Question: Do All Jews Keep Kosher?
Answer: Not all Jews keep kosher, and among those who identify as kosher keepers, there can be great 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% of American Jews keep kosher in their homes. Those who identify as Orthodox or Modern Orthodox were most likely to keep kosher homes, at rates of 98% and 83% respectively.
31% of Jews who identified as Conservative reported that they kept kosher, while 7% of Reform respondents upheld the practice. Of survey respondents who claimed no particular affiliation, 10% kept kosher in the home.
It is interesting to note that the picture of kashrut (kosher) observance in America does not translate to Jews around the globe. Pew research published in 2016 reveals that in Israel, for example, fewer Jews identify with denominational labels; some 78% consider themselves "non-Orthodox," with 29% considering themselves Masorti (traditional) and 49% Hiloni (secular). Yet even within this group, some 52% keep kosher at home, versus just 14% of non-Orthodox Jews in America. As for pork consumption -- which many consider the ultimate kosher taboo -- only 20% of non-Orthodox Israeli Jews said they eat it. Among non-Orthodox Jewish American survey respondents, that figure was closer to 65%.
Variations in Kosher Practice
The studies do not reveal variations in kashrut practices, but it is generally understood within the Jewish community that levels of kashrut (kosher) observance vary greatly, with Orthodox Jews maintaining the strictest standards. Orthodox Jews tend to eat only foods with reliable Orthodox kosher certification.
In addition, they will only eat in kosher restaurants or accept invitations from people who maintain kosher kitchens.
In general, Conservative and Reform Jews may be more lenient in their observance of kashrut. Some will buy products without kosher certification as long as they do not find non-kosher ingredients on the ingredient list. Some will eat food cooked in a non-kosher restaurant or home, as long as the meal does not contain non-kosher meat or shellfish, or flout kosher rules, such as mixing dairy and meat products. Others will dine at vegan or vegetarian restaurants that lack kosher certification, viewing these as less halachically problematic from a kosher perspective than restaurants that include meat, poultry, or fish on the menu.
Why So Some Jews Choose Non-Kosher?
Some Jews today 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 simply 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
Interestingly, observant Jews are not the only ones who self-identify as kosher keepers. There are lots of reasons people choose a kosher lifestyle. Though 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. And 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 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.
Updated by Miri Rotkovitz