Jewish Dietary Consideration


Kosher, Kashrut and Pareve

Judaism features a set of complex dietary laws, known as kashrut. Food that may be consumed under the kashrut is called kosher, which means ‘fit for consumption.’ Foods labeled kosher are prepared under strict guidelines during the entire supply chain, from harvest or slaughter to preparation, packaging, and food combinations.

Another important concept is pareve, which is food that contains neither meat nor dairy.

Many Jews don’t follow a strictly kosher diet. However, most Jews follow some guidelines, in particular abstaining from pork and shellfish. When in doubt, it’s best to serve only foods that are labeled kosher, and/or consult with a rabbi or other expert on Jewish dietary laws.

Animal Products

Jewish dietary laws focus primarily on animal products, including meat, fish and milk. Kashrut prohibits the consumption of certain animals (such as pork and shellfish), as well as the mixing of meat and milk, either in a recipe or by drinking milk with a meat dish. Strict guidelines govern slaughter and meat preparation.

Most fish is considered kosher, while catfish and most other seafood is forbidden.

Pareve is a key concept that means neither meat nor dairy, as well as foods containing neither meat nor dairy. Although fish and eggs are animal products, they are neither meat nor dairy and thus considered pareve.

Under Jewish law, bread must be pareve, which means it should contain no meat or dairy – including butter – and may not be produced on equipment used for dairy or meat.

Fully Versus Partially Kosher

There are about 15 million Jews worldwide, including 6.4 million in Israel, and 5.3 million in the United States.

In the United States, it’s estimated that 1/6th of Jews adhere to a strictly kosher diet. However, many Jews who don’t follow a fully-kosher diet, abstain from some prohibited foods. This is most commonly avoiding pork and shellfish, as well as not consuming meat and milk at the same meal.

A survey found that 22% of American Jews claim to follow a kosher diet at home. Many Jews observe kashrut partially, for example following kosher guidelines at home, while also dining at non-kosher restaurants.

Many non-Jews also prefer kosher or pareve foods. Muslims, Hindus and people with dairy allergies often consider the kosher-pareve designation an assurance that a food contains no animal-derived ingredients. According to one estimate, there are about 14 million kosher consumers in the United States, of which only 15% are Jewish. Kosher-pareve foods may contain honey, eggs, or fish, so vegans and strict vegetarians cannot rely on the certification.

Complex Laws

Jewish dietary laws are complex. Jewish scholars debate whether the rules are for health reasons, a test of religious compliance, or other factors.

Some of the laws governing animal products govern
-permitted and forbidden animals and seafood
-method of slaughter
-slaughtering by non-Jews
-which meat cuts are kosher, which are not
-meat processing, notably salting to remove blood

In brief, kosher meat must be from animals that have cloven hooves and are ruminants. Seafood is kosher only if it has fins and scales. Thus catfish, shellfish and other non-fish aquatic life is prohibited.

Kashrut also forbids non-meat foods that contain non-kosher animal ingredients. Common offenders include some kinds of bread, cheese, milk and wine.

Other laws govern
-checking seeds, nuts and vegetables for insects
-use of utensils
-when food is prepared
-when certain foods, notable grain, may be eaten
-where food is eaten: dietary laws outside Israel are more generally more relaxed

Holiday Fasts and Considerations

Some Jewish holidays include either dietary restrictions or celebrations. For example, Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av require fasting.

Passover has special dietary rules. The most important is the prohibition on eating leavened bread or derivatives of this, which are known as chametz. Utensils used in preparing and serving chametz are also forbidden on Passover unless they have been ritually cleansed (kashered). Observant Jews often keep separate sets of meat and dairy utensils for use during Passover. In addition, some groups follow various eating restrictions on Passover that go beyond the rules of kashrut, such as not eating or garlic or soaked matzo.