Written by Pierce Lydon • December 22, 2022
Many of us have a baseline understanding of what “keeping kosher” means. People who eat kosher do so as part of a Jewish cultural lifestyle. Eating kosher means adhering to the religious rules and tradition of Judaism, and is a way for Jewish people to practice their religion.
But when planning a meal for a group, would you know how to ensure that you have kosher options? Read on to find the answers to the top three questions about keeping kosher.
The word “kosher” has origins in the Hebrew word for “pure, proper, suitable for eating.” In the Torah, which is the religious text of Judaism, there are rules shared about ways of eating. This includes the rules that make up kosher eating.
Kosher eating falls along a spectrum. There are many ways to eat kosher, and some people adhere to certain kosher practices but not others. This largely depends on their culture and religiosity, and can change over time. It’s important to keep in mind that kosher eating isn’t necessarily restricting yourself to only a few foods - there are so many foods that are kosher, and, when eaten with intentionality, there’s no shortage of yummy foods to enjoy.
A kosher rule of thumb is to avoid combining meat and dairy. Kosher also has implications for the ways that food is processed and prepared, especially meat but other foods as well. There are rules about which animals are kosher - as well as rules about how to butcher animals’ meat to make it kosher.
Because eating kosher looks differently for different groups of Jewish people, here are three categories that are commonly found across the country:
Kosher-style food isn’t necessarily following the rules of kosher, but is typically associated with Jewish culture. Examples of kosher-style food are bagels with lox or matzo ball soup. While most of the food in this category are or could be kosher, they aren’t necessarily always certified kosher. Sometimes, people who eat kosher-style will mix meat and dairy or eat an animal that wouldn’t be considered kosher according to the Torah, depending on the situation or their personal preferences.
When food is certified kosher, it comes with approval by an agency that employs rabbis to oversee the production and processing of the food. These rabbis verify the ingredients of the food item and oversee the facility that produced it. Generally, they’re ensuring that all machinery remains untouched non-kosher foods.
You’ve likely seen the symbols that communicate that a food is certified kosher on packaged goods - next time you have a box of crackers, look for the circled U that indicates that it’s kosher.
General kosher eating requires all animals to be butchered and processed in a certain way - away from non-kosher foods or apart from dairy - for it to retain its kosher status. Glatt kosher takes meat processing a step further to ensure that the animal has blemish-free lungs. Having smooth lungs means that the animal remains “pure” - remember, “kosher” means “suitable for eating,” which means free of disease or damage. When thinking about this practice in a historical context, we can imagine how important it was for communities to avoid ingesting diseases, as they didn’t have the medicines that we have today. By examining the lungs of the animal, they can spot what looks edible and what looks a bit suspect.
While kosher eating may sound restrictive, there are actually many foods that those who keep kosher can have!
Here are the foods that are naturally kosher, unless they come in contact with non-kosher foods:
And here are some foods to avoid if you’re eating kosher:
Of note, however, is that during Jewish holidays like Passover, the rules for what can be eaten and needs to be avoided change.
To ensure that a group meal is kosher for those who maintain a kosher diet, check the ingredients for anything that could break the meat-dairy separation rule. For many dishes, you can swap out dairy for a dairy substitute or meat for a meat substitute. If you find that one specific food item cannot be altered to accommodate kosher restrictions, label the foods accordingly so your kosher friends can identify and avoid those foods that aren’t kosher. If you’re bringing a snack into the office or to a party, check for the certified kosher symbol. There are lots of options out there for kosher chips, crackers, breads, and more!
Hack: all vegan food is at least kosher style, so if you’re not quite sure how to proceed with offering kosher options, you can pick out a delicious vegan meal!
By offering kosher options, you’re making meals and events inclusive for all. Many people who eat kosher will appreciate the extra effort you’re going through so that everyone feels welcome at the table.