Meat, milk, and Aliyah" Parashat Re'eh

How long do we have to wait from meat to milk? And how long are we allowed to wait to make aliya?

Daniel Pinner ,

Daniel Pinner
Daniel Pinner
INN:DP

This D’var Torah is addressed specifically to frum (observant) Jews who live outside of Israel (the majority of whom live in the USA). I say this at the outset so that if you, dear reader, are not Jewish, or Jewish but not frum, or already live in Israel, then you may as well stop reading now. Save yourself the time and do something more productive.

According to the standard Mitzvah-count (Mahara”m Chagiz, the Rambam, the Sefer ha-Chinuch, and others), Parashat Re’eh contains 55 mitzvot, 17 positive and 38 negative. It actually contains more mitzvot, but those which have already appeared earlier in the Torah were already counted earlier.

One of these mitzvot is: “You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk” (Deuteronomy 14:21), which has already appeared verbatim twice in the Torah (Exodus 23:19 and 34:62).

Among the reasons given for the three-fold repetition of the identical words is that it implies three separate prohibitions:

  • the prohibition on eating any meat-milk mixture;
  • the prohibition on deriving any other benefit from any meat-milk mixture, such as selling it to a non-Jew; and
  • the prohibition on cooking any meat-milk mixture, even without eating it, for example in a cookery class

(Kiddushin 57b, Hullin 115b; Rashi, commentary to Exodus 23:19 and 34:26; Ramban and Ba’al ha-Turim, commentary to Deuteronomy 14:21; Sefer ha-Chinuch, Mitzvah #113; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 87:1; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 46:5).

And from this we derive the halakhah that we are forbidden to combine meat and milk in one meal, and that subsequently after eating meat we have to wait a certain amount of time before drinking milk or eating any dairy products.

How long do we have to wait from meat to milk?

To this question, as with virtually every halakhic question, there is a variety of opinions.

The prime source is of course in the Talmud, Hullin 104b-105a.

According to Beit Shammai, one must clean his mouth between meat and milk, for example by eating bread; according to Beit Hillel, it is sufficient to rinse one’s mouth with water.

Then the Talmud records: “Rav Assi asked Rabbi Yochanan: How long must one wait between meat and cheese? He replied, None at all!”.

That is to say, Rabbi Yochanan held that it is enough to recite the Grace after Meals (and thereby formally conclude the meat meal) and clean one’s mouth (not necessarily in that order), and then one may go from meat directly to milk.

Now Rabbi Yochanan was a second-generation Amora (mid-3rd to early-4th century) in Israel; unchallenged as the Torah-leader of his generation, even the Babylonian Amora’im were subject to his authority – which explains why the first-generation Babylonian Amora Rav Assi asked him for this halakhic decision.

(As a general principle, among the Amora’im the more senior in age an Amora was, the more senior he was in halakhic authority; in this case, Rav Assi deferred to the younger Rabbi Yochanan.)

And then, continuing the discussion, Mar ‘Ukba added: “In this matter I am like wine-vinegar compared to my father: were he to eat meat now, he wouldn’t eat cheese until tomorrow at the same time, whereas I would not eat cheese in the same meal, but I would eat it in the next meal”.

The phrase חָלָא בַּר חַמְרָא, which we have translated here as “wine-vinegar”, requires a word of explanation. This Aramaic phrase is identical with the Hebrew phrase חוֹמֶץ בֶּן יַיִן: it translates literally as “vinegar son of wine”, and means wine-vinegar. Idiomatically it refers to a son who falls far short of his father’s standards: “vinegar son of wine”, the father as sweet as wine, the son like wine which has fermented and is now as sour as vinegar by comparison.

So Mar ‘Ukba called himself חָלָא בַּר חַמְרָא, “vinegar son of wine”: his father would wait 24 hours from meat to dairy, whereas he fell far short of his father’s standards by going into dairy at the next meal.

And this of course prompts much discussion:

How long must one wait from meat to dairy?

If the minimal waiting-time is from one meal to the next, then how long does this constitute?

A time there was when one meal to the next had no minimum time at all. Having eaten meat one would say the Grace after Meals, or the shorter After-Blessing (whichever was appropriate), signifying that the meat meal had concluded, and cleaned one’s mouth (not necessarily in that order), and one could then go directly to dairy.

This is the practice as recorded by the Ba’al Halakhot Gedolot (the authorship is uncertain, it was written in the mid- to late-8th century, either by Rabbi Yehuda’i Ga’on, Rosh Yeshiva of Sura, 757-761, or by Rabbi Shimon Kiyara).

However, about 400 years later, the Rambam in the Mishneh Torah adopted the more stringent position:

“One who eats meat, regardless of whether animal or fowl, may not eat dairy after it until the time [that one typically waits from one meal to] the next meal, which is about six hours, because of the meat that remains between one’s teeth which is not removed by cleaning” (Laws of Forbidden Foods 9:28).

A century after the Rambam, the Rashb”a (Rabbi Shlomo ben Avraham ibn Aderet, Spain, 1235-1310) gave the same halakhic ruling as the Rambam (six hours), although he cites the earlier, more lenient, position (enough to conclude the meat meal with the appropriate Blessing and wash one’s mouth, then go straight into dairy), which he acknowledges was the position held by several Rishonim (earlier Halachic authorities) (Chiddushei ha-Rashb”a, Hullin 105a, s.v. נמצא).

Some three centuries later, Rabbi Yosef Karo cited the same opinion in the Shulchan Aruch (completed in Tzfat, Israel in 1563, published in Venice, Italy in 1565):

One who eats meat, whether of animal or fowl, may not eat cheese after it until he has waited six hours” (Yoreh De’ah 89:1).

And then the Rama (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, contemporary with the Shulchan Aruch) added his gloss:

“And there are those who say that one does not have to wait six hours, rather immediately having removed all the meat [from between his teeth] and recited Grace after Meals, he is permitted to eat dairy by cleaning his teeth and washing his hands. And the standard custom in these countries is to wait for one hour, after which one may eat dairy. And the reason that one must also bless the Grace after Meals [in addition to waiting one hour] after meat is that it is then a separate meal…and it makes no difference if he waited that one hour before or after Grace after Meals… And there are those who are stringent about waiting six hours after eating meat until eating dairy, which is the ideal”.

The Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi Yosef Karo, of course, reflected normative Sefaradi interpretations of Halakhah; the glosses of the Ram”a reflected normative Ashkenazi interpretations of Halakhah. So when the Rama refers to “the standard custom in these countries”, he records standard Ashkenazi practice up to the 16th century.

So here we have the range of opinions of how long we must wait from meat to dairy: the maximum, most stringent opinion, Mar Ukba’s father, who waited fully 24 hours; the standard custom ever since the Rambam, six hours; the Rama’s leniency, one hour; and the standard custom until the Rambam, no obligation to wait at all, just formally conclude the meal with Grace after Meals and wash out one’s mouth (not necessarily in that order).

I opened this Dv’ar Torah by saying that it is addressed specifically to frum Jews who live outside of Israel, and I now add that I am, in a way, being deliberately provocative. After all, how many frum Jews today would accept the halakhic position that after eating a meat meal, one may recite the Grace after Meals (or Borei Nefashot, as the case may be), wash one’s mouth out, and immediately eat a cream cake, or a cheese cake, or dairy ice cream, and drink coffee with milk?

– Few, very few, I would wager. Indeed as I write these words I can already imagine the hostility that I may have aroused in too many readers. “What?!” – I hear you cry – “are you trying to tear down the very institution of Kashrut?!”

– No, dear reader, I’m not. I am emphatically NOT advocating abandoning a millennium-old practice. Although there are definitely solid, reliable opinions to rely upon for not waiting from meat to dairy, or for waiting only one hour (which today is standard practice almost exclusively among Jewish communities originating in Holland), the Jewish way is to honour the customs we have received from previous generations.

“And why” – I hear my more perceptive readers demand – “do you address this D’var Torah specifically to frum Jews who live outside of Israel?”

– Ah, now we come to a far more provocative issue. You see, living in the Land of Israel is a Mitzvah de-Oraiytah, a Commandment directly from the Torah.

Consider the Rambam’s ruling:

“A Jew must always live in the Land of Israel, even in a city whose majority are idolaters, and not live outside of the land, even in a city whose majority are Jews; because anyone who leaves Israel is akin to one who worships idols…” (Laws of Kings 5:12).

Note the Rambam’s words: “A Jew must always live in the Land of Israel…” – not just when the government is to your liking, not just when the Prime Minister keeps Shabbat and Kashrut, not only after the Mashiach comes, not on condition that you can afford a new $5,000 sheitel for your wife twice a year and a late-model BMW every two years, but always!

Yes, even when you know that your young son, not even Bar Mitzvah yet, will one day be conscripted to fight in the Israeli Army

The Rambam has paraphrased the Talmud here, softening it considerably. Because the Talmud’s original words are: “A Jew must always live in the Land of Israel…because anyone who lives in the Land of Israel is akin to one who has a G-d, and anyone who lives outside of the Land is akin to one who has no G-d” (Ketuvot 110b).

Or consider the words of the Ramban:

“And you will inherit the Land [of Israel] and dwell therein, because to you have I given this Land to inherit’ (Numbers 33:53) – in my opinion this is a positive Commandment, in which [G-d] commands them to dwell in the Land and to inherit it, because He gave it to them, and they are not to despise Hashem’s Portion. And those who even consider going to conquer Shinar or Assyria and any other countries and to dwell there, transgress Hashem’s command”.

And again: “We are commanded to conquer the Land which G-d gave our Fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are forbidden to abandon it to any other nation or to leave it uninhabited. G-d said, ‘you will inherit the Land [of Israel] and dwell therein, because to you have I given this Land to inherit; so you shall divide up the Land as an inheritance’ (Numbers 33:53-54)” (Sefer ha-Mitzvot, Positive Commandments which the Rambam Forgot, Mitzvah #4).

Or consider the words of the Pit’chei Teshuvah (Commentary to the Even ha-Ezer section of the Shulchan Aruch written by Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Hirsch Eisenstadt, Germany, 1813-1868):

“The Ramban counted this Mitzvah [of dwelling in the Land of Israel] among the [613] Mitzvot, following the verse ‘you will inherit it [the Land] and dwell in it’ (Deuteronomy 11:31, and that it is equivalent to all the Mitzvot (as cited in the Sifri). And the Trumat ha-Deshen in his Halakhic rulings (# 88) wrote extensively on it” (Commentary to Even ha-Ezer 75:6).

Standard, normative Halakhah is that a Jew is commanded to live in the Land of Israel. Now it is true that it is possible to find Halackhic authorities who opine that living in Israel is “only” a Mitzvah Kiyumit, and not a Mitzvah Chiyyuvit: that is to say, it is a meritorious act, but not actually obligatory.

And it is even possible to find a few – a very, very few – Halakhic authorities who opine that living in Israel is not an obligation in our day at all.

But actually, in the whole gamut of Halakhah, there is far, far more support for not waiting at all from meat to dairy than there is for not living in the Land of Israel.

Now we have already agreed (I think) that not waiting from meat to milk these days would be an egregious departure from normative Halakhah; even though this was the standard position until the Rambam.

Yet for a Jew to live outside of Israel is a far more revolutionary departure from Halakhah, with far, far less support from any of our great Poskim (Halakhic arbiters) from the Talmud onwards.

And so, O frum Jew living in the USA, or Britain, or France, or Canada, or anywhere else outside of Israel: Why are you so shocked and outraged at a hypothetical Jew who doesn’t wait at all from meat to dairy, and accuse him of violating Halakhah, when you, by your very living in galut (exile) violate Halakhah with far, far less justification?




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