Jewish Studies Dietary Laws
David Kraemer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0010


The body of Jewish dietary laws expanded considerably through the ages. The biblical laws were quite limited, pertaining almost exclusively to meat and animal products, which, outside of the priestly estate, constituted a small part of the everyday common diet. During the Persian and Hellenistic age, Jews descended from those who had returned from the Babylonian exile sought to supplement the Bible’s restrictions by forbidding all gentile foods. The early rabbis added the prohibition of mixing meat and dairy products, and subsequent generations expanded the application of this prohibition in a variety of ways. The terms “Jewish dietary laws” and “kashruth” (the nominative form of the adjective “kosher”) are often used interchangeably. But it is important to distinguish between them. The Hebrew root “k-sh-r,” a postexilic term, is never used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to Jewish dietary laws. It was first used by the rabbis of Late Antiquity in this connection (among others; it means simply fitting or proper), so it is more accurate to use the term “kashruth” in reference to the dietary laws of the rabbis, which were not, however, the dietary laws of all Jews. There were laws regulating the Jewish diet both before kashruth—beginning in the Torah itself—and outside of rabbinically observant communities, such as among Karaite (i.e., scripturalist) Jews. This bibliography covers both kashruth in the specific sense and Jewish dietary laws more generally. Unfortunately, writers on this subject have generally assumed that kashruth and Jewish dietary laws are synonymous, and they have mostly neglected to note developments in these practices through history. Furthermore, the vast majority of writing on these laws has been technical rabbinic commentaries or treatises pertaining to the details of the laws. In other words, until the late 20th and early 21st centuries there has been no genuine history of Jewish dietary laws, nor has this been a field of academic study. But as foodways in general have drawn increasing academic attention, a number of writers have turned to Jewish food and eating practices, bringing new perspectives and new understandings to an emerging field.

General Overviews

Until the late 20th and early 21st centuries publications on Jewish dietary laws have been mostly rabbinic treatises relating to technical questions in the law, introductions to kashruth (kosher laws) for the general reader, or apologetic writings justifying the continued observance of these laws in modernity (the latter two types are often combined). Rarely have the dietary laws been the subject of scholarly monographs at any level, leaving the reader to consult the few encyclopedia articles on the subject. And even these articles have rarely been sufficiently sensitive to historical developments and diversity in the law. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, however, the field has developed in felicitous directions. Forst 1993 offers a comprehensive and sophisticated overview of the laws of kashruth with some attention to history and diverse practices. Rosenblum 2017 offers a survey of Jewish dietary laws from their origins through the end of Late Antiquity. Cooper 1993 offers a history of Jewish foods and diets in different communities from Antiquity to the present, and Kraemer 2007 traces significant developments in Jewish eating practices over the same long period. Friedlander and Kugelmann 2009 includes both good introductory essays and pieces pertaining to specific Jewish foodways, while Greenspoon, et al. 2005 gathers a wide range of articles by recognized scholars, all addressing specific chapters in the history of Jewish food and eating practices.

  • Cooper, John. Eat and Be Satisfied: A Social History of Jewish Food. Northvale, NJ: Aronson, 1993.

    A fine general introduction to Jewish food and eating customs through the ages.

  • Forst, Binyomin. The Laws of Kashrus: A Comprehensive Exposition of Their Underlying Concepts and Applications. Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah, 1993.

    An excellent source for Jewish dietary law. Includes documentation of sources and clear explanations of principles. The author goes beyond recently accepted practices, recording different opinions and developments in practice.

  • Friedlander, Michal, and Cilly Kugelmann, eds. Koscher and Co.: Über Essen und Religion. Berlin: Jewish Museum, 2009.

    An exhibition catalogue (in German) of collected articles by experts on a wide variety of subjects in Jewish food and eating, from the Bible to present.

  • Greenspoon, Leonard J., Ronald A. Simpkins, and Gerald Shapiro, eds. Food and Judaism. Papers presented at the 15th annual Symposium of the Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization, Harris Center for Judaic Studies, 27–28 October 2002. Studies in Jewish Civilization 15. Omaha, NE: Creighton University Press, 2005.

    A broad range of essays relating to Jewish eating based on an academic conference.

  • Kraemer, David C. Jewish Eating and Identity through the Ages. London: Routledge, 2007.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203941577

    A history of major developments in Jewish eating practices, from the Bible to the present.

  • Rosenblum, Jordan D. The Jewish Dietary Laws in the Ancient World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    A good survey of Jewish dietary laws, as referenced in both Jewish and non-Jewish sources, from the Hebrew Bible through the Rabbinic/Patristic period.

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