Why Not Milk & Meat?

I love cheeseburgers, but I always feel guilty that it’s not a “good Jewish food.” What is behind this whole idea of not mixing milk and meat?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah commands us: "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk" (Exodus 23:19). The Torah forbids eating meat and milk in combination, and even forbids the act of cooking them together (as well as deriving benefit from such a mixture). As a safeguard, the Sages disallow the eating of meat and dairy products at the same meal, or preparing them with the same utensils. Therefore, a kosher kitchen must have two separate sets of pots, pans, plates and silverware – one for meat/poultry and the other for dairy foods.

Even more, one must wait up to six hours after eating meat products before eating dairy products. However, meat may be eaten following dairy products (with the exception of hard cheese, which also requires a six-hour interval). Prior to eating meat after dairy, one must eat a solid food and the mouth must be rinsed.

One possible explanation for this separation is that meat represents the finite, physical body, which ultimately ends up in death. Milk, on the other hand, is the quintessential life-giving force, the substance through which a mother can sustain her infant. Milk, therefore, can be compared to spirituality, which sustains our connection with the ultimate, eternal life.

Judaism wants us to be aware on every level of the difference between that which leads to life and that which leads to death. Even though we must nourish our physical bodies – indeed, God allows us to eat meat alone in order that our bodies be healthy – we must not mix in milk. We must never make our physical bodies the goal of living. We must never blur the difference between the physical, mortal world, and the world which is our ultimate goal, the world of spirituality, of eternal life. That is why meat and milk must remain separate.

Maimonides (12th century Spain) offers a rational view that ancient idolaters had the practice of mixing meat and milk together for ritual purposes. In order not to appear as if we are involved in pagan worship, the Torah forbids bringing these two items together.

There is yet a third approach. Why does the Torah use such strong imagery in the verse, "Do not cook a kid in its MOTHER'S milk"? The Rashbam (12th century France) explained that although there is nothing wrong with slaughtering animals in order to eat them, the Torah wants us to realize that there are certain acts, such as boiling a lamb in its mother's milk, which engender cruelty.

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