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Modern halakha (Jewish law) on kashrut classifies the flesh of both mammals and birds as "meat"; fish are considered to be parve (also spelled parev, pareve; Yiddish: parev), neither meat nor dairy.
The dietary laws are given in Leviticus 11: "And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: "speak to the children of Israel, saying, 'These are the living things which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth.'" (Leviticus 11:1-11:2). Leviticus 11:3 sets down that Jews may eat animals (some translations use "beasts") that have cloven hooves and chew their cud, and Leviticus 11:4 explicitly prohibited the consumption of animals that do not have these characteristics, designating them "unclean to you." Four mammals are specifically prohibited:
"But this is what you shall not eat from among those that bring up their cud or that have split hooves; the camel, for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split- it is unclean to you; and the hyrax, for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split- it is unclean to you;and the hare, for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split- it is unclean to you; and the pig, for its hoof is split and its hoof is completely separated, yet it does not chew its cud- it is unclean to you. You shall not eat of their flesh nor shall you touch their carcass- they are unclean to you."
All kosher mammals, therefore, are even-toed ungulates and herbivores in the suborder Ruminantia, including several common domesticated animals and many wild animals. Kosher animals include the following:
- Bovines (family Bovidae) (cattle (cows), goats, sheep, and antelope)
- Musk deer (family Moschidae)
- Deer (family Cervidae)
- Giraffes and okapis (family Giraffidae)
- Pronghorns (family Antilocapridae)
Because of the rule saying that Kosher food has to have parted hoofs, chew cud and eat vegetation, those that prey on other animals will be included as unclean foods.
Kosher Seafood: 11:9-12
In Leviticus 11:9, seafood ("all that are in the waters") is addressed. As was done for mammals, two criteria are given for fish also: whatever has "fins and scales"-- there are several words for scales in Hebrew, and this only referpermanent scales)-- may be eaten. The following verses describe seafood that does not have fins and scales as "an abomination," and commands the Israelites, "of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall detest.
For a fish to be kosher, the fins must be translucent and the scales easily detachable, i.e., removable without ripping the skin. In practice, kosher fish must have either ctenoid or cycloid scales.
- Shark, catfish, octopus, squid, jellyfish, and eel are not kosher. All forms of shellfish - (clams, oysters, crab, lobster, and shrimp) - are not kosher. Sea mammals, such as dolphins, whales, and seals are not kosher.
- Seaweed and other sea plant life are kosher, but require checking for infestation.
- According to Torah tradition, swordfish and sturgeon are not kosher, as they have scales while young but lose them later. Some Conservative rabbis allow their consumption.
- Fish is considered parve (neutral) and may be eaten at both meat and dairy meals.
Kosher birds include: duck, goose, chicken, turkey, guineafowl and many others. As a general principle, scavenging birds such as vultures and birds of prey such as hawks and eagles (which will eat carrion when they find it) are not considered kosher, while other birds generally are. Leviticus outlines the non-kosher birds; in practice, the identities of the birds listed as non-kosher are not all known, so religious authorities have restricted consumption to specific birds for which Jews have passed down a tradition from generation to generation. Thus birds such as songbirds, which are consumed as delicacies in many societies, may ne kosher in theory, but are not eaten in kosher homes.
Click here to learn about how Kosher Seafood is prepared.
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