Special kosher requirements
The following paragraphs outline special requirements for kosher wine, milk products, baked goods, and food from Israel. Many commercially prepared products also fall under the category of cooked foods, which has its own set of special kashrut requirements. It is particularly important that all of these products bear a reputable kosher certification.
Companies owned and operated by kosher-observant Jews are likely to be the most stringent in upholding these special requirements. In the case of nationally-known certifications, the standards vary widely. The best policy is to look for the most widely-respected kosher certification on the foods that are available.
Wine and Grape Products
Wine, more than any other food or drink, represents the holiness and separateness of the Jewish people. It is used for the sanctification of Shabbat and Yom Tov and at Jewish celebrations. In the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) wine was poured upon the Altar together with the sacrifice.
However, since wine was and still is used in many forms of idolatrous worship, it has a unique status in Jewish Law, which places extra restrictions on the making and handling of wine. This includes wine used for non-ceremonial purposes.
The production and handling of kosher wine must be done exclusively by Jews. Wine, grape juice, and all products containing wine or grape juice must remain solely in Jewish hands during the manufacturing process and also after the seal of the bottle has been opened. We are not allowed to drink any wine or grape juice, or any drink containing wine or grape juice, which has been touched by a non-Jew after the seal of the bottle has been opened.
Yayin Mevushal: (Boiled Wine)
Kosher wine (or grape juice) which has been boiled prior to the bottling process is called yayin mevushal. In the time of the Beit Hamikdash, boiling wine rendered it unfit to be brought upon the Altar.
Yayin mevushal is not considered “sacramental wine” and is therefore not included in the prohibition against being handled by non-Jews. This wine must, as will all kosher wines, bear a reliable kosher certification and it should say yayin mevushal.
A wide variety of domestic and imported kosher wines under reliable supervision have been added to the sweet Concords traditionally associated with kosher wines. Many of these wines are yayin mevushal, as indicated on the label. Whether for Kiddush (sanctification over wine), dining, or a celebration, you are sure to find a fine kosher wine to suit your taste.
Grape Ingredients in Processed Foods: All liquids produced from fresh or dried grapes, whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic, such as grape juice and wine vinegar, are in the same category as wine in Jewish Law. Therefore, foods with grape flavoring or additives must always have a reliable hechsher; examples are jam, soda, Popsicles, candy, juice-packed fruit, fruit punch, and lemonade.
Alcoholic drinks such as cognac and brandy have wine bases. Liqueurs and blended whiskeys are often blended with wine. All such beverages require kosher supervision, as does herring in wine sauce.
Cream of tartar is made from wine sediment and needs Rabbinical supervision.
All baked goods must have reliable kosher certification. Some bakeries in Jewish communities carry the certification from a local Orthodox Rabbi or the kosher board in that city.
In addition, bread, cake and other baked goods from a Jewish bakery with reliable kosher certification often ensures not only the kosher status of these products but also that they are pas Yisrael (the bread of Israel). It is preferable to use pas Yisrael products whenever possible. This means that a Jewish person has baked or assisted in the baking of the products. Even if he simply lit the oven he is considered as having assisted.
Non-commercial bread and cake that is completely baked by an individual non-Jew is called pas akum and may not be eaten.
Under certain circumstances, baked goods prepared with kosher ingredients in a non-Jewish bakery (not by an individual) may be permitted. Such bread is called pas palter. The conditions under which pas palter may be used are 1) that the bakery is under reliable Rabbinic supervision to ensure that the ingredients, utensils and all substances coming in contact with the food are kosher, and that 2) comparable pas Yisrael baked goods are unavailable. Many packaged baked goods sold in supermarkets are pas palter, even if certified kosher.
For spiritual reasons, many Jews do not use pas palter even in cases where it is permitted. All should avoid its use during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Kosher certification on packaged baked goods does not mean the product is pas Yisrael unless it is labeled as such.
Certain foods which were completely cooked by a non-Jew (bishul akum) may not be eaten, even if the foods are kosher and are cooked in kosher utensils.
Foods that generally come under the category of bishul akum are: 1) Foods that cannot be eaten raw, such as meat or grains. (This excludes foods that can be eaten either cooked or raw, such as apples or carrots.) 2) Foods that are considered important, “fit to set upon a king’s table.” There are various opinions regarding what are considered “royal foods.”
The way the food is prepared (boiled, steamed, pickled, etc.) can also affect its status regarding these laws.
If a Jew has supervised and assisted in the cooking of these foods, such as by lighting the fire of the oven or stirring the food, such food is considered bishul Yisrael and is permitted.
These laws affect many commercially prepared foods. Some supervising services write the words bishul Yisrael on their hechsher. One should consult an Orthodox Rabbi for further clarification. These laws must also be kept in mind when enlisting the help of a non-Jewish housekeeper or cook.
Jewish law requires that in the production of Dairy products, a mashgiach or Jewish supervisor must be present from the beginning of the milking to the end of processing to ensure that only milk from kosher animals is used. Where supervised milk is unavailable, some Rabbinic Authorities permit government inspection as sufficient assurance (although not in all countries). All agree, however, that actual supervision is preferable. Milk with such supervision is known as chalav Yisrael.
Jewish tradition stresses the importance of using chalav Yisrael products exclusively, and emphasizes that using non-chalav Yisrael dairy products can have an adverse spiritual effect. Even when chalav Yisrael is very difficult to obtain, many people, aware of its positive effect on a Jew’s spiritual sensitivity, go out of their way to acquire these products. Certainly, where they are readily available, one is required by Jewish Law to use these products exclusively.
Food From Israel
Several Torah commandments involving agricultural practices in the Land of Israel apply even when the products are exported to other countries. Recent articles report that Israel exports over 7 billion dollars worth of agricultural products per year, all subject to the Torah’s agricultural laws.
Any food from Israel, whether fresh or packaged, requires a reliable hechsher. Israeli products have become common in American supermarkets. Jaffa oranges are the most famous, but one can also find Israeli tomatoes and other produce. Packaged and processed foods from Israel such as crackers, soups, and candies are also widely available. All of these must comply with the following agricultural laws.
By giving a portion of the land’s produce to the Kohanim and Levi’im, living representatives of G-d and the Torah, the Jews made tangible the concept that material possessions must be used in the service of spiritual life.
In addition, a certain percentage of the crops were to be designated for the poor (ma’aser oni) and a certain part to be eaten only in Jerusalem (ma’aser sheni).
Even today, fruits, vegetables, and grains grown in the Land of Israel are subject to the laws of t’rumah and ma’aser. Although these special portions are no longer consumed, the food may not be eaten until the portions of t’rumah and ma’aser are separated. Consult an Orthodox Rabbi for practical guidance in applying these laws.
Shmittah: A year of rest for the land. Every seventh year in the Land of Israel is a “sabbatical” year for the land, just as every seventh day is a Sabbath day for each individual Jew: “You may plant your land for six years and gather its crops. But during the seventh year, you must leave it alone and withdraw from it. The needy among you will then be able to eat from your fields just as you do…” (Exodus 23:10-11).
Farmers in Israel who observe the shmittah year proclaim their faith in G-d, Who promised to give a blessing in the sixth year so that their needs would be more than met in the seventh. No food may be grown or cultivated during this year, and all poor or needy people are welcome to collect any crops remaining in the fields. It is forbidden to eat food grown by a Jew in Israel during the shmittah year.
Orlah: The fruit of young trees. Fruit which has grown in the first three years of a tree’s existence is called orlah and may not be used. Even in the fourth year certain restrictions apply. A hechsher is therefore necessary on fruit from Israel. However, for fruit grown outside of Israel, only that fruit which is definitely known to be orlah is prohibited.