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How to Start Keeping Kosher


Adapted from “Jewish Living Now: Kashrut – Moving up the Ladder,” a United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism pamphlet

By integrating the Jewish dietary laws into our lives and our communities, add a level of kedusha (holiness) into our daily routine, affirming our Jewishness, as well as making a conscious commitment to the preciousness of life. If you have never kept kosher, it may seem like an insurmountable task – getting new dishes, depriving your family of certain foods, discarding some of your favorite recipes, shopping for food with greater care. The key is to enjoy each new step. Only by progressing gradually, advancing to a new step only when ready will it be possible to retain a sense of meaningful observance, rather than feeling you are adding a new burden to your life.
Moving on the ladder of holiness step-by-step is not hypocritical. It is a way to grow in observance.


Step 1: Don’t eat pork

The first rung up the ladder of kashrut observance is the abstinence from all pork products. Although pork has no greater biblical significance than any other unkosher meat it has become a symbol of kashrut. Not only are pigs the first animals thought of when kashrut is discussed, but historically, forcing Jews to eat pork has been a form of persecution since the time of the Maccabees. As a first step towards keeping kosher, refrain from eating pig products: e.g., ham, bacon, pork chops, etc. This simple step will force you to think about what you are eating and how that fits in with your commitment to living a Jewish life.


Step 2: Don’t Eat Shell Fish

While pork is the best-known of the forbidden foods, many others exist. Of these, shellfish are the most commonly eaten in America and Canada today. Therefore, avoiding all shellfish should be the second step up the ladder of kashrut observance. Generally, we are permitted to eat fish with fins and scales – e.g., tuna and salmon. Fish without either fins or scales are forbidden. This includes clams, oysters, mussels, crab, lobster, octopus, squid, etc.


Step 3: Eat only Biblically Permitted Meats

The next rung in Kashrut commitment is the eating of only “biblically permitted” meat. The only kosher animals are certain poultry and land mammals that have cloven hooves and chew their cud. Some refer to this level of kosher as “biblical kashrut” because it entails eating only those animals permitted in the Torah. For example, a pig has cloven hooves, but does not chew its cud, therefore it is not considered kosher. A full observance of kashrut requires the kosher slaughter of animals.


Step 4: Separate Milk and Meat

After becoming comfortable with the avoidance of prohibited foods, it is time to move on to the next rung of kashrut observance – the separation of milk and meat. “Milk” in the context of kashrut refers to any food product which contains either milk or milk derivatives.  “Meat” refers to all meat and meat derivatives. (Please note that within Kashrut, poultry (e.g., chickens and turkey) are considered to be meat. Fish is considered to be neither milk nor meat). Kashrut forbids us from mixing the two categories of food together either in cooking or in eating. Examine food packages carefully to see if they contain milk or meat derivatives. If a kosher product is marked “pareve” this means that it is neither a milk or meat product and can be eaten with either category of foods.


Step 5: Wait Between Milk and Meat

Once you have adjusted to modifying your diet to the standards of kashrut observance, there are behavioral changes that you need to consider. Observe a waiting period between eating a meat meal and any dairy product. This waiting period can remind us that animals are living creatures and nourished by milk. There are many traditions as to the correct time to wait between milk and meat. Many observant Jews, however, wait anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. There does not have to be a waiting period after a dairy meal.


Step 6: Look for the Kosher Label

When shopping, purchase only food that has a kosher label on it. A kosher label tells you that the food was produced or prepared under the supervision of a specific rabbinic authority. The kosher label will assure you that the product does not contain any derivatives from unkosher sources. It also may inform you if the food item is pareve (neither milk nor meat).


Step 7: Eat Only Kosher Meat

The next step is to eat only kosher meat. The kosher status of meat is determined both by the species of animal (e.g., no pork products) and by the method of slaughter. To be kosher an animal must be slaughtered by a shochet, a slaughterer knowledgeable in the laws of kashrut. The knife used must be sharp with no imperfections, and the animal must be killed with one cut severing its throat. This minimizes the animal’s pain while also draining the blood from the meat. In addition, the meat must be soaked in water and salted to remove any remaining blood. It is only after all these steps are followed that the meat is considered fit, “kosher,” and can be eaten. (Most kosher meat is now soaked and salted before purchase.)


Step 8: Kasher Your Kitchen

Kashering your kitchen is an important step in the ladder of commitment. Now that you have changed your diet and eating habits, you should look into the acquisition of separate dishes to be used for milk and meat meals. Your kitchen should also be kashered, cleansed of any unkosher foods, or remnants. Your rabbi and synagogue may have resources available to help you in the kashering process.