I've been speaking with someone about Judaism - what, how, why, etc. We came to the issue of kashrut, and she had a hard time understanding how we got these random laws from the Torah. I explained that there's the Oral Law, which is supposed to be the bridge between the two (the written Torah and Jewish practice). So she asked if I could teach/show her a section of the talmud which deals with this, specifically the (derivation of the?) laws of kashrut.

Does anyone know what I should learn with her? I know Mesechet Chullin is chock full of kashrut, and so was this past week's parsha (Re'eh), but I'm looking for a good text/sugya/idea to start with...

As in aside, the girl grew up with many (12?) years of pluralistic Jewish day-school background, which included some ("really boring") talmud study. And she identifies as a non-practicing, but interested, Reform Jew.)

  • Hartzl, Welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks for the fascinating question! I hope it generates some excellent ideas.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 3:07

4 Answers 4


There's a nice gemara on the bottom of Chullin 109b - not necessarily details of laws of kashrut, but I think it's particularly worthy both for its message and for its speaker. It talks about the concept that anything that the Torah forbids has a counterpart that is also permitted and it is explained by Yalta, Rabbi Nachman's wife (one of few women cited in the Talmud).

  • 3
    Great point! Back when Gatorade didn't have a hechsher, someone asked a rabbi about it; rather than just say "it's prohibited"; he said "it's not recommended, but Powerade is okay; the Talmud says everything prohibited has a permitted analogue." Turns it into a profound teaching experience!
    – Shalom
    Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 23:42
  • @Shalom, Yalta says that in Massechet Chullin (perek kol habasar). Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 6:42

I think R' Hirsch's Horeb contains some philosophical development of kashrut, entirely in harmony with the Talmud. That might do it for her.

Another option is the Rambam's Laws of Forbidden Foods. (I believe it's available in English, too.) His writing and organization are incredibly clear. The only problems are that he isn't referencing the Talmudic discussions; and occasionally the Halacha today doesn't follow his practice (e.g. he requires meat to have chalita -- blanching in many cases after it's salted and soaked).

Which aspect of kashrut? While lots of it is in Chulin, there are other elements in other places. If you have one topic in mind, please ask again here.

For instance, there's the (non-Orthodox) joke in which God tells Moses "don't cook a lamb in its mother's milk", and (after several rounds of this) Moses says, "Oh God you mean I should have separate dishes, right?" "Fine Moses, do whatever the heck you want."

This happens because people don't know that the Written Torah explicitly talks about purging dishes from the food they absorbed food, but it's not with most other laws of kashrut. It's here and here instead. (Many of the discussions about absorptions and mixtures are actually in Pesachim, some of which also stem from Numbers 6:3.)

You'd have to do some serious homework and tackle one topic at a time with appropriate source sheets; also, some of these discussions are long and complicated, and can involve reconciling multiple separate Talmudic discussions. (See this, for instance.)

You'll also wind up covering opinions that are not followed today, some of which can get quite confusing!

The text I'd recommend is actually the Chochmat Adam. He's an incredibly good organizer and writer, following laws from verse to Talmud to present-day law. He describes studying his book as shopping at the mom-and-pop shop instead of a Mega-Mart: officially less selection, but they carry some quality stuff you won't find elsewhere; and you're in and out of there much faster and not feeling exhausted! I find it an easier, simpler read than the Aruch HaShulchan, but that's just me.

Here are the categories as I see them, very roughly:

  • Which animals are kosher (fairly straightforward, you can find good English articles about the subject.)
  • How to do kosher slaughter (the Torah says "slaughter as I commanded you"; Talmud tells us how)
  • How to turn a kosher-slaughtered animal into kosher meat (check for organ damage; separate the forbidden parts; devein; soak, salt, rinse) -- this is also generally in Chulin.
  • What is "meat and milk"?
  • When dealing with a forbidden substance (or meat and milk, which are forbidden when mixed), what's called absorption? What about pots, mixtures, cooking together, etc. This is the big, complicated one.
  • Rabbinic decrees -- bishul akum, stam yeinam, and the like. By nature, these will be Talmudic and not found in the Bible per se; the rabbis admitted as much.

I'm not sure learning the Tur and going back to the g'mara it quotes, Mekubal's idea, is the best idea. (I mean that without litotes: not that I think it's a bad idea, but merely that I don't know.) But if you're going to do that, then perhaps instead learn Aruch Hashulchan. He generally starts by quoting the G'mara and continues to quote such authorities (often including the Tur) as lead him to his p'sak (decision), very readably. YMMV.


Actually I think your best bet would be to learn the Tur with the Beit Yosef with her, and then learn the referenced Gemarras inside from there. I would also start either with hilchot basar b'halav or ta'aruvot. From personal experience ta'aruvot could be a bit of a mind bender if the person doesn't have a decent background already, so you will have to judge the level. My overall reason for this suggestion is that, the different sugyas will work together more or less and build toward a conclusion. Actually I think Basar B'Halav would be best overall as the opening piece is the discussion of it being Halav and not Heilev, which incorporates the idea that we really do need rely on the Oral Torah to understand any of it.

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