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Monday, May 11, 2009

On Milk and Meat

Note 5-11-09 11:30 pm: The shitah of the Pri Chadash has been clarified from when the post was initially published 7:36 pm

Before we get started check out the latest Haveil Havalim over at Random Thoughts (wish Jack a happy bday over there while you're at it . . .
The twittersphere had an interesting back and forth yesterday about the required length of time one must wait between eating milk after meat.
Hadassah Sabo even set up a poll of what people did over at her blog.

As such, I thought it would be fitting to take a second look at some of the sources behind the discussion and try to clarify thing.

Before venturing into the thick of things, it's important to make a few things clear.
This post is hardly a proper treatise on the subject - not only is it most likely missing some of the major opinions in the mater, it's likely that I could have erred in my understanding of the topic it . . . be it through ignorance or lack of understanding. As such, besides the general rule that one should base their halachic decisions, after that of their Rabbi, one should not draw any halachic opinion from this post.

That being said . . .

The Torah commands us at three junctures (Exodus 34:26 Exodus 23:19 Deuteronomy 14:21)
"לא-תבשל גדי, בחלב אמו" - Not to cook a g'di in its mothers milk. Rashi explains that g'di is any spawn of a kosher livestock.
From the repetition of the verses, the Sages of the Talmud deduce
That there is a prohibition against

  1. Cooking a mixture of milk and meat
  2. Eating a cooked mixture of milk and meat.
  3. Deriving any benefit therein from such a mixture.
The exact details if the milk must be specific to the mother of the animal (it need not be), what species of animal is forbidden, what constitutes cooking etc. is beyond the subject at hand.

The Talmud in tractate Chullin discusses the prohibition of eating milk after meat - Rashi explains it is due to the fat of the meat that remains in the mouth after eating. The Rambam explains that it's due to the presence of meat stuck between the teeth, and as such it takes six hours to be considered digested.
We ultimately take on both opinions - and thus must make sure to wait the required period of time for the taste to disipate and must remove the bits of meat obviously left in the mouth. Thus even after waiting the reuqired period of time, one must wash out his mouth if bits of meat are found and removed from the teeth.

The Lechem Mishnah learns that six hours the Rambam posits one most wait derives from the statement of Mar Ukva that one most wait the length between two meals - thus since the period of time between the breakfast and supper of a Torah scholar was six hours, it takes six hours for the meat to be properly digested.

This opinion is taken as law by Rabbi Yosef Karo in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 89:1, and thus binding to all Jews of Sephardic decent.

The Rema, the principal Ashkenazi authority on Halacha, notes that certain opinions posit that one can say the grace after meals (and thus finish the meal), wash and clean his mouth and then be able to eat milk. He therefore notes the prevalent custom (minhag haposhet) is a comprimise of sorts that requires an hour between meat and milk (The Vilner Gaon claims the source of the hour is from a statement of the Zohar - and our custom of waiting an hour between milk then meat is indeed based on it - though there are those that take issue from such an understanding of the Zohar).

-The Ashkenazi community of Holland follows this ruling, and indeed only waits an hour. It should be noted that if one does not stem from those that have such a custom, it is not permissable to wait only an hour. [In general, one should be careful not to pick and choose one's customs, but rather to follow one tradition]
The Rema, however continues that there those that are careful to wait six hours between milk and meat - and it is proper to do so [as well].

The Two major commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch, the Taz and the Shach, also way in on the matter, stating that one who is "modest" and has "the spirit of the Torah" [Shach], should wait six hours - especially in light of the fact that many weighty opinions forbid waiting under
six hours - and that while one can't protest the average person who waits only an hour, it is proper to rebuke one who is learned in Torah who does not wait six hours [Taz].
-This then is considered the consensus by much of Eastern European Jewry.

The Pri Chadash mentions a third idea. While most rabbis opine that the six hours one needs to wait are six standard, 60 minute hours - as opposed to Halachic hours (Sha'os Zmanios - calculated by dividing the hours of sunlight on a given day into 12 equal parts) - the Pri Chadash suggests that one must indeed wait Sha'os Zmanios. Seeing then, that during the Winter months when daylight is shorter, and thus the Sha'os Zmanios as well, then that time suffices for the fat of the meat to dissipate and digest. Six Sha'os Zmanios at that time would come out as three standard hours - and thus suffice year round. This opinion became the prevalent custom of German Jewry.
I am sure that there is much left to discuss in the matter, and that there are other sources out there that I have overlooked. For example, I found it somewhat surprising that so many Ashkenazim wait three hours today, when it would seem to be minority opinion relegated in practice to only a specific community . . . If anyone out there has anything to add, please let me know in the comments section.

Photo: R' Yosef Karo's grave taken in Tzfat, Israel Winter 5768

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Chana Langman said...

nice job on the halacha. you said that it's important not to pick and choose customs, but to follow one's traditions. but do people do so anyway? is there any demographic data available regarding the practices of different jewish communities vis a vis their historic and geographic traditions? does assimilation encourage following the more "maikl" opinion?

Ilanadavita said...

The Sephardi Jews I know wait 3 hours; I wonder why this is.

Chaviva said...

Converts, however, have the right to choose their traditions! In truth I could choose Sephard practices and wait three hours that way, but since I'll be marrying Ashkenaz (G-d willing anyhow), it only makes sense to go that route. But converts *are* told that they have to chose a set of customs to follow. Of course, it's easiest to just follow a community's standards.

Thanks for this post and explanation, Mottel!

Mottel said...

-Chana: It's not so much as being meikl - for the Dutch they are following the halacha to the T. The issue is rather that more 'traditional' communities tended to take on extra harchakos etc. Or so I would imagine.

-Ilana Davita: Very odd. I would imagine that those sephardim that wait three hours are doing it more out of a desire to look for leniences then to follow the strictures of halacha within the sephardic rabbinic tradition.

-Chav: You could convert through a Sephardi Beis Din, and then be able to follow their customs . . . but then you'd have to wait 6 hours. I did some more research and it would seem that 4 hours comes from the same place that 3 hours comes from -and is thus a legitimate opinion in halacha (Though six is preferred, if not mandatory, by a majority of opinions)

Joe in Australia said...

My father A"H waited four hours between meat and milk - not as a compromise, but based on a family tradition. I've encountered some other people originating from Hungary who had a similar custom. There's some support for it from the Magen Avrohom (as I recall) but most people haven't heard of it. I encourage anyone else whose family has or had this custom to contact me at a special account I set up for the purpose: threehours (at) slatermold (dot) com.