Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Jews: Dietary Guidelines

Jews have strict guidelines concerning some aspects of their diet, particularly in relation to the consumption of meat and dairy products. Acceptable food is called kosher. Continuing to eat a kosher diet while in hospital or on a medically restricted diet poses a major problem for Jewish people.

An increasingly common problem for Jews is the spreading availability and use of pre-prepared foods: foods where it is impossible to determine the provenance of the meat or whether contamination by non-kosher items has occurred. This includes most 'ready-meals' and items such as sausages and burgers.

what is kosher and why?

Simply put, kosher food is that food that G-d has specifically stated is allowable to eat. The requirements for a food to be kosher are:

  • animals must have cloven hooves and chew the cud. Cows, goats and sheep are kosher; horses and pigs are not.
  • fish must have scales and fins. For this reason, shellfish and eels, for example, are not kosher.
  • food must have been butchered and prepared in a kosher way, by a single knife blow to the throat killing the animal, and all of the blood drained out of it afterwards. After being cut up, the meat is soaked in water and salted to remove the last traces of blood. Any meat – even that from kosher animals – that has not been prepared in this way is not kosher.
  • animals must be in perfect health to be kosher. Animals that are not healthy, or that have some internal disease discovered after their death, are not kosher.
  • fruit is always kosher, unless damaged by rot or insects.

why eat kosher food?

Obviously, the simple answer here is that G-d required the Jews to accept his will. The division of foods into clean (kosher) and unclean (trefa) was revealed in the Old Testament books that make up the Torah and so can be seen as an act of faith.

However, there are other reasons that jews continue to follow these strict laws:

  • discipline. Following a law laid down by G-d, no matter how hard it is to follow, helps to concentrate the mind on what is permitted, what your duty to G-d is and how to demonstrate your commitment to your faith.
  • community. All Jews across the world follow the same rules, and so there is a feeling of community, of sharing a difficult lifestyle, and of being part of the larger group.
  • morality. The kosher rules also provide for the good care of domestic animals during their life, and promote the concept of general kindness to all animals. Slaughter is considered kosher only if the animal is killed instantly with a razor-sharp knife, preventing as much fear and suffering as possible.
  • hygiene. Many kosher guidelines are in line with modern health practices concerning food. In particular, the removal of blood from meat helps to prevent the transmission of certain diseases – as we are now discovering with conditions such as CJD.
  • identity. Eating kosher food reinforces the commitment to Judaism, and helps to indicate to others that you are Jewish.

can you be kosher in hospital?

It is perfectly possible to eat a kosher diet while an inpatient or staff member of a health institution.

Even if your hospital does provide kosher meals, here are some tips that may help you to be aware of any issues and provide solutions to them, including:

  • make sure that fresh fruit is always available. As long as there is no rot or damage by insects, fruit is always considered a naturally kosher food – and it is healthy too.
  • use paper or other disposable plates and cutlery. This will remove concerns about food becoming contaminated by being served on or with non-kosher crockery and cutlery.
  • offer sealed packets of kosher-branded food. There are many 'marks' indicating kosher status (similar to the 'vegetarian' mark), and these foods may be given – preferably still sealed – to a Jewish patient. If combined with disposable crockery and cutlery, this approach will probably satisfy even strict Orthodox Jews.
  • offer a vegetarian menu. Patients may still require reassurance that the kitchens are keeping vegetarian food, utensils, pans and so on separate from all meat and dairy products.
  • allow family and community members to feed the patient. It is worth checking that the patient is not on a medically restricted diet and that hospital policy allows for this.

issues for healthcare staff

Make sure that kosher food is on the menu at all times in the staff canteen, and provide disposable cutlery and crockery to avoid cross-contamination with non-kosher utensils.



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