What to Serve: Meeting Kashrut Requirements
One of the things that makes Judaism spiritually fulfilling is that its laws and customs apply to our regular everyday lives, not only in religious ceremonies or in the synagogue. Kashrut, the dietary laws that regulate and guide Jewish eating are a very important part of Jewish life, religion, and peoplehood.
What Is Kosher
The laws of kashrut, or kosher, are found in the Torah, the Bible itself. For the most part, the only foods subject to kosher laws are animals that are eaten. Though all fruits, vegetables, and growing things are considered kosher, only certain kinds of animals are considered kosher. According to the Bible and Jewish law, animals that chew their cud, called ruminants, and have split hoofs are kosher. The kosher animals include cows, sheep, deer, lamb, buffalo, and others. The only kosher fish are those from species that have fins and scales. These include salmon, tilapia, mahi mahi, trout, and many others. A full list can be found on the kosher websites in Appendix D. Only certain birds are kosher. These are all birds that are not birds of prey and conform to the biblical list of kosher birds, such as chicken, turkey, and duck.
If you would like your wedding to be up to the highest standards of kosher, you will need to find a wedding hall and caterer that does kosher events. These caterers are supervised by rabbis and kosher organizations to be sure everything is done according to the Jewish laws of kashrut. Asking a caterer or wedding hall to cook kosher if they are not supervised by a kosher certification organization does not guarantee the kosher standards of the event. In fact, the caterer may have little idea of how to make your wedding food kosher if she has not been properly trained. Even if she does know how to prepare kosher food, she will not be considered strictly trustworthy unless there is sufficient outside supervision.
There are more than 500 kosher supervisory organizations. However, not all supervision agencies are acceptable to all kosher-keeping Jews. Check with a local rabbi or kosher organization to determine which are recommended.
The meat of a fully kosher animal, such as a cow, is not kosher at all if the animal is not slaughtered correctly according to the Jewish laws of shechitah. To be kosher, a shochet must slaughter the kosher animal according to the Jewish laws with a particular kind of knife and using a special kosher method of slaughter. The shochet must then check to be sure the animal is healthy, since even kosher animals are not considered kosher if they are not healthy enough to live a year on their own. The meat must subsequently be salted to remove any blood, since the blood of the animal and certain parts of its body are not considered kosher.
The term “kosher-style” has nothing to do with kosher. Kosher-style has come to mean different things in different instances — everything from serving unkosher pastrami and pickles to food that is not kosher but simply does not mix meat and dairy.
Meat and Dairy
The mixing of meat and dairy products is strictly forbidden in Jewish law even if both are kosher. Not only can one not make a food of meat and dairy cooked together, but according to Jewish tradition dairy cannot be eaten immediately after one has eaten meat. This means that a dairy dessert is not acceptable if you are serving meat as your entrée. Most kosher-keeping Jewish people wait several hours after eating meat until they eat dairy. It is permissible to eat meat after eating dairy, though not at the same meal.
Given all the complexities of kosher standards, if you wish your wedding to be kosher you will need to talk to a local rabbi about which caterers are kosher and what kosher facilities are available. Kosher food is sometimes a bit more expensive, but many couples find it is well worth the money to accommodate all their guests equally and start off their marriage on a kosher foundation.
If you have guests who only eat kosher meat that is designated glatt, you will need to inquire of the kosher caterer if he can fulfill this standard. Today much of the meat on the kosher market is glatt, so accommodating your guests, especially in a large city with kosher resources, should not be difficult.
Additional Kosher Standards
There are different customs, even within the strict guidelines of kashrut. There are those who will only eat meat that is known as glatt kosher. Glatt is not more kosher; indeed, if something is kosher, it's kosher. All kosher animals must be healthy. The words glatt kosher just indicate that there were no questions about the health of the animal at all. Regular kosher meat comes from healthy animals, but in some instances there are certain lesions on the lung of the animal that are quite common and often form in reaction to a hole in the animal's lung, which would render it unkosher.
The law is that if these lesions come off easily then they are assumed to be benign and are not hiding a more severe lung injury. Such meat is kosher. Glatt (which means “smooth” in Yiddish) is meat from an animal that had no lesions on its lung at all, and thus no questions about the health of the animal's lung at all. In addition, other organs are checked to be sure the animal is healthy all around.
If you or your family does not keep kosher and you are not planning to have the food at your wedding be certified as kosher, there are several ways in which you might still achieve a modicum of kashrut at your reception. For instance, you may still be able to ask your caterer to cook with kosher ingredients. Perhaps she would be willing to order the meat for your reception from one of the many kosher meat packers and suppliers, some of which are listed in Appendix D. You could also skip meat or fish altogether and opt for a vegetarian wedding in recognition of the environmental concerns of our age. You might also consider asking a non-kosher caterer to refrain from serving dairy and meat together. For observant Jews, these kosher options will not suffice, but they may be acceptable for some Jewish people who are less observant.
If you and your fiancé or your families have different religious standards, the question of kosher at your wedding can be a great source of tension. Though some religious Jews may be able to compromise on things such as having mixed dancing, they may not be able to compromise on kosher.
Some beverages are also subject to the rules of kashrut in Judaism. Though almost all beer is considered kosher if it is not flavored, and most liquor, excluding those that are wine-based, are kosher, it is important to check that the items you will serve to drink are indeed under kosher supervision if you will have a kosher wedding. A list of kosher liquors and beverages can be found online at the websites of several national kosher organizations. For some specific references, see Appendix D.
Wine or wine-based liquor has some kashrut concerns. Though grapes are a fruit and are not subject to kashrut laws per se, there is a specific kashrut concern associated with wine. The Bible, in its commands to stay far from the worship of idols, forbids the use of things that were used in any idolatrous practice.
In Jewish history, there were times when idolaters would use wine as a libation in pagan religious services. Since wine in ancient days was sold in large barrels, wine would sometimes be used for idolatrous worship and then poured back into the wine barrel and resold as new wine. Thus in the Talmudic period, the rabbis made a halachic, a Jewish legal decree that wine manufactured by or handled after opening by non-Jewish people had to be treated as if it were not kosher and could not be consumed.
Be sure the wine you order is mivushal and says so on the label. Sometimes the word is printed in English on the bottle, but sometimes it is only in Hebrew. If you cannot find it on the label, call a kosher supervision organization to check if the brand you plan to use is mivushal.
The one exception to this rule was wine that had been pasteurized, since it was considered lower in quality and was not, therefore, used in such idolatrous services. As a result of this law pertaining to kosher wine, many kosher wines are pasteurized. This means that it is still considered kosher even if they are opened by non-Jewish waiters. Such wines are known by the term mivushal, “boiled.” If your wedding will be kosher, it is advisable to buy not only kosher wine but kosher wine that says mivushal on the label, to be sure that it retains its kosher status even after it has been opened.