Mostly because of the health benefits asocciated to it than for religious reasons, Kosher food has been gaining a lot of popularity among non-Jewish consumers.

Kosher products are perfect for vegetarian, lactose intolerant, food allergyc or health-conscious people. Health experts note that often people who look for healthier foods also seem to buy kosher products. The word ‘kosher’ (kashér) in Hebrew means, ‘good’, ‘proper’, or ‘fit for ritual use‘, but in a broader sense it generally means legitimate, acceptable, permissible, genuine or authentic. Definitions of kosher have evolved in response to changes in the food industry, the Jewish People, and world culture.

In order to be certified as kosher, all nutritional supplements are manufactured under the supervision of a rabbi or by a kosher certification agency. Such certification gives customers an extra assurance of purity and quality.

What kind of food is kosher?

In the most strict form, Jewish Dietary Laws state that:

  • Pork, rabbit, eagle, owl, catfish, sturgeon, and any shellfish, insect or reptile are non-kosher.
  • Other species of meat and fowl must be slaughtered in a prescribed manner to be kosher.
  • Meat and dairy products may not be made or consumed together.

A kosher food that is processed or cooked together with a non-kosher food, or any derivative of a non-kosher food, becomes non-kosher. For example, food coloring derived from a shellfish and used in a cake makes the cake non-kosher.

While Jewish Dietary Laws originated in the Bible (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 17), they have been codified and interpreted over the centuries by rabbinical authorities.

What are the healty benefits of kosher food?

In 1953, Dr. David I. Macht, a Johns Hopkins University researcher, performed experiments on many different kinds of animals and fish, and concluded that the concentration of zoological toxins of the “unclean” animals was higher than that of the “clean” animals, and that the correlation with the description in Leviticus was 100%. In addition, Dr. Macht’s research indicated harmful physiological effects of mixtures of meat and milk, and ritually slaughtered meat appeared to be lower in toxins than meat from other sources. The conclusions of the paper published in Johns Hopkins Bulletin of the History of Medicine was challenged in a paper by biologists written at the request of a Seventh-day Adventist Church publication.

Kosher and Vegetarianism

Since there are few laws of kashrut restricting the consumption of plant products, many people assume that a strictly vegetarian meal would usually be inherently Kosher. In practice, however, those who follow the laws of kashrut do not automatically regard all restaurants or prepared or canned food which claim to be vegetarian as kosher, due to the likelihood that the utensils were used previously with non-kosher products, as well as the concern that there may be non-kosher ingredients mixed in, which, although they may still be considered vegetarian, would make the food not kosher. Additionally, kashrut does provide special requirements for some vegetarian products, such as milk, wine, and bread.

Many vegetarian restaurants and producers of vegetarian foods do in fact acquire a hechsher, certifying that a Rabbinical organization has approved their products as being kosher. In addition to the above concerns, the hekhsher will usually certify that certain suspect vegetables have been checked for insect infestation, and that a Jew has turned on the pilot light on the oven, to ensure that any cooked food meets the requirements of bishul Yisrael.

Most vegetables, particularly leafy vegetables (lettuce, cabbage, parsley, dill, etc.), must be thoroughly checked for insect infestation. The consumption of insects involves five violations of Torah law, so according to Jewish Law it is a greater sin than the consumption of pork. The proper procedure for inspecting and cleaning will vary by species, growing conditions, and the views of any particular rabbi.

People who have specific dietary needs should be aware that their standards for certain concepts may differ from the halachic standards for similar concepts.

  • Many coffee creamers currently sold in the United States are labeled as “non-dairy”, yet also have a “D” alongside their hechsher, which indicates a dairy status. This is because of an ingredient (usually sodium caseinate) which is derived from milk. The rabbis consider it to be close enough to milk that it cannot be mixed with meat, but the US government considers it to lack the nutritional value of milk. Such products are also unsuitable for vegans and other strict dairy abstainers.
  • On the other hand, kashrut does recognize some processes as capable of converting a meat or dairy product into a pareve one. For example, rennet is sometimes made from stomach linings, yet is acceptable for making kosher cheese, but such cheeses might not be acceptable to some vegetarians, who would eat only cheese made from a vegetarian rennin. The same applies to kosher gelatin which in some cases is an animal product, despite its pareve status.
  • Kashrut has procedures by which equipment can be cleaned of its previous non-kosher use, but that might be inadequate for vegetarians or other religions. For example, dairy manufacturing equipment can be cleaned well enough that the rabbis will grant pareve status to products manufactured afterward. Nevertheless, someone with a strong allergic sensitivity to dairy products might still react to the dairy residue, and that is why some products will have a “milk” warning on a product which is legitimately pareve.

Some Orthodox authorities have ruled that it is forbidden for an individual to become a vegetarian if they do so because they believe in animal rights; however, they have also ruled that vegetarianism is allowed for pragmatic reasons (if kosher meat is expensive or hard to come by in their area), health concerns, or for reasons of personal taste (if someone finds meat unpalatable). Some feel that the mass-slaughter of animals in this industrial age is not subject to the same scrutiny as it was in olden days, with the result that the likelihood of proper shechita is very low; some Jews abstain from meat for this reason.

Kabbalistic teachings, from Talmudic and Medieval sources, restrict the consumption of meat to only those who are spiritually highly developed. The soul of an animal is more complex than that of a vegetable, so it requires a correspondingly complex soul to consume it. Conversely, others suggest that all Jews except the spiritually highly developed can eat meat: the consumption of meat has often been seen as luxuriously indulgent, and therefore the highly spiritual would abstain from it as a form of self-denial

Kosher and animal welfare

The practice of kosher slaughter emphasizes the sharpness of the knife and the accuracy and precision of the skill of the shochet, in order to slit the jugular of the animal with an absolute minimum of pain and suffering. In general, over the years authorities have ruled that any unnecessary suffering by the animal can render otherwise kosher meat traife. Nevertheless, the method of slaughter used in strict adherence to Jewish law has been criticized as being inhumane by a number of animal rights organizations, in particular because animals are killed without the use of anesthesia (traditional kashrut would often not allow for anesthesia, as it may severely injure the animal before it is slaughtered, rendering it Treifa, and because Kashrut prohibits slaughter of an unconscious animal.) This has resulted in several restrictions or even an outright ban on kosher meat in a number of countries, sometimes encompassing related practices such as Muslim halal slaughter, though other countries grant ritualistic slaughter such as kashrut special exemption from the relevant regulations.

In some ways, modern slaughtering practices and kashrut practices clash, although both may have good intentions with respect to hygiene and animal welfare; for instance, kashrut prohibits slaughter of an unconscious animal, for reasons of avoiding consumption of a diseased animal as well as the possibility of inhumane means of anesthesia, and relies on the skill of the shochet and the sharpness of the knife to slit the jugular as painlessly as possible. On the other hand, for reasons of hygiene, modern slaughterhouse regulations prohibit the carcass of an animal from falling into the blood of another, so that animals are often suspended by a leg before being slaughtered; they would normally be stunned by a blow to the head to prevent suffering in this process, but the prohibition of slaughter of an unconscious animal prevents this for kosher slaughter. Of course, other methods of supporting the carcass of the animal after it is slaughtered are available, but since they are more expensive and not routinely used for non-kosher slaughter, slaughterhouses are reluctant to adopt them, and when they do often greatly raise the price of the meat to compensate for the non-standard technique.

Source: Wikipedia

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