Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
April 26, 2004 – Number 5764-25
Kashrut IV: The Strange Story of Separating Milk from Meat
There is no direct law in the Torah about the separation between milk and meat. There is no direct commandment that relates to this aspect of Kashrut. The full separation between milk products and meat that we observe today began at a time that is lost to the mists of history. Professor David Kraemer of the Jewish Theological Seminary once taught that the separation appears to have begun around the first Century, where Philo is the first to mention it. In his opinion, it was a “higher” form or Kashrut, and it was considered “barbaric” to eat milk and meat together. Wherever it comes from, it is now a vital part of the laws of Kashrut.
Most authorities base the prohibition on the commandment that is in the Torah that forbids boiling a kid in its mother’s milk. The reason behind this law is unknown. Miamonidies claims that it was a pagan practice that was cruel and thus forbidden to Jews. There is no evidence, however, that there was any such pagan ritual. The cruelty of the act is apparent. That which should give life, should not be the instrument of death. From here, there evolved the total separation that we know today.
Milk and meat, and products that contain milk or meat, can not be combined in any way. Foods that contain one may not be served with foods that contain the other. There must be a waiting period between meals where one or the other is served. After a milk meal, one should wait 15 minutes. After a meat meal some wait as little as an hour, others wait up to six hours. In the United States, a three hour wait after a meat meal is most common.
Some factors of the separation depend upon what the utensil in question is made of. In general, materiels that absorb food, like wood or clay (including stoneware and china) can only be used for either milk or meat, while materials that do not absorb, like metal or glass, can be used for both (but only for one at a time, either milk or meat) It is preferable that there be two sets of dishes, pots, cooking utensils and silverware, one for meat and one for milk, to prevent mistakes. Vegetarians obviously need only one set of dishes. Pots and glass bake ware (including pyrex) in which food is cooked or baked, even though they are not absorbent, should not be used for both milk and meat, but should be used only for one or the other.
Items that can be throughly cleaned, can be re-Kashered when mistakes are made. There is NO truth in the myth that one needs to bury things in the yard to make them Kosher again. Usually you re-Kasher something by going beyond the hottest setting that is commonly used. For example, silverware and other metal objects can be kashered by placing them in boiling water. Large pots can be kashered by filling them with water and allowing them to boil over. Glassware can be put in boiling water (if it can take the heat) or by being placed in cold water for a three day period, with the water changed every 24 hours. Cooking pots can be re-kashered by heating to red hot by blow-torch. Metal or glass bakeware, which has food literally cooked into the surface can not be re-kashered. Usually the item in question is not used for 24 hours before being re-kashered.
One must examine foods carefully to determine if they are milk or meat. Not every ingredient is listed on a package so one has to be careful. In addition to milk, there are other dairy products that are listed by their chemical name. Lactose and Sodium Casinate are both dairy (even though some so called “non-dairy” products contain them) When in doubt, a Rabbi should be consulted. Most national kosher supervision agencies will list if a product should be considered meat or dairy.
Meat and dairy items can be stored together in the same refrigerator if they are properly closed or sealed. One should not cook them together in the same oven at the same time, even if fully wrapped. Two people can eat two different meals at the same table as long as there is a sufficient space or barrier to prevent the two meals from being mixed.
Out of a fear of confusion, the Talmud classifies chicken as “meat” and extends this designation to all poultry. Even though you can not boil a chicken in its mother’s milk, it is still considered meat. Fishis always considered neither milk or meat and can be eaten with both (but not at the same time.) There is an old custom that meat and fish should not be eaten from the same plate. According to the sources, this was a safety measure lest one confuse the two and choke on a fish bone. The Conservative Movement has ruled that this is no longer a safety issue today and has ruled that one can, if one desires, to eat fish and meat off the same plate.
Sidney Konigsburg [who once worked for a Kosher butcher] writes: “Reb Rabinovitz had a knife that was so sharp, and so long that it could really split hairs !!…there was a name for it but I’ve forgotten.”
I reply: The knife is called a “Halif” it must be razor sharp and perfectly smooth, with no nicks or dents (since this might tear the flesh and cause unnecessary pain to the animal) The knife must be examined before and after the slaughter to insure that it is without blemish.
Sidney Konigsburg again: “you didn’t mention that after 3 days the meat , if not sold ,had to be washed. And as I remember it could only be washed twice…..and someplace along the line I heard that many of the laws of Kashrus were predicated on the fact that there was no refrigeration..Thus they became laws of health because meat eaters were really dealing with dead, decomposing flesh…..Cause & Remedies??
I reply: The washing of the meat insured that whatever blood that was still inside the meat not coagulate and thus we would not be able to remove the last of the blood through soaking and salting. Once the meat was “kashered” that is soaked and salted, it no longer needed to be washed every few days. 50 years ago each Jewish homemaker soaked and salted the meat for themselves, now most butchers do it before the meat is ever sold. The laws of Kashrut are NOT health laws, they are designed to make sure that we do not consume blood (which is forbidden by the Torah) and to prevent pain to the animal and to offer us a way to serve our Creator. Kashrut will not preserve or protect meat from spoiling or other parasites, which is why the meat is inspected after it is killed. Remember, before refrigeration, the only way to keep meat fresh was to keep it alive until it was needed.
Next week: Kashrut V: Setting up a Kosher Kitchen