Word of the Day / Kosher: How Food and Fitness Can Be One and the Same

In Hebrew, the gym is 100 percent kosher, even if it offers (diet) cheeseburgers.

Eyal Toueg

A recent article in Haaretz about training programs for Israeli teenagers who want to join an elite commando unit in the army mentions one plan called "Kosher Kravi."

Now, kravi means “combat,” so that makes sense. But what in the world does kosher food have to do with it?

Nothing. Here’s the thing. In Hebrew, the word kosher doesn’t actually refer to food that meets the standards of kashrut (“kosher-ness,” if there were such a word).

The English word “kosher” is kasher (ka-SHER) in Hebrew.

The Hebrew word kosher (KO-sher) means something quite different: “fitness.” Gyms (hadrei kosher) have exercise equipment like treadmills and rowing machines (makhshirei kosher).

But while kosher schmaltz doesn’t exactly contribute to kosher gufani (physical fitness), the Hebrew words kasher and kosher are not really all that far apart.

That’s because food that’s kasher has been made fit to eat in accordance with the laws of kashrut, just as a person’s muscles can be made fit for running a marathon.

While the Hebrew kosher often refers to physical fitness, it can also refer to capability, skill or fitness in other realms, such as kosher tisa, or airworthiness.

Kasher refers to different kinds of fitness in classical Jewish sources as well. The Mishna states that “The whole day is kasher for the reading of the megillah” (2:5), meaning that the reading is not restricted to a particular time of day because the whole day is suited for it.

When all is fair, whether in love, war or anything else, Israelis say "All means are kasher" (Kol ha’emtza’im ksherim). But while all options might be on the table, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re actually edible.

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.