Shopping for Kosher Food
Blu Greenberg on shopping for kosher processed foods, including issues of breads, cheeses, wines.
The prohibition extended to any by-product of grapes, such as grape juice or grape jelly. However, it did not extend to whiskey, for whiskey is a grain product; it wasn't used for idol worship purposes, so there was nothing on which to peg a prohibition. Thus it is that there are times when Orthodox Jews drink kosher wines and regular whiskey in "mixed" company, but you won't catch them eating pure grape candies that have no kosher label.
Do Dairy Products Need Supervision?
There is also debate as to extent of rabbinic supervision over dairy products. Most modern Orthodox Jews drink milk and use butter and creams from Gentile-owned farms that are not rabbinically supervised, because the danger that the milk comes from a nonkosher animal no longer exists. It is against U.S. law to sell as "milk" anything other than what comes from a cow. However, some Jews will drink only milk that is produced by a Jewish-owned, rabbinically supervised dairy.
On hard cheeses, however, there is little debate; the enzyme, rennet, that is used to harden cheese comes from the lining of a calf's stomach. The enzyme is considered a meat product and may not be used together with cheese. Moreover, since it is a powerful chemical, it is considered not to be diluted, so that even a minute amount (less than one part in sixty) is still prohibited. However, some rabbis ruled that the rennet is so treated chemically (isolated and purified) that it is no longer considered a meat product. Others disagree with this ruling, arguing that the rennet is not denatured in the course of preparation. Almost all Orthodox Jews will eat only hard cheeses (such as swiss and gouda) that are rabbinically certified. Many of the soft cheeses (cream cheese, cottage cheese) are prepared by physical separation, not rennet. In such cases, certification would not be needed. The marginal case is American cheese. Some Orthodox Jews eat American cheese without kosher labels based on the rennet ruling mentioned above or because much American cheese is prepared by nonchemical process. Most, however, insist on certification for American cheese as well, if for no other reason than to avoid a situation in which the kashrut of their home would be questionable or inadequate in the eyes of others.
Regarding bread: one of the three special mitzvot assigned to women is the law of challah, removing a token amount of dough (the size of an olive) from a yeast batter, and throwing it into the oven fires while reciting the proper blessing. This is a residual practice, symbolic of ancient Temple rites of gift offerings to God from nature's bounty. The law of challah is binding only upon Jews; thus, the bread of a bakery owned by non-Jews, whose products are kosher and have rabbinic supervision, does not require challah to be taken. A Jewish-owned and rabbinically supervised bakery will take challah as will a woman or man baking bread at home.
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