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Rabbis' Blog

Kosher Matters


This week's Torah portion Re'eh discusses some of the laws of Kosher. The following article was first published in the "Ask The Rabbi" column of The Jewish Voice, January 2014.

Dear Rabbi Levi,

I always understood the Kosher dietary laws to be a guide to healthy eating. Why is it that there is kosher certification on so many unhealthy foods?

Health Conscious

Dear H. C.,

I always wondered where this equation came from. Perhaps the great popularity of kosher products in American society lends itself to such an idea. In fact, there is a theory that this fad can be attributed to a TV ad by a famous Kosher company that proclaimed “We answer to a Higher Authority.”

Eating kosher and being conscious of our health are two distinct mitzvot. The Hebrew word kosher means "fit." The kosher laws define the foods that are fit for consumption by a Jew. They were dictated to Moses by G-d at Mt. Sinai, recorded in the Torah (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14) and articulated in great detail in the Talmud and Code of Jewish Law.

It is essentially a soul diet. To the Jew, holiness is not confined to holy places and times outside the everyday; rather, life in its totality is a sacred endeavor. Even the seemingly mundane activity of eating is a G-dly act and a uniquely Jewish experience. We are taught that consumption of non-kosher food can have a deleterious effect on our souls.

Maintaining a healthy body is an entirely separate issue. Throughout the millennia the sages have taught the best practices in health and hygiene. In the Talmud one can find many instructions regarding health which are still relevant today. Most notably, Maimonides, in his magnum opus the Mishna Torah – a codification of all of Jewish Law – devotes an entire section to healthy eating habits, exercise and hygiene.

Leading a healthy lifestyle is a choice one is encouraged by Jewish law to make.

The mandate of the Kosher Agency is to determine if the food is permitted based on the laws of Kosher. As far as health is concerned, this is the jurisdiction of the individual. A kosher symbol is not evidence or an endorsement of its healthy content.

Bon Appétit!

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