A word that is always heard in association with Jewish food is kosher. It means “all right” or “fit,” and there are strict and elaborate laws about the kind of food that is prohibited, restrictions regarding even those items that are permitted, rules that decide how meat should be prepared, and instructions about the utensils to be used in the kitchen. The essence of these intricate set of regulations contained in the Scriptures (primarily Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14) is that the food should be clean, and the meat extracted with minimum infliction of pain to animals. The services of a shohet, a man trained in slaughtering animals in the most delicate manner, are sought by pious Jewish households as much to abide by scriptural codes of dietary conduct as to cause least harm to Nature. This is followed to such an extent that the Jews ensure the detergents used for cleaning their vessels do not contain animal fat.
Judaism imposes no restrictions on a vegetarian diet. It is with regard to the consumption of fish, bird and animal meat that all the dietary laws apply. One of the primary rules is that the meat has to be fresh. Further, only those animals that have cloven hooves and chew the cud are worthy of being eaten. If anyone of these conditions is not met, the animal cannot be slaughtered for its meat. The camel and the hare may chew the cud but since they do not have cloven hooves, they are unacceptable. The pig has cloven hooves but does not chew the cud. Therefore it is avoided. With regard to fish too, two characteristics have to be looked for. It should have fins and scales. Following these criteria, the pious Jew forgoes aquatic creatures like the shellfish or the eel. Among birds, chicken, duck, goose, pigeon and turkey may be killed for their meat. Birds of prey are completely banned because they are presumed to be unclean. Swarming insects like locusts and grasshoppers, and swarming animals on the ground from the mouse to the crocodile are taboo.