Kosher Food, from the Torah to the 2nd Avenue Deli
I did not grow up in a Jewish household or
even in a home where food was important, so
there may be an errrror or too in this matirial.
Much of Jewish culture revolves
around food, some kosher, some not.
There are basically three kinds of Jewish food.
The general public has become aware of some high profile people
who keep kosher. Ivanka and Chelsea converted and have husbands
who are orthodox.
keep kosher and
that accounts for
most of those
who do so.
Although Jews who keep kosher are a
pretty small fraction (22%) of
American Jews (only 7% of Reform
Jews) there are many businesses that
cater directly to that segment.
For the super-
are glatt kosher
consist of two
ships that travel
side by side –
one for meat and
one for dairy*
*Lighten up –
this is a joke!
There are Jewish summer
camps, both kosher and not.
“Angry Jew” is a 2D action game in which you play as Mendel, a present-day
Orthodox Jew that goes back in time to 19th century Czarist Russia to wreak
revenge on the Cossacks and rescue as many holy books as possible.
Jewish themed video games, some about kosher animals
Part of the JDate
questionnaire asks about
your kosher, or not, habits
There is a certain amount of hair splitting and many details
about what exactly makes food kosher or not so that will be
delayed until a little later on here.
kosher practices are
part of the usual
Jewish sensitivity to
The Torah gives the kosher laws in a simple and
short form, but later the Babylonian Talmud and
subsequent rabbis spun out a long and
complicated series of “special cases” and
Is this fish
kosher or not?
If a kosher fish is found inside the belly of a non-kosher fish, it is
kosher. If a non-kosher fish is found in the belly of a kosher fish, it is
not kosher. This is the kind of Talmudic parsing of unlikely situations
that we will mostly avoid here.
Some night when you are having trouble sleeping check out the minute
distinctions about gelatin – kosher or not? - in this blog by an Orthodox group.
Gelatin from fish skins, pigs hides, etc. And does every fish need to be inspected
before its skin is used? What about injured fish, etc. Soooo complicated.
Before we get into what exactly makes
food kosher let’s look at some history.
The Mormons believe that Native
Americans are remnants of the Lost
Tribe of Israel. So then this ad here
would not make sense to them.
and brought that
food – very spicy
– to the US
In 1654 the first Jews came to North America
– 23 people escaping the Inquisition brought by
the Portugeuse to Brazil. They left Racife, Brazil
with the Dutch and settled in New York (New
Amsterdam). These were Sephardic Jews.
In Savannah, Ga., in 1738, a Lutheran
minister, Martin Bolzius, wrote, ''The
Spanish and Portuguese Jews are not so
strict in so far as eating is concerned as the
others are . . . The German Jews on the
other hand would rather starve than eat
meat they do not slaughter themselves.''
Kosher food can be bought outside
the home or made in a home’s
kitchen. But the home has always
been the site until fairly recently.
in New York,
until the 1930s
Russ and Daughters, in New York, is a famous
multigenerational family business that started out in
the smoked herring trade. A fascinating documentary
about them is available from Amazon.
Katz’s Deli – not kosher but
“kosher style” food
No pickle please – I‘m on a diet
Each week, Katz's
serves 15,000 lb of
pastrami, 8,000 lb of
corned beef, 2,000 lb of
salami and 4,000 hot
2nd Avenue Deli, which
is kosher, is avoided by
Orthodox Jews because
it is open on Saturday
Hot Corned Beef $20.50
Hot Pastrami $21.50
Hot Brisket $20.50
Tip Tongue (extra lean) $24.95
Center Cut Tongue $24.95
Roast Beef $20.50
Hard Salami $18.50
Soft Salami $16.50
Roast Turkey $20.50
Smoked Turkey $20.50
* Broiled Sliced Steak (with fried onions) $27.95
* Grilled Chicken Breast $19.95
* Chicken Cutlet (Schnitzel) $19.95
* Chopped Liver $18.50
* Chicken Salad $15.95
* Egg Salad $12.95
There are three main aspects of kosher food
1) The method of ritual slaughter and the
prohibition of consuming blood
2) what animals, birds, fish, etc. you are allowed to
eat – kosher versus treyf (not allowed)
3) The meat/dairy mixing prohibition
Children can be
easily taught the
basic kosher rules,
without all the
like kosher for
The Torah has extreme
consuming blood and
there are some minute
fine points about that.
Count Dracula would
get a very poor grade
from the rabbis.
The key point is to completely drain the “life blood” from a killed animal.
This is the blood surging through the veins. Blood that is embedded in the
meat, in capillaries, and which leaks out with time does not count and can be
eaten. Brining can help remove residual blood.
You are allowed to
suck a bleeding
finger but if you
bleed onto a piece
of bread, even if
just a barely visible
amount, you should
not eat it – because
An egg with a blood
spot, even a tiny one,
should be discarded if it
is a fertilized egg. Best
to ask the hen about her
recent rooster contacts.
Kosher butchers, called shochtim, are trained to kill animals in a
particular way and then drain the life blood from them. The methods
are efficient and minimize pain to the animal. The knife used is called
a sakin (,)סכין or alternatively a hallaf ()חלף by Ashkenazi Jews.
The Torah shows concern for the distress of animals. A
mother and her young are not to be slaughtered on the
same day (Leviticus). A bird and her eggs or fledglings are
not to be both taken. The mother is to be allowed to go.
(Deuteronomy). Kosher slaughter methods are humane.
My younger brother faints dead away at the
sight of blood and he would not do well in
this profession. None of the very elaborate
rules for killing and inspecting are specified in
the Torah. They are an oral tradition.
There is a common
misconception that “cow butts”
are not kosher and cannot be
eaten. The fact is complicated.
That back quarters meat is
kosher as long as the sciatic
nerve is removed, as well as
certain large blood vessels,
tendons, and some kinds of fat
surrounding organs. That is
very labor intensive so kosher
butchers usually sell that meat
to non-kosher butchers.
Kosher butchers examine the insides
of animals and birds to make sure that
everything is there that should be and
nothing is there that shouldn’t be.
The ancient Greeks , Egyptians, and other cultures thought that the dead
needed to be regularly fed…. blood. Blood = the life force. Blood from
slaughters would be poured onto the ground over graves. In Leviticus the
Torah says simply that such blood should be poured on the ground and then
covered up. No mention of graves or the dead. Kosher butchers do that
In ancient times the dead in
the Underworld were
thought to be very hungry.
For food, of course, but
mostly for blood – the
lifeforce. Pouring blood into
the ground was an attempt
to keep them fed and happy
Down There there so they did
not come Up Here looking for
blood (think zombies).
Necromancy – a practice the Torah
strongly condemns – was the temporary
raising of the dead to ask them questions
about the future. To entice them to arise
you had to provide them with blood,
poured into the ground.
The Torah says that blood from animal
slaughter should be poured into the
ground and then covered up – maybe to
feed the dead but the covering up part is
to keep them from coming Up Here.
When Cain kills his brother Abel, in
Genesis, God says “Your brother’s blood
cries out to Me from the ground”
Before the First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed all meat was to be
slaughtered at the Temple and made into burnt offerings at the altar.
The best cuts of meat were completely burnt up at the altar and then
the rest was eaten by the priests and the people. The Torah says that
God liked the smell of burning meat.
The classification system in the Torah with respect to what is
kosher and what is not is not based on any good reasons. It is just a
given, with no justification.
Certain kinds of locust are kosher. Manny Ratafia, of
CHJ, points out that after a swarm of locusts hits the
fields there is nothing left to eat except locusts.
High in protein
“Treyf” literally means flesh that has been torn or ripped. If the
lion here abandons a partially eaten cow, that flesh is treyf even
though the cow is a kosher animal. The meaning of treyf later
expanded to mean any forbidden food.
The flesh of animals that die of natural causes – sickness,
old age, road kill, killed by other animals, etc. are treyf
Horse meat is
It is a staple in
have a strong
kosher A panel of rabbis met to
rule on this question
Bacon is the essence of (delicious) treyf food
What is God’s favorite food?
Where is it written that God
There are many theories why the pig, of all tref animals, has had such a bad
press. All of these many theories have problems and it ends up being pretty
much a mystery. The experts all agree, however, that the theory popular 100
years ago that it has something to do with hygiene and health is definitely
wrong. The pig is a taboo animal for religious reasons, not scientific ones.
In most primitive or ancient cultures taboo foods are usually ceremonially eaten on
one day of the year. That includes the pig in places where it is taboo. The Boar’s Head
Feast is a modern annual event (from the 1500’s) revived in 1934 by the University of
Rochester and I went to one when I was a student there.
commands us not
to eat anything
still alive. These
South Koreans are
doing just that –
eating a live
Eating human flesh is
clearly not kosher but
during times of famine
it is sometimes done
and is mentioned in
57; Jeremiah 19:9;
4:10; Ezekiel 5:10, and
2 Kings 6:28–29
I grew up on a chicken farm and we had 5,000 chickens. They are
not only cannibals they are also self-cannibals (not very smart)
Kosher for Passover
Pareve (Yiddish for “neutral”) =
can be eaten with either meat
or dairy, like flour, sugar, eggs,
fruit and vegetables
have their own
Food packaging symbols
Anti-Semites complain that the cost of
certifying foods, like this “pareve” on a
can of Coke, is in essence a “Jew Tax” that
is passed on to all consumers.
Wine is made kosher mostly by
who handles it and to what uses
it is put. Kosher wine for
Passover must be kept from any
contact with grain products.
Cream of tartar (tartaric acid) is derived
from non-kosher wine. ... Today's cream of
tartar is refined multiple times, and the final
product consists of pure white crystals that
contain no trace of wine. Therefore, cream of
tartar is kosher even though it is a byproduct
of non-kosher wine.
cream of tartar, a
wine product, is an
ingredient in baking
powder. Special rules
apply at Passover.
Matzos is another food item,
like wine, where there are
special rules for making it
kosher for Passover.
painted this picture
of Jacob wrestling
with the angel at the
river crossing, a
famous scene from
the Torah. The
obviously a few
thousand years later
than what they are
Chagall, Delacroix, Rembrandt, and many others also painted this scene
Olympic wrestlers are prone to the same
kind of injury that Jacob had when he
wrestled with an angel – a wrenched thigh
tendon and subsequent limping.
When Jacob wrestled
with the angel the angel
wrenched his thigh sinew
and Jacob then limped
afterwards. The Torah
requires the sciatic nerve to
be removed from meat to
make it kosher, supposedly
because of the story about
Jacob and the socket of his
hip becoming dislocated.
I don’t buy it.
The Cherokee Indians had a similar
taboo about eating that thigh sinew
from deer, for fear of limping.
In 1 Kings 18:26 we read about
a limping dance made by the
priests of Baal. Other cultures
had an ecstatic dance of this
type, with limping, and there
must have been a religious
significance to the limping.
Jacob’s limping after wrestling
with the angel, due to a thigh
tendon injury, was probably part
of a broader context that we do
not understand. There has to be
a story that would explain better
the prohibition against eating
the sciatic nerve.
For starters, why should Jacob’s injury be a reason for us not to eat
that nerve/tendon? What is the rationale? If that nerve/sinew controls
limping then more of it (by eating it) instead of less (not eating it)
should be better. And animal meat and Jacob – what’s the connection?
In the Torah when someone takes an oath they put their hand into the
crotch of the person they are swearing to (Genesis 24, 1-4 and Genesis
47, 29). They testify to a true statement by holding the testes
and they come from the same root word. So there is a sexual aspect to
this type of oath taking. Damage to the sciatic nerve/tendon turns out
to have side effects related to sexual response. So it sounds to me like
the angel was fighting dirty. Maybe pretended to take an oath (to bless
Jacob) and then hit below the belt (as it were). Nasty!
1 And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the LORD had blessed
Abraham in all things.
2 And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he
had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh:
3 and I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the
earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the
Canaanites, among whom I dwell:
4 but thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my
Jacob instructs his son Joseph,
If now I have found favor in your sight, put
your hand under my thigh, and promise to
deal loyally and truly with me. (Genesis 47.29,
Any confusion about a single word in
the Torah can sometimes have vast
consequences. All the complicated
meat/dairy practices – two sets of
dishes, two of utensils, sometimes two
ovens, dishwashers, refrigerators,
eating habits, eating schedules, etc. are
based on expanded interpretations of
just a few words in the Torah – “you
shall not seethe a kid in its mother’s
milk”. It is important to get this right.
At the age of four or so I lived
for a while on Seven Lakes
Goat Farm in Yorktown
Heights, with 60 milking goats.
They have weird eyes. Alien.
The scholar who transformed the study of ancient kosher laws with
her new insights was Mary Douglas – a cultural anthropologist. She
approached the study of the ancient Hebrews as if they were just
another culture like those that anthropologists have always studied,
around the world. Taboo, pollution, dirt, food prohibitions, etc. are
universal, not confined to the people of the Torah.
The ancient Hebrews were a pastoral culture, totally dependent on their flock of
sheep and goats. The Torah prohibition is only for goats, not sheep, which may
have been much more plentiful. Why?
Pastoral tribes and cultures in Central
Africa, Morocco, Estonia, Bulgaria and
other places have a strong taboo against
boiling milk. Worst of all is if milk
accidentally falls into a fire. They believe
that the result of boiling milk is that their
cow’s (or goat’s) udders will dry up.
There is a further belief that contact of
milk and meat (not through eating but
just by touching) could be fatal to the
cattle. Milk after it has left the cow is
regarded as still being connected to it,
through sympathetic magic.
The Masai of Kenya have a culture completely dependent on cattle. Not
only do they never boil milk they also never allow meat and milk to mix
in their stomach – out of fear for the effects on their cattle. They eat
meat for 10 days, then purge their stomach, then eat milk for 10 days,
etc. All out of concern for the cows and their continuing milk supply.
These African tribes would not sell milk to foreigners for fear what
might happen to the milk, and therefore to their cattle. But they also
thought that if the milk gets transformed (without heat) into cheese the
magic bond with the cow was largely broken and cheese and meat could
be eaten together.
Although the Torah only mentions goats the
Babylonian Talmud and subsequent rabbis extended
the milk/meat prohibition to all meat and milk.
When something is expressly
forbidden in the Torah it always means
that people are doing it (otherwise,
why forbid it?) and also usually means
that it is part of some pagan religious
practices, like the Canaanite child
sacrifice to their fire god Moloch that
the Torah forbids several times.
There is sort of a parallel between
that and cooking a kid in its mother’s
milk – maybe related?
Some people are unhappy with the
whole idea of both meat and dairy
so for them kosher is not relevant
When Crisco was invented in 1911 Rabbi Margolies of New York said that
“the Hebrew Race had been waiting 4,000 years for Crisco” which is a
kosher product that can be used in cooking with both meat and dairy. It is
an alternative to schmaltz.
Of course the main source of kosher food preparation has always
been in the home, so products like Crisco filled a big need there.
to put lipstick
on a pig.
Lard fights back!
I don’t know.
As Casey Stengel said – “You could look it up”
Do you have extended family memories about keeping kosher?