The Difference Between Halal And Kosher Foods

“The noble Islamic law deals with all issues.” —Imam Dr. Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayis

In A Nutshell

Both Islamic and Jewish traditions include very strict dietary guidelines on what is acceptable to eat and what is considered unclean and unacceptable. While there are many similarities—pork and pork products are unacceptable for both—there are differences in how the meat portion of a diet is slaughtered and prepared. There are also many subtle differences in what whole foods are and aren’t allowed. For example, seafood is halal if it lives its entire life in the water, while shellfish are not kosher regardless.

The Whole Bushel

The term halal comes from an Arabic word meaning “allowed” or “permitted by Islamic law” and is applied to those foods that are acceptable for consumption by those of the Islamic faith. Similarly, kosher is a word that means “fit” or “proper,” and is applied to those foods that are acceptable for consumption under Jewish law. In both, guidelines extend to not only traditional food items, but also to cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Food must also be prepared in an acceptable manner in both; to deviate from the ritual practices, slaughter and preparation is to render the food unfit.

In order for a meal to be considered kosher, there must be no mixing of meat and dairy. This extends to preparation as well as consumption, and different sets of tools, utensils, plates, and pans must be used for each type of food. Meat and dairy must be prepared in separate areas of the kitchen, and there can be no cross-contamination. There are no similar restrictions to under halal guidelines.

No form of alcohol is considered halal under Islamic guidelines. By extension, no food prepared with alcohol is halal, either, including vanilla extract (and, by further extension, anything containing vanilla extract). Kosher dietary guidelines are quite different, though. Alcohol plays a very important role in Jewish culture, but it’s governed by the same guidelines that apply to foods. Wine presents a particular difficulty; since it’s still used in a wide variety of religious ceremonies outside of Judaism, the only wines deemed kosher are those prepared and handled specifically by Jews. This puts limitations on other types of alcohol, such as whiskey, that can be aged in wine barrels. These are not appropriate or kosher, but whiskey and scotch are as long as they were not aged in wine barrels. Other types of alcohol, such as white rum, white tequila (no tequila with a worm is kosher), unflavored vodkas, rye alcohol, unflavored gin, and all beers are kosher. Alcohols like sake, mead, brandy, liqueurs, and spiced rum may be consumed as long as they have certifications that no non-kosher ingredients were used in their production.

There are two different schools of thought governing the question of whether or not seafood is considered halal. On one hand is the belief that all seafood is halal whether it has scales or a shell, as long as it lives its entire life in the water. The other argument is that only fish that have scales are considered halal, excluding shellfish, crustaceans and smooth-skinned water dwellers like eel from being acceptable foods. Animals that live in both water and on land, such as frogs and turtles, are not halal. In order for seafood to be kosher, it must be a fish that has both scales and fins. Shellfish, mollusks, and smooth-skinned fish are not considered kosher.

Of utmost importance in both religions is the way in which an animal is killed for its meat. There are very strict guidelines that much be followed for each, and there are differences between the sets of guidelines. The slaughter of a kosher animal must be overseen by a shochet, a man of the Jewish faith who has been schooled in the proper procedures for a kosher slaughter. In order for meat to be halal, it simply must be slaughtered in the proper way, regardless of who performs the killing.

In both practices, the animal’s throat is cut, and it is drained of blood. The spinal cord must not be severed. Death is said to occur within seconds, but animal rights groups worldwide have long campaigned to have the practice outlawed, or, alternately, stun the animal before it is killed. In both traditions, the animal needs to be alive, healthy, and uninjured when it is blessed and the slaughtering process begins. There is debate within Islamic law on whether or not stunning the animal first violates this rule, but Jewish law is very clear on the matter. Stunning methods cause injury to the animal, making the meat that ultimately comes from it non-kosher.

Show Me The Proof

Halal Malaysia: Definitions
Kosher Certification: Meat, Dairy & Pareve
Kosher Wine And Grape Products
Kosher-Certified Liquor List
Islamic Food And Nutrition Council of America: Halal Digest — Seafood
Guide To Understanding Halal Foods
Jewish Practice: What’s Wrong with Stunning?
Is Kosher Meat Ḥalāl? A Comparison