Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedPR photo

Q: Rabbi, I don’t understand why you wrote in “Peninei Halakha” that according to halakha there is no prohibition to eat meat with fish, but only according to minhag (custom) is meat and fish not eaten together. After all, it’s well-known that it is forbidden to eat meat with fish because of the danger involved, so how can the prohibition be cancelled? Indeed, you based your words on the opinion of doctors who believe that there is no danger in eating meat with fish, but since when do we rule halakha according to doctors?!

A: As is known, with every new halakhic ruling the question arises: why have we ruled differently up until now? Usually, the answer is that reality has changed. The more absolute the law is we come to change, the greater the burden of proof that reality has indeed changed. On the question of meat and fish, apparently there is no evidence that the reality has changed. The only claim is that medical wisdom today is more reliable, and therefore, can be relied upon more readily. However, it seems that this claim is not strong, because every generation is sure that science in their day is the “last cry”, and time and time again, the scientists are proven false. Thus, just as we are confident in our medical knowledge today that it is developed and reliable, in the next generation, chances are the doctors of our times will be proven wrong in many things. If so, how can we rely on the doctors who claim today that there is no danger in eating meat and fish?

The Prohibition is a Dispute between the Amoraim and the Rishonim

In order to clarify my words in “Peninei Halakha (Kashrut 36: 4), I will present the issue from all sides.

In the Gemara (Pesachim 76b) it is explained that according to Mar Bar Rav Ashi, it is forbidden to eat fish roasted with meat in the same oven, because it causes bad breath and leprosy. On the other hand, according to Rava of Parzikiyya, it is permissible to eat them together.

In practice, some Rishonim wrote that one should take into consideration the strict opinion, and forbid eating fish with meat, because it is dangerous (Rosh, Mordechai, Samak, O.C. Ha’Aruch).

However, on the other hand, the majority of Rishonim did not mention that it is forbidden to eat fish with meat. Not only that, but Rambam wrote explicitly (Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot 9:23:

“Fish roasted with the meat – it is forbidden to eat them with milk”, thus, we see it is permissible to eat fish roasted with meat. The Poskim explained that from his studies and experience as a doctor, Rambam concluded that there is no danger in this, and consequently, there is no prohibition to eat fish and meat together (Responsa Hatam Sofer, YD 101).

Thus, we see that the law of eating meat with fish is a dispute between the Amoraim and the Rishonim.

The Vast Majority of Achronim Were Machmir Because of the Fear of Danger

Since it is a matter of dispute, and according to the strict opinion, eating meat with fish is liable to cause leprosy, the vast majority of Achronim took into consideration the fear of danger of eating meat with fish, and forbade it. Thus, it was codified in the Shulchan Aruch (YD 116: 2): “One needs to be careful not to eat meat and fish together because it is hard for [i.e. causes and/or exacerbates] leprosy.” Nevertheless, one of the eminent Poskim of the Achronim, Rabbi Avraham Abele HaLevi Gombiner, author of the commentary ‘Magen Avraham’ (OC, 173:1), wrote that it is possible that at this time, “there is no such danger”, similar to what we have found in several things that were considered dangerous due to ruach ra’ah (evil spirit), but now “it is not harmful because nature has changed; also, everything goes according to the nature of the lands”, and relied on Rambam’s words, who did not forbid this.

Although, as mentioned, the vast majority of Achronim considered the danger of doing so. And even though the doctors of their time did not warn against eating meat and fish, on the other hand, they also could not guarantee that there was no danger in eating them, since the doctors’ opinion was based on assessments, tradition, and personal experience. Therefore, the attitude towards the doctors’ position was that it should be taken into consideration, but not accepted with certainty, and consequently, they could not rely upon them and cancel the possibility of the danger of eating fish and meat.

The Change in the Status of Science in Recent Generations

However, today medical science, like other sciences, is based on systematic studies that are tested in different parts of the world, while exchanging information between all research and medical centers, and therefore medical positions are considered more founded. And perhaps also as the ‘Magen Avraham’ wrote, nature has changed, i.e., that in the past there were certain bacteria in meat and fish that when mixed together caused diseases, but today, since they are non- existent, the prohibition is cancelled.

In any case, since today it is agreed upon by all doctors that there is no danger in eating fish with meat and in the Gemara this issue is also disputed, and even the Rishonim disagreed on this – many of them led by Rambam, were of the opinion that it is permissible to eat fish with meat – it is impossible to say that today, there is a halachic prohibition to eat meat with fish.

The Diverge between Halakha and Medicine

It should not be argued that this is a violation of the Sages’ prohibition, because the Sages did not say for halachic reasons that one should avoid eating meat with fish, but only because there were doctors who said that it was dangerous. Since a person is commanded to take care of his health, the strict Poskim instructed to heed the doctors’ advice, until over time, all communities took on this custom. For as long as the doctors could not say with certainty there was no danger in eating meat with fish, the strict Poskim remained of the opinion to prohibit. But today, when all doctors believe there is no danger in this, there is no prohibition. “The mouth that forbade was the mouth that permitted” – the doctors prohibited, and they are the one’s who permitted.

Indeed, the Hatam Sofer raised the possibility that this prohibition is considered as something established by the majority, which cannot be revoked. And there are those Poskim who believe that the prohibition should be observed, lest it possessed additional reasons that were not mentioned (see, Da’at Kohen, Section 55). However, since according to the majority of Poskim the prohibition is due to danger only, when it becomes clear there is no danger – the prohibition is annulled.

And just as the prohibition to drink exposed water in a place where there are no snakes was annulled (SA,YD, 116:1), all the more so in this case, when there are Amoraim and Rishonim who believed there is no danger at all in eating meat with fish. Therefore, the halakha goes according to Rambam and the Poskim who agree with him, that there is no prohibition to eat fish with meat.

In such a situation, it seems to me that it is impossible to write that “it is forbidden to eat meat with fish because there is danger in doing so”, and if I wrote that way, I would be guilty of writing something that is not true.

Nevertheless, the Custom is to Avoid Eating Meat and Fish Together

On the other hand, however, it cannot be written that since there is no danger in eating meat with fish, they may be eaten together, since for many generations, Jews have been accustomed not to eat meat and fish together – the separation between them became one of the signs of the Jewish kitchen, and its etiquettes. Therefore, I wrote that, indeed, there is no halachic prohibition to eat meat with fish, but from the point of view of minhag (custom), we are customary to make sure not to cook meat with fish, and not to serve meat and fish on the same plate.

When one wishes to eat a portion of fish and a portion of meat, we prepare a separate fork, knife, and plate for each portion, and when necessary, wipe them with a napkin or bread before eating the other kind, or clean the fork and knife with one’s mouth, so that the remains of one kind does not mix with the other. And if a bit of sauce of one kind remained on one’s fingers, we wash them, or wipe them with a napkin. Also, one should drink something between eating (SA and Rama, 116:3; Pri Toar 4).

Three Questions about the Previous Column

Q: Rabbi, in last week’s column you protested the flaws of the judicial system which judges according to non-Jewish laws. 1) Rabbi, you yourself wrote that the Sages of Israel still do not have a ready proposal for a comprehensive legal system for the State of Israel and the economy and society today. If so, how can they solve all the problems listed in the column by means of Jewish law?

A: Even when there is still no detailed proposal for the judicial system, if it were clear that the values of the Torah, which commanded the settlement of the Land and the building of the nation, were the moral basis of the judicial system, the court would in any case have avoided making decisions that blatantly contradict these values, and would have made it possible to manage the life of the State in a way that would strengthen its national Jewish identity.

2) Rabbi, are you interested in replacing the control of a secular-leftist “enlightened minority” with an “enlightened minority” of rabbis, who would judge according to the Torah?

A: There is indeed truth in your claim – there is no way to force Torah law on a public that is not interested in it. We have learned in the Torah that the People of Israel received the Torah in a covenant, thus committing themselves to all its laws. This was the case in the beginning at Mount Sinai with the exclaiming “We will do, and we will hear”. Nevertheless, the People of Israel were not satisfied with that, and therefore once again received the Torah in a covenant on the Plains of Moab, at the end of the days of Moshe Rabbeinu. Furthermore, the Torah commanded that they receive it once more in a covenant after entering the Land, between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Similar covenants took place in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah as well. And so it should be nowadays.

In any case, the national Jewish values agreed upon by the majority of the public must be reflected in the legal system. And when the legal system operates according to the basic assumptions of the laws of nations, while ignoring the special ideals of the Jewish people and its Torah for which Jews have given their lives for generations, and in recent generations as well, numerous Jews sacrificed their lives for the ‘Ingathering of the Exiles’ and the establishment of the Jewish state and its building – if the legal system ignores all of this, it thus deprives the People of Israel of their spiritual and material assets. This has to be changed.

Q: How can it be protested that the judges appoint the following judges, while the Dayanim and Rabbis are themselves appointed by rabbis according to partisan politics – one third for the Dayanim, one third for the Rabbis – and even each third is divided according to the various circles – and in the end, they are the ones who rule on very important questions for the lives of all citizens, such as marriage and divorce, alimony payments and conversion?

A: Indeed, this is a severe reproach. It would be proper for the Rabbis and Dayanim to be chosen according to their Torah virtue and the will of the public, and less according to political and party considerations. But on the other hand, despite the problem with that, after all is said and done, if the judges of the High Court were elected like the Dayanim and Rabbis, according partisan politics – they would more adequately represent the values of the general public.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.