Hands-on Activities for Teaching “Kosher”

Things I did not anticipate at yesterday’s Kosher Grocery Quiz: 1) despite being Southern, our little Jewish kids had no idea what “pork rinds” were and did not think them hilarious, and 2) every single child assumed the “silver polish” was something ladies do to fingernails.

without exception, every child looked for the hecksher

without exception, every child looked for the hecksher

Teaching kashrut can be tons of fun. Toys! Fake food! Real food! Clipboards! Pork Rinds! Don’t let the word “quiz” put you off: a hands-on grocery quiz can be a gentle exploration of kashrut, meant to give kids the heads-up about what kosher means and why Jews keep kosher. I’ve done this as a stand-alone lesson, as an intro before a cooking session (kosher brownies!), and as part of a parsha study.

kosher or not?

kosher or not?

The concept of kashrut can be broached in the spirit of “this is what Jews were commanded to do in the Torah, and it is one of the things that have kept the Jewish people Jewish throughout history.” Obviously, not all Jews keep kosher. But our students need to know that there are laws, that there are kosher practices over which not everyone agrees, and that there are levels of kosher authority. Kosher means “fitting,” “proper.”

looking for heckshers

looking for heckshers

Kashrut falls under the category of chukkim: commandments that have no clearcut, logical, “duh” kind of “reason.” We simply accept that we can’t eat cheeseburgers or pepperoni. The Torah mentions that kashrut is to make us holy (and the definition of holy is always good for a discussion). The Rabbis tell us that we honor our bodies and creation when we regulate what and how we eat.

fruits and veg kosher quiz

Groceries with and without heckshers. Not pictured: fresh fruit with and w/o stickers

ACTIVITIES: Find a kosher lesson you like, and snazz it up with props. Bring a Tanakh to show the main “kosher” verses. Show what animals are kosher and which ones aren’t. Kids can sort animals into a kosher pile and a not kosher pile, and they can sort fake foods on big platters: pareve, dairy and meat. Put groceries in a line and serve up checklists on clipboards, then discuss after. Make a kosher treat together and eat it with the right blessing. Doesn’t this sound fun?

fake foods to show pareve, milk, meat

fake foods to show pareve, milk, meat

PROPS:
•Animals: My pics above show stuffed animals, but these were just for review. Photos (showing feet when relevant) and plastic animals with realistic hooves are far better. I tried to buy hooves at a pet shop, but they were so twisted and gross I wasn’t sure if they’d just make kids gag and run out of the room.
•Plastic foods: I find ’em at thrift shops and consignment sales and never let them go. Life-size is best. (The milk jug and egg carton are real and empty.)
•List of kosher heckshers acceptable at your synagogue. (Hecksher comes from the same shoresh—3 letter verb root—as do kosher and kashrut and kasher).
•Illustration of parts of a cow. Hebrew National has a good one (“no butts”).
•Illustration of multi-chambered ruminant stomachs to demonstrate the bizarre and rather fascinating notion of cud.
•Groceries: see quiz below…

QUIZ: Make a kosher food quiz. Take my word doc and modify to fit your needs, or just create a quick Table in word. Put each copy on a clipboard (borrow them, if necessary). Kids love walking around with clipboards and pencils.
Buy groceries (or bring from home) that have heckshers (not just O-U) and no heckshers. I bought pork rinds and Vienna sausages to put on my quiz, along with shockers like dishwashing detergent and silver polish which both had heckshers.
Pick groceries kids will recognize, like Hershey kisses, pop-tarts, cereal, and at least one fruit or vegetable that is fresh and uncut.
Gelatin is a big mess, authority-wise, and most kids don’t know what it’s made from, which means it’s yet another great discussion starter. I included a box of Jell-o with a not-really-a-hecksher letter “K” and a box of certified kosher gelatin dessert.
My one banana sparked a wonderful discussion (no label, does it need one, what if it’s cut up in a bowl, etc.).
Donate leftover non-kosher things to a food bank, and make sure you announce this. Someone can use that food! 

"why does this need to be kosher?"

“why does this need to be kosher?”

BAKING: I’ve done group brownies, but at yesterday’s class the teacher programmed an almost-instant pastry good for groups with limited time: each kid wraps a piece of chocolate in a square of store-bought pastry dough, then brushes with egg and sprinkles with sugar. It was a big hit.
The point was to use eggs so kids can break and check for blood spots. (I hate wasting eggs, so I throw the odd bloody specimen out the window for wild critters.) Also, to inspect packaging and dishes to be sure we are not accidentally mixing meat and milk. At our shul, we have two separate kitchens, and a quick tour of both is a memorable lesson in itself.

PARSHA study: I’ve used this kosher quiz and a baking session to supplement when our 3rd graders learn about Jacob wrestling with the angel. Vayishlah. Remember that story? After the fight, Jacob’s name is changed to Israel, and all of his descendants are thereafter known as Children of Israel / Israelites, including US RIGHT NOW.
Another result of that famous wrestling match is that Jacob’s hip (or thigh) was permanently injured, and that hip is why the hind end of a cow or other kosher mammal is not kosher. Ashkenasiz kosher butchers usually do not mess with any cuts of meat that are fed by the sciatic nerve—we’re talking DELICIOUS beef tenderloin and sirloin here—because this area corresponds to Jacob’s injury. (The hind ends are sold to non-kosher meat producers.)

I once made a huge cow silhouette out of big brown paper, and when I explained the Jacob-hip connection, I ripped the back half off the cow. Noisy! Shocking! And hopefully memorable.

Hebrew National graphic

Hebrew National graphic

kosher grocery store shelf (NOT in Nashville)

kosher grocery store (NOT in Nashville)

The above photo of kosher dishwashing aids, labels and oven mitts in red (meat), blue (dairy) and green (pareve) is usually only interesting to adults who don’t keep kosher. It is a total shocker if you’ve never seen such a thing. To have separate sponges and sponge-holders and even bottles of dish soap is BIZARRE to most people, and thus a great springboard to discussion. (I made my husband take this picture when he was in New York last week.)

LINKS:
MyJewishLearning.com is a great place to start with kosher. They are nondenominational. Here’s the entry page: Kashrut Dietary Laws.

looking at ingredients in Vienna sausages

looking at ingredients in Vienna sausages

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