Is Coffee Kosher?

Is it kosher ok to drink coffee? Is coffee considered to be a “bean”? Is coffee considered to be a drug (caffeine) to be avoided or is coffee A-OK fine to drink as a delicious beverage that helps us concentrate and work and study better? Can we be at our best drinking coffee daily each morning?

James E.

Dear James,

If we may, we are going to divide your string of questions into different categories.

The word kosher has entered the general lexicon as a synonym for ‘ok’ or ‘permitted.’ Because of your other questions, we’re not sure if you used the word kosher in that sense or in the technical meaning of the word which refers to specific dietary laws that Jews faithful to the Bible follow. The dietary kosher laws restrict what animals can be eaten and how they must be slaughtered, among other things. They demand that dairy and meat must be eaten separately. However, all vegetables, plants and beans including the coffee bean, are in the category of permitted food.

Moving on, you are asking a more general question which is whether one may or should take advantage of substances that affect our bodies. This would relate to the very broad Biblical obligation to take care of ourselves. In effect, God loans us our bodies so that our souls have a vehicle with which to function while we are alive. Contrary to the secular cry, “It’s my body and I’ll do what I want with it,” the religious person recognizes that his or her body is a gift from God and He expects us to take care of it. Not doing so is a form of ingratitude. Deuteronomy 4:9 addresses the commandment for us to guard our body as one would the property that has been entrusted to us.

However, and this is very important, honoring the gift of our body does not take precedence above all else. We are meant to have principles to which we are committed even at the cost of our own lives. Women are encouraged to bear children, even though pregnancy and childbirth can put their bodies at risk. Men are expected to go to war under certain circumstances. There are rules that we all should follow (such as not committing suicide) as well as rules that expect each of us to make individual decisions for ourselves. In taking care of our bodies, one person may tend more towards exercise, while another leans more towards healthy eating. Within those categories, one person may go hiking in nature a few times a week while another person lifts weights. One person might eschew sugar while another finds that sweet things give them a psychological boost that makes them nicer to other people – also a Biblical obligation. Different things make different bodies feel good. We each need to figure out what “taking care of ourselves” means to us within permissible parameters.

Leaving aside constantly shifting studies that show how caffeine is either good for us or how it harms us, if drinking coffee helps you face your day and be productive, then drinking your regular mug of java is a reasonable choice you make. Coffee is not altering your mind and does not have the potential dangers that, let’s say marijuana does. On the other hand, it certainly isn’t an obligation as your final question seems to suggest. In general, however, Biblical guidance would recommend not getting psychologically or physically dependent on any external substance. If you believe that you “can’t” function without coffee, or you “can’t” speak civilly until you have had your morning cup of joe, you might want to reassess your relationship.

Bottoms up,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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