What Is Kosher Food?

"What is kosher food?" you may ask, once you realize that most Jerusalem restaurants advertise themselves as kosher.

Understanding the basics of keeping kosher may also help you avoid some potentially embarrassing faux-pas such as asking for real cream in your coffee when you’ve just had a steak dinner.

Keeping kosher is one of the basic tenets of Judaism. The Jewish dietary laws of kashrut are derived from several Torah prohibitions regarding foods that are or are not permissible to eat. For example, pork is not kosher, and eating meat and dairy products together is also forbidden. Thus, kosher restaurants serve either dairy or meat, but not both in the same establishment. So you won’t get tzatziki – cucumber yoghurt sauce – with your gyros sandwich or chicken shawarma in a kosher eatery, and if it offers ice cream for dessert, it will probably be made with tofu, not dairy products.

This means that, when you’re choosing a Jerusalem restaurant, in addition to deciding if you want to eat Italian or Moroccan food, you’ll usually also have to decide if you feel like having dairy or meat for dinner. It’s also why our restaurant reviews are separated into two categories.

Here are some basic rules of what is kosher food and what isn’t:

  1. Some animals, like pork, are forbidden.

  2. Animals that are permitted, such as cows and chicken, must be slaughtered according to Jewish law.

  3. These slaughtered animals must then be completely drained of blood.

  4. Certain parts of permitted animals are forbidden.

  5. Fruits, grains and vegetables grown in the land of Israel must meet Jewish agricultural laws. They must be checked for insects.

  6. Meat cannot be cooked or eaten with dairy products.

The rules of keeping kosher, especially when it comes to prepared foods or restaurants, can be quite complex. They become even more intricate when it comes to produce grown in the land of Israel. (You can learn more about what is kosher food and what isn’t through this very informative and well-organized interactive Kosher Wizard from chabad.org.)

To protect kosher consumers, kashrut agencies provide supervision and certification for products and restaurants that want to present themselves as kosher. Because various communities and kashrut agencies may follow different stringencies or leniencies, there are several levels of kashrut and many kashrut certificates, which can become very confusing.

In Jerusalem, you’ll generally find restaurants that are “kosher” or “kosher mehadrin,” the more stringent level of certification. Some establishments even boast multiple certifications, from different agencies.

On this website, we only review Jerusalem restaurants that are certified kosher mehadrin at the time of review. (Certifications change frequently, so listing on this website is not a guarantee that a restaurant is still kosher – we are not a kashrus agency!)

For the latest, up-to-date kashrut alerts on products and restaurants in Israel, check Jerusalem Kosher News.

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