Religious laws and rituals, unlike their secular and civil counterparts, tend to be deeply rooted in the spirituality of man. Kashruth, the Jewish dietary laws, are no different. Their aim is to enable man’s refined elements to transcend through the elevation of the foods eaten. Eating is amongst man’s greatest physical desires. Placing restrictions on man’s dietary intake enables him to overcome basic instincts. Having these restrictions deeply rooted in spirituality enables man to elevate his existence to realms otherwise non-attainable. Although minor infractions of civil law may be tolerated to some extent within out society, infractions, even seemingly minor ones, cannot be tolerated within a serious religious setting.
The kosher food laws, as do most Jewish religious laws, have their basis in the Five Books of Moses during and after the revelation at Mt. Sinai. The basic laws have remained unchanged for over three thousand years. Adaptation to cultural changes has always remained within the strict confines and spirit of the original mandates. Advances in technology have definitely played their part in modern food processing. Although new methodologies are introduced in food processing, their relation to kashruth is, as it always has been, severely governed by the same unchanging principles.
The following attempts to outline a basic knowledge of contemporary kosher food processing. It is however only basic. A full working knowledge of kashruth procedure and regulations can only be achieved through adequate experience.
THE PHYSICAL WORK AREA
Kosher foods are divided into three categories, meat and meat derivatives, dairy and dairy derivatives, and parve (non dairy and non meat foods and their derivatives). Dietary laws mandate a strict separation between all dairy foods and all meat foods. All parve items can be utilized with either dairy or meat operations, but once incorporated into either operation, can no longer be utilized for anything other than that operation into which it has been incorporated. Although with proper caustion one kitchen can be used to process dairy, meat and parve, many households and institutional kitchens maintain two (and sometimes three) complete and separate kitchens in order to insure a division between dairy and meat (and parve when apropos). Two or three sets of cooking pots and pans, cooking utensils, serving pieces, dishes and cutlery must always be maintained. One set is used exclusively for meat production, a second set for dairy. If a parve food item is produced with the intention that it be used with either/both meat and dairy meals, the third (parve) set of utensils is mandated. (Vegetable preparation or baked goods are often intended for use in both dairy and meat food preparation in order to facilitate ease in overall production) It is preferable to maintain separate sets of burners, ovens, work surfaces, sinks, and tablecloths for dairy, meat and parve. Provisions can be made for the use of only one set of stoves, ovens, work surfaces, sinks and tablecloths.
Stovetops can be used for cooking both dairy and meat meals. The limitations in utilizing common burners is that they must always be completely free of food residue prior to use and that dairy and meat (or parve) pots and equipment cannot be used simultaneously. They can only be cooked one after the next.
The ovens used today can also be used for both dairy and meat foods providing the following safeguards are stringently maintained. Dairy and meat foods should not be cooked simultaneously in an oven unless the following is done:
All food residues, which often occur from spillage, must be removed prior to use.
Either those areas that had food residue or the entire oven must be heated to a high degree of heat. (Either set the oven to 550 degrees or run it through a self cleaning cycle. If there is absolutely no spillage and no residue this step can be omitted.
When dairy and meat foods are cooked simultaneously in a common oven either the dairy or the meat dishes must be covered during the cooking process. When they are cooked separately nothing needs to be covered as long as the oven is free of food residue.
One set of sinks could conceivably be utilized with the precaution of having separate racks, designated dairy and meat, on the bottom of the sinks.
All base ingredients utilized in kosher food production must be kosher. Although not everything requires rabbinical certification, the general axiom is that the more a food is processed, the more likely it is required to have rabbinic supervision in order to verify its kashruth status.
Raw Vegetation Raw non-processed plant matter, fruits, vegetables and herbs are generally acceptable. The only exceptions to this rule are those items grown in Israel. Israeli grown produce requires a minimal but extremely necessary ritual prior to use.
Processed Vegetation Canned and frozen produce and produce products are often kosher but brands must be checked individually to insure kashruth compliance. Special attention must be given to processed tomato, potato and beans and products made with these items, as they are often produced in non-kosher factories. Grape juice must be specially produced under strict rabbinical supervision because it is considered wine in Jewish Law.
Margarine, Oil, Shortening Margarine often contains milk. If margarine is to be utilized in a meat operation it must be formulated completely milk free (parve). Oils and shortenings are extremely problematic. Many processors manufacture both vegetable and animal oils and shortenings on the same equipment. This is obviously non-kosher. Even oils and shortenings that are marketed at 100% pure vegetable are unacceptable because of the use of common equipment as well as the potential non-kosher additives. The U.S. government allows the addition of emulsifiers of an animal origin in a pure vegetable product. These emulsifiers which are added to insure uniform consistency, are not required to be listed as an ingredient. For these reasons all foods which contain margarine, oil or shortening such as bread, pastries, salad dressing, mayonnaise, etc. must be processed under rabbinical supervision. Piecrusts are particularly problematic because lard is utilized almost universally to produce a flaky crust.
Wines Wine maintains a distinct place in the Jewish religion. Because wine has been utilized throughout history as a religious libation, the Rabbis of ancient times decreed that in order to be kosher, wines must processed solely by observant Jews. Until recently the bulk of kosher wine on the market was not of good quality. Fortunately for the sophisticated palate, tremendous inroads have been made in the kosher wine industry. At present there are available extremely fine kosher wines produced throughout the world. A prerequisite to being handled by non-Jews is that the wine must be heated to the point that there is a loss through the heating process. This is often done via pasteurization. Not all kosher wines are processed in this manner, those that are being termed mevushal. Because brandies have a wine base they must be manufactured from a kosher wine base under rabbinical supervision. Liqueurs often have a wine base, although some are manufactured from a synthetic base. They must be ascertained by brand name and item type for kashruth status.
Fish The Bible, in Leviticus Chapter 11, states that only fish, which have fins, and cycloid and ctenoid scales, are kosher. This excludes shellfish as well as turbo, monkfish, skate,sturgeon and some types of tuna and mackerel. If fish are filleted they lose their natural identification. Therefore filleted fish must be processed under rabbinical supervision. Canned fish, as with any canned food must have its Kashruth ascertained. Fish is Parve.
Meat Meat is the single most problematic food item. Only certain species of animals are kosher. In modern times these are limited to beef (and veal), lamb, goat, bison, deer, chicken, turkey, ducks, and geese. A highly trained and certified specialist known as a shochet must slaughter the animal. The shochet must possess a working knowledge of the intricacies of the Jewish laws pertaining to animal slaughter and processing. He uses a long razor sharp knife to slit the animal’s throat, severing the esophagus and trachea. This causes an instantaneous loss of sensation leading to a quick and painless death. Because of the strict requirement that the death be painless, the shochet is required to check the knife’s sharpness by running his fingertip along the blade’s edge both before and after each animal is killed. If the slightest defect is detected the knife is not kosher and thereby renders the kill not kosher. After acceptable slaughter the animal is checked internally for terminal defects. Many range fed animals and chickens have stomach problems and the majority of feedlot animals have lung defects. These defects render the animal not kosher. Once the animal has been deemed kosher, it then must have proper kosher identification attached. The meat must then have a qualified expert remove various veins and fats. Because the extensive labor involved in removing said veins and fat from the hindquarter would render the meat prohibitively expensive, the hindquarter is not used as kosher in America and Europe. Once the de-veining process has been completed, the meat is then soaked in cool water for one half hour. The water is drained and the meat is coated with coarse salt and left on a perforated surface for an hour. This is done in order to comply with the Bible’s directives of not eating blood since the animal’s soul is bound within its blood. After an hour’s time, the meat is thoroughly rinsed to remove all salt.
Cheese Cheese utilizes rennet as a coagulant. Rennet is an enzyme extracted from the linings of animal stomachs. In order to be kosher, the rennet must be extracted from kosher killed animals. It can also be synthesized. Because the finished product looks the same irregardless of the coagulant these dairy products must be processed under rabbinical supervision.
Bread Aside from being baked with exclusively kosher ingredients there is an ancient rabbinical enactment mandating that all breads be baked parve. This is due to the fact that milk as an ingredient in bread is not recognizable in the finished product. Since the chances of using the finished product with meat is very real, the rabbis enacted that all breads be baked parve. The only exception that will allow for baking dairy bread is if it is baked in small quantities for immediate use and there will be no leftovers or leftovers are immediately disposed of by feeding them to the birds or other wild or domesticated animals.
Miscellaneous No supervison needed:
unflavored black, green or herb tea
unflavored bottled water
Problematic: The following items are often problematic. Special attention must be given to these items whenever they are utilized as foodstuffs or appear as ingredients in a manufacturer’s process.
Flavorings, both natural and artificial, can have many Kashruth problems.
Whey, caseinate and lactose are dairy derivatives and not only must be from a kosher source, but cannot be utilized in a meat operation.
Gelatin is usually produced from non-kosher animals. Kosher gelatin is derived from plant matter, usually agar. Unfortunately they do not have the body or shelf life of non-kosher gelatin. Gelatin from fish bones also available, and is parve.
WAITING BETWEEN DAIRY AND MEAT
One note of relevance that needs to be remembered as part of any kosher operation is that it is customary to wait six hours after eating meat before the subsequent eating of dairy. This may preclude serving a meat lunch followed by a dairy dinner; or a meat dinner followed by a dairy late night snack.
THE SABBATH The Sabbath, which begins just prior to sunset on Friday and ends about one hour after sunset on Saturday, and the Jewish holidays have a special sanctity, which permeates the fabric of Jewish existence. A Jew is not allowed to cook or bake on the Sabbath. A non-Jew is not allowed to cook, bake, or perform any forbidden act, for a Jew. Normal Sabbath procedures mandate cooking ones foods prior to the onset of the Sabbath and keeping those foods that are to be eaten warm on a food warmer, a modified stovetop or a modified oven.
PASSOVER The Passover holiday presents particular problems. On Passover, the use of leavening or leavened foods is prohibited. This specifically excludes all products that contain flour or grain in any form except special Passover matzo and matzo products. Because the prohibition extends to even the most minute quantity, it is the custom of the kosher consumer to have everything produced kosher for Passover. All factories have their equipment completely disassembled, scoured, and subject to the koshering procedure of exposure to a high degree of heat by torching or boiling water. Kitchens must also undergo such a pre-Passover cleaning and koshering. Only metal, and in some cases, wood and glass, can be koshered. Other items, such as dishes, must be replaced with a separate set used only for Passover. In general, it has become a practical custom to have two complete sets of cookware and service ware designated exclusively for Passover use. These items are boxed and stored throughout the year when not being used for Passover.