Jewish Life
Skip Navigation LinksHome > Jewish Life > How to Keep Kosher: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Jewish Dietary Laws
How to Keep Kosher: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Jewish Dietary Laws
Lise Stern

In her new book, How to Keep Kosher, Lise Stern draws upon explanations from the Torah and Talmud, along with interviews with rabbis, academics, and laypeople who keep kosher, to explore all aspects of Judaism's ancient dietary traditions as they are carried out in today's kitchen.

Chapter Excerpt: Kashroots

I have been keeping kosher since I was about nine years old. That's when my family made the switch, and I remember the elaborate changes that I objected to initially, changes that evolved into personally meaningful practices. As I was a child at the time I began keeping kosher, I just accepted the various laws of kashrut at face value, without questioning the source and reason -- this is just what we do. No pork, no meat with milk, only "kosher" meat -- meat that has been slaughtered according to the laws of shechita. Chicken, which many general cookbooks categorize separately from meat, is as fleishig as beef under Jewish dietary laws. Fish, however, is considered pareve, neither meat or dairy. Fish could be served before meat, but it couldn't be served with meat. And eggs, which come from chickens, are also pareve, and can be served with meat.

Yes, it is confusing, but I just filed away the rules and followed them. Later, however, I wanted to understand these dietary laws; I thought, it may be easier to understand the various laws of kashrut if I had a better sense of where they came from.

I wanted to understand why the laws are what they are -- not the philosophical or spiritual reasons, but the practical reasons. The why I was seeking was not really the logic or justification of kashrut, but the historical roots. I was curious about the sources for the laws of kashrut. What were the origins of the basic laws of kashrut (not to mention the wealth of detail) that we observe today? What exactly does it say to do in the Torah, the Talmud, the Shulchan Aruch, and other writings of Jewish sages over the millennia and beyond, and how did that all evolve into the way kashrut is observed today, in the twenty-first century?

Regardless of the whys, I appreciate kashrut as a way of sanctifying meals, but understanding the sources helps give a sense of the bigger picture, of how kashrut has been a part of Judaism since the time of the Torah. The biblical verses that set down the basic laws of kashrut provide a fascinating glimpse into our own history as a people. To think that we have maintained some observance in how we eat for thousands of years -- it is a kesher, a tie, a connection between our ancestors and us as Jews living and eating and working in the twenty-first century.


Lemon-Scented Roast Chicken
Meat • • • Serves 4

My friend Elizabeth Sternberg trained as a professional chef before becoming the Combined Jewish Philanthropies' Director of Housing for People with Disabilities. A meal at her house is always a treat. "Chicken is my favorite food," she told me and rattled off a list of chicken recipes she makes regularly. Her favorite is a simple roast chicken. "I prefer a whole chicken; I think it cooks better," she says. "It seems like there's more flavor when you roast chicken, it's the right consistency. And I like carving it."


One 4-pound whole chicken, rinsed and patted dry
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
Zest and juice from 1 lemon; save lemon halves
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
½ cup minced fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Remove any excess fat from the chicken and discard (or save for making schmaltz). Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity, if they're there. Put the squeezed lemon halves in the cavity of the chicken.

Combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice, rosemary, and parsley, and mix well. Lift the skin and cover the back and front of the chicken with the parsley mixture, slipping it between the skin and the meat.

Tie the drumsticks together. This helps the chicken cook more evenly. Place the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan, legs down. Bake at 375 F for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, rotate the bird so that the legs face up. Continue roasting for 45 to 60 more minutes, until the skin begins to brown and the juices run clear when you pierce the thigh.

Remove from the oven, let stand for 15 minutes, and then carve and serve.

The foregoing is excerpted from How to Keep Kosher by Lise Stern. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022