Kashrut – Jewish mindfulness in eating

Why eat kosher? The Hebrew word כשר – kasher – means “fit” for eating. To follow this discipline is to be constantly mindful of what we eat, who we are who are eating, and what impact we have on our world in the act of eating. It’s not a low-fat, gluten-free, or anti-inflammatory diet, so adjust within these limits to care for your health.


What’s kosher?

1.“fit”, aka kosher, as defined by our Torah:

  • fish – has to have fins and scales; no shellfish (lobster, clam, oyster, shrimp, etc)
  • meat – anything you’re likely to eat (beef, lamb, elk, emu, goat?) except pork, and no mixing with any dairy (things you’re unlikely to eat that are not kosher include rabbit, camel and dog)
  • fowl – any except for birds of prey (no owls, hawks, eagles)

2. kosher as defined further by our Rabbis of the Talmud:

  • food that is eaten without a blessing is not kosher (Deut.8.10: “When you eat and are satisfied, bless G-d for the goodness of the land.”)
  • food that is eaten without giving some away (not just the food; this can also mean the money used for food in the household) is not kosher (Leviticus 19.9-10: “When you reap your harvest of your land, do not wholly reap … leave something for the poor and for the stranger.”)
  • food that is prepared in a way that contravenes Jewish law. For example: if it was cooked, or the ingredients were bought, on Shabbat or another day of rest like a Festival, or if it was prepared by someone who was being mean to someone else. Or: if the dish is not clean, or if the dish had meat on it and hasn’t been cleaned before using for dairy and is porous so that bits of the meat might be on it still.

3. Eco-Kashrut–interpretations of Torah rules that apply our modern ethics to kashrut:

  • Deuteronomy 24.14: “You shall not oppress a hired worker”
    Ethics of the farmer: any food that is produced with pesticides (dangerous to those who harvest), or by those who do not pay a living wage to their workers, is not kosher.
  • Exodus 23.12: “Work for six days and rest on the seventh day; give your animals and your employees a break.”
    Ethics of the producer: any food produced through abuse of workers (no day off) or through abuse of animals is not kosher. (So: cage-free, grass-fed, no antibiotics, humanely killed, etc)
  • Genesis 2.15: “G-d put the humans into the garden of Eden to till it and to tend it.”
    Ethics of the corporation: any food produced in a way that does not take care of the Earth (monoculture farming, degrading the soil, etc)
  • Leviticus 19.11: “Do not steal; do not deal falsely or lie one to another.”
    Any food produced, processed or consumed in a way that is hurtful to anyone in the process, including becoming too expensive for us to afford it.

Blessings (Berakhot) for food

There’s an app for that – iBless Food. But here’s the simple, non-tech way. (Print out a page of berakhot here.)

Each blessing (b’rakha) begins Baruch atah adonai elokeinu melech ha’olam , meaning Blessed Are You, our G-d, Source of the Life of the World…..

The endings depend specifically on what is to be eaten or drunk:

For Bread: “… Ha-MOE-tzi LEH-khem min ha-AH-retz.” (for bringing bread from the ground)

For Wine & Grape juice: “…BorEY pree ha-GAH-fen” (for the creation of the fruit of the vine)

For Most Desserts: “…BorEY minEY me-ZOE-note” (for the creation of various types of foods)

For Fruits: “…BorEY pree ha-EYTZ” (for the creation of the fruit of the trees)

For Vegetables: “…BoREY pree ha-ah-dah-MAH” (for the creation of the fruits of the ground)

For Drinks, Meat, Fish, Cheese: “…Sheh-ha-KOLE Nih-YEH bid’vah-ROE” (Everything was created through G-d’s word)

How To Say a Blessing (B’rakha)

  1. One must say a brakha on ANY amount of food.
  2. You should see the food before reciting the brakha, e.g. if one wants to eat a cashew, you first open up the shell and see if its fit for a brakha (no worms etc.).
  3. You should hold the food/drink in your right hand, or left hand if you are a lefty.
  4. One must be very careful not to mention G-d’s name meaninglessly. So before you start saying the brakha, make sure you know which brakha is the right one.
  5. No food or drink should be in your mouth while reciting a brakha.
  6. Between the brakha and eating you must not talk or even wait any amount of time, but eat or drink the food right away.
  7. If you forgot to say a brakha before eating, as long as you still have some food left you can still say the brakha.

More Questions?

How long do I have to wait after eating meat before I can have dairy, and vice versa? Some authorities say six hours after meat and only 2 after dairy, under the impression that meat takes longer to digest. Others say one hour for both. Some say just make sure the table is completely cleared after a meat meal before you bring out the ice cream…..you decide.

There are lots of articles related to kashrut that explain every little bit of it: Dietary Laws

and more about b’rakhot

If you still aren’t sure…

HOTLINE: rabbi@shirtikvahpdx.org takes all your questions and gives answers! (except on Shabbat – see if you can figure out why that would make