Pageviews last month

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


It is well known in many Jewish circles today that the mixing of dairy and meat products is prohibited. In other words, you cannot have a cheeseburger! One can eat dairy and then meat, some say immediately after, others by waiting up to two hours. But if you wish to eat meat first and then dairy, you have to wait up to six hours. (Some wait only two hours.) Yet, the biblical text clearly states that when three angels came to visit Abraham, he “took curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared” (Gen. 18: 8), and stood by them “as they ate.” The word “curd” here (hemah in Hebrew) is most likely a type of modern yogurt; “calf” (ben bakar in Hebrew) could refer either to the entire calf (Josephus says he served them “a roasted calf”), or part of it (some rabbinic sources say he served them only tongue with mustard, a delicacy). What is going on here?
Ancient sages were very much aware of the problem of Abraham serving dairy and meat products together in contravention of the laws of Kashrut, and tried to resolve it in a variety of ways: First, they dealt with the issue of angels eating food. A few ancient sources---(like Tobit {12:19; an Apocryphal book of the third cent. BCE}; Josephus {the first century CE historian; Antiquities 1: 11/2}, Targum Jonathan as well as some later rabbinic commentators {e.g. BM 86 b; Rashi})--- specify that the angels did not eat, but pretended as if they were eating; one Talmudic source, however, says that the angels actually did eat, thus following the local custom (BM 86b).
Second, with regard to the mixing of milk and meat, rabbinic sources came up with a few fancy answers:
a) The mixture of milk and meat was forbidden only after the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and, because Abraham lived before that period, it was perfectly legitimate (Etz Hayyim).
b) Abraham served the angels milk and only then did he offer them meat in accordance with the dietary laws, for, even though not commended, Abraham followed all the laws of the Torah (Kid. 4: 14).
c) Abraham served the angels milk and meat together because he thought they were gentiles who were not bound by Jewish law (Likute Sihot, Vol 5, p.193, n.63).
d) The Meam Loez, the famous Sephardic commentary written in Izmir, Turkey, in Ladino, by Rabbi Jacob Kulli (1864), claims that Abraham stood by the angels, making sure that each guest chose to eat either dairy or meat, and would not mix the two.
In reality, the rule against mixing dairy with meat is not biblical, and Rabbis had a hard time justifying it on the basis of a law that prohibits “boiling a kid in its mother’s milk” (Ex. 23:19; 34: 26; Deut. 14: 21). The original meaning of this law is unknown. Maimonides suggested a pagan background. But the Rabbis, for reasons that are not clear to us, turned this prohibition into a major component of the laws of kashrut that bind many observant Jews today.
Bottom line: our biblical law is unaware of this rabbinic rule, and the sages used an obscure text to justify it. Consequently, many Jews feel guilty today when they consume the two together.
Rifat Sonsino

No comments:

Post a Comment