Setting up a kosher household distinguishes a home as Jewish

The chuppah that arches over the bride and groom on their wedding day symbolizes the new home a couple will create. But before they move into their new home, the couple must make some important decisions.

Where will they live? In what style will they furnish their house? Will they keep kosher?

The best time to select the Jewish customs and traditions that will fill a new home is during the months preceding the wedding. It is also the easiest time to begin keeping kosher, which establishes a Jewish home as a sacred place.

Setting up a kosher household might be a daunting task for those unfamiliar with kashrut, the complex Jewish system of dietary laws. But once you grasp the laws' basic philosophy and principles, the rest follows logically and naturally.

Put simply, kashrut proposes that we are what we eat.

We are also how we shop, prepare food and cook, as well as how, when and with whom we partake of food.

Jews were originally vegetarians; kashrut is a concession to humans' desire for meat. Only under specific conditions, which include the humane treatment of animals, were Jews allowed to eat flesh.

The biblical injunction, "Thou shalt not seethe a calf in its mother's milk," demands that even in the animal kingdom, the relationship between parent and child is exalted. A complete separation of meat and milk is the conscientious response. No other biblical reason is given for this separation.

Jewish dietary laws mirror the sanctity of Jewish holidays, and daily meals are like a living encyclopedia of Jewish home life. No single custom can make a home Jewish, but keeping kosher distinguishes a home as Jewish.

I remember when a student in my kosher cooking classes, Gilda Katz of Shaker Heights, Ohio, discovered how easy it was to keep kosher.

That December, when the Katzes were remodeling their kitchen, conversation in class centered on the possibility of converting to a kosher kitchen. In the true spirit of Chanukah, the time of rededication to Jewish values, Katz and her family established their new kosher kitchen.

A year later, I met her in the supermarket. She and her son were shopping for items to celebrate the first anniversary of their kosher kitchen. They both agreed that their weekly Shabbat dinners embodied a real spirit of Judaism, and that holidays had deeper meaning now.

Couples planning to set up a kosher kitchen might start practicing these habits:

*Shop at a kosher butcher shop for permitted meats and fish; ask about unfamiliar cuts.

*Learn the international kosher symbols for prepared foods.

*Learn to identify pareve foods, which can be eaten with either meat or dairy meals.

*Select different patterns for dairy, meat and pareve dishes.

*Coordinate colors for all utensils, dishes, pots and pans; i.e. , yellow for dairy, red for meat.

*Separate and label meat and milk cupboards, shelves, drawers and storage areas.

*Learn how to kasher (render kosher) sinks, stoves and refrigerators, including those in rental property.

*Keep a reference book in the kitchen.