- Illustrations by: Amihai Green
© Jewish Museum Berlin
Kosher - What is it?
Information on the Jewish dietary laws
Kosher has a lot to do with food. The Torah says: life is sacred. It tells us not only to look after people, but also treat animals and plants with great care. And this is why the Torah contains rules that help us to do this. Do you know what you are eating? Did the animal that you are eating have a good life? Was it truly healthy when it was slaughtered? And how exactly was it slaughtered? Things which according to the Torah rules can be eaten are called kosher, and things which should not be eaten are called treyf.
The Torah explains which animals are kosher and which are not. Kosher animals are ruminants, in other words they chew cud, and they have split hooves, such as sheep or cows. Pigs are not ruminants, so they are not kosher. Animals that live in water can only be eaten if they have fins and scales. This means that shrimps, prawns and squid are not fish in the true sense, and so they are just as non-kosher as the eel which has lost its fins through evolution.
Another rule applies to the way milk and meat are prepared and eaten. The Torah says: do not cook a kid-goat in its mother's milk. The elders spent a lot of time discussing what this could mean. They finally agreed that milk and meat should be prepared and eaten seperately. That's why you won't find veal ragout in cream sauce or cheeseburgers on the table of a religious family. Foods which are neither milky nor meaty are considered neutral, or parve. They include fruit and vegetables, for instance.
Today many people think that these ancient rules were developed especially for hygienic or health reasons. They also point out the dangers of various animal diseases or the lack of refrigerators. But no explanations of this kind can in fact be found for the old rules governing food. When religious people observe these rules, it means that they bless each day, and live each day with great awareness.