What Does Kosher Mean Literally?
Understanding the laws of kosher food.
'Kosher' is a Hebrew word that means 'proper' or 'fit,' although most people use it in reference to food. You will sometimes hear it used in the secular world to simply mean something is okay or if something is suspicious they might say, “that doesn’t sound kosher to me”. Kosher can also refer to religious objects like a mezuzah or a torah scroll.
In Jewish practice, the kosher laws of food are abundant and complex—so much so that they're the subject a young scholar needs to master in order to be ordained as a rabbi, but I’ll keep it simple for you.
Contrary to popular belief, Kosher food does not need to be blessed by a Rabbi, the food simply needs to adhere to the laws. The kosher food laws fall into four general categories:
- The type of animal: some animals are kosher to eat, while others are not (for example, cows and chickens are kosher, but pigs and shrimp are not)
- How that animal is slaughtered: just because an animal comes from a kosher species, doesn't make it automatically fit for consumption, it needs to be slaughtered in a specific way as well
- Forbidden mixtures: some foods, like milk and meat, are not allowed to be cooked together. Sorry, cheeseburgers may be delicious, but they aren't kosher
- Specific agricultural requirements: these apply only to produce grown in Israel, especially as that relates to helping the poor and less fortunate
Following the kosher laws is considered one of the hallmarks of Jewish observance. That's because eating is a vital and regular thing everyone has to do, and following a system of laws about food is a constant reminder that you're Jewish, and that being Jewish is central to your identity.