Jewish cooking is world cooking. There are Jewish communities on every continent, and each community has its own unique regional cuisine. The thread that ties all of these diverse flavors together is the universal adherence to a series of Jewish dietary laws. These laws, known as “kashrut” (kahsh-root), are the Torah-based rules for keeping kosher.
The most well known law of kashrut, which you’ve probably heard of, prohibits the consumption of pork. However, there are many other laws involved in keeping a meal kosher, ranging from the type of meat served (no pork or shellfish) to how animals are slaughtered (kosher methods are considered more “humane”) to how food is prepared (as much blood as possible should be removed from meat prior to cooking) to what it’s served with (you cannot serve dairy with meat).
The degree to which a Jewish person will follow the laws of kashrut will often depend on their level of religious observance. Orthodox Jews follow the laws of kashrut very strictly, of course. They have special kosher kitchens, and they keep separate dishes and utensils—one set for dairy, one set for meat. Conservative and Reform Jews are generally less strict about the laws, and most modern Jews feel free to pick and choose what works for them. For instance, many Jews will stay away from pork products, but wouldn’t think twice about ordering a cheeseburger. Some Jews will keep kosher on the Sabbath or during the High Holidays, but the rest of the time, it’s shrimp cocktails and ham sandwiches. For a set of laws that are pretty exacting, most modern Jews treat kashrut with varying degrees of flexibly.
Having said that… keeping kosher, like other Jewish traditions and customs, endures. Many scholars believe that traditions like keeping kosher are very important, because they connect Jewish people to their sense of identity, their history, and their culture. Tradition has kept the spirit of Judaism alive, even in the darkest of times.
Need more information? Check out my Kosher Primer, which provides detailed information on the kosher cooking laws.
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