Being kosher is an important part of the Jewish religion.
The rules of kashrut (pertaining to kosher, being fit or proper) appear in the Old Testament in both Leviticus and Numbers. Jewish people were told they should eat only animals that chew their cud and have hooves — like cows — and fish with scales and fins. Thus pigs and crustaceans, among other creatures which don’t fit into these categories, were forbidden to the Jewish people as food. Bugs were also forbidden (with the exception of two species of kosher locusts, designated by name).
There are many ramifications aside from these basic prohibitions, including the method of slaughter of any of the above-listed animals, and there are a number of organizations with individuals who go into food-processing plants, slaughterhouses, and meat-packing plants to ensure that all kosher tenets are met.
The largest of these kosher-certifying organizations in the world is the Orthodox Union.
Many products carry the OU symbol, thus certifying the products as being kosher.
According to Rabbi Dovid Jenkins, the rabbinical coordinator of the Orthodox Union, there are 3.5 million residents of this country who choose to purchase kosher products and many, he said, aren’t Jewish. The OU kosher supervisors travel all over the world to certify products that will be imported and sold in the U.S. Jenkins said that the OU has even gotten a request from Pakistan to certify their products. However, it was deemed too dangerous to send a kosher supervisor to that country.
Next: 12 Fascinating facts about a kosher diet
1. The states with the most people who buy kosher food are in order: New York, Florida, California, and Texas. Texas is the fourth, not necessarily because of the Jewish population but because of the many non-Jews who also seek kosher products.
2. Kosher products can be purchased in almost every country in the world. Kosher food can also be ordered on Amtrak and almost any airline.
3. Many Muslims seek out kosher certification because the dietary restrictions of kosher products meet their Halal (lawful) requirements, which are similar to kosher.
4. China is a big producer of kosher ingredients and finished products.
5. Kosher closely follows food trends in the general populace. There are organic, vegetarian, non-gluten and vegan kosher products.
6. There are about 1500 kosher food certifying bodies in the world, the majority of which are headquartered in the U.S.
7. The OU was originally established in 1898, not as a kosher supervisory organization, but as a communal organization to help the large influx of Jewish refugees who arrived in the East. In 1925, when mass production of prepared foods came into being, the OU set up a separate kosher division to supervise and certify such products. H.J. Heinz was their first client with a baked beans product.
8. There have been kosher-certifying organizations as long as there have been organized Jewish communities; the rabbi of any community and the rabbinical court (Beyt Din, literally “House of Judgment”) were responsible for the kashrut of any food prepared there for sale. For example, in 1706, the London Beyt Din established a group of rabbis to oversee everything that had to do with Jewish life including kashrut.
9. Food coloring and food made with coloring like maraschino cherries have to be certified as some may be made with carmine, which is a red dye made from a certain beetle in Peru — since Jews are forbidden to eat insects, this is unkosher.
10. Some non-food products also have to be certified kosher, like aluminum foil which in the past was manufactured by using rollers coated with lard. Even if this isn’t the case today, manufacturers like Reynolds like to have the OU symbol as some consumers have concerns about items that touch their food. Other non-food examples where kosher applies include dishwasher soap and Brillo pads.
11. There are separate kosher certifications for manufactured products used on Passover, which include such non-food items as make-up, shampoo, and deodorants.
12. Even some Muslim countries, like Turkey, sell and produce kosher products with kosher certification.
These are only a few of the fascinating facts connected with being kosher; for more information, consult your local Orthodox rabbi.
image illustrations via shutterstock / Vorontsova Anastasiia