What Is Kosher?
Almost every place where you will eat in Safed will be Kosher. This is because of the religious nature of the majority of people who reside in Safed. But what is kosher and what will this mean for your dining experience?
Kosher or Kashrut is the traditional Jewish dietary laws which include the ritual slaughter of meat and fowl and the separation of dairy foods from meat foods.
This system evolved from the Biblical prohibition ‘you shall not cook a kid in its mother's milk'. The Sages of old not only determined that Jews shouldn't cook meat and dairy foods together, but also that they shouldn't be eaten together either.
Observant Jews keep two completely separate sets of dishes, pots and pans, silverware, etc... to ensure that there is no cross-over or contamination from one type of food to another. Fish, vegetables, legumes and grains are considered parve or neutral and can be eaten with either type of food.
Types Of Kosher Animals
Jews who keep kosher and want to eat meat, must eat meat that is kosher, which means it comes from animals that have cloven hooves and chew the cud, e.g. cow, lamb and goat. Pigs have a cloven hoof but they do not chew the cud, and rabbits chew the cud but don't have a cloven hoof so neither are kosher.
Only fish that have both scales and fins are permitted, which is why shellfish isn't allowed. Poultry is allowed but birds of prey are not permitted as they are scavengers. Both animals and poultry must be ritually slaughtered by a trained person and the blood drained from the body of the animal, as eating or drinking blood is also not permitted. The koshering process is completed by the use of salt.
In order to ensure that all manufactured kosher food or that which is provided by hotels and restaurants claiming to be kosher actually is, there is a system of supervision. This is done by Rabbinical Authorities who employ qualified personnel called mashgiachs. In the United States the best known authority is the OU. Here in Israel there are a variety of authorities who give their individual stamp of approval, or hechsher.
What Is A Hechsher?
When you buy processed food you will often see a small symbol or hechsher e.g. OU on the packaging which shows that the product is kosher. Some products, especially those produced in Israel have many symbols on them, indicating that the product has the approval of several different rabbinical authorities. Each rabbinical authority has its own set of requirements and level of supervision they provide.
Some observant Jews are extremely strict about the products they buy and the food they eat and only want to purchase products with hechshers that meet very stringent standards with very high levels of supervision. These hechshers are called glatt, mehadrin or sometimes referred to as b'datz.
Why Keep Kosher?
Observant Jews believe the laws of kashrut come from God and although they don't necessarily understand why they need to keep these laws, they accept that this is what God wants.
Kosher products are becoming popular even amongst non-Jews, as people believe the food, because it is supervised during production, is more likely to be free of contamination and therefore will be healthier.