AskDefine | Define parve

Dictionary Definition

parve adj : containing no meat or milk (or their derivatives) and thus eatable with both meat and dairy dishes according to the dietary laws of Judaism; "pareve margarine"; "parvebread" [syn: pareve]

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Extensive Definition

Kosher (literally "ritually acceptable") foods are those that conform to Jewish dietary laws. Reasons for food being considered non-kosher include the presence of ingredients derived from non-kosher animals or from kosher animals that were not properly slaughtered, a mixture of meat and milk, wine or grape juice (and their derivatives) produced by gentiles, the use of produce from Israel that has not been tithed properly, or even the use of cooking utensils and machinery which had previously been used for non-kosher food. For an in-depth discussion of this tradition, see kashrut.

Kosher slaughter and preparation

Jewish law states that kosher mammals and birds must be slaughtered according to a strict set of guidelines, the slaughter (shechita) (שחיטה). This necessarily eliminates the practice of hunting wild game for food, unless it can be captured alive and ritually slaughtered. The slaughter process has been branded as cruel, inhumane and barbaric, as it may take a "considerable time" for the animal to lose consciousness.
A professional slaughterer, or shochet (שוחט), using a large razor-sharp knife with absolutely no irregularities, nicks or dents, and checked carefully between killing each animal, makes a single cut across the throat to a precise depth, severing both carotid arteries, both jugular veins, both vagus nerves, the trachea and the esophagus, no higher than the epiglottis and no lower than where cilia begin inside the trachea, causing the animal to bleed to death. Any variation from this exact procedure invalidates the process; therefore, if the knife catches even for a split second or is found afterward to have developed any irregularities, or the depth of cut is too deep or shallow, the carcass is not kosher (nevela) and is sold as regular meat to the general public. The shochet must not only be rigorously trained in this procedure, but also a pious Jew of good character who observes the Sabbath, and who remains cognizant that these are God's creatures who are sacrificing their lives for the good of himself and his community and should not be allowed to suffer in any way shape or form. In smaller communities, traditionally the shochet was often the town rabbi or the rabbi of one of the local synagogues; large factories which produce Kosher meat have professional full time shochtim on staff. Koshat is now available either directly in local stores or by order everywhere in the world.
Once killed, the animal is opened to determine whether there are any of seventy different irregularities or growths on its internal organs, which would render the animal non-kosher. The term glatt kosher (although it is often used colloquially to mean "strictly kosher") literally means "smooth", and properly refers to meat where the lungs have absolutely no adhesions (i.e. scars from previous inflammation), thus there was never even a question of their not being kosher.
As Jewish law prohibits the consumption of the blood of any animal, all blood and large blood vessels must be removed from the meat. This is most commonly done by soaking and salting, but also can be done by a special broiling process. The hindquarters of a mammal are not kosher unless the sciatic nerve and the fat surrounding it are removed (Genesis 32, last verse). This is a very time-consuming process demanding a great deal of special training, and is rarely done outside Israel where there is a greater demand for kosher meat. When it is not done the hindquarters of the animal are sold for non-kosher meat.
Compromises in countries with animal cruelty laws that prohibit such practices involve stunning the animal to lessen the suffering that occurs while the animal bleeds to death. Although the use of electric shocks to daze the animal is often not accepted by some markets as producing meat which is Kosher.}}
The identification of the above animals and other issues relating to this topic is the subject of much debate. Recently, Natan Slifkin published a book, titled The Camel, the Hare, and the Hyrax on the topic. In it, Slifkin focuses on the difficulties of neither the hare nor the hyrax actually being recognized as ruminates.
All kosher mammals, therefore, are artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates) and herbivores in the suborder Ruminantia, including several common domesticated animals and many wild animals. Kosher animals include the following:
While this list includes a wide variety of mammals, in practice, kosher meat is largely restricted to beef, veal, and lamb. Goat and deer are universally accepted as kosher but are rarely eaten (at least in the United States). Despite the urban legend that giraffes cannot be eaten because the proper area of the neck that must be cut is unknown, the makom shechitah (region of the neck in which ritual slaughter is valid) on a giraffe is precisely defined by halachah, just as it is for all animals. The impediments to producing giraffe meat relate primarily to practical considerations such as cost. (They are among the most difficult animals to restrain.)
In addition to meeting the restrictions as defined by the Torah, there is also the issue of mesorah (tradition). In general, animals are eaten only if there is a mesorah that has been passed down from generations ago that clearly indicates that these animals are acceptable. For instance, there was considerable debate as to the kosher status of zebu and bison among the rabbinical authorities when they first became known and available for consumption; the Orthodox Union permits bison, as can be attested to by the menus of some of the more upscale kosher restaurants in New York City.

Seafood (Leviticus 11:9-12; Deuteronomy 14:9)

As with land animals, the Torah does not categorize seafood according to a modern scientific classification As for land mammals; in fact, it almost takes the word "seafood" quite literally, using these criteria to determine the kosher status of any animal that lives primarily in the water. Two criteria are given for fish also: whatever has "fins and scales". The following verses describe seafood that does not have fins and scales as "an abomination," and commands the Israelites, "of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall detest".
For seafood to be kosher, the fins must be translucent and the scales easily detachable; i.e., removable without ripping the skin. In practice, kosher fish must have either ctenoid or cycloid scales.
Shark, catfish, octopus, squid, jellyfish, and eel are not kosher. All forms of shellfish — (clams, oysters, crab, lobster, and shrimp) — are similarly not kosher. Sea mammals, such as dolphins, whales, manatees and seals are not kosher.
Seaweed and other sea plant life are kosher, but require checking for infestation.
According to tradition, swordfish and sturgeon are not kosher, as they have scales while young but lose them later. Some Conservative rabbis allow their consumption.
Fish is considered pareve (neutral), as there are no biblical laws prohibiting it from being eaten at either meat or dairy meals. However, in practice, the combinations of fish and meat or of fish and milk are not usually consumed due to warnings from the Shulchan Oruch that this is dangerous.

Birds (Leviticus 11:13-19 and Deuteronomy 14:11-18)

Kosher birds include: ducks, geese, chickens, turkeys and guineafowl among others. As a general principle, scavenging birds such as vultures and birds of prey such as hawks and eagles (which will eat carrion when they find it) are not kosher. Leviticus outlines the non-kosher birds; in practice, the identities of the birds listed as non-kosher are not all known, so religious authorities have restricted consumption to specific birds for which Jews have passed down a tradition or permissibility from generation to generation. Thus birds such as songbirds, which are consumed as delicacies in many societies, may be kosher in theory, but are not eaten in kosher homes. Pigeons and doves are known to be kosher based on their permissible status as sacrificial offerings in the Temple. Likewise, though swans are kosher in theory if kosher-slaughtered, there is no Jewish tradition of eating


The status of gelatin is a controversial topic. True gelatin consists of denatured proteins, and comes from the processed hides or bones of animals, usually pigs or cows. This also affects the status of some brands of marshmallows. Most kosher products today use fish-based gelatin.
Another issue with gelatin is whether it is parve ('not dairy, nor meat'). A kosher parve 'gelatin' made from vegetable gums such as carrageenan combined with food starch from tapioca (which is also suitable for vegans) is commercially available in supermarkets which have substantial Kosher food sections. It does behave differently than protein-based gelatin, however, and cannot always be substituted directly for animal gelatin without modification of the recipe (mixing it with hot water instead of cold water). Other gelatin-like materials available include combinations of carrageen and other vegetable gums, such as guar gum, locust-bean gum, xanthan gum, gum acacia, and agar, chemically modified food starch, and chemically modified pectins. Recently, such products have been used in prepackaged gelled fruit products, replacing animal-based gelatin.
Although most gelatin is considered non-kosher, several prominent rabbinic authorities have noted that gelatin undergoes such extensive processing and chemical changes that it no longer has the status of meat, and as such may be considered parve and kosher. This is the position adopted by some Orthodox rabbis, including Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel.

Insects and other invertebrates, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians (Leviticus 11:21, 29-30, 42-43)

With four exceptions, all invertebrates (including insects, crustaceans and molluscs), all reptiles, and all amphibians are considered 'loathsome', 'crawling' creatures, and are forbidden by the Torah. The exceptions are a type of locust, the kosher locust native to the Arabian peninsula, encompassing four distinct species. The tradition for identifying which species of locust are kosher has been lost among all Jews except the Jews of Yemen. (One hypothesis links these kosher insects to the Biblical manna which was provided as food for the Israelites in the desert). Additionally, a few mammals (rodents, weasels, etc.) are actively prohibited by these verses rather than being passively prohibited by the verses pertaining to land animals above.
Bee honey is Kosher, even though bees are not, because the honey is made by the bee, not a secretion of the bee. One basis for this is that Israel is referred to in the Torah as the "Land of Milk and Honey," and it is accepted that this reference would not speak of a non-kosher entity.
In the summer of 2004, a controversy arose in New York City over the presence of copepods (tiny crustaceans) in the city water supply. While some authorities hold that these creatures are microscopic and therefore negligible, others note that they are almost the size of a small insect, such as a gnat, and far larger than bacteria or other single-celled creatures; in fact can be detected by the naked eye. As of this writing a definitive ruling has not been produced as to whether copepods affect the kosher status of water, but many families have begun using filters on their drinking and cooking water supply.


Milk and milk-derived products derived from kosher animals are kosher. Milk from animals who are deemed treifah (ill or injured with those conditions mentioned in the Talmud as invalidating an animal for consumption), however, is not kosher. While the meat from such animals is similarly prohibited, milk is taken and for the most part consumed while the providing animal is still alive, whereas the meat would be consumed only after the organs (i.e. lungs) of the dead animal are examined for permissibility. This creates an objective question on the kosher status of all milk. To the rescue is the biblical law that states that majority situations trump minority ones, and since most animals do not possess a damning injury, the milk from any one animal may be consumed. Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a prominant rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University, has made the bold claim that with modern dairy farm equipment, milk from the minority of non-kosher cows is invariably mixed with that of the majority of kosher cows, thus invalidating the permissibility of consuming milk from a large dairy operation. The Orthodox Union, however, released a statement declaring the milk permissible based on some leniencies.
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 115:1) rules one may consume only "cholov yisroel" (חלב ישראל), or milk produced with a Torah-observant Jewish person present. Lacking proper supervision, one cannot be sure whether the milk came from a kosher animal. Some recent American rabbinical authorities, most notably Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, ruled that the protection provided by cholov yisroel is unnecessary because the regulations imposed on the US milk industry by the USDA are so focused and strict that the milk industry can be trusted to self-regulate themselves (i.e. when they label an item "cow's milk" to not include milk from any other animal). Some Haredi and Modern Orthodox rabbis hold that this leniency cannot be employed and only milk and dairy products with milk-to-bottle supervision may be consumed. You cannot consume any dairy products after eating meat and the other way round because the Torah says you cannot cook an animal in its mother's milk (Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26, Deuteronomy 14:21). This law was further expounded upon in Talmudic texts, as we shall see later.


Cheese is a dairy product. Hard cheeses, however, are usually made from milk and rennet, an animal product.
Rennet is the enzyme used to turn milk into curds and whey; most forms of rennet derive from the lining of the stomach of an animal. Though rennets made from the stomachs of kosher animals that are kosher-slaughtered are kosher, when combined with milk, this violates the prohibition against mixing milk and meat, thereby rendering the cheese unkosher. Therefore, enzymes found in kosher cheese are generally made from vegetable or microbial sources. The Mishna and Talmud (in Avodah Zarah and Hullin) state that cheese made with rennet derived from a non-kosher animal is non-kosher. Orthodox authorities follow this ruling, and hold that rennet is a "d'var ha'ma'amid" (דבר המעמיד), an ingredient which changes the food so significantly that its presence cannot be considered negligible, so that even tiny amounts make the food it is added to non-kosher. In practice, Orthodox and some Conservative Jews who observe the laws of kashrus eat only cheese made with kosher enzymes.
Many commercial cheeses marketed to vegetarians are also made with non-animal rennet. Such cheeses still require certification to be recognized as kosher by Jews following kashrut laws.

Parev / Pareve

Foods that contain no dairy or meat content are known as parev (also spelled pareve). Examples may be most drinks, all fruit, and raw vegetables.
Pareve food and drink can be consumed with either dairy or meat meals.

Prohibition of mixing meat and dairy

Waiting between meals

Historically, the extent of the restriction on meat/dairy mixtures has evolved over time and locale. The original biblical prohibition of meat/dairy mixtures is found in the Torah as three mentions of the identical verse: “You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk,” (Exodus 23:19, 34:26, Deuteronomy 14:21). and these verses serve as the basis for all rules relating to the consumption of meat and milk products together. When viewed alone and out of context, this biblical requirement is much less restrictive than modern practice, which is based heavily on the added rabbinical prohibitions against a wider variety of mixtures of milk and meat.
Rashi, on his commentary to these verses, explains the repetitiveness as a biblical prohibition of three actions: the eating of mixtures of milk and meat, the cooking of milk and meat together and the derivation of benefit of mixtures of milk and meat.
As with all biblical laws, traditional Judaism believes that the biblical text alone cannot be depended upon for the insight and detail necessary to properly observe the laws, and the Talmud is looked upon to provide the precise methods of practice. Without the Talmud, the verses are not only vague but completely worthless in their sense of directive:
  • Does the prohibition relate only to kids? Perhaps adults animals are not included.
  • Does the prohibition relate only to mother's milk? Perhaps the offspring of a different animal would be permitted.
  • What is the definition of 'cook'? Would this apply to frying and baking as well?
  • From the text itself, Rashi's assertions seem without basis; why would eating an already cooked mixture be prohibited?
While the Talmud (Chullin 115b) expounds upon the biblical prohibitions as including many other details of prohibition (including those mentioned by Rashi), numerous rabbinical prohibitions were added to prevent transgression of the biblical prohibitions. Included in these rabbinic directives are many of the more popularly recognized rules of meat and milk:
  • The biblical prohibition merely restricts the meat of domestic mammals to be mixed with milk. The sages prohibited the flesh of undomesticated mammals (i.e. deer) as well as that of poultry.
  • A mandated waiting period after the consumption of meat before dairy is allowed to be eaten. Mar Ukva tells how his father would not eat dairy after a meat meal, but rather would wait until the next day. Mar Ukva himself would not eat dairy at the same meal, but would at the next one. (Chullin 105a) The exact time period "between meals" is thus of importance in determining the amount of time one must wait. Maimonides explains that waiting is necessary because meat becomes stuck in the teeth and cannot be removed by simply cleaning one's teeth. He specifies the time between meals as "about six hours", . He also connects it to health issues and idolatry. This ruling is binding for Sephardi Jews. Ashkenazi Jews, however, have various customs. Most European Jews will wait six hours, even if the table is cleared and the blessings have been recited. German Jews wait three hours, and Dutch Jews, when they have the tradition passed on in their families, wait only one.
Eating meat after dairy is considered less problematic. One must only (a) say the blessings, (b) clean and rinse mouth, and (c) wash hands.—which may have been inadvertently briefly moistened sometime after harvest, and thus begun the fermentation process which is key to leavening. The exception to this rule is matza, which has been ritually supervised from harvest to packaging to ensure that no leavening has occurred.
Ashkenazi Jews are further restricted, by custom, from eating rice, legumes, and corn (collectively called kitniyot) during Passover. Due to the prevalence of corn syrup in American processed foods, many common items are disallowed for Ashkenazic Jews during Passover. In particular, Coca-Cola produces and distributes "kosher for Passover" runs with its corn syrup-free recipe during Passover in the United States.
In order to prevent inadvertent consumption of leaven, observant Jews either maintain an entirely separate set of dishes, cutlery, pots, pans, etc. for Passover (much as they maintain separate sets of kitchenware year-round for milk and for meat), or they kasher their chametz dishes by immersing them in boiling water. For convenience sake, some people who can afford it have separate kitchens for Passover.
Due to the high likelihood of chametz being found in food with even a small amount of processing, most commercial products require special Kosher for Passover certification. This is usually marked with a plain letter P on the label, or with the words "Kosher for Passover" or "May be used for Passover."

Other produce

All fresh fruits and vegetables are kosher in principle. Jewish law requires that they be carefully checked and cleaned to make sure that there are no insects on them, as insects are not kosher (except certain grasshoppers and crickets according to the Jews of Yemen only, see above). The Orthodox community is particular not to consume produce which may have insect infestation, and check and wash certain forms of produce very carefully. Many Orthodox Jews avoid certain vegetables, such as broccoli, because they may be infested and exceedingly hard to clean. (According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, commercially it is not possible to remove all insects, and a sizeable amount remain. Responding to this issue, some companies now sell thoroughly washed and inspected produce for those who do not wish to do it themselves, even going to the trouble of filtering the wash water to ensure that it carries no microscopic creatures [see discussion of such animals in tap water, above]. These may or may not meet rabbinical standards for being insect-free. Some kashrut certifying organizations completely recommend against consumption of certain vegetables they deem impossible to clean.)
There are some restrictions on consumption of produce grown in Israel. The fruit of a tree for the first three years is not consumed (in keeping with the law of orlah). For crops grown in Israel, tithes must be taken and allocated according to the precepts of the Bible, otherwise the entire crop will not be considered kosher. In Israel, stores that sell fruits and vegetables will usually display kosher certification. The certificate ("teudah") must be from the current month.


Eggs from kosher birds are kosher; they are also considered pareve (neutral, neither milk nor meat). Traditionally, eggs are examined in a glass cup to ascertain that they contain no blood. Eggs containing blood in the white may be used according to Sephardi halakha if the blood can be removed, but the egg must be discarded if any blood is found on the yolk. Ashkenazim generally do not distinguish between blood in the white or on the yolk. Partially-formed eggs found inside slaughtered birds may be eaten, but they must undergo the same process of blood removal as the animal, and these eggs are considered to be fleishig (status of meat) in Ashkenazi Judaism.

Canned and frozen foods

Most canned and frozen foods are usually permissible since manufacturers add only water and spices during the packaging process. Sometimes, however, fruits or vegetables are prepared with milk products or with non-kosher ingredients such as non-kosher meat broth. Orthodox Judaism thus holds that canned and frozen goods (except frozen berries) should generally not be consumed unless there is a reliable hechsher on the product. Conservative rabbis are often more lenient, and say that a careful reading of the ingredients is sufficient.

Wine and grape products

Orthodox Jews will not drink wine produced by non-Jews. The prohibition on drinking such wine, called "stam yeynam," goes back to pagan times, when wine was used for idolatrous purpose ("yayin nesekh"). One area of leniency is in regard to pasteurized wine, which falls under the category of "cooked wine" ("yayin mevushal"). Such wine was historically viewed as less suitable for religious practices, and is therefore not subject to the same prohibitions as uncooked non-Jewish wine, primarily regarding the way it may be handled. However, even mevushal wine is forbidden without proper supervision.

Alternative views

Within Conservative Judaism, the law is regarded as being upheld, but the practice has significantly changed. In the 1960s the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards approved a responsum ("legal ruling") by Rabbi Israel Silverman on this subject.
He writes that some classical Jewish authorities agree that Christians are not considered idolaters, and that their products would not be considered forbidden in this regard. He also noted that most wine-making in the United States is fully automated. Based on 15th-19th century precedents in responsa literature, he concluded that wines manufactured by this automated process may not be classified as wine "manufactured by gentiles", and thus are not prohibited by Jewish law. This responsum makes no attempt to change halakhah, but rather argues that most American wine is kosher by traditional halakhic standards.
A later responsum on this subject was written by Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, and also accepted by the CJLS. Dorff noted that not all wines are made by automated processes, and thus the reasoning behind Silverman's responsum was not conclusively reliable in all cases. He explored rabbinic thought on Jewish views of non-Christians, also finding that most poskim refused to consign Christians to the status of idolator. Noting that many foods once considered forbidden if produced by gentiles (wheat and oil products) were eventually declared kosher, he concluded that wine and grape products produced by non-Jews are permissible.

Mixtures considered unhealthy

Mixing fish and meat, while technically kosher, is restricted by a Talmudic ruling. It stems from the sages understanding that the consumption of fish and meat at the same time could be harmful to one's health (according to Ashkenazim). The general practice of Orthodox Jews is that when they eat fish and meat at the same meal, they use separate plates and utensils. Sephardi Jews do not mix fish and milk, or fish and meat products together (Shulchan Aruch).


Further reading

Alan F. Segal, Rebecca's Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World, Harvard University Press, 1986, 125-7.
parve in German: Jüdische Speisegesetze
parve in Portuguese: Produtos Kosher
parve in Slovak: Parve
parve in Turkish: Parve
parve in Korean: 코셔
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