By Kim O’Connor, Communications Manager, Chelsea Jewish Lifecare
Many families and staff members have questions about “keeping kosher.” Here are a few guidelines that will hopefully clarify these age-old dietary laws.
What is “kosher”?
Kosher is a Hebrew word that literally means “fit” or “proper”. In relation to food products, “kosher” means that the item meets the dietary requirements of Jewish Law, as outlined in the Torah and observed by Jews for over 3,000 years.
Why keep kosher?
Before food-regulating organizations such as the FDA and USDA existed, people kept kosher to help avoid food borne illnesses while also remaining “spiritually healthy”. Today, some believe that kosher food is cleaner, healthier, less vulnerable to bacteria and parasites, and a higher quality than its non-kosher counterparts. Regardless, Jews essentially keep kosher because God told them to and because it offers an optimal diet for spiritual health.
The Chelsea Jewish Lifecare (CJF) keeps kosher at all of its facilities and residences in honor of the Jewish traditions upon which the organization was founded. Within each of our facilities and residences there are non-kosher spaces for residents, families and staff to enjoy non-kosher food.
What does it mean to keep kosher?
Kosher law is complex, but the basics of keeping kosher entails the following:
- Permitted and prohibited food sources
- Preparation of meat
- Separation of meat and dairy
- Kosher ingredients and utensils/equipment
- Kosher for Passover
- Kosher certification
Permitted and prohibited food sources
All of the food served by CJF abides by kosher law. Specifically, the following foods are permitted or prohibited to be served and consumed in kosher spaces:
- Land mammals that have cloven hooves and chew their cud such as cattle, sheep, lamb, goats, veal, deer and bison are all on the approved kosher list. The milk from kosher mammals is also permitted as long as it does not contain non-kosher additives such as meat products. Pigs, camel, donkey and rabbits are prohibited, in addition to their milk.
- Fish with fins and scales such as tuna, salmon and herring are all kosher. Shellfish such as lobster, crab, shrimp and clams are prohibited, as well as eel, octopus, shark and whale.
- Fowl that are not birds of prey such as chicken, turkey, geese and duck are specified as kosher. The eggs of kosher fowl are permitted as long as they do not contain blood. Any birds of prey such as the vulture, eagle, owl, swan and pelican are prohibited, in addition to their eggs.
- All unprocessed fruits and vegetables are kosher. All foods that grow in the soil or on plants, bushes or trees are viewed as kosher, with the exception of hybrid fruits and vegetables. Insects are not kosher so foods prone to insect infestation such as cauliflower must be carefully examined.
- Dairy products and their derivatives. All kosher milk products must derive from kosher animals and cannot contain any non-kosher additives such as meat products.
Preparation of meat
Among all of the foods that are permitted to be served and consumed at CJF, none are considered kosher unless slaughtered ahead of time in accordance with the Jewish Ritual Slaughter known as shechita. This is believed to be the most humane method of slaughter possible. A Jewish butcher and ritual slaughterer known as a schochet performs the kosher slaughter under the supervision of a rabbi. Once the meat has been properly slaughtered, it must undergo a process known as kashering in order to drain it of blood and remove the veins and skin. This also entails soaking and salting or salting and broiling the meat within 72 hours of slaughter and before the meat is frozen and ground. This entire process is conducted by CJF’s kosher food service provider before the meats are received.
Separation of meat and dairy
The Torah prohibits eating meat and dairy together, in addition to cooking meat and fish together. This separation includes not only the foods themselves, but also the cooking utensils, plates and flatware, dishwashers, sponges and kitchen towels. Therefore, all of the kosher kitchens and individual households at CJF have two sets of pots, pans, dishes and dishwashers—one for meat and the other for dairy. All fruits, nuts, vegetables and grains may be eaten with meat or dairy.
Kosher ingredients and utensils/equipment
Utensils and appliances used in handling kosher food must also be kosher. A utensil or appliance picks up the status of the food that is cooked in it, whether meat, dairy, neutral (parve) or non-kosher. The utensil or appliance also transmits that status to the next food cooked or processed in it. To avoid any utensils or appliances from being rendered non-kosher, there is no cooking of non-kosher foods in any CJF kitchens or individual households and meat is kept separate from dairy by use of separate plates, flatware and appliances.
Kosher for Passover
The eight-day Jewish holiday of Passover occurs every year in the spring and marks the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt and the birth of the Jewish nation. The most widely known aspect of Passover is its special food requirements—mainly what may not be eaten.
At CJF, the following foods are prohibited to be consumed in kosher spaces during Passover:
- Chametz—Foods made from one of five types of grain and has been combined with water and left to stand raw for longer than 18 minutes. This includes bread wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt.
- Kitniyot—Beans/legumes. This includes rice, corn, millet, dried beans and lentils, peas, green beans, soybeans, peanuts, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and mustard.
At CJF, the following foods are permitted to be served and consumed in kosher spaces during Passover:
- Matzo in any form (matzo, matzo meal and matzo cake meal)
- Any kind of fruit
- Any kind of vegetable, excluding those listed under kitniyot
- Kosher beef, chicken, turkey, or fish with scales
- Eggs and egg whites
- Nuts, nut flours and pure nut butters (no additives), excluding those listed under kitniyot
- Dairy products like cheese, yogurt and milk
- Any spices and herbs
- Broth from kosher meats and vegetable-based broth
- Any packaged or processed product with a Kosher for Passover stamp of approval from a Kosher organization is considered acceptable for Passover consumption
All utensils and appliances must also be koshered to be made fit for use during Passover, however, most use a separate set of dishes for the holiday. At the Chelsea Jewish Lifecare, our dietary services department works diligently each spring to switch over all cooking utensils, plates and flatware, sponges and kitchen towels to our kosher sets. In addition, all appliances and refrigerators are koshered and completely cleaned to prepare for kosher for Passover foods.
Just a century ago, mass produced pre-packaged goods were almost unheard of. Both individuals and large institutions had to purchase basic raw materials and prepare their meals from scratch. Today, the packaged products available on the market are too many to count. Due to the myriad of changes and advances in the food market, it has become absolutely necessary for facilities wishing to serve the kosher consumer to obtain kosher certification from a reliable kosher certifying agency. The kosher certifying agency checks the source of all ingredients, provides the kosher status of any equipment used to process the product, and sets up a system by which the integrity of both ingredients and equipment is monitored and maintained. Each kosher certification agency has its own symbol that is placed on approved products to denote they have met the kosher status.
The Chelsea Jewish Lifecare purchases only kosher products that have been kosher certified by a reputable agency. All of our facilities and residences are also routinely visited by a rabbi to ensure products prepared are in fact kosher and are being prepared in accordance with Jewish Laws using the appropriate kosher equipment, utensils and appliances.
Misconceptions about kosher
At CJF, we hear many misconceptions about kosher foods. Here are the most common we have encountered:
Kosher means that a Rabbi blessed the food: False. There are blessings that some Jews recite before consuming food, but that does not make the food kosher. A food is only kosher if it conforms to the dietary requirements of Jewish Law.
Kosher-style food like knishes, matzo ball soup and bagels and lox is kosher: False. Kosher is not a style of cooking. All of these items can be non-kosher if not prepared according to the kosher rules.
Kosher only applies during Passover: False. Kosher dietary laws are observed all year round. There are additional dietary restrictions during Passover.
As you can see, keeping kosher in healthcare is no small feat. It takes incredible devotion and manpower to follow all of the kosher laws and abide by all of the dietary rules annually. But to CJF, this has been our way of life since 1919 and we are proud to be one of New England’s only kosher healthcare providers!