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Why can't I eat meat and milk together?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

Library » Mitzvot » Kosher » Meat and Dairy | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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A. The Torah states1, "Do not cook a kid in its' mother's milk".

B. From this prohibition (Negative Mitzvah #187, to be exact), The Rabbis derived the Halachah (Jewish law) that any meat product may not be eaten with any dairy product. (From the same passage is derived Negative Mitzvah #186, which separately prohibits cooking, baking or otherwise mixing meat and dairy products together.)

C. So what's so terrible about eating meat and milk together? What's G-d's problem with it? We don't begin to know the whole of it, and we are glad to do it as a Divine decree!2  Nonetheless, some insight into this decree has been shed and here is a Kabbalistic perspective: milk symbolizes life and meat symbolizes death, and combining the two creates a spiritual clash in the celestial realms both of your soul and in the worlds beyond us.

How do I avoid eating meat and milk together?

1. Segregation in the Service

Not eating meat and milk together begins with avoiding situations that might bring the two together in the first place. So start with a Kosher kitchen--such a place contains two separate countertop workspaces, and two separate closet spaces each containing a complete set of dishes, cutlery, pots and pans and utensils. According to physics (and you can ask Julia Child about this), metals (and certainly woods) can "absorb" and become impregnated with the "flavors" or residues of the foods prepared with or in them. Thus, your favorite meat stew pot may not be used to make real hot cocoa (which calls for hot milk), because the cocoa milk would have meaty overtones. Additionally, you'll need separate ovens, microwaves and stovetop burners for meat and dairy products, respectively. (Many kosher kitchens simply have two separate ovens.)

2. Take Your Time

After enjoying a hearty pastrami sandwich or any other meat product, halachah rules that you must wait a minimum of six hours before falling upon your beloved mozzarella. Here, human biology comes into play: since it takes the stomach about six hours to fully digest the proteins known as meats, if any dairy product enters the stomach during that time, the stomach will process and churn both foods together. Jewish law considers this to be eating meat and milk together, so do hold off on the pizza if you've just wolfed down a steak.

The situation generally works the same in reverse--you must wait some time after dairy stuff before you eat meat. Some dairy products wend their way through the digestive system faster, so one would only have to wait a few minutes, or an hour, after eating them before moving on to meat. Some cheeses, though, like aged or fine Swiss cheeses, do take six hours to fully break down and absorb into the body, so you may have to wait that long for your pastrami sandwich if you just enjoyed some fine Wisconsin fare.

3. Ask a Rabbi

There are tons of culinary situations that arise in the frenzied, messy madness we know as home cooking--with a rabbinical response for each. What if you put a milk-only fork in a bubbling pot full of hot dogs? How about if you baked some Eggplant Parmesan in your meat oven? That's just a rabbi is for, and it should come as no surprise that two of the four huge sections of halachah whose knowledge is de regeur for rabbi wannabes deal exclusively with meat and milk issues. So if you've got a question about your kosher kitchen, either AskMoses or contact your local Chabad rabbi via chabad.org.

Footnotes

  • 1. Exodus 23:19, 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21
  • 2. Although many have attempted to posit rational explanations for the dietary laws – it’s healthier, cleaner, more humane, etc. – the truth is that the Torah did not forbid certain foods while permitting others based on any logic at all. The laws of kashrut are quite purely based on Divine decree.

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COMMENTS

Meat and Milk

Posted by: Kyle, Milwaukee, WI on May 04, 2006

If the original scripture says not to cook a kid in it's mother's milk, why does that apply to all other mixing of meat and dairy?

Editor's Comment

See "How did we go from not boiling a kid in its mother's milk to two sets of dishes?" (http://www.askmoses.com/qa_detail.html?h=146&o=1337).
Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Halachah
Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Chabad
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
Kabbalistic
(adj.) Pertaining to Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.