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The basic laws of kosher food are in the Biblical book of Leviticus, their details explicated in the oral law (the Mishnah and the Talmud) and codified by the later rabbinical authorities.

There are actually varying degrees of Kashrut, with the ultimate degree shading into behavior more than just the food itself. For instance, meat which is not Kosher may be sold to the general public or used for pet food however, milk and meat may not be combined together, even if the resulting mixture is to be discarded, let alone sold or fed to a pet.

Types of foods

Foods are kosher when they meet all criteria that Jewish law applies to food. Invalidating characteristics may range from the presence of a mixture of meat and milk, to the use of produce from Israel that has not been tithed properly, or even the use of cooking utensils which had previously been used for non-kosher food. All food derived from non-kosher animals as enumerated in the Bible is not allowed according to the laws of kashrut.

The basic categories are as follows:

  1. Food derived from animals must be from kosher animals as listed in the Bible.
  2. Meat products from kosher animals must  be  " shechted" (ritual slaughter) properly in order to be permissable.
  3. Meat products from kosher animals that were " terefah," meaning they had some specific fatal disease or injury are not kosher.
  4. There must be no mixing of meat and milk or milk products. One must have separate utensils for meat and milk food preparation, eating and storage.
  5. The utensils used to prepare, eat and store kosher food must be completely clean of any non-kosher food. They must not have even absorbed the taste of non-kosher food (i.e. a pot used to cook meat and milk).
  6. Certain agricultural products are restricted, such as fruits of a tree that is in its first three years, and produce of Israel that has not been tithed.
  7. Leavened bread and products are considered non-kosher during the Passover holiday.

Identification of kosher foods

Store-bought foods can be identified as kosher by the presence of a hechsher, a graphical symbol that indicates that the food has been certified as kosher by a rabbinic authority. (This might be an individual rabbi, but is more often a rabbinic organization.) The most common symbol in America is the " OU" : a U inside a circle, standing for the Union of Orthodox Congregations. In other countries, especially Israel, there is often a local rabbinate which provides kashrut supervision. Many individual rabbis and organizations, however, have their own certification marks. These other symbols are too numerous to list.

The hechsherim of certain authorities are sometimes considered invalid by certain other authorities. A solitary K is sometimes used as a symbol for kashrut, but as this is simply a letter of the alphabet and cannot be trademarked (the method by which other symbols are protected from misuse). It does not indicate anything other than the fact that the company producing the food considers it to be kosher, which may or may not be the case.

Another way to check the kashrut of an item is to read the list of ingredients however, many observers of kashrut do not consider this to be sufficient. It can, however, identify obviously unkosher substances present in food.

Producers of food items and food additives can contact Jewish authorities to have their product deemed kosher. A committee will visit their facilities to inspect production methods and contents of the product and issue a certificate if everything is in order.

For various reasons, such as changes in manufacturing processes, previously kosher products can 'lose their hechsher' a change in lubricating oil to one containing tallow, for instance. Often, these changes will be coordinated with the supervising rabbi or organization, to insure that new packaging, which will not suggest any hechsher or kashrut, will be used for the new formulation. But in some cases, the supply of preprinted labels with the hechsher may still find its way onto the now nonkosher product for such reasons, there is an active 'grapevine' among the Jewish community identifying which products are now questionable, as well as products which have become kosher but whose labels have yet to carry the hechsher. That 'grapevine' will also publicize situations where an unauthorized hechsher has appeared on a product either accidentally or deliberately.

Courtesy of Wikipedia. All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

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