Thursday, May 22, 2008

Understanding Judaism: Milk and Meat

Shavonne’s Question

“Now about meat and cheese, why can't you mix chicken and cheese? I mean, chickens aren't the children of cows.”

Hey Shavonne,

The following should answer your questions.

Jewish Law and Tradition

The Torah commands Jews three times (Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21) not to cook a kid in its mother's milk. The Talmud widens this to the complete separation of milk and meat, including bird meat. Why do we do this?
  • Rambam attributes it as a prevention of an idolatrous and superstitious practice.
  • Some attribute as a discouragement from a cruel practice.
There are many possible reasons, but we should not, in general, try to find reason in Torah prohibitions. It is not for us to fathom G-d's reasons in telling us to do something; it simply should suffice that G-d asked us to do it. And, by doing it, we are reminded of G-d's commandments and the fact that we are Jewish.

Everything in the Torah is considered to have meaning; thus, the rabbis have determined that the triple repetition of the warning in the Torah means three different types of prohibition:
  • You may not cook such a mixture
  • You may not eat such a mixture
  • You may not benefit (in any way) from such a mixture
This was interpreted very strictly. Meat products were not permitted to come into contact with milk products in any way. Food, and the utensils used to cook and serve food, were divided into three categories:
  1. Milchig (or chalav): Food containing milk, or utensils used with such food.
  2. Fleishig (or basar): Food containing meat, or utensils used with such food.
  3. Pareve (or stam): Food that is not derived from milk or meat and is not cooked with a milchig or fleishig utensil. This food can be eaten with either milk or meat (although in certain circumstances use of a milk or meat utensil will render the food milchig or fleishig). Pareve foods include all vegetables, grains, fruits, eggs and fish. Originally birds were considered pareve (when was the last time you saw a chicken give milk?), but the Rabbis ruled that bird meat should be considered fleishig to avoid confusion.

What Do The Rabbis Say?

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

We don't mix meat and milk, be it the food, or the dishes - having separate dishes is simply a protective law against actually mixing the two foods.

The foods have no inherent problem if they are mixed, but not mixing meat and milk is based on one of the most basic principles in Judaism, that is, the abolition of anything idolatrous. Since Judaism has at its core the concept of monotheism, the concept of stone idols is ridiculous, and patently against any reason. All matter was created, so matter itself cannot have power over other things, as Something external to itself brought it into existence. Its very existence was willed by God, as well as all its properties. God therefore is the only being Who can alter natural laws.

There were many idolatrous nations from times beginning until now, and Judaism has many laws opposing such false notions. One of their practices was to cook a calf in its mother milk, as they felt there was some mystical synergy achieved thereby. Similarly, they would sit around pots of blood - believing that the slain animal's spirit would somehow enter them or benefit them. To counter these practices, the Jewish law includes prohibition from mixing milk and meat, and eating anything with blood in it, unless it was salted properly to extract the blood.

Prohibitions as these therefore serve to raise our awareness of corrupt ideas. As all laws aim at the education and benefit of man - a thinking being - and increasing his perception of what truth is, we therefore must know what is fallacy, and steer clear.



shavonne said...

I just don't get it. When I look at a cheeseburger, I don't think of it as worshiping false idols, I think of it has having all the food groups in one tasty package.

Shouldn't you be allowed to enjoy your food? If something tastes good when combined with something else, what's so wrong about that?

I've been eating meat and cheese together for so long, I couldn't imagine ever not having the to combined.

A medium rare steak is out of the question, though I can understand even from a nonreligious perspective why one shouldn't eat meat that isn't fully cooked.

Ehav Ever said...

Hey Shavonne,

What you have to understand, from the Biblical persepective, Israel/Jews were called out by God to live a particular way in order to accomplish a particular mission. This calling out was made up of Mitzvoth (commandments) that were religious, national, and social in nature. At Mount Sinai every Israelite there was charged with a certain responsibility. Thus Judaism is the commilation of that responsibility.

You have to understand that the command we are talking about is the responsility of Jewish people. It is not incumbant upon non-Jewish peoples. There is a body of commandments (7 in totoal) that are incumbant upon, the non-Jewish world called the Noachide laws. Most of them are things that most logical people would do, regardless of whether they believe in God or not.

So going back to the Jewish responsibility. Think about this in terms of military units. There are some units that are considered somewhat baseline units, and there are some units that make up the special forces units. The special forces units have different areas of responsibility placed upon them in terms of their training and how they operate in a military structure. It is a similar concept.

There are a number of commandments that God gave to Israel that have no stated reason for them. People can spend lifetimes trying to understand things that God never clearly explained and never come to a definitive conclusion. One way to look it is that maybe God gave commands with no reason for people to find Him as they are seeking the answer. Maybe in all of their searching they are drawn to the divine mystery of God. There are other things that God gave with clear explanations and they are clear cut.

Now going back to your other questions. We Jews do enjoy food. Every Friday night for the Sabbath families come together over good food and songs. Some of the best food in the world can be found in Middle Eastern Jewish homes, and we have a wide variety of food represented in Judaism. Yemenite, Ethiopian, Iraqi, North African, Polish, German. Yummy, yummy! On Jewish holy days we are commanded to enjoy them with good food and wine.

There is a requirement, for example, for Jews to eat at least 3 hot and hearty meals with family and the community on the Sabbath so that the Sabbath is a joy. These meals are of course kosher, and we have requirements on what we can and can't eat, but this is something that we accept as God's directive for Jews. Just as members of a special forces unit accepts that requirements and responsilities of being in such units.

In terms of not eating meat and milk/cheese. It is not that hard, if it one is doing it for a reason they believe in. Most of the time when something is a normal pattern of one's life they don't think much about how different it would be if they didn't do this or that. If it is a part of who they are, then that is that.

Invisible Woman said...

Wow, Ehav--I think that was the longest comment I've ever seen that wasn't spam, lol :-)

But seriously, even in my non kosher world, meat + cheese = yuck

Ehav Ever said...

Hey IW,

That was the longest comment you have seen. You need to look at Mes Duex Cents blog. I have some NON-SPAM comments that are longer than that.

I come from a long winded family. Plus where I live is a higher elevation.

I don't even use milk anymore, and I don't eat anything with cheese in it very often. A slice of cheese pizza every blue moon, and I only do that when I am in the old city of Jerusalem. There is a really good pizza shop there.

Anonymous said...

I find that alot of the commandments of G-D are beyond our understanding at the time they are given. However as we are created in his image and we tend to get more and more aquired knowlege, we tend to uncover SOME of the reasons why it was commanded.

I don't drink Pastuerized or Homogonized milk because it kills off the emzymes your body requires to process it. Same thing with cheese. I bless everything I put in my mouth just in case I am being misled by the label. In a way I associate it with how Job would make sacrifices on behalf of those close to him, and the just in case factor.

G-D knows far more about whats going on than we ever will and if He tells me to do something I am gonna do it, end of story. Chances are there is a pretty good reason for it.

Its like when my old man would give me a resposibility like taking out the garbage from the house to trash cans and the cans to the street for pick up, When
I scoff at him and he clouts me, I learn to do what I am told. the next time I am told take out garbage, I do it. Then my old man says "I just told you take the garbage out of the house I didn't say you had to take the garbage to the streets for pick this time, but I am glad that you did"

The moral of the story is that I never got punished for doing more than what I was told. Separating your meats from your dairy isn't nessesarily forbidden but I don't think G-D is going to be upset for going above and beyond the call of duty, why take the chance.

The down side of this thread is now I am going to have to go back and look up expressly what is commanded and if it is forbiddon it looks like cheeseburgers are going to be on the scratch list.

LOL Thats why pig eating Christians make me laugh because every Christian tells me "oh thats the old covenant" Ok fine, if thats what you want to believe, as long as your ignorant your protected from the wrath of G-D, I just choose not to be ignorant.

Ok I am rambling now... see ya all soon

shavonne said...

Well I'm lactose intolerant and anything dairy upsets my stomach. Somethings like milk send my bowels into a bubbling bloated nightmare while I can eat cheddar and american cheese in small quantities with little discomfort.

And grease makes me sick, too in the same way as dairy. So, I'm cutting that out as well.

I'm thinking of removing dairy from my diet completely, though it will be difficult because everything has cheese or dairy of some kind in it. I'm thinking of switching to an Asian food diet because most of it is vegetables and meat and no dairy.

If they ever developed dairyless cheese, would it still be illegal to eat it with meat?

Felicity said...

Interesting post!

Muze said...

wow you have some pretty deep stuff going on here. very interesting.

i will be back a little later to thoroughly read.

thank you for stopping by mi casa.

Ehav Ever said...

Casper - Hey Casper. Your story is interesting. How does that work out for you in Japan? When I was in Japan in 2006 I had a hard time since I was in Kawasaki and the only kosher restaurant in Japan is in Tokyo.

Shavonne - Hey Shavonne. Actually, kosher products are marked if they have dairy in them or not. The products that have dairy in them are marked with a D next to the kosher symbol. There are products that are neither milk or meat that are marked as Parve. So a person can know if dairy is involved when it comes to kosher products. Also, many Vegan products are without dairy, I think. Health food stores should be able to help you determine what has milk or not. When I lived in the US I would always shop at kosher markets or at Trader Joes.

I am also lactose intolerant. I only use Rice Milk at this point. I think you can find non-dairy cheese at some of the health food stores. At least in NYC there were places that sold it. If there was cheese that was non-Dairy it would be perfectly fine to eat it with meat. You have to remember that the issue is only the dairy not the cheese. For example, I use Rice Milk and there is no problem with drinking rice milk and having meat. Simply because the rice milk is not dairy.

Felicity - Thanks.

Muze - Thanks for stopping by. I am going to add you to my blog roll.

Anonymous said...

Yishar Koach on the kiruv that you are doing through this blog. May everyone that visits this blog benefit from it, and feel closer to Hashem as a result of it!

Ehav Ever said...

Hello Anon,

Thank you for your kind words, and B"H.

Elan said...

I have to say that I take offense to Rabbis ruling that I am not intelligent enough to differentiate between chicken and beef. How can it be ok to use non-dairy cheese but not ok to use chicken instead of beef? I fully appreciate the need to interpret the parts of the written and oral Torah that are unclear, but this particular Mitzvah is very clear. We (Jews)should be able to mix chicken and cow milk.

Anonymous said...

Shalom Elan,

If this Miswah is crystal clear to you (I wonder a bit what you really mean in this statement, but never mind my slight confusion) and you cannot accept the Rabbinic ruling that forbids mixing chicken with a kasher mamal's milk, you are in the wrong Jewish movement. Sorry to be blunt -- if you remain in it you are a masochist.