New Feature Presented by JNews.US as a Community Service. A Series of articles on Kashrus, authored by Rabbi Yehuda Shain of the The Kosher Consumers Union

Rabbi Yehuda Shain: The Kosher Consumers Union

The Basic Laws of Kashrus

The Torah states regarding kosher animals, “Among the animals you may eat, anyone that has both cloven hoofs and that chew its cud”. The Torah identifies and enumerates the animals that are kosher. The animal must have both characteristics—Chew its cud & split hooves. The camel, pig and rabbit only have one so they are not kosher. The Torah states further regarding kosher fowl; “these are the flying animals that you must avoid. Since they are to be avoided, do not eat any of the following….” Therefore, only those that through the generations have been traditionally accepted as a kosher species may be eaten.

Sea Food

The Torah states regarding kosher fish and marine life “this is what you may eat in the water, whatever has fins and scales.” Not all parts of a kosher animal or fowl are traditionally eaten, & not all types of scales are acceptable as kosher, as will be addressed later on.

What does the concept “Kosher” regarding food products food denote? “That which is usable, suited for use or permitted as food pursuant to the Jewish Dietary Laws.” The antonym is “Treif” (Non-Kosher). The Torah addresses the principal laws of what a Jewish individual may or may not consume. The Shulchan Oruch by Rabbi Joseph Karo and [its standard included commentaries serves as the main source of entirety of codices on] (codifies) on the laws of Kashrus.

[Additionally, ‘Poskim’ (authorities who adjudicate queries in the area of Kashrus as well as other Jewish leagal matters) rely on a thousands of responsa written by leading Rabbinic authorities of that period, as well as earlier and later ones, which are used to further clarify and elucidate many issues pertaining to Kashrus.

In modern times, most of the food products consumed are manufactured in facilities located in many geographic areas the world such as Europe, the Middle East, Asia and south of the U.S.

What does a food manufacturing facility have to know basically in order to qualify for manufacturing kosher food? The same kosher laws apply to foods made at home and to those manufactured in a facility. Briefly stated, the policy and obligations of food processors vis-a-vis kosher food production, are as follows:

  1. In general, products are eligible for kosher certification if they meet the following criteria:
  • Active and inert ingredients are free of:
  • Meat, meat fat, meat by-products of animal, fowl, mammal, reptile, amphibians, insects or worms, and Fish not bearing scales, or their derivatives.
  • c) Milk, milk by-products or derivatives.
  • d) Wine, wine by-products or derivatives.
  • Processed in equipment, which has not processed any of the above-enumerated products.
  • Be free of any ingredient that fails to comply with above criteria

Some examples of non-kosher foods are ova eggs, gelatin, shellfish, cognac, brandy, bread baked in pans greased in fat.

  1. Meat, fowl, or their by-products, as well as milk and milk by-products are kosher when prepared in a rigorously supervised manner, in accordance with the kosher laws and attested to by a knowledgeable orthodox Rabbi.
  2. Not all animals or fowl are kosher even when prepared in a kosher manner. The Torah designates as kosher only those animals that have cloven hoofs and chew their cud, and certain fowl.  However in order for this meat to be kosher for consumption, they must have been slaughtered in accordance with the Jewish ritual law, by an ordained, trained shochet (ritual slaughterer).
  3. The meat must also go through a process of purging the forbidden fats and blood veins.  The meat must also go through a salting or broiling process, which must be in accordance with the method proscribed by Jewish law.
  4. Due to the difficulties involved with purging the forbidden fats from the back half of the animal it is customary not to use any part of the back half of an animal.
  5. Meat must be purchased only from a kosher butcher who is under the supervision of a qualified rabbinical authority. The heart among some other parts of meat and fowl are customarily not eaten.
  6. 3) Only fish that have fins and scales are kosher. Not all types of scales are considered as kosher scales.
  7. 4) The eating or cooking in any form or manner of meat and milk together is prohibited. Meat and milk derivatives are considered the same as their meat and milk origin. A kosher consumer, as well as food manufacturers and processors must have separate sets of utensils and dishes for dairy and meat. The meat and dairy utensils must be washed separately.
  8. 5) Equipment used to process or produce non-kosher products cannot be used to process kosher products unless it is subjected to a koshering / sterilization process under the supervision of a qualified trained rabbi.
  9. 6) All unadulterated and unprocessed produce, such as fruits, vegetables, grain, minerals-all things that grow from the soil, vines or trees-are inherently kosher.

Antibiotics and Hormones

Antibiotics and hormones may affect the kosher status of fowl. It is common practice to vaccinate fowl by injection.  The fowl is vaccinated on day one and a number of times thereafter. The place of injection for the first vaccination is in the neck area. The needle used for the vaccination is very small, yet it may come in contact with the esophagus and render the bird a treifah.  

Some of the injections are given in the leg area, which may damage the leg tendons, which will also render the bird a treifah.  Leg tendon lesions (rupture and hemorrhaging) are common because of viral arthritis.

In Eretz Yisroel it is common procedure by the Mehadrin Shechita’s to check the leg tendons for rupture and hemorrhaging.  The Mehadrin Shechita’s in Eretz Yisroel also have supervision on the vaccinations that they should be injected only in an area that will not render the bird a treifah.   The common age of chickens by shechita is six to eight weeks old. 

In order to have a chicken fully-grown and mature they will use growth hormones.  Growth hormones also retain water in the chicken.

The vaccinations and growth hormones cause common health problems to the fowl such as leukosis, leg tendon problems, low resistance to disease and Chronic Respiratory Diseases.   The respiratory disease does affect the kosher status of the lungs and would require a careful checking of the lungs.   Some (but not all) of the vaccinations are sometimes given in the drinking water or by a spray in the air.

There was a breed of chickens bred in Israel over the last 50 years, which does not require any vaccinations or growth hormones. The breeder claimed that the breed does not have any problems with the tendons nor with the lungs.  

As far as we know there is no rabbinical authority that certified the breed to have been bred only with birds that are traditionally accepted as kosher birds?   There are breeds of questionable Mesorah. Your Rabbi should be consulted for his opinion in the matter.

All manufactured products, which may contain any ingredients derived from doubtful origins, must be checked by a qualified rabbinical authority as to whether the Dietary Laws were not violated during their preparation.

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