Yiddish sign for a kosher butcher shop in Toronto circa 1910. (City of Toronto Archives)

Kosher Animals

Most of the rules about meat, including the ban on pork, are stipulated in the Torah.

Most of the kosher laws concerning meat derive from two Torah passages: Leviticus 11 (Parashat Shmini) and Deuteronomy 14:3-21 (Parashat Re’eh). These passages go into extensive detail, listing which animals the Israelites can eat and which they cannot. Later rabbinic texts elaborate on these commandments and address areas of ambiguity.

Kosher Animals by Category

The general rules are:

Mammals

Only those with cloven hoof and that chew their cuds, such as oxen, sheep, goats, deer, gazelles, roebuck, wild goats, ibex, ante­lopes, and mountain sheep. Pigs — the best-known non-kosher mammal — are not kosher because they do not chew their cuds. Other taboo mammals include camels and rabbits.

Birds

The Torah lists a number of forbidden birds, but does not specify which ones are allowed. The most common birds that Jews have traditionally considered kosher are chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and pigeons. Among the explicitly forbidden birds are: vultures, ostriches, hawks and sea gulls.

Fish

Only those with fins and scales. (Learn more about kosher fish here.) Shellfish of all kinds are forbidden.

Reptiles, Amphibians and Insects

All are forbidden, except for four types of locusts.

Other Requirements for Kosher Meat

In addition to specifying which animals can and cannot be eaten, Jewish dietary law requires that land animals be slaughtered according specific protocols. (Learn more about kosher slaughter here.) All blood must be drained from the meat before it is prepared. The meat of animals that were hunted or were found after they died of natural causes is not kosher.

Jewish dietary law also stipulates that meat cannot be served in the same meal as dairy. Learn more details about keeping kosher here.

Discover More

Kosher Fish List

A guide to choosing a kosher fish.

Glatt Kosher

The name for this particular practice has come to stand for more stringent kashrut standards in general.

Kosher Slaughter: An Introduction

A survey of some of the laws governing the slaughter of kosher animals for meat.