Friday, July 6, 2007

Milk and Meat



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?

Ridiculous!

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!

Come on!

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.

20 comments:

avrum68 said...

"transforming it into a religion full of superstition, gratuitous rules and nonsensical customs."

I tend to agree with you. The rabbis - perhaps due to too much time on their hands and/or being so concerned about assimilation (post-2nd temple destruction) implemented a system of behaviors so distinct from other's, that they almost assured a separation from "dangerous" elements outside of the tribe.

HOWEVER...

As a guitar player, I'm overly obsessive about the chords, picks, effects, etc. that I use. To an outsider (and my wife who has to put up with all my purchases), I have no doubt they too feel that I'm "transforming (the song writing process) into superstition, gratuitous rules and nonsensical customs". Actually, I've been told this. And I'm sure it's true for car enthusiasts, computer geeks and fashion hipsters.

If you truly love and believe in the "thing" that you're doing, then you want to involve yourself with all aspects of said "thing". Since Judaism isn't science, or a diet fad, or an exercise regime, but a spiritual exercise, the "superstition, gratuitous rules and nonsensical customs." make up that "thing". You may want a different thing. But I have faith that the rabbis also did what they did due to passion and wisdom that far exceeds anything I embody...at least with repsect to the spiritual/religous arena.

Suffice to say, I hate all the Halachic dogma because it infringes upon my life and makes me a sad boy. At times, I get all uppity and blame the rabbis. But if I was more honest, I'd say my pleasure over pain pursuits don't want to submit to the rigors of a halachic lifestyle.

badrabbi said...

Avrum,

But the rabbis could have created something much more. When the Torah said that you should not cook a kid in its mother's milk, the rabbis could have created the equivalent to the fifth amendement. They could have, for example, empowered mothers to protect their children by not being compelled to testify against them. They could have 'invented' from the above the notion that one can not be compelled to testify against himself.

Instead, this phrase turned into an absurd system of prohibitions, far removed from the original spiritual and compassionate purpose. This is an outright hijacking of our religion by the ones we revere. We must reverse this.

avrum68 said...

"This is an outright hijacking of our religion by the ones we revere. We must reverse this."

badrabbi...what does "our religion" mean? I wasn't there. You weren't there. It would seem "our religion" stems from rabbinic tradition. And they (rabbis) understood the passages in the way that they did. That's enough for me.

It's one thing to struggle with how our rabbis interepreted certain p'shat, it's another thing to claim:

"the rabbis could have created something much more. "

"hijacking of our religion by the ones we revere."

That's going way beyond Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan territory into murky areas best served by journal articles and such. However if you ever pen such an article, and provide source material for your claims, I'd love to read it.

badrabbi said...

"what does "our religion" mean? I wasn't there. You weren't there..."

Where is there? Judaism is not a place but a system of belief. The belief is not stagnant, molding with time. At least it should not be.

I am saying that we should revisit all dogma that comprises our religion. If it makes sense, well then OK. If it does not, I do not see why we have to allow it to exist within our belief system. Whatever lacks sense is booted out of the Jewish arena.

avrum68 said...

"If it makes sense..."

How do you qualify that? Does love make sense? Does art?

Cameron said...

Badrabbi said: "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."

CH: I think this is probably a fair reading of the intent that lies behind this particular dietary restriction. But I wonder if there wasn't a more practical reason.

Could it be that the restriction was meant to prevent the consumption of a parasite?

I admit I don't have one in mind, but I was reminded of the plagues that were afflicted on the Egyptians where the eldest sons were all killed. Turns out that the eldest sons were routinely fed a second portion at dinner - and if their food was tainted (a wheat rust for example) they would subsequently be more quickly exposed to the toxicity of the food - and so the eldest sons mysteriously all die. I guess I wonder if something similar could be at work in the consumption of meat and milk from related sources.

Or perhaps it was simply to ensure that a people of limited means didn't consume all of their resources by doubling up on their beef products in a single meal? I admit no expertise on the question, (and I found your parsing of the dietary restriction to be comprehensive) simply wondering aloud.

Cameron

avrum68 said...

Short "true" story...
While working in Banff as a chamber maid (I'm serious), in the early 90's, I went looking for deer carcasses along the CN rail lines (Why? Why not. I was young, and a fellow colleague did the hike a day before and brought back interesting bones). Anyway, I didn't find morbid treasures, but I encountered something else...something indescribable...something Heschel defines as an "ineffable experience". I was surrounded by snow capped Rocky mountains, waist high grass, and being massaged by a warm, summer Alberta wind. My response was to scream. My thoughts were: "If I died now, that would be ok because I'll probably never have this experience again". Before this experience, I was afraid of death...since then, still afraid.

I go back to Banff now and again, and walk that same path. Alas, I've never had that experience again.

Did it make sense? Does it make sense now? Not to me. But it left such an impression on my that it paved the way for all sorts of rituals and story-telling which have helped me "canonize" - to a degree - this experience.

I believe our rituals and prayers are one avenue to help us - with proper intention, effort, etc - touch what our ancestors touched many, many years ago.

badrabbi said...

"Could it be that the restriction was meant to prevent the consumption of a parasite?"

I think that the above explanation may in fact be a fair reading of the reasons why the Torah bans the eating of Pork. But I do not think that eating milk and meat together prevents the consumption of parasites.

Frankly, there is something slightly, well, incestuous, about cooking a cow's meat in its mother's milk. There is a wrongness to it that I can not quite define. I think the Jews of older generation may have been sensitive to this and thus prohibited it in their writings. My point in the blog, though, is that the later generation of rabbis took this concept and grotesquely transformed it into the ridiculous set of law that we have now.

badrabbi said...

Regarding the death of first born egyptians, I seem to remember a documentary on the History Channel, where a similar assertion about the cause of their deaths was made.

Frankly, it seems to me that so much of the events of the bible are questionalbe, that it behooves us first to verify the truth of events before trying to explain them. Do we have sources outside of the Torah that document the deaths of first born males? It seems to me that if we do not, we have no further obligation to give a rational explanation for this supposed event.

If the Torah makes an assertion not independantly verified, than we might as well allow it to give a supernatural explanation for an unverified event.

badrabbi said...

Avrum,

I appreciate your sharing your epiphany and I can understand why it affected you. Believe it or not, as atheists and agnostics we too have similar experiences which affect us greatly. The question, though, is whether these events point to something supernatural. If you believe that this is so for you, I would like to hear why.

Regarding the necessity of rituals, this is a complicated subject. For the sake of brevity, let me agree that rituals are necessary for the well-being of a society. Some rituals are healthy, even when based on a shaky foundation. Burial ceremonies, the giving of thanks, memorials, etc., are all good examples of ritual.

But note that we need not necessarily pollute ritual with prayer. I like Thanksgiving Day; on this day, we give thanks is to each other and we do not seem to spend endless time praying. I also like Rosh Hashana, Kippur, Succah, etc., though the prayer sessions and some ceremonies accompanying them are particularly tiresome.

Please note that one can have destructive rituals as well. The Aztec ritual of human sacrifice, for example, is one repugnant ritual that was rightly done away with. We as humans did away with human sacrifice. We as humans, similarly, must be vigilant in reviewing our rituals, take care to preserve those that have merit, and doing away with those that do not.

avrum68 said...

"The question, though, is whether these events point to something supernatural. If you believe that this is so for you, I would like to hear why."

It's a good question, and the answer...I'm not sure. Unlike FFB folks, I grew up in a secular home. I wasn't "fine tuned" to hear, see, appreciate God. This isn't so different from folks who grew up in non-artistic homes, and had to develop their ear/eye on their own.

The process is clumsy and often filled with self-doubt. Hence I turn to my ancestors to help me with ritual/prayer to "fine tune" my ability to understand what my relationship with God could be.

You say:
"But note that we need not necessarily pollute ritual with prayer. "
I have no doubt you'd feel the same way watching me fiddle with guitar pedals, soft synths, etc., etc., to obtain a "sound" that to your ears (assuming your not a guitarist) would be a total waste of time. You'd think: "Jeez dude, I can't hear a difference, just play the song already". And I'd appreciate the impatience. My response would be: "If you love your song...if you've got a sound in your head that must be replicated with your instrument..the esoteric process of getting there is 100% part of the deal."

badrabbi said...

"I turn to my ancestors to help me with ritual/prayer to "fine tune" my ability to understand what my relationship with God could be."

I don't know about you but the nonesensical nature of the prayer services serve only to augment my skepticism. First, the prayers are in Hebrew, seemingly to ensure that they would not be understood. Second, when I did take the time to translate and understand them, I find them to be vacuous and hollow. Specifically, what kind of fine-tuning does prayer do for you?

"the esoteric process of getting there is 100% part of the deal."

Where is 'there'?

fashionista cat in a zero gravity shoe-store said...

Hi badrabbi,

I've found your blog through another I'd found through another I'd found etc.

The ban on pork is easy to explain; at the time the kashrus was constituting itself, the Israelites still were nomadic or semi-nomadic. Imagine a few little piggies trotting through the Negev ;) Pigs need wet mud all the time to moisten their skin; that could not be provided for plus pork is of a different texture than beef and decomposes faster in the heat.

Some exegists suggest that the passage you referred to can be read differently, e.g. as in not to cook a baby animal as long as it still drinks milk from its mother. That also makes sense, considering there's more meat, hide etc. to gain from a grown-up animal than from an animal baby.

You must also consider that apart from a few infamous rabbonim of old, the one old guy with most knowledge - regardless of how much that may have been - was considered rebbe of his shtetl; official ordinations only became practice way later. That situation made for many odd superstitions and weird customs.

It might also be worth noting that the average Jew for long periods of time was not able to afford to eat a meat dish every day, so basically diets mostly were milchig and / or vegan. Meat was a special treat set aside for special occasions (noteworthily, the celebration of the Sabbath only rose to its importance among the common people after the destruction of the Second Temple as a means of cultural identification and among the upper class during the Babylonian Exile.)

badrabbi said...

Fahionista;

In a nut shell, I essentially agree with everything you are saying. It is possible that the ritual of not eating pork and of not mixing milk and meat together coulc have arisen for several reasons.

My point in this particular blog was that whatever reason you want to ascribe for these rituals, the reason COULD NOT HAVE BEEN A DERIVATION FROM THR TORAH. Surely you can speculate about the goings on in the desert, or the scarcity of meats. This does not challange the thrust of what I am saying though, namely that the ritual of not eating meat and milk together is not a justified one from a religious perspective.

I enjoy your screen name.

fashionista cat in a zero gravity shoe-store said...

Thanks, badrabbi, I like your screenname as well.

I agree with you; the Torah does not account for a mandatory separation of the consumption of milk and meat.

badrabbi said...

That was my point. The additional point is that Orthodox Jews have chosen to coopt the compassionate notion of intermingling the prodct of a mother form the meat of its child to something tatally absurd and nonsensical. If I have managed to convey that much, I have done well.

BTA said...

Bad- you are good, damn good! I'd love to see you post in some other circles, such as ExtremeGH or my blog (unfortunately it's now more or less defunct) or the new kiruvawarenessnetwork.blogspot.com

You are really good. I saw you waste a lot of time with jewish philosopher, a real wacko pseudo-rabbi convert zealot.

You wrote very well about punishment in this world. It was lost on them, but I'd like to see you post on it further.

Also, I must say you seem to be in a confused state at the moment. You are employing karaite arguments here as if you believe the Torah is possibly divine and therefore somehow important in guiding how we live. I assume you are FFB and working your way out of this mess of a religion.

Have the courage of your convictions. And no-God Speed. ;)

badrabbi said...

BTA,

Thanks for the kind words. I am not certain why more people do not read my blog, but it may have to with the infrequent entries.

I read your blog and found it to be excellent. I find that mine and your blogs aside, there are no commentaries wherein the Torah itself (as opposed to God, gnostism etc) are talked about. My point has been that even if we grant that there is a God, he could not have written the Torah. And even if he did write the Torah, the interpretation of it could not logically be justified.

I am not really a jaraite. I am basically an atheist who is not so much interested in proving whether there is or isn't a god. I am more interested in the extreme steps that have been taken in the name of God.

I am also a loyal Jew. I happen to like my "religion" in a secular sort of way. I would love to keep the customs of Judaism while dumping the religious content.

I hope to see you visit this blog more often. I also hope that you not abandon your own blog as I thoroughly enjoy it.

Holy Hyrax said...

aaaah, but if you are too literal, and want to follow the text as is, and throw out the rabbinic interpretations, you should go all the way then. Stone your rebellious child perhaps? Why would you or anyone else, decide to use takanot, or leniences or other reinterpretations for our benefit but yet deride the rest?

The issue with the chicken IS interesting. But its nothing any modern rabbi or even a rishon instituted. It is incredibly old and obviously added for a reason. I would be interested if someone can look it up

Holy Hyrax said...

>And even if he did write the Torah, the interpretation of it could not logically be justified.

Thats obviously ridiculous. If he DID give a torah, then he gave it to mankind. A species with its own way of thinking and seeing the text. Where we can make errors, but we do it within the spirit of the system and try to help out the nation. "Lo bashamayim hi" is probably one of the most important concept out there.

The whole issue shmita and its problem leaving the poor without work for a year was solved by a clever interpretation that was able to solve the problem.