What Does Kosher Mean Anyway?

by Lindsay Shapka in ,


“That’s definitely not kosher… but I like it!” Matt uttered under his breath as he shamelessly stared at a tiny blond girl walking by wearing a skirt so short that it could have been mistaken for a loin cloth. 

I reached across the table and smacked him on the arm. 

He grabbed his bicep faking pain, then smiled and turned back to his cappuccino and our conversation.

Though I tried to focus on what he was telling me (some story involving a girl, a bar and a taxi), his comment had started me thinking.

It wasn’t the first time that I had heard the word ‘kosher’ used to describe an act, incident or piece of clothing, but it was the first time that I realized I didn’t actually know what that word meant.

I had to wonder; was Matt just throwing a phrase he had overheard around, or did I have to admit that he — who had spilt coffee down his shirt twice in half an hour — actually knew something I didn’t?  

It was time to do some research…

According to the website Judaism 101, ‘kosher’ describes a set of biblical dietary restrictions.

Contrary to popular belief, though they may recite blessings over a dinner table, rabbis do not bless food to make it kosher, and the word ‘kosher’ does not describe a style of cooking. Chinese food can be kosher if it is made in accordance with Jewish law and on the flip side, typical Jewish food like bagels can be non-kosher if prepared incorrectly. 

I have discovered 8 general rules to eating kosher:

  1. Only animals with cloven hooves who chew their cud can be eaten (that means no camel, badger, hare or pig burgers allowed). Aquatic animals with fins and scales are fine, but shellfish are a no-no. Birds of prey, scavengers, rodents, reptiles, amphibians and insects are forbidden (Indiana Jones is definitely not Jewish). 
  2.  Animals must not have died from a natural death or been killed by another animal. There must be no diseases in their organs and they must be killed quickly with a deep stroke across the throat. 
  3. There is a belief in Judaism that an animals life (aka soul) is contained in the blood, so all of it must be drained before the meat can be eaten.
  4. You must not eat the sciatic nerve or blood-vessels surrounding it, and the fat that surrounds the vital organs is off limits.
  5. All fruits and vegetables are kosher but not the bugs that crawl on them so they must be inspected.
  6.  Meat and dairy must never be eaten together.
  7. Dish-ware touched by dairy can never be touched by meat and vice versa. 
  8. Grape products like wine and juice, made by non-Jews are forbidden. (This rule stems back to ancient pagan religions’ use of wine in ritual). 

So… this seems like it would be a lot of work and would make it pretty difficult to eat in restaurants or at dinner parties thrown by non-Jewish friends. After reading through all of these rules, I can’t help but wonder WHY?

The short answer? Because the Torah (essentially the Jewish Bible) says so. 

Apparently, the Torah does not actually give reasons for these rules and many adherents believe that following the rules without needing reasons shows obedience to God. 

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

So technically — in an extremely roundabout way if you really think about it — the phrase that Matt used to describe the skirt, though it might be slightly offensive, kind of works… just don’t tell him I said so.