The laws of kashrut, the foods a Jewish person can or cannot eat, are contained in the Torah. There are 27 negative commandments in the Torah, the thou shalt nots, that provide guidance about Jewish dietary laws. The Torah says that those who fail to follow the commandments, including those concerned with the dietary laws, will receive 39 lashes or a similar punishment. In today's culture, however, when a Jew eats non-kosher food, he may feel guilty, but it is believed that this transgression, a sin against God's commandments, will be dealt with in the world to come.
What are Kosher and Non-Kosher Foods?
The laws of kashrut specify that only animals that have cloven hoofs and chew their cud can be eaten. This eliminates camels, swarming rodents, rabbits and pigs. Jews are also commanded not to eat any fish that doesn't have scales, thereby removing all shellfish, sharks, whales and dolphins or porpoises from a potential dinner menu for the observant Jew. Fruits and vegetables are allowed but not any bugs or worms residing inside them, as they are not considered kosher. Wine produced by non-Jews is also prohibited, since wine was used in pagan worship.
Are There Other Prohibitions Under the Laws of Kashrut?
There are several ancillary commandments to the rules concerning kosher foods. Among the most important is the requirement that observant Jews not eat milk with meat. Therefore, there is no glass of milk on the table when dinner is pot roast and no sour cream or butter on a baked potato with steak (although pareve margarine, made without dairy products, is allowable). This prohibition extends to the utensils that are used in the preparation and serving of kosher food. All Jews who keep kosher homes, have two sets of everything: silverware, pots and pans, dishes and even sponges and steel wool scouring pads. In addition, during Passover, Jews are required to have special dishes, silverware and pots and pans to be used only on that holiday.
Who Keeps Kosher?
The 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey found that 21 percent of all Jews keep kosher in their homes. While most are Orthodox Jews who follow the Torah commandments literally, the survey indicated that many Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform Jews also maintain kosher households. The survey also indicated that some of the non-Orthodox, nevertheless, eat non-kosher food outside the home.
Why Keep Kosher?
For Jews who observe the laws of kashrut, keeping kosher is a means of observing the commandments of the Torah. No reason is given in the Torah for God's commandment to do so. It is also believed that sitting down at a table with foods prepared in accordance with his laws, reminds the individual of his Jewish heritage. Although there are no longer any real-life punishments for failing to observe the Torah's commandments, every Jewish person is called upon to do good and be righteous in the eyes of God. For those who keep kosher, there does not need to be another reason.
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