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Can someone explain eating Kosher to me? (split from Ontario board)

  • jayt90 Jan 23, 2010 04:21 PM

I have always respected this tradition (no dairy and meat served together) when eating in Jewish households or restaurants, but frankly I don't understand why. Can anyone explain?

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  1. long story short:
    its one of a handful of commandments from the Torah where there is no reason or logic behind it - you are just told to do it because it is what God commands.
    the actual commandment is “You shall not seethe a kid [young goat] in his mother’s milk.” Rabbis took that commandment and interpreted it to mean that you cannot eat meat and then milk within close proximity (1-6 hrs, depending on the strictness of what you practice).
    It was also debated if this extends to poultry and it was decided that, while eating cold chicken with milk is fine, it would cause too much confusion, so ANY meats cannot be consumed before eating milk.
    but...
    you can have milk, have a drink of water and then eat meat immediately after.

    the restaurant problem is that you cannot easily serve milk and meat in the same restaurant and kitchen. the logistics make it incredibly difficult - you could not serve cheesecake to a diner who just ate a steak. so you find that all kosher restaurants are either meat-serving or parve (neither milk or meat) or dairy.

    other laws of kashrut include: eating meat from animals that have split hooves and are rudamentary beasts (i.e. no pork or horse), not eating insects or bottom-feeding seafood, no eating birds of prey and no eating scale-less fish (sharks, swordfish, etc)

    7 Replies
    1. re: atomeyes

      Horses don't have split hooves and are not ruminants, so I don't think there's an issue with horse meat.

      1. re: JamieK

        sorry, what?
        you have to be a rudamentary animal and have split hooves to be kosher. therefore, horse is not.

        http://www.ou.org/kosher/kosherqa/foo...

        a list for you.

      2. re: atomeyes

        Of course, "it depends" :-)

        Most of the restaurants serving "Jewish food" in Toronto aren't kosher; some of the restaurants in Toronto that are kosher do not serve particularly "Jewish food".

        Insects are not kosher, mostly, but I understand that locusts are kosher, and possibly some grasshoppers also.

        Fish are a really interesting food source to debate. Carp, a quintessentially "Jewish food" fish found in gefilte fish everywhere, is a bottom feeder if ever there was. I'm pretty sure that halibut, flounder, and sole hang around down there as well.

        And sturgeon, oh my! Smoked sturgeon (and sturgeon caviar) were served at all kinds of upscale kosher supervised mitzvas when I was a child. I'd love to hear the rabbinical debates about the nature and qualifications of sturgeon scales (or the lack thereof).

        1. re: embee

          "Traditionally fins has been interpreted as referring to translucent fins. The Mishnah claims that all fish with scales will also have fins, but that the reverse is not always true[63]; for the latter case, the Talmud argues that ritually clean fish have a distinct spinal column and flatish face, while ritually unclean fish don't have spinal columns and have pointy heads[64], which would define the Shark and Sturgeon (and related fish) as ritually unclean. Nevertheless, Aaron Chorin, a prominent 19th-century rabbi and reformer, declared that the Sturgeon was actually ritually pure, and hence permissible to eat[65]. Many Conservative rabbis now view these particular fish as being kosher[66], but most Orthodox rabbis do not[67]. The question for sturgeon is particularly significant as most caviar consists of sturgeon eggs, and therefore cannot be kosher if the sturgeon itself is not."

        2. re: atomeyes

          no reason or logic to it?? surely you havent studied the topic

          1. re: atomeyes

            The meat/dairy requirements extend to the dishes also. One set for meat and one set for dairy is the norm in most kosher homes.

            1. re: KristieB

              Plus one set for the take out Chinese food.

          2. It's a spiritual thing with no actual logic behind it. Taken literally, you can't cook a baby goat in the milk of its mother. So the milk/meat rules wouldn't apply to any other meat, including, for example, a rotisseried baby goat.

            There is much disagreement about what foods are kosher, in what combinations, and under what circumstances. Jews have, shall we say, a propensity to disagree - at least when non-Jews aren't listening. It comes down to this: most non-Orthodox Jews who still keep kosher decide these things for themselves. The Orthodox and beyond listen to THEIR rabbi, and rabbis don't always agree.

            Atomeyes describes the role of rabbinical interpretation, but it's not quite that simple. For the best sense of this, I'd suggest two reference sources:

            The Passover Haggadah describes the plagues visited on the Egyptians. Supposedly there were ten - before the rabbinical interpreters got involved. See the site www.aish.com/h/pes/h/48959306.html to understand my point.

            "Born to Kvetch", by Canadian author Michael Wex, a surprising best seller, explains the rules, the psychology, and the absurdities that surround keeping kosher. Some of this book is hard slogging, but much of it is hilarious.

            Goat is a kosher animal, but I've never seen kosher slaughtered goat for sale in Toronto - though most goat sold in Toronto is halal. For the OP, this could be used as an example of "Jewish food" customs - throughout the diaspora, goat has apparently never been part of the Jewish diet, I'd say by pure coincidence.

            From a Chow perspective, it's something like this:

            United Bakers sells only foods that comply with the spirit of the kosher rules. I'd call the style "dairy-deli", and this cuisine is a significant part of the classic, now nearly defunct, North American Jewish food experience. They don't serve any meat products, or anything that would have been considered treif in 1950's New York. United Bakers is NOT considered kosher in Toronto, 2010. Have lunch there on Saturday to get the entire experience - the "social interactions" you'll see are a much a part of Jewish food traditions as the food itself.

            The (sadly defunct) Boujadi Moroccan restaurant sold only kosher meats and other foods and used no milk products. They could not get certified as kosher because they opened on Shabbat. The rabbinical interpretation that permits New York's kosher Second Av Deli to open on the Sabbath is not shared by the certifying agency in Toronto.

            34 Replies
            1. re: embee

              embee, I am merely curious, but may I ask what you observe personally? I think from other posts that you refrain from pork. Do you do more than that? Why or why not?

              More generally, why do Jews who don't observe the other dietary restrictions often still observe the restriction on pork? Is it partly due to the greater number of scriptural references to the observance around pork (for example in 2 Maccabees)? Are there other reasons? I know several Jews who will go out and eat dairy and meat and lobster etc. . . who will still avoid pork strenuously.

              1. re: Atahualpa

                Kashrut aside, there is a strong cultural/familial imperative not to eat pork. That plays itself out in different ways. Many Jews who do not keep kosher at all retain certain variations on its restrictions. Some Jews who will eat in McDonald's will not order a cheeseburger because cheese on meat is "disgusting." Some who will eat sausage and bacon consider a pork chop forbidden. My aunt, for one, would never allow recognizable cuts of pork in her home but sausage was just fine. I had to walk out of an Italian cooking class where I was staging when the pork roast braised in milk was cooking. I felt sick to my stomach and was told that I looked green. The idea actually made me physically ill. Needless to say, I don't keep kosher at all.

                These are remanants of strong family and cultural traditions that just seem hardwired into many of us.

                1. re: rockycat

                  Indeed and fair enough.

                  As a person who will eat just about anything, I sometimes forget the power of a food taboo. I had some of my closest friends look green simply when I told them that I had eaten horse tartare.

                2. re: Atahualpa

                  I'm a "secular Jew". I grew up with strong cultural traditions that are very much a part of me today. However, my food preferences have little personal religious or cultural significance. I definitely do not keep kosher.

                  I don't eat pork because I was convinced from my earliest childhood - with constant reinforcement - that pigs are disgusting animals and not fit to eat. It's a psychological quirk that I recognize as silly, but I doubt it will ever go away.

                  Pigs may be inappropriate to use as food because of superior intellect and sensitivity to their surroundings, but that concept doesn't come up in any scriptural reference :-)

                  I don't necessarily dislike pork, and I've eaten my share without knowing it at the time (veal, pork, and turkey schnitzel taste very much alike). But once I know something is pork, I'll gag and I can't eat it any more. I'll even pick bits of pork out of Chinese food and eat the rest of the dish and, yes, that's really dumb.

                  While I've always been able to eat Oreo cookies (made with lard until recently), the thought of handling lard in my kitchen makes me physically ill.

                  Other, equally forbidden, foods were seldom mentioned, and I can eat shrimp, scallops, crab, and lobster without any qualms.

                  I find the milk/meat issue overtly silly. Earlier posts from atomeyes' and myself may give you a sense of "why". I don't know whether I could eat kid poached in milk, since I've never been served it and don't plan to make it myself, but a cheeseburger doesn't bother me at all.

                  rockycat's comments are very true. I know people who eat pork but find the idea of a cheeseburger or chicken in cream sauce to be sickening. During my NY, childhood, many restaurants served ham and cheese sandwiches on matzoh during Passover.

                  The comments about Chinese food, BTW, are not a joke. I grew up around many people who kept kosher at home AND away, but still ate wonton (always with "kreplach" following in parentheses on the menu) soup, shrimp with lobster sauce, and pork spareribs almost every Sunday night. Having five sets of dishes was also quite common: meat, dairy, Passover meat and dairy, and Chinese. (My family didn't eat Chinese food.)

                  I can't speak for anyone but myself. The biblical injunctions are simple and are offered without detail. You only eat animals with certain characteristics because that's what it says are the rules. You slaughter in a certain way for the same reason.

                  You don't eat the hindquarter of an otherwise kosher animal because of a biblical event related to the sciatic nerve (at least in North America - in other places, kosher butchers often remove the sciatic nerve).

                  The meat/dairy rules (kid in mother's milk excepted) all come from rabbinnical interpretations and are all over the map.

                  In short, my rabbi and yours don't necessarily agree about what is kosher.

                  BTW, I sometimes cook kosher (and halal) food at home. The cookware, prep surfaces, dishes, utensils, etc aren't used for anything else. That's fine for some (very observant) people; others bring their own food.

                  1. re: Atahualpa

                    The prohibition about eating pork has an interesting history. Despite popular misconceptions, it has absolutely nothing to do with health. The real reason is theological

                    According to the biblical scholars, originally, Big Daddy proscribed that man should be a vegetarian. Blood is life and eating meat is eating blood which equates to eating life. That's a major no-no. However, man liked meat, so the prohibition was widely ignored. This is one of the factors that caused Big Daddy to have the flood and do a reset on mankind. Since the prohibition on eating meat failed, the rule was modified to: avoid eating animals that eat meat , i .e., carnivores (and presumably omnivores).

                    The bible then goes on (Leviticus, I think) to name four meat eaters in particular, Camels, rabbits, pigs and some other weird local animal called the hyrax. These animals are singled out, not because they are especially bad, but because they could be easily confused with herbivore and lead the observant astray. For example, the camel by casual inspection mistaken appear to have a cloven hoof and rabbits mistaken appear to be chewing the cud. However, the focus has always been on the pig simply because it so widespread and found and eaten in virtually every culture. Few of the observant in Toronto are likely to mistakenly eat a camel or a hyrax.

                    1. re: evansl

                      <Camels, rabbits, pigs and some other weird local animal called the hyrax. These animals are singled out, not because they are especially bad, but because they could be easily confused with herbivore and lead the observant astray>

                      Camel and rabbits are herbivores. Not all herbivores are ruminants.

                      1. re: small h

                        The requirement is not that the animal be a ruminant, but that it chew cud and have a cloven hoof. Giraffes are not ruminants, but their meat is kosher.
                        Leviticus explains camels to be cud chewers without cloven hooves: "the camel, for even though it chews the cud, it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you." (Leviticus 11:4)
                        Leviticus also treats the cecotropes of rabbits (or hares, and therefore all lagomorphs) as cud: "The hare, for even though it chews the cud, it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you." (Leviticus 11:6)

                        1. re: danieljdwyer

                          I was responding to evansl's implication that a rabbit could be "easily confused" with an herbivore. A rabbit IS an herbivore. And what is the difference in meaning between ruminant and cud-chewing? I believe them to be synonyms.

                          <Giraffes are not ruminants>
                          According to the San Diego zoo, giraffes are indeed ruminants.
                          http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbyte...

                          1. re: small h

                            Ruminant, used colloquially, can mean simply any cud chewing animal. The more accurate definition would be any animal belonging to the ruminantia suborder. Giraffes do belong to the same order as the ruminants, artiodactyla (even toed ungulates), but do not belong to any suborder. They may once have been considered to belong to ruminantia, but taxonomy has changed a lot in the last 30 years.

                            1. re: danieljdwyer

                              <(Giraffes) may once have been considered to belong to ruminantia, but taxonomy has changed a lot in the last 30 years.>

                              I can't be certain, but it's likely that whoever wrote down the kosher laws did not take this into account.

                              1. re: small h

                                Good point. Chances are, they weren't using Latin derived terms like ruminant.

                                1. re: small h

                                  The simplistic view of a giraffe's kosher status: giraffe can't possibly be kosher because a shochet wouldn't be able to figure out where on the neck to cut.

                                  Oy :-(

                                  1. re: embee

                                    "There is a misconception that it is halachically forbidden to eat the meat of a giraffe because we do not know the precise point on the neck where the slaughtering should be performed. In truth, however, from the standpoint of slaughtering, the giraffe actually poses fewer problems than any other creature. The giraffe’s neck is generally around six feet long, and the slaughtering may be performed at any point on the neck."
                                    http://www.dailyhalacha.com/Display.a...

                                    Now that that's settled, go ahead & enjoy some giraffe. However, I can't help you with the wine pairing

                            2. re: danieljdwyer

                              I didn't mean to imply that only animals carnivores can be unkosher. Obviously other animals are too. I was making two points 1) kosher laws are theological in origin and have nothing whatever to do with health & safety and 2) pigs are singled out by accident as being particular bad.

                          2. re: evansl

                            <This is one of the factors that caused Big Daddy to have the flood and do a reset on mankind. Since the prohibition on eating meat failed, the rule was modified to: avoid eating animals that eat meat , i .e., carnivores (and presumably omnivores). >

                            Technically, no. There are 7 Noachide Laws (Sheva Mitzvot B'nai Noach) that presumably were given to all humankind after the Flood. These are basic laws for establishing a civilized society. They include such things as no murder, no theft, etc. Interestingly, the requirement to establish courts is also a part of the Noachide Laws. The one food-related prohibition is NOT to avoid eating carnivores but to not eat tlesh taken from a still-living animal (aver min ha-chai). More than a little difference on the relative barbarity scale there.

                            For myself, I still don't understand why so many people seem to feel the need to justify kashrut laws through assorted health or biological excuses. People keep kosher because G-d said to. You can follow the rules or not as you like and that's between you and G-d. The concept is called "chok" (with a long "o" and a gutteral "ch"). A mishpat is a rule which makes sense to us such as "Do not steal." A chok is a rule which we can't necessarily understand. We do it because G-d said so. Clearly, kashrut is a chok. After all, isn't faith in the Deity the basis of every religion?

                            1. re: rockycat

                              You make a good point, but, to that last part, no. Many religions are not based around a deity. Some religions are even based on faith in the lack of a deity.

                              1. re: danieljdwyer

                                But it's still faith, right? And faith does not have a rational explanation.

                                1. re: rockycat

                                  That's a fairly complex question of epistemology and theology that doesn't have any more definite an answer than "not necessarily". That doesn't weaken your argument at all, however. Judaism is inarguably faith based (though most rabbis and Jewish theologians do hold that practice is more important than faith), and that's really what's relevant here.

                                  1. re: danieljdwyer

                                    The discussion has really veered off topic but I can't agree with your statement that most rabbis and theologians hold practice above faith. We're probably talking/reading different authorities here.

                                    1. re: rockycat

                                      Possibly. Or maybe I worded that poorly. It's my understanding that, where some Christianities, particularly reformed Protestants, place emphasis on faith, even going so far as to claim salvation by faith alone, Judaism holds that faith is not, in and of itself, virtuous. Anyone can believe in Yahweh, and even the Torah; that doesn't make one a Jew. Also, where most Christians would assert that faith in the articles contained in the Nicene Creed is what defines Christianity, there is no core set of aticles of faith that defines Judaism. What I meant to express was that Judaism is defined by its practices in a way that few major religions are. Faith in certain principles is clearly essential, however, so maybe "important" was a poor word choice on my part.

                                      1. re: rockycat

                                        not the rabbis and theologians i speak to, just the opposiite, sounds like another american domestic issue

                                    2. re: rockycat

                                      Actually, there is a rational explanation. The laws of kashrut were developed around the time of the Babylonia Diaspora. (More precisely, after the destruction of the first Temple, the Jews were thrown out of the area we generally call Israel and were exiled to Babylonia.) Before that time, the Jewish religion was observed primarily by priests performing ritual sacrifice and offering prayers at The Temple in Jerusalem on behalf of their followers. In exile, the Jews had no access to their Temple, and the religious leaders had to figure out a way to preserve the religion in spite of the absence of one of its central features. That's when rabbis developed so many of the laws Jews follow today. The goal was to find a way for Jews to live in Babylonia -- getting along with their non-Jewish neighbors -- yet still remain a distinct group. The rules of kosher eating were a prime example.

                                      Following different dietary rules meant non-Jews could be offered hospitality and invited into Jewish homes, but the reverse was not true. Socializing only on Jewish-terms reduced the likelihood of intermarriage and all that that implied for survival of Judaism.

                                      When the Jews eventually returned to Israel, they rebuilt the Temple. However, they also maintained the vast body of laws that signaled Jewish observance in the home on a daily basis without the benefit of priestly involvement. After the destruction of the Second Temple (67 ACE) Jews did not live in Israel in any official way until 1948. Once again, the daily body of laws helped maintain the Jewish religion in spite of being well-removed from Jerusalem and the Temple.

                                      1. re: rockycat

                                        In fact, faith by definition isn't rational. If you had a rational reason for believing something, then it wouldn't require faith.

                                      2. re: danieljdwyer

                                        This is nonsense.

                                        1. re: evansl

                                          no it isn't. belief and knowing are mutually exclusive states. if you know something there is no need to believe it. if you believe something, by definition, you don't know it as a fact.

                                    3. re: evansl

                                      I am not Jewish, and have no reason to observe Jewish laws. However, I still find this topic interesting!

                                      My apologies for not being able to point you in the direction where I gleaned this bit of information years ago, but I read somewhere that, prior to accepting monotheism, the Semites, being a pagan people, had various clan totems. One of these was the sow. It was absolutely forbidden for any clan member to kill a representative of your clan totem; therefore, a member of the Sow clan killing (and eating!) a pig was unthinkable.

                                      1. re: mehtare

                                        As a reasonably well-read (albeit atheistic) Jew who went though some 12 years of Jewish education, I have to say I've never heard of this. Given that Judaism dates back some thousands of years before Christianity, and that written records from that era are virtually nonexistent, any such claim would be a pure fabrication - or to be more generous, speculation.

                                        1. re: BobB

                                          In fact, doing a Web search for the phrase "sow clan" and Semite brings up a grand total of one reference on the entire Internet - this post! Someone has led you astray, I'm afraid.

                                          1. re: BobB

                                            The google is robably not the best way to do scholarly research...

                                            1. re: StheJ

                                              Agreed, but it is a good indicator of whether a topic even exists. That, combined with my own substantial reading over the years and interest in the subject, has me convinced that this particular bit of "information" is unsubstantiated.

                                              However, if you can point me to any scholarly research whatsoever that indicates otherwise I'd be - honestly! - very interested to read it..

                                  2. re: embee

                                    no logic to it,?? surely you also have not studied the topic

                                    1. re: intrepid

                                      Yes I have, and in incredible detail - in Talmud Torah for many years and even more deeply as an adult. It is about FAITH - and I sincerely respect this.

                                      As to reason and logic, in a modern sense, no, it's not there. There are many good hypotheses, some of which resonate with me and some of which don't, but hypotheses they all remain.

                                      But there is no reason or logic. You own comments in another post say it very well: "how ones faith and religion plays in it all" and "it requires work and understanding". I totally agree with these two points - this IS the answer! You develop your own reasons, which are derived from your personal belief system - your faith.

                                      Most Conservative Jews have long make their own decisions based on their individual beliefs. As the rules for certifying something kosher became ever more rigid in recent years, many Conservatives who sincerely tried to keep kosher just gave up, and I think that's a shame. A kosher restaurant in NY might not be kosher in Toronto, since the major certifiers don't share the same belief systems and impose different expectations and rules.

                                      Some Modern Orthodox allow themselves a bit of "wiggle room", while others - and virtually all Chasiddish people - allow themselves none. Thing is, the rules they won't budge from differ, sometimes widely, depending on who you happen to follow. Speaking more generally, Sephardic and Ashkenazic interpretations of "what's kosher" - at every level of observance - are not the same.

                                      When I was a child, the Orthodox people I knew well (relatives and not, all MO) universally observed certain rules not related to food. One had to live within a certain distance of Shul and not above a specified apartment floor. Shabbat elevators? Kosher stoves? An "Eruv"? you've got to be kidding. And none ever would have considered the possibility that plain broccoli, asparagus, or lettuce could be treif.

                                      Speaking personally, if I ever decided to keep kosher, there I things I would never do. Imitation dairy products used with meat? "I can't believe it's not crab"? Dairy before meat with a sip of water, but no meat until six hours later? These observe the letter of the law but seriously violate its spirit. I wouldn't eat these fake foods, or eat dairy just before meat, because the minor "deprivations" involved are one of the joys of having real faith.

                                      If I ever become Shomer Shabbat, I wouldn't worry about a break in the Eruv because I believe this concept is a crock. In Toronto, one can "legally" cross Highway 401 on Bathurst St, but not on the streets to either side. C'mon. If you have real faith, why look for ways to weasel around it?

                                      So, yes, I have have studied, and reflected on, the topic. YMMV, and likely does. Ans that's absolutely fine. But logic? No, not at all.

                                      1. re: embee

                                        i like, understand and respect your post, well thought out ,well written- colakavode

                                    2. re: embee

                                      I'll have to check whether kosher goat is available here in Montréal, where there is a large Maghrebi Jewish community that eats in general the same foods as Muslim Maghrebis, with somewhat different dietary laws. Sorry to hear about Boujadi restaurant, which was very good.

                                      Remember that goat cheese can also be kosher. Evidently a kosher-certified goat cheese is made in the little Ottawa-Valley (Outaouais) town of Papineauville Québec. It is certified by a rabbi from Ottawa or Gatineau.

                                    3. there is also ritual slaughtering - a animal has to be killed in a certain way and overseen and inspected to be kosher.

                                      1. from what I understand, it's not just consuming or preparing meat and dairy together, but items that touch one cannot touch the other. This means separate forks, plates, even dishwashers. Again, this may be widely debated.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: dagwood

                                          As far as observance, there are ALL levels, from not kosher at all, to kosher at home, to kosher everywhere, and so kosher they have two dishwashers and ovens.

                                          And then some Jews, like me, are bad Jews and just don't eat pork. ;)

                                          1. re: GirlyQ

                                            And some Jews eat everything...including pork.

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              Haha, yeah, my ex did too. It runs the gamut.

                                            2. re: GirlyQ

                                              or shellfish

                                          2. You've gotten quite a bit of information already, but allow me to offer you what is I think is an authoritative explanation, from the Orthodox Union, an organization that certifies kosher foods.

                                            http://www.ou.org/kosher/primer.html

                                            That's the "what." The "why" is tougher, but I don't subscribe to the theory that "there is no reason or logic behind it." One reason for separating meat and dairy meals might be to reduce reliance on meat (a costly food source) to ensure that more people got fed, and more people survived. And one explanation for not eating pork might be that pigs and people eat pretty much the same things, so pigs compete with humans for the same food supply. Thus, they might not be the best animals to keep as livestock. Cows, on the other hand, eat grass.

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: small h

                                              But you are hypothesizing! As I've said before, that's fine, but it's unnecessary.

                                              Goats eat the same foods as humans, and are kosher. You could never have pastured animals OR grown crops in the "Promised Land" in the eras before irrigation - that's why many feel that "making the desert bloom" was a miracle.

                                              The most clever rationalization I've come across for the especially great disdain accorded pork goes something like this: the pig is a deceptive animal, since it appears at first glance to be kosher. Its hooves are very clearly split. Only on much closer examination would one realize it doesn't ruminate, making it treif. This "deception" is what makes the pig especially unkosher. I'll bet you never heard that one before!

                                              Bottom line: faith doesn't require reason.

                                              1. re: embee

                                                Yes, the goat thing is hard to understand. But forgive me if I don't take you at your word that it's "fine, but...unnecessary" for me to hypothesize. As you've said yourself, interpretations vary. Mine from yours, for instance.

                                                1. re: small h

                                                  True enough. I have hypotheses myself, and I'm not putting yours down. It's just that faith and reason don't necessarily need to agree. I sometimes feel life would be easier if I had that level of faith.

                                                  I think I'd better get back to work :-)

                                                2. re: embee

                                                  I believe that Marvin Harris' theory was that pigs (and dogs) are the source of food taboos in so many cultures because they eat fecal matter and that made them ritually unclean.

                                                  (It has been a while since I read excerpts from /Good to Eat/, so I might be remembering another anthropologist's opinion).

                                                  1. re: Atahualpa

                                                    I keep chickens and I see what those birds stand in, eat from, and drink from. Trust me, chickens are not toilet-trained and don't really care where they do their business. They are regularly ingesting their own fecal matter and the run-off from it. And chickens are certainly kosher. Next rationalization, please.

                                                3. re: small h

                                                  Pork's the easy part of the equation. It spoils readily, and contains diseases (trichosomaisis) that are easily transported to humans. No "hot" climate culture considers it edible... because it really isn't, if left warm.

                                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                                    while that's what they taught - it doesn't hold water - there are plenty of societies where pork is the central meat, in warm climates, that do not have people dropping dead right and left.
                                                    if you look at my post from january below, you see an anthropological raason that is more sensible - to quote myself:

                                                    "pork is easy to understand. pigs wallow. for dessert people wallowing destroys precious waterholes. so no pigs."

                                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                                      Does pork spoil more quickly than beef or lamb? I don't eat or cook meat, so I have no idea. As to your claim that no one who lives in a hot place eats pig, I'm no expert in this either, obviously, but it sure sounds wrong. Spam, Hawaii, etc.

                                                  2. pork is easy to understand. pigs wallow. for dessert people wallowing destroys precious waterholes. so no pigs.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: thew

                                                      I would have thought the perfect solution would be to kill them and eat them.

                                                      But to be less facetious, I do not understand in my heart of hearts why these rules exist. Most religious rules exist to maintain a reasonable societal action (don't kill anyone, etc), keep healthy, (offspring of siblings have more genetic problems) or to maintain the cohesion of a religion. The underlying reason for ruminants matches your proposition. Others such as 'only certain types of fish' escape me.

                                                      Then again, I was raised in a "because I say so" society.

                                                      1. re: Paulustrious

                                                        your heart of hearts has not done the homework on the rules and why they exist, and how ones faith and religion plays in it all..its is not like most american like, on page one of the book, it requires work and understanding,

                                                      2. re: thew

                                                        cows wallow too, I seem to remember. cowboys get to haul them out afterwards...

                                                      3. Beyond the traditional and prescribed rules and regs which Chow posters have delineated, following the laws of kashruth puts G-d in one's thoughts for this most rudimentary and daily human need (i.e., eating).

                                                        There are blessings to be said before eating all foods, which also serves to remind us of things larger than us.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: mrsdebdav

                                                          I absolutely agree.

                                                        2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashrut

                                                          Usually I am loathe to cite Wiki as a source but this one has many well-researched opinions that you might find helpful.

                                                          1. I have a curious question, not being Jewish myself. I was at a function with premade sandwiches. There was turkey/swiss/mayo and a woman there said she couldn't eat it because she was Jewish. She did, however, eat a sandwich that was turkey with mayo. I guess I always thought dairy included cheese AND eggs. Are eggs not considered dairy? This is confusing to me.

                                                            5 Replies
                                                            1. re: mschow

                                                              eggs are not dairy

                                                              1. re: mschow

                                                                You're confusing kosher rules with vegetarian rules. Eggs are not dairy in any way shape or form.

                                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                  But they're in the dairy case at the supermarket! Right next to the orange juice.

                                                                  1. re: small h

                                                                    yea, but orange juice isn't dairy either.

                                                                    1. re: Rmis32

                                                                      That was my point.

                                                              2. according to the Jewish Hallacha the concept eating Kosher has nothing to do with body health This is why jews study the Shulchan Arooch . there was a recent article in the nytimes on eating kosher, the article was at its core incorrect and full of errors, like many of the explanations listed above

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: intrepid

                                                                  Earlier in this thread, I disagreed with you but still supported your rationale. Here, intrepid, you are clearly wrong. You are wrong because news is not a form of religious belief. Indeed, you nullified your own argument. You say "according to the Jewish Hallacha the concept eating Kosher has nothing to do with body health ". I agree.

                                                                  The Times report surely isn't 100% correct, but its overall thrust is. It was about the verifiable fact that millions of people, non-observant and non-Jewish, have decided consciously to buy kosher without understanding what kosher actually means. In many cases - possibly most - they buy kosher believing that kosher food is safer to eat. That's not necessarily true.

                                                                  Empire Kosher sells some of the finest poultry you can buy. Agriprocessors was something else. People should know about these issues. If observant Jews can't agree about "what's kosher", we shouldn't permit other people to be deceived. The sleaze buckets who ran Agriprocessors deserve the time they will be spending in jail. Were I their Rebbe, they would be welcome in my congregation, but I would never defend what they did - or eat their food.

                                                                  1. re: embee

                                                                    bravo

                                                                2. people seem to be confusing 2 types of reasons in this thread. religious reasons, ie why the torah/talmud say, and anthropological/cultural reasons - which probably predate the religious reasons and caused the need for a religious explanation of the rule.

                                                                  10 Replies
                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                    Anthropological reasons have to do with local at-the-time ecology and economics. Dietary rules and restrictions have to do with local productive resources; such that people are kept from eating key components of their livelihood systems.

                                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                      as stated above - or to keep from soiling them, in the case of pigs and waterholes

                                                                    2. re: thew

                                                                      What makes you so sure that the religious and anthropological/cultural reasons are completely separate in this case? Every culinary anthropology text I have treats kashrut as completely religious in origin. I can't find much modern academic literature that supports the idea of kashrut arising from practical concerns. Marvin Harris's grain theory is the only one I see much talk about, and he admittedly did not base the idea on empirical evidence.
                                                                      Prior to the foundation of Islam, the Jews were the only Afro-Semitic people to have a prohibition against pork. The earliest groups identifiable as belonging to the Jewish culture are distinguished from several other Semitic groups solely by their religion. With the exception of the proto-Syrian peoples, the other Semitic groups also lived in more arid conditions.
                                                                      Pork is also only one of the banned meats. Rabbits are much cleaner animals than any of the ruminants, and easier to raise in arid conditions. Camels, and camelids generally, are an ideal source of meat for peoples of low moisture regions. There is, as far as I'm aware, no evidence that pork has been treif for longer than rabbit or camel. And what about the meat and dairy prohibition? How does this fit with your theory?

                                                                      1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                        You might have to go back to 1968 and Marvin Harris and the whole field of cultural ecology. Cultural ecology explains all religious edicts in terms of practical - productive - economic concerns.

                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                          We read Harris's "Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture" in my Judaism class, along with a substantial amount of criticism of it. Harris himself responds to a lot of this criticism in the introduction to the 1989 edition. Essentially, he explains that the intent of the text is not to establish concrete explanations for the cultural phemenena he examines, but to establish a process by which they can be examined. He claims his intent was not to say that his methods can explain every facet of every religion, but simply to establish a particular methodology and illuminate this with interesting hypothetical examples. In doing so, he admits to lacking much empirical evidence for most of the ideas he presents.
                                                                          The most common criticism of his idea that the Jews had a taboo against pigs because, in times of famine, the grain eaten by pigs becomes valuable to humans, is that it does not provide a satisfactory explanation for why such a taboo is absent from other cultures. The criticism rarely claims there is no truth to his idea, but it can't possibly be the whole truth. There are many cultures that did keep pigs that faced ecologically similar conditions to those the Jews faced (which were not at all consistent through their early history, due to frequent migration), just as there are many cultures that faced ecological conditions similar to India without developing a taboo against beef.
                                                                          For one thing, his theory only addresses one taboo meat in a culture where most meats are taboo. There is a great deal of skepticism among those who study Judaism that the various components of kashrut arose for different reasons. There is no evidence that any one taboo is any older than another, with all evidence pointing to these foods all but dissapearing from the Jewish diet around the same time. There aren't, for instance, Israeli middens full of oyster shells but lacking pig bones.
                                                                          The general consensus is that, even if there are component reasons for individual taboos within kashrut, there must be a unifying reason for kashrut itself. I simply have never seen a rational explanation for this that was not theological. The most well composed theory I have seen in response to Harris's used his idea as a starting point. The proto-Israelites were a migratory people, but there is an element to the history of the Jewish people as passed down through their religious tradition that leaves open the possibility of an ancestral point of origin. As Jewish cultural identity developed, culminating in the development of the theology of the Jews as God's Chosen People, it is very possible that ancestral memory of their place of origin became evolved in to the idea of a Garden of Eden. Jewish theology, at least since the time of the Elder Hillel, has held that the meats prohibited in kashrut come from animals that were not found in the Garden of Eden and are therefore imperfect. The ecological conditions of the ancestral place of origin probably did create a situation where only cattle were kept as livestock. The waters in this place probably yielded only fish with both fins and scales. The birds one could hunt in this place had certain characteristics.
                                                                          But, that's far from an ecological explanation. It involves ecology, sure, but it hinges on the idea that the Jews are God's chosen people, and that they have a place of origin which was perfect. I haven't seen, and cannot imagine, a satisfying origin of kashrut story which leaves out these two theological points.

                                                                          1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                            I have taken religion classes both at the day school/yeshivah level and at the Ivy league graduate level and, boy let me tell you, they are two completely different things. In the first case, teachers and students are approaching the subject matter with the attitude,"I believe in this. Now I will learn more about its laws and practices." In the second instance, regardless of the religion of the instructors, they are approaching it from a rational, academic, possibly revisionist viewpoint.

                                                                            One method is not necessarily more valid than the other but the conclusions and results will vary widely. You can analyze any religion in a socio-anthropological context but that in no way will alter or truly explain the belief system of its adherents.

                                                                            1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                              I thought that we Japanese were God's choosen people.

                                                                              [insert sideways grinning moron icon to indicate humor]

                                                                          2. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                            "Every culinary anthropology text I have treats kashrut as completely religious in origin."

                                                                            Please look at my post upthread. I'd say the preservation of group identity is an anthropological explanation even though the group is a religious group. That said, what I posted doesn't address the specifics of what food/food practices made the cut and became kosher; however, the issue of preserving identity in Babylonia is so widely understood in Jewish studies that I'm surprised no writer of culinary antropology texts picked up on this.

                                                                            1. re: Indy 67

                                                                              There are a lot of theories within anthropology as to how kashrut originated. In the text from my Judaism class (which was both a theology class and an anthropology class) there are 8 major theories identified. The course pack contains criticisms of each of these theories, and a further dozen theories.
                                                                              No single theory is either widely accepted or free from criticism. This is, in part, because most theories fail to provide a satisfying, complete explanation. In order to provide an answer to the question, "What is the origin of kashrut?" we must provide satisfactory explanation to two separate issues: "Why are these specific foods clean and these other specific foods unclean?" and "Why the Jews?"
                                                                              The theory you cite was once pretty popular. There are, however, some major problems with it. The first of these is that it does not address the question, "Why are these specific foods clean and these other specific foods unclean?" Because of this, it can, at best, only be a component of a satisfactory theory, not a complete theory in and of itself. Commonly, critics, many culinary anthropologists among them, who believe this theory to be a part of the right answer do assert that the full answer is purely religious. Essentially, they hold that the core logic behind kashrut is: "We are the chosen people;" "we do not eat pork, camel, eel, shellfish, wine made by Gentiles, et cetera;" "therefore, these must be unclean food;" "therefore, even in a land where these things are eaten, we must not eat them, thus remaining distinct from the Assyrians."
                                                                              The other problem with this theory is historical. Over the last half century, our knowledge of the Ancient Middle East has expanded exponentially, largely due to the region becoming stable enough to excavate and the advancement of the field of archaeology. We now know, through the excavation of middens, that the Jewish people were probably following some form of kashrut from at least the First Temple era, and probably from the conquering of Canaan - a historical even which, fifty years ago, most were convinced did not even happen, but which we now have substantial archaelogical evidence for. At this point (sometime in the last few centuries of the second milennium BC), shellfish middens all but completely dissapear from the coast of Canaan. This is unusual, as coastlines worldwide almost always show evidence of shellfish middens during all period of habitation. Pig bones dissapear from the archaelogical record in Canaan at the same time.
                                                                              We have also gained evidence, in the last two decades particularly, that the Torah, while first written down during the Babylonian captivity, did exist in roughly the same form as the written Torah as early as the very beginning of the First Temple era. A lot of this evidence comes from the study of groups that follow the Torah, but diverged from the Judaism of Jerusalem before or during the First Temple era. Samaritans, for one, were largely ignored by academics before the 1980's. Subsequent study has revealed that the Samaritans rejected the Temple culture from the very beginning, yet they follow kashrut, and their Torah has few major differences from the Jewish Torah. Of course, the easy counterargument is that, after the end of the Babylonian captivity, the Samaritans lived side by side with the Jews for nearly six centuries. Even if we could be convinced that the Samaritans for some reason felt compelled to accept the scripture and laws of a people whose authority they had rejected for centuries prior, we are left with other groups we know were not connected to the rest of the diaspora for any substantial portion of pre-modern history.
                                                                              Chief among these are the Beta Israel, who separated from Israeli Judaism some time between 1100 and 700 BC. They follow kashrut, though there is some difference in rabbinical interpretation. Their Torah is almost identical for the five main books, but contains additional books not found in other Jewish traditions. The Jews of Bilad el-Sudan are similar, though they likely had substantial contact with Sephardic Judaism throughout the Middle Ages. The Lemba are a far more interesting case. They are traditionally reconed to have seperated from Yemeni Jews around the start of the Babylonian captivity. Recent genetic testing, however, has shown that they probably departed the Middle East well before this time, and possibly descend from Jews who remained in Egypt at the time of the Exodus. In either case, they certainly had no contact with the groups that committed the Torah to writing in Assyria until the last century. They lack a written Torah, but have been following kashrut, and the rest of halakha, for at least 2500 years. With so much of the pre-Babylonian captivity diaspora following kashrut, it simply has to predate the captivity and the writing of the Torah.

                                                                              1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                If one believes - again the word "belief" is key here - that the Torah was given to Moses at Sinai and was not purely a product of human invention, than of course kashrut was observed prior to the Diaspora. How could it not have been since the Torah itself lists kosher and non-kosher animals.

                                                                                You have to separate religious study from academic study. These are two completely different disciplines. Bottom line to an Orthodox Jew - he/she doesn't really care what archeology does or doesn't prove about the eating habits of Canaanite Semites in any era. They follow their religion because they believe absolutely that it's rules are G-d's word.

                                                                        2. Then you have Karaite Jews who do not follow the rabbinical law, and interpret the prohibition on dairy and meat in much more limited, literal terms based on scriptural texts.

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Karl S

                                                                            To echo rockycat, and with all due deference to danieljdwyer's post, there is no reason, explanation, rationale, etc. to kashruth. It just is. There's more of an inferential explanation to shomer l'shabbat (G-d rested) than there is to kashruth (G-d's diet has not been delineated, as far as I know). What I do find interesting, and this is just me, is that, before the flood, G-d explicates for man a vegetarian diet, and it was only after Noach, when man's foibles became evident, that G-d expanded man's diet to include some animal products. As a Jewish veg (not shomer, and have eaten an unholy amount of treif, but not in the last 15 years), I love the idea of vegetarian, because nothing has to die for me to eat, AND it is an "easy" way to observe the mitzvot of kashruth. After all the transgressions I've committed in my 58+ years, I need some divine credit!
                                                                            L'habriot l'kal v' kol ha'kavod to every poster in this blog. We are all trying, and that's the name of the game!

                                                                            1. re: mrsdebdav

                                                                              The rationale is that it's an obligation and those are what define a "holy people." The essence of what Christians misunderstand as "chosen" is the undertaking of a set of obligations and duties. One can find reasons for them or not but they are stuff imposed on the community and on the individual because the covenant is between both the people and a person. And of course they are the source of so much dissension within Judaism about who is really Jewish, etc.

                                                                              My wholly personal feeling is that the dietary laws respond to the constant thread of things being divided by God, from darkness and day and land and water through all creation. If this is you then this is not you. If you eat this, then not this.