Frequently Asked Questions – Kosher Certification

Frequently Asked Questions

Does “kosher” mean better quality?
Food that is certified kosher does not necessarily mean it’s going to taste better. Kosher means separated for holiness. The Torah equates kosher eating with being holy. The basis for this can be found in the Book of Exodus when God commands: “And you shall be holy people unto Me; therefore you shall not eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field.” Jewish people are commanded to only use foods that the Torah has declared kosher, to prepare them according to the way the Torah permits, and to keep them separate from non-kosher foods.

Does the rabbi bless the food to make it kosher?
There is no blessing a rabbi (or any human) can say to make food kosher. Kosher food is defined in the Torah. Animals have to be slaughtered in a certain way to make their meat kosher. The role of the kosher supervisor is to ensure that the food is kosher and remains so. Jewish people do say a blessing before they eat and at the conclusion of the meal.

Why do Jewish people keep kosher?
Not all Jewish people observe the kosher laws. There are also levels of observance among Jewish people from different cultural backgrounds, geographic locations, and religious denominations. Similarly, Jewish people may cite different reasons why they keep kosher. Generally, Jewish people observe the kosher laws because these laws have the weight of biblical commandments from God. Some Jewish people may observe these laws because it is part of their heritage, or due to communal or familial expectations.

Do only Jewish people keep kosher?
Studies have shown that 80% of kosher consumers are not Jewish. People purchase kosher food for health, lifestyle, and dietary reasons. Some people may only purchase kosher food because someone they live with is kosher observant, or because they want kosher observant friends and relatives to feel comfortable eating in their home.

Do kosher restaurant owners and kosher food producers have to be ethical?
This is currently a matter of great debate. International news headlines were made recently uncovering the federal indictment and eventual imprisonment of the owner of the largest kosher meat processing company in theUnited States. The revelation of ethical and legal improprieties in the kosher food industry has led some Jewish leaders to call for clear ethical standards that must be followed by those in the kosher food business. A new ethical seal, Magen Tzedek, signifying that kosher food has been prepared with the highest degree of integrity was recently implemented. On the other side of the debate are those who argue that food is kosher so long as it adheres to the strict definitions outlined in the Torah and the Jewish code of law, regardless of the role of ethics in the production or sale of the food.

Are Orthodox rabbis the only ones who can certify foods as kosher?
Orthodox rabbis have long had a monopoly on the certification and supervision of kosher food. This is no longer the case. Throughout theUnited States, rabbis of other religious denominations are certifying kosher food products, stores, and restaurants at a growing rate. The largest kosher certification company remains the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, but there is much competition in the kosher certification world. SomeU.S. states have laws favoring kosher certification by the Orthodox, but the constitutionality of these laws are being challenged as they constitute state entanglement in religion.

Are there different levels of kosher observance?
Yes. Like any religion, there are differing interpretations of the law. Some Jewish people adhere to a very strict form of kosher observance, limiting their food consumption to the home and only eating food products that are held to the highest levels of kosher standards. On the other side of the spectrum are Jewish people who self-identify as kosher observers, but are lenient in their adherence to the laws. In between these two extremes are many levels of kosher observance.

Why are there so many kosher symbols?
A kosher symbol on a food product (or other kitchen and household products) indicates that the product is certified as kosher by an agency. The symbol indicates which agency certifies the product. Throughout the world, there are hundreds of kosher certification companies, and thus, hundreds of symbols. To know which symbols to trust for your community, contact your local rabbinic authority.

Why are Jewish people not permitted to mix dairy and meat products?
Meat (the flesh of birds and mammals) cannot be eaten with dairy products based on the biblical pronouncement not to cook a calf in its mother’s milk.

It is permissible to eat soy products that look like non-kosher food, such as fake pepperoni? It is permissible to eat cheese on a veggie burger? Or faux meat (soy) with cheese?
Soy is pareve (neither meat nor dairy) and can be used to create food items that resemble non-kosher products in both sight and taste. Some kosher observers are uncomfortable eating a piece of pizza that has pepperoni-looking soy as a topping. Similarly, some find it distasteful to put cheese on a veggie (soy) burger or fake cheese on real meat. Further, some believe that this is a case of marit ayin (appearance of impropriety), as the casual observer may suspect these dishes are not kosher. Others find this to be innovative and are comfortable with it. Several years ago, when margarine was introduced to the marketplace, many kosher observant Jews would only put it on the table when a meat meal was being served if it was wrapped in its packaging displaying the label, lest anyone think it was butter. Ultimately, this is a matter of taste.

Can businesses owned by Jewish people be open on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays?
“selling” their food items prohibited on Passover to non-Jews for the duration of the holiday. A lease arrangement is an appropriate mechanism for an agreement between a Jewish person and a non-Jew for a Shabbat contract. The contract takes effect several hours before Shabbat or a holiday and terminates several hours after the onset of business on the next business day (based on Orah Hayyim 243).

Why do some kosher observant people eat in restaurants that aren’t certified kosher? 
There are different levels of kosher observance. Some individuals are lenient in their observance and find it permissible to eat certain food items in a restaurant that is not certified kosher. This is risky behavior as there are opportunities for non-kosher food items to contaminate items that are inherently kosher. Further, there is no supervising agent to ensure the permissibility of the prepared food. For further information on this subject, consider the opinions of Rabbi Barry Leff (Conservative) and Rabbi David Sperling (Orthodox).

How does a kitchen become kosher?
A kitchen (residential and industrial) that is not kosher can become kosher through the process of kashering. Ovens, stove tops, microwaves, sinks, vessels (pots and pans), silverware, and nonporous counters are all made kosher through specific techniques including cleaning, boiling water, heating (with ovens and blow torches). Consult your local rabbinic authority for guidance.

What are the different designations of kosher food (glattmehadrin, etc.) 
The technical definition of “glatt kosher” is meat from animals with smooth or defect-free lungs, but today the term glatt kosher is often used informally to imply that a product was processed under a stricter standard of kashrut. Mehadrin refers to the most stringent level of kosher supervision. The word mehadrin literally means beautified or embellished. Additionally, there are certain categories of specific food items that are held to higher standards including pat yisrael (grain-products that were baked with the participation of a Jewish person), chalav yisrael (dairy products, including cheese, which have been produced under the supervision of a Jewish person), and other categories including yayin mevushal (wine that is cooked in the production process).

What happens to a kosher certified business on Passover?
If the kosher certified business is owned by a non-Jewish person, then it may remain open on Passover and continue selling products as normal. A sign should be posted informing the public that the food is not kosher for Passover. If the business is owned by a Jewish person, the lease agreement is in effect during the holiday and the non-kosher for Passover products should be sold to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday. A sign should be posted informing the public that the food is not kosher for Passover.

How can I make my home kosher? 
The National Jewish Outreach Program has an informative website to help individuals make their homes kosher.

How can I make my business kosher?
If you produce a food item or own a restaurant, bakery, or store and wish to have your business certified kosher, contact Kosher Michigan to discuss the opportunities.

It is permissible to take medication that is not certified kosher?
Some prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, and vitamins are made with ingredients that are not considered kosher including animal products. There are various opinions as to the permissibility of taking these medications and vitamins. Contact your local rabbinic authority.

Do all products require kosher certification?
There are some products that do not require kosher certification if they do not have additives, and, if food items, are not a product ofIsrael. These include, but are not limited to, plain applesauce, baking soda, coffee, beer, corn meal, corn starch, pure honey, molasses, plain canned vegetables, raw grains, raw peas, salt, sugar, and tea.

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