About Kosher Laws
Kosher food is essentially food that does not have any non-kosher ingredients in accordance with Jewish dietary law (the Hebrew word “kosher” means fit, or proper).
What makes something kosher is that meat and milk products are not mixed together, animal products from non-kosher animals (like pork, shellfish, and others) are not included, and any meat from kosher animals is slaughtered in the correct procedure. There are a number of other requirements that need to be met, both in the process of food preparation and who performs the process.
The basic laws of kosher (or kashrut) are of Biblical origin (Vayikra 11 and Devarim 17). For thousands of years, rabbinic scholars have interpreted these laws and applied them to contemporary situations. In addition, rabbinic bodies enacted protective legislation to safeguard the integrity of kosher laws.
Nowadays, because of the complexity of the kosher requirements and modes of food production, kosher certification is needed to ensure that all the criteria for kosher food have been met. (This has led to a common misconception that kosher food must be "blessed by a rabbi" but such is not the case.)
Kosher status is typically indicated by a symbol printed on the package representing an agency's certification. There are hundreds of kosher certification agencies in the U.S. The largest is OU Kosher, our partner in creating this kosher reference guide.
Kosher food is not just for the religious – the vast majority of customers of kosher products buy it for other reasons – whether because they want gluten-free (many kosher for Passover items offer grain-free alternatives), halal, or just because kosher food is seen as high quality.
What Makes Foods Kosher?
Which animals do the laws of kashrut permit to be eaten? How must they be killed and prepared? What is shechita? Click here to learn more.
Which animal byproducts may be used? How must they be prepared? Click here to find out.
Grapes are one of the seven agricultural products specially grown in the land of Israel. Grapes are used to produce wine, which is traditionally drunk to mark holidays and significant lifecycle events. What makes a wine kosher?
Bread is considered a complete meal in and of itself. We break bread on holidays and in celebration of significant life events and other seudot mitzva. What is required to make kosher bread?
The Sages of the Talmud recognized that Jewish identity is the key to the survival of the Jewish people. To this end, they enacted sets of food laws to limit socialization between Jews and non-Jews. Learn about Bishul Yisrael, Pat Yisrael, and more.
About Kosher Consumers
The majority of kosher food sales are actually not to kosher-observant Jewish consumers! Other religious denominations take advantage of overlapping dietary restrictions, like halal, or Christian sects like Seventh Day Adventists that avoid pork. Gluten-free and other special diets work well with Passover grain-free food items. Vegetarians can feel certain that their dairy products are meat-free. General consumers buy kosher products with a higher level of comfort and trust.
The laws of kosher are complex and extensive. The intention of this guide, provided by OU Kosher, the largest American kosher certification agency, is to acquaint the reader with some of the fundamentals of kashrut and to provide insight into its practical application. Given the complex nature of the laws of kashrut, one should consult an Orthodox rabbi whenever an issue arises. Explore these topics to read about these laws in greater detail.
Though ancillary health benefits have been attributed to the observance of kashrut, the ultimate purpose and rationale is to conform to the Divine laws for the Jews that are found in the Torah.