So You Think You're Kosher?  What Kosher Really Means

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Rachael Masri
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Do you really know what kosher means? Nowadays the term is even used to apply to something as “free from incriminating details!” (Scroll down for more interpretations of "kosher").

But the term actually refers to the status of permissible foods. There are so many resources, such as at Chabad, Aish HaTorah, and the Orthodox Union that explain the strict laws and stringincies that need to be considered when preparing kosher food.

However, not everyone is quite aware of what the kosher symbol on their bag of potato chips actually means. In fact, I was once in the supermarket searching for kosher ketchup. I asked for help since I was unfamiliar with the store. The attendant had no idea how to help me find a kosher item! When I found my ketchup and showed her, she was so surprised. It turns out that the OU symbol, which indicates that it is kosher certified by the Orthodox Union, is NOT a symbol for an “organized union” of workers, as she had previously thought! She was thankful for the new knowledge, and I was glad that now she can help other customers with the matter in the future.

My biggest kosher surprise was found on the wall of my dear second cousin Shelly in rural Illinois, a place of quaint farms, good old country living, and no prepared kosher food to be seen for miles and miles. My extended family is not at all Jewish, and I sure did not expect to find a sign for a kosher delicatessen on her wall!

kosher deli sign

Shelly explained to me the origins of her sign: "This sign hangs on our dining room wall, found it in Vincennes, Indiana in an antique store. It's originally from a delicatessen in New York. We didn't know what the writing in the middle meant until my Jewish cousin [me] translated it for us...it says KOSHER,... one definitions states that this means edible, clean, produced with extra supervision. Everyone's always welcome at our home!" 

Love you, Shelly! And thanks for teaching others about what kosher means. 

MORE: I Can't Believe it's Kosher! The Best Kosher Recreations

Kosher Encounters

I'm sure every kosher consumer has their funny story of a "kosher" encounter. Here are a few comments that our kosher readers have encountered:  

"The funniest question I ever got about keeping kosher was from a non Jewish friend of mine who asked if I needed two separate garbage pails." -Gail Lobel Rand

"I had a friend in high school, that when we first met, and he heard that I kept kosher, he said to me, 'I ate kosher food once, I had canned matza ball soup. It was amazing!!!" -Kalanit Taub  

MATZO BALLS

matzo ball soup

"I saw they had kosher ham at Walmart." -Tali Wesiberg

"So it was blessed by the rabbi?" -Michael Salzbank

"When I was younger, I spent one week at a non-Jewish sleepaway camp. The director of the camp was super nice and went to the supermarket to buy me kosher food. He brought me back a box of matza and a jar of jellied gefilte fish balls :) I guess that's what kosher meant to him! Was a very sweet gesture but then I had to explain to my roommates that people who keep kosher can eat more than just matzo and gefilte fish!" -Adina Herbs Dubin

PINK RIMMED GEFILTE FISH

Pink Rimmed Gefilte

"I remember when I was young I ate at non-kosher friend's house. When I told her mom I don't drink milk with meat she nodded and gave me juice, when my friend (her daughter) asked for juice her mother scolded her and said "no you drink your milk it's healthy." -Patty Maimon

"I have met people who were sure kosher was a brand of hot dogs." -Ronit Peskin  

CHICAGO STYLE HOT DOGS

Chicago-Style Hot Dogs

Keeping Meaning While Keeping Kosher

All jokes aside, keeping kosher has a deeper meaning. Here is what "keeping kosher" means to some of our readers:

"It means knowing the where what and why of everything I eat and everything I cook. Assuming you're being active and educated in your kashrut it makes you infinitely more aware of where everything came from." -Moushka Gottesfeld-Arias

"I grew up in San Francisco which is a foodie town. I also grew up traditional so I knew kosher growing up even though I might not have kept it so well. anyways. Kosher to me is beyond matza balls, or even Persian food as I am Persian. It's Vietnamese, Korean, East Asian, Indian, Mexican. If it is made under Halachic standards let's get the party started!!" -Debbie Djavaheri Zakariaei

PASTRAMI SALMON GRAVLAX

Pastrami-Gravlax

"Bagel and lox = kosher food to me." -Nechama Eisenman

"Kosher meant pizza at bubbys, Pashkez candies, and gefilte fish. But now that I keep kosher it means what goes in your mouth affects your soul as well." -Rochie

MORE: The 35 Craziest Pregnancy Cravings You Won't Believe  

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