Meat and Milk

February 1, 2012

Most people know that Jews do not cook or eat meat and milk together, but not everybody knows why. Even fewer people understand the origin of the different waiting periods practiced by various groups amongst our people.

I have been asked this question many times over the years and so I thought that if I write about it in my blog I’ll save time and be able to point the questioners to a link!

Three times in the Torah it is written:

” You must not cook a kid in it’s mother’s milk”
Exodus 23:19,  Exodus 34:26 and Deut 14:21.

The Rabbis explain that this repetition is to teach three prohibitions. Cooking, eating and deriving benefit. An admixture of milk and meat is stricter that treife. One may feed one’s animal treife but NOT meat cooked in milk.

The Torah does not give any reason for the prohibition and faithful Jews keep these laws as they are the word of God and His instructions for the Jewish people. Nevertheless the Rabbis do offer various suggestions.

Maimondes ( Guide to the Perplexed 3:48) writes that this was against idolatry. But we no longer know what that particular idolatry was and the practice that was connected to it.

In a similar vein the Seforno writes that the pagans used to cook a kid in it’s mothers milk and then spread it on the fields as a fertility rite. In the writings of Ugarit this is mentioned according to one interpretation.

The holy Or Hahayyim writes that it reminds us of the barbaric practice of slaying nursing infants!

The Kabbalists explain that milk is a symbol of life and meat (after shechita) is a symbol of death. Therefore it prohibits the mixing of these polar opposite symbols as it prohibits for example shaatnez ( mixing wool and linen – linen’s origin is from the ground whereas wool is derived from the animal kingdom – these were the offerings of Cain and Abel – and we all know how that ended!)

Now to the waiting periods.

The relevant passages are in the Tamud –  tractate Hullin 105a, 113b and 115b.

Rav Chisda said: If one ate meat one may not eat cheese. If one ate cheese one may eat meat. Rav Acha bar Yosef said to him (Rav Chisda) what is the law about meat between the teeth? The verse (in Numbers chap 11) says: ” and the meat was still between their teeth.”

Said Mar Ukva, in this matter I am like vinegar/sour wine compared to my father (who was like a good vintage wine!) If my father are meat today he wouldn’t eat cheese until the same time tomorrow (24 hours later) whereas I wouldn’t eat cheese after meat in the same meal but I wait until the next meal.

We see that an actual time isn’t mention in the Talmud – but the Halacha is like Mar Ukva – we wait until the time of the next meal. But when is that?

In the Talmudic period and even today in the Middle East many people generally two meals a day. One in the morning (known as pat shel shacharit – the bread (meal) of the morning and pat shel bein ha’arbayim – the meal of twilight (late afternoon/early evening). From the Mishna in Peah (the corner of the field) we see that charity was distributed daily. Somebody who had enough for two meals didn’t get that day but could apply the next day.

The Rif (Rav Alfasi) and the Rambam (maachalot asurot 9:28) and other early Sefardic authorities state that one must wait until the next meal which is ABOUT SIX HOURS.

Whereas the Raviyah (Hullin siman elef 108) states that after concluding the meal one may eat cheese immediately! It makes sense. That is the next meal.

Rabbenu Tam (Sefer Hayashar hilchot berachot 86 chiddushim 472) goes even further and says even in the same meal! This is hard to understand but it could apply at a very long drawn out wedding meal that went on for more than an hour (for Dutch Jews) or three hours (English Jews) if they served a milky cup of tea before the bentching. The Raviyah would require one to bentch first.

Rabbenu Yosef Cairo in the Shulchan Arukh ( Yoreh Deah 89:1) decided like the Rif and the Rambam hence the Yemenite and Sefardic Jews wait 6 hours whereas the Rema in his gloss quotes the Raviyah and Rabenu Tam but adds that nevertheless one should make a separation somewhat.

Thus separation somewhat is presumably the basis for the practice of the Dutch Jews to wait an hour.

The Darkei Teshuva (89:1) quoted the Mizmor LeDavid saying that the custom of several places (in Ashkenazic countries) is to wait THREE to four hours.

This is probably based on the fact that in Northern Europe the days are short, cold and dark and people ate three meals a day. Hence between the meals there was a shorter time gap. But this still fulfils the Talmudic requirement of waiting until the next meal and should not be looked down upon.

Many Bnai Torah amongst the Ashkenazim wait the full six hours and this is to be admired.

Those of us who don’t eat much meat for reasons of economy or health, and certainly not for lunch rarely have a problem with the exception perhaps of Shabbat and Festivals. The question just doesn’t arise.

Leniencies to shorten the waiting time  may be granted to the sick, nursing mothers and serving soldiers who should ask their rabbis.

Readers of this blog should feel free to ask me any questions they have.

I’d better stop here as I’m expecting two of my favourite talmidim for Shabbat. One vegetarian (like Rav Kook) and the other a carnivore (like Rav Sonnenfeld) so I need to go shopping in the long awaited rain in Israel.

Have a great Shabbat wherever you are.

Rabbi Meir Wise

Singing in the rain in Ramat Gan!

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