Do All Jews Keep Kosher?

Kosher observance in American Jews doesn't translate to Jews elsewhere

A kosher McDonald's franchise in Israel
Many Israeli Jews choose to keep kosher, even if they identify as non-religious, so there's plenty of demand for kosher McDonald's. Credit: Getty Images News

Not all Jews keep kosher, and among those who do, there are variations in practice. 

Who Keeps Kosher?

According to "A Portrait of Jewish Americans," a landmark 2013 Pew Research Center Study on American Jewish beliefs and practices, approximately 22 percent of American Jews keep kosher in their homes. Those who identified as Orthodox or Modern Orthodox were most likely to keep kosher homes, at rates of 98 percent and 83 percent respectively.

31 percent of Jews who identified as Conservative reported that they kept kosher, while 7 percent of Reform respondents upheld the practice. Of survey respondents who claimed no particular affiliation, 10 percent kept kosher in the home. 

This snapshot of kosher observance in America does not translate to Jews around the globe. In Israel, for example, fewer Jews identify with denominational labels. Of those who consider themselves non-Orthodox, 52 percent keep kosher at home, compared with just 14 percent of non-Orthodox Jews in America. As for pork consumption—which many Jews consider the ultimate kosher taboo—only 20 percent of non-Orthodox Israeli Jews said they eat it. Among non-Orthodox Jewish American survey respondents, that figure was closer to 65 percent. 

Variations in Kosher Practice

It is generally understood within the Jewish community that levels of kashrut (kosher) observance vary greatly, with Orthodox Jews maintaining the strictest standards.

They eat only foods with reliable Orthodox kosher certification. In addition, they only eat in kosher restaurants or accept invitations from people who maintain kosher kitchens.

Conservative and Reform Jews may be more lenient in their observance of kashrut. Some buy products without kosher certification as long as they do not find non-kosher ingredients on the ingredient list.

Some eat food cooked in a non-kosher restaurant or home, as long as the meal does not contain non-kosher meat or shellfish or does not flout kosher rules, such as mixing dairy and meat products. Others dine at vegan or vegetarian restaurants that lack kosher certification, viewing these as less problematic from a kosher perspective than restaurants that include meat, poultry or fish on the menu. 

Why Do Some Jews Choose Non-Kosher?

Some Jews consider Jewish dietary laws to be ancient health regulations that are no longer necessary as a result of modern methods of food preparation. Others were raised in non-kosher homes and may not be knowledgeable about kosher laws or don't find meaning in them. Some find resonance in the Jewish dietary laws and follow their basic principles but choose not to observe details such as owning separate plates and cookware for meat and dairy or seeking out only kosher certified products, due to the added expense and inconvenience these observances can entail. Still others may have issues with access—for those who do not live in or near a large community of observant Jews, tracking down kosher food can be a tricky proposal. 

Who Else Eats Kosher

Observant Jews are not the only ones who self-identify as kosher keepers.

There are plenty of reasons people choose a kosher lifestyle. Although the Torah does not require or expect non-Jews to keep kosher, some Christians have embraced the general rules outlined in the Torah about permissible foods. Individuals of many backgrounds sometimes choose kosher for surprising reasons. One woman related that though she wasn't Jewish, she'd spent many years as the caregiver to a kind, elderly Jewish woman who not only remained in excellent health but also retained her beauty throughout her life. While genetics and good fortune were undoubtedly factors, the caregiver credited the woman's kosher diet, so she adopted one herself.