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When travelling across Israel, visitors will find most restaurants are marked as kosher, though some establishments in cities such as Tel Aviv and Eilat don’t always adhere to these rules. Nevertheless, every kosher venue in the country will have an official certificate, or hechsher, hanging on a wall somewhere.
From meat and dairy to salt and wine, the kosher label refers to any food, cooked or uncooked, that has been deemed ‘fit’ for consumption by authorised rabbis or specially trained mashgiachs.
Generally, kosher foods are divided into three categories: meat, dairy and pareve. The last of these refers to all food types that don’t fall within the first two categories, including honey, eggs and fish. When it comes to salt, the term is used slightly differently: kosher salt is simply the purest form of salt, and is used in the preparation of kosher meat.
Set out in the Torah, kosher rules are complex. Fish and seafood must have both fins and scales – so no prawns. Land animals need to have cloven hooves and chew their cud – so no pork. And the mixing of dairy and meat is absolutely prohibited – so no cheeseburgers. (Orthodox Jews may also choose not to mix fish with meat or dairy.) These rules can get even more complicated when it comes to gelatin-encased medicines and hard cheeses, which might incorporate rennet derived from non-kosher animals.
Only animals that have been slaughtered according to a specified list of rules are fit to eat. These rules ensure the animal lives a healthy life and, when the time comes, dies without undue suffering. Basic rules dictate animals should be unconscious before death, so as not to experience any pain, and the killing must be performed by a ritual slaughterer, traditionally referred to as a schochet. Animals must also be healthy enough that they don’t pass diseases on to their offspring (eggs, say) or byproducts (such as milk).
So, there you have it. And the next time you order some brisket, chicken soup, or even a beef burger in Tel Aviv, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting.