Book of Leviticus, with their details set down in the oral law (the Mishnah and the Talmud) and codified by the Shulkhan Arukh and later rabbinical authorities. Many varied reasons have been offered for these laws, ranging from philosophical and ritualistic, to practical and hygenic; see below for examples and explanations.
The word kosher has been borrowed by many languages. In English as slang, it generally means legitimate, acceptable, permissible, genuine or authentic.
Types of foods
Foods are kosher when they meet all criteria that Jewish law applies to food. Invalidating characteristics may range from the presence of a mixture of meat and milk, to the use of produce from Israel that has not been tithed properly, or even the use of cooking utensils which had previously been used for non-kosher food.
Identification of kosher foods
Store-bought foods can be identified as kosher by the presence of a hechsher (plural hechsherim), a graphical symbol that indicates that the food has been certified as kosher by a rabbinical authority. (This might be an individual rabbi, but is more often a rabbinic organization.) The most common symbol in the United States is the "OU", a U inside a circle, standing for the Union of Orthodox Congregations. Many rabbis and organizations, however, have their own certification mark, and the other symbols are too numerous to list.
The hechsherim of certain authorities are sometimes considered invalid by certain other authorities. A solitary K is sometimes used as a symbol for kashrut, but as this symbol cannot be trademarked (the method by which other symbols are protected from misuse), it does not indicate anything other than the fact that the company producing the food considers it to be kosher.
It is not sufficient to read the list of ingredients on a product label in order to determine a food's kosher status, as many things are not included in this list, such as pan lubricants and release agents (which may be derived from lard), flavorings (even "natural flavorings" may be derived from non-kosher substances) and others. It can, however, identify obviously unkosher substances present in food.
Producers of food items and food additives can contact Jewish authorities to have their product deemed kosher. A committee will visit their facilities to inspect production methods and contents of the product and issue a certificate if everything is in order. In many product classes, constant supervision is required.
For various reasons, such as changes in manufacturing processes, products known to be kosher on one day might not be kosher tomorrow; a change in lubricating oil to one containing tallow, for instance. Often, these changes will be coordinated with the supervising rabbi or organization, to ensure that new packaging, which will not suggest any hechsher or kashrut, will be used for the new formulation. But in some cases, the supply of preprinted labels with the hechsher may still find its way onto the now non-kosher product; for such reasons, there is an active "grapevine" among the Jewish community, as well as newspapers and periodicals, identifying which products are now questionable, as well as products which have become kosher but whose labels have yet to carry the hechsher.
Reasons for the Biblical dietary laws
There continues to be a debate on the purposes and meaning of the laws regarding Kashrut.
In Jewish philosophy it is recognized that many of the 613 mitzvot cannot be explained rationally. They are categorized as chukim, comprising such laws as the Red Heifer (Numbers 19). There are three basic points of view regarding these laws:
- One view holds that these laws do have a reason, but it is not understood because the ultimate explanation for mitzvot is beyond the human intellect.
- A second view holds that most of the laws have some historical and/or dietary significance (such as preventing the consumption of unhealthy food, or differentiating oneself from non-Jews through dietary restrictions); and
- A third view holds that these laws have no meaning other than to instill obedience.
Some Jewish scholars have held that these dietary laws should simply be categorized with a group of laws that are considered irrational in that there is no particular explanation for their existence. The reason for this is that there are some of God's regulations for mankind that the human mind is not necessarily capable of understanding. Related to this is the idea that the dietary laws were given as a demonstration of God's authority and that man should obey without asking for a reason (William H. Shea, Clean and Unclean Meats, Biblical Research Institute, December 1988).
This view, however, has been rejected by most classical and modern Jewish authorities, and by modern biblical scholars. For example, Maimonides holds that all the laws given by God have a reason, that we are permitted to seek out what these reasons may be, and that we should feel comfortable in knowing that rational reasons exist for all of God's laws in the Torah, even if we are not sure of what some of these reasons are. For Maimonides, the idea that God gave laws without any reason is anathema.
Perhaps, others argue, laws in the category of chukim were given because of the well-known Jewish tendency to rationalize and probe - a sort of reminder that yes, the Universe should be, and is explainable, but you can't understand everything. A reminder that, just as we should not sacrifice our intelligence to the altar of Obedience, we should also refrain from sacrificing our sense of mystery, at the altar of Intelligence.
Ritual purity and holiness
According to the Biblical book of Leviticus, the purpose of the laws is related to ritual purity and holiness. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "holiness" is etymologically related to the Hebrew word for "distinction" or "separation." This idea is generally accepted by most Jews today, and by many modern biblical scholars. Cultural anthropologist Mary Douglas has written an important work on just how the Israelites may have used the idea of distinction as a way to create holiness. Her seminal work, Purity and Danger (1966), is still studied today. One theory widely accepted today is that the laws serve as a distinction between the Israelites and the non-Israelite nations of the world. Gordon Wenham writes: "The laws reminded Israel what sort of behaviour was expected of her, that she had been chosen to be holy in an unclean world."
Similarly, the practice of Kashrut serves as a daily exercise in self-discipline and self-control, strengthening the practitioner's ability to choose other difficult paths. The ability to rationally curb one's most basic appetites can be seen as the prerequisite to living in a civilized society. Also, Jews consider the aspects of Kosher slaughter which emphasize and incorporate the need to avoid unnecessary suffering of the animal a reminder to the believer that having the power of life and death or to cause suffering, even to a farm animal born and bred to be eaten, is a serious responsibility rather than a pleasure to be sought after; and that to actually indulge in pleasure in the power to cause suffering, even in so common a practice as hunting, is to damage our own moral sensibilities.
The prohibition against eating the fruits of a tree for the first three years also represents a capacity for self-discipline and self-denial, as well as a lengthy period of appreciation for the bounty of God, prior to losing oneself in its enjoyment. Similarly, the requirement to tithe one's harvest, aside from the social justice aspect, serves as a reminder that this material wealth is not purely the result of one's own efforts, but represents a gift from God; and as such, to share the gift with one's fellows does not represent a real loss to anyone, even oneself.
During the first few centuries of the Common Era some philosophers held that the laws of kashrut were symbolic in character. In this view, kosher animals represent virtues, while non-kosher animals represent vices. The first indication of this view can be found in the 1st century BCE Letter of Aristeas (par. 145-148, 153). It later reappears in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, and in the writings of some of the early Church fathers.
This hypothesis has long since been rejected by most Jewish and Christian scholars. Modern biblical criticism also has found nothing to support this hypothesis, although the concept of the pig as a particularly 'unclean' animal persists among Jews.
Although the symbolic explanation for kashrut has been largely rejected, a number of authorities maintain that the laws are intended to promote ethical and moral behaviour. A recent authority who has reexamined the symbolic/ethical meaning of kashrut is Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch ( Germany , 19th century).
To some degree, the prohibition on combining milk with meat represents a symbolic separation between death, represented by the flesh of a dead animal, and life, represented by the milk required to sustain a newborn creature. The often-quoted humane component to this law is also of symbolic value; the Torah prohibits 'seething the kid (goat, sheep, calf) in its mother's milk', a practice cruel only in concept, which would not be understood as cruelty by either the kid or its mother and would not cause them additional suffering; but which could still potentially inflame a human's taste for ultimate power over those creatures who are weaker. Thus, Kashrut prohibits the practice itself, even if the resulting mixture is to be discarded.
Similarly, the prohibition against consuming carnivorous mammals and birds, 'loathsome crawling creatures', and scavengers, as well as the prohibition against consuming sick or diseased animals, would seem to rely, at least in part, on their perceived symbolic character.
Maintenance of a separate culture
Related to the concept of kashrut being one aspect of Judaism is the practical outcome of maintaining a specific national diet which helps maintain Jews as a separate people, similar to the concept of reproductive isolation in speciation. Just as two species who can interbreed will merge into one, the theory of cultural evolution requires a degree of social separation for two cultures to remain distinct entities. The laws of Kashrut had the effect of preventing socialization and intermarriage with non-Jews, helping the Jewish community maintain its identity. Wenham writes that
circumcision was a private matter, but the food laws made one's Jewish faith a public affair. Observance of the food laws was one of the outward marks of a practising Jew, and this in turn enhanced Jewish attachment to them as a reminder of their special status (Gordon J. Wenham, "The Theology of Unclean Food," The Evangelical Quarterly 53, January March 1981, p.6-15).
There have been attempts to provide empirical support for the view that kashrut laws have hygienic benefits. However, this has never been the traditional Jewish view.
It was believed by some people that kosher animals were healthier to eat than non-kosher animals. It was also noted that the laws of purity (Leviticus 11–15) not only describe the difference between clean and unclean animals, but also describe other phenomena that appear to be related to health. For instance, glatt, the requirement that lungs be checked to be free of adhesions, would prevent consumption of animals who had been infected with tuberculosis; similarly, the ban on slaughtering of an unconscious animal would eliminate many sick and possibly infectious animals from being consumed. Such a rationale seems reasonable when considering the laws prohibiting the consumption of carrion birds or birds of prey (which are advantageous scavengers), as they may carry disease from the carrion they consume; shellfish, which as filter feeders can accumulate harmful parasites or toxins; or pork, which can harbor trichinosis if not properly cooked. Thus, it was natural for many to assume that all the laws of kashrut were merely hygienic in intent and origin. One of the rabbinical authorities that mention the hygiene hypothesis is Maimonides in his Guide for the Perplexed.
For a number of reasons, however, this idea has fallen out of favor among biblical scholars, and has never been accepted by the majority of Jews. Fruits and vegetables may be eaten without prohibition even though there are many poisonous herbs, seeds, berries and fruits. Additionally, this hypothesis does not explain other parts of the Jewish dietary laws; for instance forbidding the consumption of fish without true scales, such as sharks, fruit from trees which are less than four years old, or residual blood in meat.
In 1953 Dr. David I. Macht performed experiments on many different kinds of animals and fish, and concluded that the concentration of zoological toxins of the "unclean" animals was higher than that of the "clean" animals, and that the correlation with the description in Leviticus was 100%. In addition, the research indicated harmful physiological effects of mixtures of meat and milk, and ritually slaughtered meat appeared to be lower in toxins than meat from other sources. The conclusions of this paper were challenged in a paper by prominent biologists written at the request of a Seventh-day Adventist Church publication.
Like the laws for the slaughter of animals, laws against shellfish could actually be for the good of the creature. There is no painless method for the preparation of "bottom feeding" lobster and crab.
It is also possible that there are multiple reasons for the laws of Kashrut, with each law serving one or more than one purpose.
U.S. Laws regarding use of the word Kosher
In some states in the U.S. (Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas,Virginia, and New York as well as local ordinances in two counties in Florida and the Independent City of Baltimore), statutes defined "kosher" and made it a crime to sell a product which was called "kosher" if, in general, it was not processed in accordance with the Jewish religion. Earlier court decisions upheld some of these laws. The courts have since determined that because this represents a state establishment of a religious practice, when such laws have been challenged, they have been struck down.
- Baltimore 's City ordinance creating a kosher law was found to be unconstitutional: Barghout v. Bureau of Kosher Meat & Food Control, 66 F. 3d 1337 (4th Cir. 1995).
- New Jersey 's Kosher laws were found to violate the Establishment clauses of both the New Jersey state constitution and the First Amendment: Perretti v. Ran-Dav's County Kosher Inc., 289 N.J. Super 618, 674 A. 2d 647 (Superior Ct. Appellate Div 1996). The opinion was affirmed by the New Jersey Supreme Court in which it found that the State's use of "Orthodox Jewish law" as a basis for the definition of kosher was an adoption of substantive religious standards which violated the State and Federal constitutions. 129 N.J. 155. The State's response was to create a new law which avoids any definition of a standard for what is or is not considered kosher. Instead, establishments which claim to be kosher must publicize what they mean by that, and the State will check to insure that this standard is adhered to. For example, kosher restaurants must display a poster (provided by the Kosher Food Enforcement Bureau) on which they display the name of their rabbinic certifier, how often he inspects the place, whether or not he requires all ingredients to be kosher-supervised, and so on. In this manner, government enforcement becomes a consumer-protection issue, and avoids the problems of advancing any particular religious view.
- The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that the challenged provisions of New York 's Kosher Fraud law "on their face violate the Establishment Clause because they excessively entangle the State of New York with religion and impermissibly advance Orthodox Judaism." Commack Self-Serv. Kosher Meats, Inc. v. Weiss, 294 F.3d 415 (2d Cir. 2002), 45 ATLA L. Rep. 282 (Oct. 2002). The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and denied certiorari (123 S. Ct. 1250 (mem.) (2003)). The statute has since been revised and a new statute, The McKinney's Agriculture and Markets Law Sec. 201-a has since been passed.
It should be noted, however, that the claim of violating separation of church and state may in fact be specious. From a constitutional law perspective, it may be argued that the kashrut is simply a set of standards for food preparation, nothing more; there is no difference between labelling something "low sodium", "high-fiber", "pasteurized" "kosher", "calcium-enriched", or "contains no cholesterol". It should be noted that the U.S. Supreme Court only accepts 80 cases per year, accordingly it only accepts cases which the judges believe will have far-ranging effects, and that a denial of certiorari does not mean that the decision was correct.
How kashrut is viewed by Judaism today
Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism hold that Jews should follow the laws of kashrut. Some of Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism think that these laws are no longer binding to them. Some parts of the Reform community have begun to move towards a more traditional position. This tradition-leaning faction agrees with mainstream Reform that the rules concerning kashrut are no longer binding to them, but holds that keeping kosher is an important way for people to bring holiness into their lives. Thus Jews are encouraged to consider adopting some or all of the rules of kashrut on a voluntary basis. The Reconstructionist movement advocates that its members accept some of the rules of kashrut, but does so in a non-binding fashion; their stance on kashrut is the same as the tradition-leaning wing of Reform.
Many Jews who do not meet the complete requirements of Kashrut nevertheless maintain some subset of the laws; for instance, abstaining from pork or shellfish. Many Jews will likewise avoid drinking milk with a meat dish, without knowing why doing so seems alien. Similarly, many keep a degree of Kashrut at home while having no problems eating in a non-kosher restaurant.
In English, the term kosher is frequently used in a metaphorical sense to mean "fitting" or "correct", which is its conventional meaning in Hebrew. It is also part of some common product names. For example, "kosher salt" (technically "kashering salt") is a form of salt which has irregularly-shaped crystals, making it particularly suitable for preparing meat in accordance with Kashrut law because the increased surface area of the crystals absorbs blood more effectively. Likewise, a "kosher pickle" is a particular style of pickle that originated in Eastern European kosher delicatessens with a distinctive flavor.
Consumer-protection laws in many jurisdictions prohibit use of the term "kosher" unless it is shown to conform to Jewish dietary laws, however this will be defined differently for different jurisdictions and situations. For example, in some places the law may require that a rabbi certify the kashrut, and in others it is sufficient that the manufacturer believes the product to be kosher. Most packaged food products that are labelled "kosher" will therefore have some level of certification of compliance with the laws of kashrut, though individuals must determine if that level is adequate for themselves.
A new movement in Israel  demands that an establishment - a grocery store or restaurant - will only be considered fully kosher if its employees are paid a decent wage and treated fairly, and there is access for the handicapped. This will require a second certificate of kashrut in addition to the standard one.
Since there are few laws of Kashrut restricting the consumption of plant products it follows that a truly vegetarian meal would usually be inherently Kosher (as long as the milk and wine and bread are supervised and the utensils were only used for Kosher food and are never used for unsupervised milk, and the fruit comes from trees older than four years). In practice, however, those who follow the laws of Kashrut do not automatically regard all restaurants or prepared or canned food which claim to be vegetarian as Kosher, due to the likelihood that the utensils were used previously with non-Kosher products, and the concern that there may be non-kosher ingredients mixed in, which although they may still be considered vegetarian, would make the food not kosher. Many vegetarian restaurants and producers of vegetarian foods do acquire a hechsher, certifying that a Rabbinical organization has approved of them as Kosher. Certain vegetables would still need to be checked for insect infestation and a Jew would still need to turn on the pilot light on the oven to ensure the food was bishul Yisrael. (Bishul Yisrael means "cooking of Israel ," that is, prepared with the involvement of an observant Jew).
The situation is not always reversible, however; although pareve food can contain neither meat nor dairy, that label on a product cannot be always used by vegetarians as a reliable indication, since Kashrut considers fish to be parve. However, in practice it is rare to find fish products in parve foods; moreover, because of potential issues of mixing meat and fish (see Fish and seafood) many Kashrut supervising authorities specifically indicate the presence of fish products when they are found in parve foods.
People who have specific dietary needs should be aware that their standards for certain concepts may differ from the halachic standards for similar concepts.
Many coffee creamers currently sold in the United States are labeled as "non-dairy", yet also have a "D" alongside their hechsher, which indicates a dairy status. This is because of an ingredient (usually sodium caseinate) which is derived from milk. The rabbis consider it to be close enough to milk that it cannot be mixed with meat, but the US government considers it to lack the nutritional value of milk. Such products are also unsuitable for vegans and other strict dairy abstainers.
- On the other hand, kashrut does recognize some processes as capable of converting a meat or dairy product into a parve one. For example, rennet is made from stomach linings, yet is acceptable for making kosher cheese, but such cheeses might not be acceptable to some vegetarians, who would eat only cheese made from a vegetarian rennin. The same applies to kosher gelatin which in some cases is an animal product, despite its parve status.
- Kashrut has procedures by which equipment can be cleaned of its previous non-kosher use, but that might be inadequate for vegetarians or other religions. For example, dairy manufacturing equipment can be cleaned well enough that the rabbis will grant parve status to products manufactured afterward. Nevertheless, someone with a strong allergic sensitivity to dairy products might still react to the dairy residue, and that is why some products will have a "milk" warning on a product which is legitimately parve.
Genesis 1:29 states "And God said: Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit - to you it shall be for food." According to many classical Jewish Bible commentators, this means that God's original plan was for mankind to be vegetarian, and that God later gave permission for man to eat meat because of man's weak nature. However, others argue that people may eat animals because God gave Eve and Adam dominion over them. Some prominent rabbis have been vegetarian, among them former Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Goren and former Chief Rabbi of Haifa She'ar-Yashuv Cohen. Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel , supported vegetarianism, and is often described as a vegetarian, though he ate a small amount of chicken every Sabbath.
Some Orthodox authorities have ruled that it is forbidden for an individual to become a vegetarian if they do so because they believe in animal rights; however, they have also ruled that vegetarianism is allowed for pragmatic reasons (if kosher meat is expensive or hard to come by in their area), health concerns, or for reasons of personal taste (if someone finds meat unpalatable). Some feel that the mass-slaughter of animals in this industrial age is not subject to the same scrutiny as it was in olden days, with the result that the likelihood of proper shechita is very low; some Jews abstain from meat for this reason. Some believe that Halakha encourages the eating of meat at the Sabbath and Festival meals, and some Orthodox Jews who are otherwise vegetarian will nevertheless consume meat at these meals.
Other important Rabbis have argued otherwise: former Chief Rabbi of Ireland David Rosen considered "the consumption of meat as halachically unacceptable", and made a strong case for Jewish vegetarianism . Several talmudic statements support this opinion.
Kabbalistic teachings, from Talmudic and Medieval sources, restrict the consumption of meat to only those who are spiritually highly developed. Others suggest that all Jews EXCEPT the spiritually highly developed can eat meat. The soul of an animal is more complex than that of a vegetable, so it requires a correspondingly complex soul to consume it. Conversely the consumption of meat has often been seen as luxuriously indulgent, and therefore the highly spiritual would abstain from it as a form of self-denial.
Kashrut and animal welfare
The practice of kosher slaughter emphasizes the sharpness of the knife and the accuracy and precision of the skill of the shochet, in order to slit the jugular of the animal with an absolute minimum of pain and suffering. In general, over the years authorities have ruled that any unnecessary suffering by the animal can render otherwise kosher meat traife. One of the largest animal rights groups, PETA has stated that Kosher slaughter "is less cruel than other slaughter methods in the U.S. " Nevertheless, the method of slaughter used in strict adherence to Jewish law has been criticized as being inhumane by a number of animal rights organizations, in particular because animals are killed without the use of anesthesia, often administered to cows by firing a captive bolt into the brain or by electric shock to the head for smaller species.  (Traditional kashrut would often not allow for anesthesia, as it may severely injure the animal before it is slaughtered, rendering it Treifa, and because Kashrut prohibits slaughter of an unconscious animal, which might be diseased.) This has resulted in several restrictions or even an outright ban on kosher meat in a number of countries, sometimes encompassing related practices such as Muslim halal slaughter, though other countries grant ritualistic slaughter such as kashrut special exemption from the relevant regulations. However, some bans were in place before animal rights had become a general public concern, thereby suggesting other motives.
Some animal rights groups object to some forms of kosher slaughter, claiming it can take several minutes for the animal to die and can often cause immense suffering. Others, like PETA, say that Kosher slaughter is less cruel than other slaughter methods in the United States . Jewish groups point to studies showing that the technique is no more painful than conventional techniques, and in most cases quicker and less painful; the emphasis on flawless procedure and tools contrasts with the often sloppy production line methodology of the slaughterhouse resulting in failure to stun the animal, as often described by animal rights advocates in other contexts. However, the conclusions of these studies are sometimes rejected by animal rights advocates. In addition, there are campaigns to have the practice of ritualistic slaughter globally banned.
In some ways, modern slaughtering practices and kashrut practices clash, although both may have good intentions with respect to hygiene and animal welfare; for instance, kashrut prohibits slaughter of an unconscious animal, for reasons of avoiding consumption of a diseased animal as well as the possibility of inhumane means of anesthesia, and relies on the skill of the shochet and the sharpness of the knife to slit the jugular as painlessly as possible. On the other hand, for reasons of hygiene, modern slaughterhouse regulations prohibit the carcass of an animal from falling into the blood of another, so that animals are often suspended by a leg before being slaughtered; they would normally be stunned by a blow to the head to prevent suffering in this process, but the prohibition of slaughter of an unconscious animal prevents this for kosher slaughter. Of course, other, more humane, methods of supporting the carcass of the animal after it is slaughtered are available, but since they are more expensive and not routinely used for non-kosher slaughter, slaughterhouses are reluctant to adopt them, and when they do often greatly raise the price of the meat to compensate for the non-standard technique.
Kashrut and Islam
Islam has its own rules for food, called halal. Some foods - for example, the flesh of camel - can be prepared in a halal manner, but are never kosher. On the other hand, other foods - for example, wine - can be prepared in a kosher manner, but are never acceptable in Islam. For more information, see Halaal compared with Kashrut.
Islamic dietary laws
Islamic dietary laws provide a set of rules as to what Muslims eat in their diet. These rules specify the food that is halal, meaning lawful. They are found in Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, usually detailing what is unlawful, or haram.
There are some more rules added to these in fatwas by Mujtahids with various degrees of strictness, but they are not always held to be authoritative by all.
Islamic law prohibits a Muslim from consuming alcohol, eating or drinking blood and its by-products, and eating the meat of a carnivore or omnivore, such as pork, monkey, dog or cat. For the meat of an animal to be halal it must be properly slaughtered by a Muslim or a Person of the Book (Christian or Jew), while mentioning the name of God (Allah in Arabic); for instance, the animal may not be killed by being boiled or electrocuted, and the carcass should be hung upside down long enough to be blood-free.
The proper Islamic method of slaughtering an animal is called thabiha. According to some fatwas, the animal must be slaughtered only by a Muslim. However, some different fatwas dispute this, and rule from the orthodox Qur'anic position, that according to verse 5:5 of the Qur'an (which declares that the food of the People of the Book to be halal), the slaughter may be done by a Jew or a Christian. Thus, many observant Muslims will accept kosher meat if halal options are not available. Other main references in Qur'an include 2:173, 5:3, 5:5, 6:118, 6:145, 16:115.
In recent years, due to a cultural phenomenon that has encouraged young Muslims to find common ground between Islam & Science, there have been numerous studies undergone to try and find altruistic benefits in living a life in adherence to Islamic dietary laws. One example of this is studies that were done on trichinosis, which can be caught from consuming undercooked pork.
Due to the recent rise in Muslim populations in the United States and Europe , certain organizations have emerged that can certify Halal food products and ingredients for Muslim consumers. The Muslim Consumer Group is an example of an organization that places certification labels such as the H-MCG symbol to identify the Halal status of different edible and non-edible consumer products.
A variety of substances are considered haraam (forbidden), including: pork, blood, animals slaughtered in the name of anyone but God, carrion, carnivorous animals with the exception of most fish and sea animals, and all intoxicants (specifically alcohol). A section of the Muslim community believe that fish which do not carry scales as well as lobsters and crabs are considered haraam, while others believe that only those animals living in "both worlds" (land and water) are considered haraam; for example, frogs. Fish with scales are halaal if they are allowed to die on land (they cannot be beaten to death or cut apart while still swimming).
Dhabiha (method used to slaughter animals)
The method of slaughtering all animals excluding fish and most sea-life is known as Dhabiha , meat prepared in this manner is then considered Halal. Islamically, the prescribed method is to cut through the large arteries in the neck along with the esophagus with one swipe of a nonserrated blade and drain all blood and impurities from the animal, because as noted above, the consumption of blood itself is forbidden. During the draining of the blood, the animal is not handled until it has fully died.
The action of slaughtering an animal is a ritual religious act that is preceded by the words "In the name of God, God is the Greatest Bismillah, Allahu Akbar . The reasoning behind invoking the name of the creator at the moment of sacrifice is stated by some to be the equivalent of acknowledging the right of that creator over all created things, as such this invocation is then a type of permission granted to the one performing the sacrifice and endows a sense of gratitude even prior to partaking in the meat of the animal. The common usage of "Bismillah al Rahman Al Rahim" (In the name of God the Beneficent the Merciful) is not used here, because the act is one of subduement not of mercy, and as such the words Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest) are used to reiterate that the animal was only subdued for consumption by God's divine design and command, and must only be taken then in his name.
It is also common for the words "Praise be upon Him who has made you suitable for slaughter [for the purpose of consumption] ("Subhâna man Hallalaka li 'l-dhabh") to be spoken immediately before slaughter instead, even though this is more of a cultural practice than one of based in Prophetic traditions
Prior to the slaughter, the animal's eyes and ears are checked to ensure that the animal is healthy and suitable for slaughter. If the animal is deemed to be healthy, it is first given water to drink (in order to quench its thirst) and is then pointed towards Mecca to be slaughtered. Muslims consider this method of killing the animal to be cleaner and more merciful to the animal. Some animal rights groups contend that this causes unnecessary pain and suffering to the animal when compared to modern methods of animal slaughter, which involve stunning the animal before killing it. Islamic groups assert that the Islamic method of slaughter is the fastest method and causes the least pain to the animal, since the neck is severed immediately causing the animal not to feel pain afterwards. Electrocution is forbidden in Islam since halaal slaughter requires the animal to be conscious and not contaminated by anaesthetics or intoxicating materials. Mild stunning for the subduement of larger, uncontrollable animals however is one of debate among Muslim Jurists.
Problems facing Muslims in non-Muslim countries
Muslims living in non-Muslim countries face three major problems. The first is obviously the absence, or scarcity, of restaurants and grocery stores that offer halaal food, especially meat (although in Great Britain at least, the amount of halaal foods available has widely increased). A family dinner at a local restaurant becomes a problem when all of the meat available is not halaal. The second is the abundance of pork products used in Western cooking. Finding pork, ham, and bacon on the menu creates a problem. While Muslims will not order a pork dish, they may be concerned about "cross contamination"; for example, using the same kitchen knife to cut up pork and then cut up fish or beef. Pots and pans might be used continuously in a busy kitchen: a chef cooking fried rice with pork might then use the same pan for fried rice with chicken (with only a quick rinse of the pan or none at all). Also, many apparently meat-free recipes, and even desserts, contain pork gelatine. The third concern is the frequent use of alcohol, especially wine, in cooking sauces and cakes, though some contend that this is not a concern so long as the alcohol has been thoroughly burned off. There are also other concerns about food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) that might use enzymes derived from pig fat in the production process. It is very difficult to avoid such food additives as they would not normally be declared on the menu. Often, American Muslims will simply not eat pork or consume alcohol, but eat non-halal beef, chicken, fish, etc.
In very desperate situations, such as when a Muslim faces starvation, some dietary laws can be relaxed or ignored.
Comparison with Kashrut
There are some similarities between the Jewish dietary laws known as Kashrut and Muslim dietary laws. For example, both forbid all pork products, both prescribe certain methods for slaughtering animals and poultry (including the recital of a blessing to God over such animals before slaughter), and both forbid the consumption of blood and mandate that it be drained from animals after slaughter.
On the other hand, there are material differences. Islam forbids alcohol, while alcoholic consumption is allowed in kashrut (although there are strict rules that govern the kosher winemaking process). Muslims are allowed to eat the vast majority of seafood, while in kashrut all shellfish, molluscs, and selected other varieties of fish are forbidden. Any combination of dairy and meat products is forbidden, whereas this is considered halaal.
The Qur'anic verse 5:5 declares that the food of the People of the Book is halaal. Many interpret this reference to imply that the dietary laws are similar enough to (though less restrictive than) those regulating kashrut that Muslims can consume kosher meat and other food products when there are no halaal alternatives. Of course, kosher products that include alcohol among their ingredients are still haraam.
In certain instances, some Islamic authorities have permitted Muslims to rely upon kosher certification (particularly in regard to slaughtering) when halaal food is otherwise unavailable. This view is subject to debate, however, and is rejected by many, for a variety of reasons. Jewish authorities do not allow reliance upon halaal certification as a substitute for kashrut and many Islamic authorities argue the same for kashrut certification. Some Islamic groups advise using Kashrut certification only as a last resort.
Since the turn of the century, there have been efforts to create organizations such as the Muslim Consumer Group that certify food products as Halaal.
Sikhs and Halaal
Sikhism technically forbids Sikhs from eating halaal meat, because they believe the methods used to kill the animal cruel, inefficiently slow and unnecessarily painful. Some historians say that the halal meat boycott was set forth by Sikh Gurus after the killing of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur by Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb.
Different interpretations of the word Halaal
In Hungarian, the word halál means "death," which can result in misunderstandings with food in supermarkets labeled as "halal." However it is pronounced "HOL-ahl," whereas "halaal" is pronouced "ha-LAHL."
In Romanian the word, a neologism taken from Turkish, has two almost contradictory meanings. When used on its own as an interjection (i.e. "Halal!") it means "Nice!" or "Good for you!". When used as an attribute, it actually has a moderate pejorative meaning: "Halal mâncare!" would translate roughly as "And you call this food?".
Halaal & North American Fast Food
In Dearborn , Michigan (where there is a significant Muslim population), there is a McDonald's Restaurant branch that sells halal Chicken McNuggets and McChicken Sandwiches.