Friday, July 6, 2007
I recently visited an orthodox Jewish friend at his house and shared a meal. My friend is Persian, and needless to say, his wife cooked a meal fit for a king. We feasted for what seemed to be hours, while passing a wonderful Sabbath afternoon. While satiated, and intoxicated with the wonderful sleepiness of a gluttonous Saturday afternoon, my mind drifted to philosophy and religion.
I noticed that my friend and his wife had 2 refrigerators in the kitchen. They had two sets of plates, one for dairy and one for meat. They had separate utensils placed in separate cabinets. I joked with my friend and told him that his expenses are doubled with this life style of his. He laughed and said that he actually has three sets of dishes, the third set for Passover.
The following day, I decided to study the Jewish laws concerning the eating of dairy and meat, which are briefly as follows:
Dairy food (such as Milk or butter) cannot be eaten with meat products.
Meat products are those that are derived from animal flesh, so for example cow, lamb, and chicken are considered “meat”. Interestingly, fish is not considered to be meat.
There are some foods that are considered neither meat (“fleishik” in Yiddish) nor dairy (“milchik”), but rather are neutral (“pareve”) and may be eaten with meat or milk. For example, eggs are considered pareve and can be eaten both with dairy as well as meat products.
There are also some food products, such as fish meat that are “pareve”, but cannot be eaten with meat, though they can be eaten with dairy.
Time must elapse between the consumption of meat and dairy products. Most rabbis state that at least six hours must pass following the eating of meat before it is permissible to eat dairy. On the other hand, if dairy products are consumed first, one needs only to rinse his mouth in order to begin to eat meat.
Utensils such as pots and pans take the character of the meal that is being prepared in them. Thus, if you are cooking meat in a pot, the pot becomes “meat”. If you drink milk in a cup, the cup itself becomes “dairy”. Thus, you cannot mix the “meat” pots and pans with “dairy” pots and pans.
The smallest quantity of meat or dairy products in a dish renders the entire meal “meat” or “dairy”. Therefore, one can not eat meat in a “milk” pot and vice versa - hence the need for separate “meat” and “dairy” dishes, pots, pans, and refrigerators.
As is my habit, I asked my Rabbi to point me to the root of these religious laws. Proudly, he told me that the Torah orders all Jews to practice the above rules. He cited the following passages:
Exodus 23:19 “The choicest first fruit of your land shall you bring to the House of Hashem, your God; you shall not cook a kid in the milk of its mother”
Exodus 34:26 The first of your land's early produce you shall bring to the Temple of Hashem, your God. Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk."
Deuteronomy 14:21 “You shall not eat any carcass; to the stranger who is in your cities shall you give it that he may eat it, or sell it to a gentile, for you are a holy people to Hashem, your God; you shall not cook a kid in its mother's milk”
Unless I am seriously mistaken, the passages seem to say that a “kid” (meaning a young cow) should not be cooked in its own mother’s milk. The passages repeat three times so that there is no room for vagaries – We should not cook a cow in its mother’s milk. It could have said, “you shall not cook a kid (meat) with milk”, which would have prohibited eating meat with milk, but it didn’t.
Ok, then. I read these passages and remember that according to most Orthodox Rabbis, the Torah must be respected and its content - word for word - must be followed.
To the religious Jew who reads the Torah and decides not to eat cow meat cooked in the milk of its mother, I say “well done”. More power to such a Jew!
But what about meat that has been cooked in the milk of a cow not related to the “kid”? What about the meat of, say, lamb cooked in cow’s milk? Why have the Rabbis prohibited us from eating these?
These days, when we eat a cheeseburger, it is a very safe bet that the milk used to produce the cheese is not related to the cow whose meat became hamburger! Why then is a cheeseburger denied us?
What about chicken cooked with milk? Chickens do no even produce milk! We couldn’t cook a chicken in its mother’s milk even if we wanted to! Why then can we not eat chicken with milk?
What is this business with fish not being considered ‘meat’? Who decided that and why? I do not see the passages in the Torah that relate to this particular rule. Where did this rule come from?
And how does it come about that a utensil becomes “meat” or “dairy”? Does the meat’s spirit invade the dish?
To the reader who reads this and says that I am taking too literal a meaning from the words of the Torah, I say you are correct. To those who say that one must read the Torah as an illustrative or spiritual text, I say that they are also correct. Many a Rabbi has chastised me, saying that I apply a very strict meaning to the letter of the Torah’s text. These Rabbis say that we should pay attention to the meaning or spiritual message of the Torah rather than the strict application of its words. To those Rabbis I say they are also correct.
These are the same Rabbis who take the words of the Torah and twist them until all sense has been wiped from them, who complain that I take the words of the Torah too literally! These are the same Rabbis who take the edict “you shall rest on Shabbat” to such extremes as to dissociate themselves from society on Saturdays, who tell me that I am being too literal in reading the Torah. But ok, I am being too literal.
I agree that the Torah should not be taken literally when it states that we should not cook a kid in its mother’s milk. Instead, we should take a more spiritual meaning from this passage. What then is the Torah teaching us? What are we to learn from the passage?
Personally, I believe that the Torah is teaching that we should not require a close family member such as a mother to participate in the harm of its loved one. The Torah, I think, is saying that we should not require a mother to provide of its produce in the destruction of its children. In human terms, it is saying for example that we should not require a mother to put her child to death. A similar and modern version of this halakha is that a wife or mother cannot be compelled to testify against her husband or child in a court of law. I think the Torah is hinting at a similar concept.
What the Torah is not hinting at is the nonsense that we have come to endure from our Rabbis. From a beautiful concept that the Torah has expounded – the compassion toward a mother so that she is not compelled to participate in its child’s death – the Rabbis have derived that pots and pans are considered “dairy” if dairy products are eaten in them! From a thoughtful passage in the Torah that seems to display compassion towards the suffering of mothers for their children, the Rabbis have derived that meat can be eaten following drinking milk as long as the mouth is wiped!
The Torah has nothing against eating milk and meat together. It states so clearly in the Genesis in describing the experience of Abraham, our patriarch. In genesis, the Torah tells us that three men were passing through and Abraham saw them from his tent. He hurried over to them and
Genesis 18: 3 He said, "My Lord, if I find favor in Your eyes, please pass not away from Your servant.": 4. "Let some water be brought and wash your feet, and recline beneath the tree: 5. I will fetch a morsel of bread that you may sustain yourselves, then go on – in as much as you have passed your servant's way." … 7. Then Abraham ran to the cattle, took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the youth who hurried to prepare it: 8. He took cream and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed these before them; he stood over them beneath the tree and they ate.
Clearly Abraham prepared milk and meat together, and clearly the men (whom the Rabbis say were angels) ate this meal. Furthermore, most Rabbis comment in this passage that God himself was in the tent with Abraham. Yet God did not raise any objections about Abraham’s preparing and the angels’ eating such a meal.
If by “you shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk”, God meant to say that milk and meat don’t go together, then God would not have written the above passage in Genesis. If on the other hand, God is teaching a lesson in compassion by prohibiting the consumption of the flesh of a child and mother together, then the passage in genesis would not be contradictory.
In short, I think, the Rabbis have it all wrong in ordering us not to eat dairy and meat together. Furthermore, by such rigid interpretation of the bible, I think the Rabbis are hijacking a religion that is beautiful and transforming it into a religion full of superstition, gratuitous rules and nonsensical customs. They should stop it. And we should stop listening to every word they utter as if they are conduits for God’s word.