Kosher Food While Traveling - Kashrut
Kosher Food While Traveling

Kashrut is a term that refers to the dietary laws mandated in the Jewish religion. Food that complies with these laws is referred to as "kosher." Observant Jews generally follow the laws of kashrut to varying degrees. Additionally, some other people like to eat kosher food because they view it as pure.

Food that may be consumed according to halakha (Jewish law) is termed kosher in English, from the Ashkenazi pronunciation of the Hebrew term kashér , meaning "fit" (i.e. fit for consumption). Food that is not in accordance with the halakha is called treif (Yiddish: treyf, derived from Hebrew trefáh)

As Jewish people vary in their levels of observance, some will eat kosher food 100% of the time, some eat kosher food while at home, but are willing to bend the rules while away, and some do not eat a kosher diet at all. For those who will always eat kosher, this article discusses the challenges and solutions in obtaining kosher food away from home.

Every law of kashrut, according to all Rabbinic authorities can be broken when human life is at stake.

Understanding kashrut

The laws of kashrut originate from the Torah (Old Testament). There are several Biblical verses that prescribe what types of food can and cannot be eaten. Biblical scholars have interpreted these verses to form the modern set of laws known as kashrut.
The basic laws are:

Orthodox union logo as used in Kosher food certification
Orthodox union logo as used in Kosher food certification
Though a relatively small number of Biblical laws regular the Jewish diet, kashrut in modern life is nevertheless quite complicated due to the complexity of modern day food preparation. Commercial processed foods contain numerous additives and other ingredients that pose kashrut issues. Frequently, it is not possible to identify these issues simply by reading the ingredients. Many food are processed on factory equipment that is also used for non-kosher foods, and that alone can render the food non-kosher.

A common myth is that food that is kosher has been "blessed by a rabbi." There is no truth to this myth, and rabbis give no blessings in the process of certifying food as kosher.

Identifying kosher foods

Those who practice the laws of kashrut know how to identify a food as being kosher or not.

All fruits, vegetables, and other foods growing from the ground are inherently kosher.

Most processed foods though, including those made from fruits and vegetables, require kashrut certification. This is because many processed foods contain additives derived from non-kosher sources, and it is not always possible to determine kashrut simply from reading the ingredients. Additionally, many foods are processed on the same equipment as non-kosher foods.

The most common and recognized kosher symbol is the OU (Orthodox Union), which is found on thousands of products sold in North America and other parts of the world. There are dozens of other symbols. Not all kosher consumers consider all of them reliable.

Pareve foods

Some processes convert a meat or dairy product into a pareve (neither meat nor dairy) one. For example, rennet is sometimes 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 rennet. The same applies to kosher gelatin, an animal product, supposedly derived from kosher animal sources. Other gelatin-like products from non-animal sources such as agar agar and carageenan are pareve by nature. Fish gelatin is derived from fish and is therefore (like all kosher fish products) pareve. Eggs are also considered pareve despite being an animal product.

Kashrut has procedures by which equipment can be cleaned of its previous non-kosher use, but that might be inadequate for those with allergies, vegetarians, or adherents to other religious statutes. For example, dairy manufacturing equipment can be cleaned well enough that the rabbis grant pareve status to products manufactured with it. Nevertheless, someone with a strong allergic sensitivity to dairy products might still react to the dairy residue, and that is why some products that are legitimately pareve carry "milk" warnings
hechsher from the Grand Rabbinat de Paris, France  - SOUS LE CONTROLE DU GRAND RABBINAT DE PARIS
Hechsher from the Grand Rabbinat de Paris, France 


A hechsher is the certification of a product or establishment that shows that it is kosher. The hechsher is offered by a kashrut certifying agency, which sends a mashgiach to the location where the food is manufactured to observe the manufacturing process and determine if the food meets the standards of kashrut.

Each hechsher has a unique symbol. On processed food products, this symbol is generally printed somewhere on the packaging, unusually conspicuously enough for the consumer to notice. On a restaurant or other similar establishment, it'll usually be printed either on the door or inside the establishment in an area where the customer can see it easily, or is kept behind the scenes, but will be displayed to any customer upon request.

Not every hechsher is trusted by every Jewish person. Some are not considered to be reliable by some consumers. This is up to the discretion of each person.

Often, a hechsher is followed by the letter D, standing for the word "dairy," indicating dairy ingredients, the letters DE indicating that there are no dairy ingredients, but the product was produced on dairy equipment, and cannot be consumed on meat or on one's meat dishes, the word MEAT or letter M for meat ingredients (but this is often omitted for obvious meat products), the word PAREVE for products containing no dairy or meat, or the letter P (not to be confused with pareve) for products that are kosher for passover.

Food preparation by non-Jews

The classical rabbis prohibited any item of food that had been consecrated to an idol, or had been used in the service of an idol. Since the Talmud views all non-Jews as potential idolaters, and viewed intermarriage with apprehension, it included within this prohibition any food which has been cooked/prepared completely by non-Jews. Similarly, a number of Jewish writers believed food prepared for Jews by non-Jewish servants would not count as prepared by potential idolaters, although this view was opposed by Jacob ben Asher.

Consequently, modern Orthodox Jews generally believe wine, certain cooked foods, and sometimes even dairy products, should only be prepared by Jews. The prohibition against drinking non-Jewish wine, traditionally called yayin nesekh (literally meaning "wine for offering"), is not absolute. Cooked wine (Hebrew: yayin mevushal), meaning wine which has been heated, is regarded as drinkable on the basis that heated wine was not historically used as a religious libation; thus kosher wine includes mulled wine, and pasteurised wine, regardless of producer, but Orthodox Judaism only regards other forms of wine as kosher if prepared by a Jew.

Some Jews refer to these prohibited foods as akum, an acronym of 'Obhde Kokhabkim U Mazzaloth', meaning "worshippers of stars and planets". Akum is thus a reference to activities which these Jews view as idolatry, and in many significant works of postclassical Jewish literature, such as the Shulchan Aruch, it has been applied to Christians in particular. However, among the classical rabbis, there were a number who refused to treat Christians as idolaters, and consequently regarded food which had been manufactured by them as being kosher; this detail has been noted and upheld by a number of religious authorities in Conservative Judaism, such as Rabbi Israel Silverman, and Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff.

Conservative Judaism is more lenient; in the 1960s, Rabbi Israel Silverman issued a responsum, officially approved by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, in which he argued that wine manufactured by an automated process was not "manufactured by gentiles", and therefore would be kosher. A later responsum of Conservative Judaism was issued by Rabbi Elliott Dorff, who argued, based on precedents in 15th-19th century responsa, that many foods, such as wheat and oil products, which had once been forbidden when produced by non-Jews were eventually declared kosher. On this basis he concluded wine and grape products produced by non-Jews would be permissible.

Where to find kosher food

In a city with a large Jewish community, kosher food is pretty easy to find. Such cities typically have one or more kosher stores and/or restaurants where such food can be obtained. Additionally, within the part of town where the Jewish people live, and often elsewhere in town, common supermarkets will carry some specially kosher products.

Even outside of a Jewish community, in the United States, Canada, and many other countries, it is possible to find at least food in supermarkets and convenience stores with kosher certification, though this food may require some preparation in order to be eaten.

While Israel is the Jewish state, not all food in Israel is kosher, and kosher consumers must still examine and restaurant and every food product sold to determine if it is kosher.

Kosher restaurants

Most restaurants anywhere are not kosher. But kosher restaurants do exist where Jewish people live in numbers large enough to support one.

There are several websites and smartphone apps that can help locate kosher restaurants, grocery stores, and other establishments while traveling including, Kosher GPS, and Kosher Near Me. However, not every listing is up-to-date, and travelers should make an effort to do additional research on what options are available for them.

Bring your own

One possibility is just to bring your own kosher food from home. While this may seem to be the easiest way, it is often not. For even modestly long journeys, it may be difficult to carry the requisite amount of food. It is often impractical to refrigerate perishables (although food can be kept frozen in an airplane, as long as the plane is not delayed on the ground for too long), and while non-perishable food items will travel more easily, you will need extra space to pack them.

It is sometimes illegal to move fruit and the like across country borders. Countries like Australia and the US have strict rules and your food will likely get confiscated on arrival.

Kosher self-heating meal kits are an increasingly popular food item for Jewish travelers, and are something to consider for in a pinch.

Packaged food

Food sold in grocery stores is usually packaged, and is sometimes kosher. You will need to look for the kosher certification label or seal on the package to verify that the food item is actually kosher. While at least some kosher packaged food is readily available in most grocery stores in North America and Europe, it may be more difficult to find elsewhere, and will almost always be imported from another country.

Synagogues & outreach centers

Some synagogues and Jewish outreach centers (such as Chabad Houses) offer packaged or frozen food items, prepared foods, and even a selection of meats for sale for kosher travelers. You will need to contact the synagogue or outreach center directly to find out about what is available, how to purchase, and how to obtain the food. This can be especially helpful in cities or countries where a Jewish community presence is limited.

If visiting around a major Jewish holiday or on the Sabbath, you may also be able to partake in a full meal at the synagogue or outreach center, usually at no charge (though a donation to the center may be requested).

Kashrut by location
Some may perceive that Israel being the Jewish state, all food would be kosher. This is far from being the case, as in Israel, there are plenty of non-kosher restaurants and food products sold in stores. Travelers to Israel shall consult with their rabbi to determine which hechsherim are acceptable in Israel, as they mostly differ from the rest of the world.

United States
In the United States, there is plenty of kosher food available. Most processed foods that are kosher have a hechsher on the label. Foods bearing a hechsher are available in most places, even where there is no Jewish population. Most chain stores have plenty of foods with a hechsher other than meat and most forms of cheese.

Canada, being a close neighbor of the United States, sells many US-made products that are kosher. Additionally, most large cities have Jewish communities and access to kosher food. Toronto and Montreal both offer a good number of kosher restaurants.

Latin America
Few Latin American-made products have kosher supervision. But most supermarkets in Latin America carry some US-made products with kashrut supervision.

In Europe, it is not typical for a hechsher to be printed on the label of a product. However, some items are kosher even without a hechsher. One should consult their rabbi in advance to determine which products are kosher.

With the exception of Israel, Asia has a low number of Jewish communities. Nevertheless, there are some places where kosher food can still be obtained.

In most countries finding Kosher food will be impossible. Tunisia (Djerba) still has a good kosher restaurant. Although most Jews left South Africa following the end of White rule, kosher restaurants and grocers can still be found in Cape Town and Johanesburg.

Ordering special meals

On airlines, cruise ships, and other places, it is often possible to order special kosher meals in advance. Different airlines and cruise lines have different requirements how far in advance such meals must be ordered.

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Kosher Food While Traveling - Kashrut
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