eating a meat meal, the minimum time interval before eating obvious dairy products should be one hour.

By "obvious dairy products," we mean milk and milk products such as cheese, butter, yogurt, and ice cream. Some products normally considered "nondairy" (some nondairy creamers, margarine, dessert toppings) actually contain dairy derivatives, and so are technically not pareve (containing neither dairy nor meat). Such products are not included in "obvious dairy products."

The separation of meat and dairy products is associated with the Torah's prohibition of eating a kid cooked in its mother's milk (Exodus 23:19; 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21). The Mishnah states: "No flesh may be cooked with milk save the flesh of fish and locusts; and it is forbidden to serve it up together with cheese upon the table excepting the flesh of fish and locusts" (m. Chullin 8:1). While such separation is not obviously implicit in the biblical text, it should be respected as an ancient fence around the biblical prohibition that is firmly grounded in Jewish tradition and practice. (The sages themselves viewed this as a ruling of the Written Torah.)

The separation of meat and dairy products is also rich in symbolic significance. As noted above (5.3.1), permission to eat meat is a concession to the violence that precipitated the flood. In the creation narrative human beings are assigned an exclusively vegetarian diet (Genesis 1:29). While the laws of kashrut do not impose a return to that pristine regimen, their fundamental concern is the limitation of meat consumption. Only certain animals may be eaten, and even they must be slaughtered and prepared in a certain fashion (or they are also excluded). Now we add a further restriction – that even properly slaughtered and prepared meat cannot be consumed with dairy products. This final limitation points us back to the original reason for restricting the consumption of meat: reverence for life. As dairy products symbolize the nurturing of new life, it is fitting that they not be mixed with foods which require the taking of life.

The inclusion of fowl in this prohibition is a further rabbinic fence, and is acknowledged as such by the sages (b. Chullin 113a). It was reasonable to group fowl together with beef, lamb, etc., and to distinguish both from fish, as the first two groups are both subject to the laws of shechitah, while fish are not. The inclusion of fowl in the separation of meat and dairy is as established in Jewish tradition as the separation itself, and as such deserves our respect. It also contributes to the primary symbolic significance of the custom, and of the dietary laws as a whole - reverence for life.

No particular time limit between eating meat and dairy products is specified in the Talmud. Therefore, a variety of customs developed in Jewish communities around the world. In some places the minimum interval was as long as six hours; in other places it was as short as one hour. In keeping with our principle of establishing a basic practice that is as accessible as possible, we have adopted the most lenient custom as our basic practice.

3.1.5 Eating in Restaurants.

When eating out, the above standards may be relaxed, but one should continue to avoid all meat (and meat-products) from non-kosher animals (e.g., pig, shellfish). Beyond this basic practice, we commend the eating of non-meat meals when eating in non-kosher facilities.

The practice commended here (but not included as basic practice) is taught within the Conservative movement: "If it is necessary to dine in non-kosher facilities, meat and dishes containing meat may not be eaten. Some sanction only the eating of cold foods, such as salads, if the food contains no forbidden ingredients. Others approve eating permitted fish and other foods, even if cooked" (Dresner, 64).

3.1.6 Medications and Nutritional Supplements.

In keeping with the views of many halakhic authorities, as our basic practice there are no restrictions on medicines and nutritional supplements derived from non-kosher animals when consumed in pill/capsule or elixir form.

"Beyond the question of medical need, the question is whether we are eating food: swallowing without chewing may not be considered eating, and a foul-tasting substance may not be considered food...Pills that are swallowed whole rather than chewed need not be kosher (since they are not being eaten in the usual way), but pills that are chewed should be kosher. Liquids with a very unpleasant taste need not be kosher, but pleasant tasting liquids should be kosher" (Yehuda Wiesen, Guide to Practical Halacha and Home Ritual for Conservative Jews [2004], 12-13).