Image: Entrance to Jay & Lloyd’s Kosher Deli, a pink and white building. Photo by Salim Virji, some rights reserved.

A question came in via a Google search string: “How to begin eating kosher?”

First of all, here’s an article from the Orthodox Union about what “kosher” means.

There are a couple of concepts here: there’s eating kosher, and there’s keeping a kosher kitchen. Those are really two different things.

  1. You can eat kosher by eating kosher foods that have been prepared for you, in a place like Jay & Lloyd’s in the photo above, or in foods marked with a kosher symbol called a hecksher. A hecksher is a mark certifying that the food was prepared and packaged under the supervision of a specially trained rabbi. Hebrew National Hot Dogs has a hecksher, for instance. If you eat other foods with the kosher food, all bets are off, though. And of course, pork and shellfish are both off the menu!
  2. Keeping kosher is more involved. To keep kosher, you will need to find someone to help you learn how to set up your kitchen, and how to maintain it once set up. Keeping kosher is really an art. Meat foods and dairy foods cannot ever come into contact. The dishes and dishpans that they touch cannot come into contact. Even counter tops and utensils have to be kept separate. If you are interested in learning how to keep kosher, I recommend that you contact your local Conservative or Orthodox synagogue and ask them to help you find a teacher. You can’t learn to do this properly from a book or website.

Why would anyone want to keep kosher? Lots of reasons!

  • A kosher kitchen is one expression of the holiness of the Jewish home. Since the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 CE, the home has been the center for Jewish holiness. Synagogues are important as places to meet, to worship, and to study, but the Jewish holy place is the home.
  • Some Jews keep kosher because their parents kept kosher. (Cue the song “Tradition!” here.)
  • Some Jews keep kosher because it is a way of making life holy, not only in the home but everywhere.
  • Some Jews keep kosher because it is commanded in the Torah.
  • Other Jews keep kosher as a matter of solidarity with Jews all over the world.

If you are interested in keeping kosher, follow these steps:

  1. First, cultivate an awareness of what you eat. Just notice your choices for a while. Become aware.
  2. Notice what products that you buy carry a hecksher. Good news: fruits and vegetables are naturally kosher! You need to wash them very well (bugs and bug fragments are not kosher.)
  3. Talk with other members of your household. How do they feel about this? Are they willing to try this with you? Are there ways to do this without making extra work for them?
  4. Then, drop the obvious no-nos from your diet: pork products like bacon and shellfish.
  5. Look for the less obvious sources of forbidden animal products and weed them from your diet. Read labels. Become aware.
  6. When you are ready to think about separating meat and milk, then it is time to find a teacher to help you with the planning and the kitchen.