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Is it permitted to eat fish with milk?

by Rabbi Tzvi Shapiro

  

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As far as the laws of milk and meat are concerned, fish does not fall under the category of "meat" that is prohibited with milk. The Talmud1 states clearly that one can cook [and eat] fish with milk.

Nonetheless, there is a custom (due to reasons explained below) not to eat fish with dairy products, or at least not with milk. Even amongst those who follow this custom though, there is no required waiting period between the two; one just wipes his/her hands and rinses his/her mouth. 

The custom stems from a statement in the Beit Yosef (book of Jewish law by 16th century Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch) where he forbids fish and milk for health reasons.2 That is the first mention of this prohibition in Jewish writings, and Rabbi Karo himself does not mention this prohibition in his other book on Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch.

This has lead many commentators to say it is a scribal error, and it is supposed to say fish and meat. The prohibition of fish and meat is mentioned throughout Jewish writings3. Other commentators maintain it is not an error, and they say it is in fact forbidden.

This resulted in three customs. Sephardim, who follow Rabbi Yosef Karo as their primary Halachic authority, have the custom not to eat fish with any dairy product. Some Chassidim have the custom not to eat fish and milk, but they do eat fish and dairy (e.g. bagels, cream cheese, and lox). And many eat fish with all dairy products.4

Footnotes

  • 1. Talmud tractate Chullin bottom of page 103b.
  • 2. In addition to the kosher dietary laws which are a Divine decree, Judaism has dietary laws related to practical health issues as well.
  • 3. The Beit Yosef gives a reference (Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 173) for his "fish and milk" prohibition, but that reference actually only says "fish and meat", which further enhances the scribal error argument.
  • 4. Sources for this debate: The Bait Yosef on the Tur Yoreh De'ah Chapter 87 cites the opinion that eating fish and milk is forbidden because of danger to health. The Darkei Moshe there argues that this is incorrect. Both the Shach (s.k. 5) and the Taz (s.k. 3) maintain that this is a scribal error. However, the Levush and the Pitchei Teshuvah (siman 9), the Pri Megadim in the name of the BeHaG, the Adnei Paz (siman 42) in the name of Rabbeinu Bechaye and others forbid it. (Some forbid only milk, others prohibit all dairy).

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Kosher » Meat and Dairy

Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Halachic
Pertaining to Jewish Law.
Sephardim
(Pl.: Sephardim) A Jew whose ancestors stem from Southern Italy, Spain, Portugal, North Africa or the Arabian countries.
Chassidim
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) Following the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).