Shopping for Kosher Food

Blu Greenberg on shopping for kosher processed foods, including issues of breads, cheeses, wines.

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There is also a range of response as to what kinds of items need rabbinic supervision in the first place. Some will say anything that is packaged, for even the food containers for vegetables and fruits could contain derivatives of nonkosher monoglycerides. At the other end are those who say any uncooked product whose listed ingredients are not unkosher is okay. For most Orthodox Jews, the answer lies somewhere in between. Generally speaking, we look for rabbinic certification on all baked goods, cheeses, cake mixes, candies, desserts, puddings, breakfast cereals, dress­ings, frostings, ice creams, relishes, condiments, preserves, sauces, ground spices, pastas, canned fish, margarine, and all prepared foods (for example, French fries and soups).


Processed Foods

The tricky things to look for in seemingly harmless foods are monoglycerides and diglycerides, shortening, gelatin, and stearic acid, which could be derived from nonkosher animals or from dairy sources. That is why rabbinic supervision is needed on so many processed foods. Happily, today there is little of any given type of food that is not available in strictly kosher form. Even kosher "bacon" (made of soybean derivatives), pareve cheese­cake, and kosher pate de fois gras. Thank God no one has come out with kosher pork. However, it must be noted that the Rabbis of the Talmud said that for every forbidden food, including pork, there is something exactly equivalent in taste that is kosher. (How did they know??)

What Makes Wine Kosher?

Another restriction of kashrut, which is followed very strictly by some Jews, less so by others, is the law concerning wine produced or handled by a non-Jew. The Torah prohibited use of any wine that a non-Jew pro­duced for idol worship libations. The Rabbis extended this ban not only to wine produced by a non-Jew, but also to any Jewish-­made wine that was touched or handled by a non-Jew. This was done to discourage social contact.

In the medieval period, when the Jews of France were deeply involved with their non-Jewish neighbors in the wine industry, many of these laws were reexamined. Moreover, by that time the use of wine for idol worship was very rare. Thus, certain rabbinic authorities permitted Jews to deal in stam yainam, as non-Jewish wine was called. Nevertheless, the restriction on drinking still obtained, for the social reason. The Shulchan Aruch (sixteenth-century code of law) stressed that the prohibition is enforced to prevent drinking and social contact between Jews and non-Jews. This, it was felt, would lead to intermarriage.

Today, some authorities permit use of Jewish wine handled by non-Jews as long as it has been pasteurized (boiled during its production process). The reason for this is that the original pro­hibition exempted boiled wine, which was not used for libations or social drinking. On the other hand, some authorities forbid wines that are touched even by a non-Sabbath-observant Jew. Most Orthodox Jews drink only kosher wines, which are simply wines produced by Jews under rabbinic supervision. These wines are generally packaged under double seals to prevent any prohib­ited form of handling.

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Blu Greenberg

Blu Greenberg is the founding president of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. She was also the Conference Chair of both the first and second International Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy. She is the author of Black Bread: Poems After the Holocaust, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, and On Women and Judaism: A View From Tradition.