Does Separating Meat and Dairy Make Any Sense At All?
What you are about to read is not original to me. I heard this over a Shabbos meal, and asked if I could put my version of this line of reasoning on my blog. This impressive young scholar told me he didn’t mind at all — as long as I don’t ask him to write it for me, thus, my sad attempt to repeat at least some of his elegant “drash”.
The verses under consideration are:
Exodus 23:19 – “The choices first fruit of your land shall you bring to the House of HaShem, your God; You shall not boil 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 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.”
This phrase, transliterated Hebrew is – Lo t’vashel g’di b’halev imo. It is written exactly the same in each of these three verses.
First we’ll look at the word t’vashel. This is the future tense of the root word b-sh-l. The three letters in Hebrew are named bet, shin and lamed. Alcalay’s dictionary define b-sh-l thus: to cook, boil, to cause to ripen. Bolotzky’s 501 Hebrew verbs defines b-sh-l thus: to cook, boil, stew. Furthermore, in common usage, the word b-sh-l can be used to mean simply “to prepare” a meal or “to prepare food”, just as we say in English, even if we are actually not going to make a hot meal, but rather, merely going into the kitchen to prepare a salad or slice up some cheese to put on crackers, “I’m going to go cook dinner now.” Some people, perhaps Prince Charles’ chef, would be more precise and say “I’m going to go prepare dinner”, others might say “I’m going to go make dinner.” (quite imprecise if you think about it) but others would indeed say “I’m going to go cook dinner” and if it turns out to be a cold salad with some even colder, gelatinous fish on top…no one questions this. They may choke, but the meaning of the now disappointing statement was understood. This is the same in Hebrew. Except Israelis generally enjoy fish more than many Americans.
From this it is obvious that the word used in these three verses b-sh-l does not necessarily have the very narrow definition of “to boil”, in this verse. Taking this approach, we must, in the interest of caution (after all, these are the words of the Creator of the Universe) seriously consider the possibility that not only are we to refrain from boiling a kid in it’s mother’s milk, but we are to avoid, stewing, or causing to ripen (feh!), cooking or otherwise preparing, even serving a kid in, on or with it’s mother’s milk.
On to the next word I’d like to examine, g’di. You guessed it, this word, which is translated as “kid” into English, is understood as the young of a goat. However, just as in English the word “kid” can mean either “young goat” or “child”***, in Hebrew, g’di does not necessarily mean only the young of a goat. It can also be used to denote the young of a sheep, or even the young of a cow. I can’t, however, back up this contention with dictionary definitions. They are not cooperating with me. The Hebrew scholar who originally taught my family one Shabbos along these lines assures me it is so. When I can contact him again, I will ask him his sources for this assertion. If he has solid sources, I will then do my best to include them here. Otherwise, I may have back down on this one. Oh heck, in that case, I’ll just delete it…no one reads this anyway, so I won’t have to “eat crow”. Why keep a record?
I’m not that concerned. The gentleman is typically cautious and measured in his statements. My guess is, either the dictionary doesn’t match up with colloquial usage, or a modern Hebrew dictionary might not cover Biblical Hebrew as extensively as is needed for our purposes.
Assuming our Hebrew scholar is correct, we now have “You shall not boil, stew, cause to ripen, cook or otherwise prepare or serve a baby goat, baby sheep or baby cow in, on or with it’s mother’s milk.”
Now we come to the word “milk” or chalav in Hebrew. To understand what is meant in the Torah verses we are studying, one must understand a bit about food preparation and preservation in ancient days.
First of all, most people know that the weather in Israel was and remains a maritime temperate climate, on the southern edge the tropical zone. This means hot summers, and mild winters. In the winter, when it does get cold, it is not all that cold, nor is it terribly cold for very long. I can personally attest to this, having lived in Israel for a number of years. Off topic a bit, once one is acclimatized, a 50 degree day is positively chilling. After several years of life in the blistering summers, once Autumn was upon us, I actually found myself donning a light jacket when the evenings “dipped” to 80 degrees. I find it hard to believe now, but it’s true. I checked once. However chilling the winters come to feel to the average human, microbial life flourishes in such climates, causing food preservation to be a big concern. One can’t merely freeze one’s food and then thaw it out, as can be done in say…Canada. Even in Canada though, food preservation has been a primary concern for as long as there have been people crazy enough to live there. After all, one must eat in the summer too. That is why the refrigerator was invented and why even Canadians often buy them.
There is an excellent book by Sally Fallon, entitled Nourishing Traditions. In this cookbook, one will learn that the primary method for the preservation of milk in the days not too far past, and certainly in the days when the Torah was being given to the Children of Israel, was fermentation, using friendly bacteria, yeasts and molds. Very few people drank what we call “milk”. No, they milked their animals, then they promptly fermented it in any number of ways…cheese, kefir, yogurt, or other methods that have been lost to us (or that I don’t know about). I’d wager that the vast majority of the time, the only creatures that received what we call milk nowadays, was the “g’di” we’ve been discussing.
Thus, our verse now reads, “You shall not boil, stew, cause to ripen, cook or otherwise prepare or serve a baby goat, baby sheep or baby cow in, on or with it’s mother’s milk, or yogurt, kefir, cheese or other milk product made from it’s mother’s milk.”
Let’s move on to the question of “it’s mother’s”…. Hm. It stands to reason that only the poorest (and hungriest) of folks in those days suffered to milk a mere single goat, sheep or cow. And if their breeding program went well enough, having only one animal to milk would be a short-term problem. The general population most likely had at least two of these animals, and often more. Certainly, they wouldn’t be expected to keep the milk from their individual goats, sheep and cows separate. Logic tells us that an edict addressed to all of the Children of Israel assumed there would be more than one goat, sheep or cow being milked, and that the milk from various mothers would be mixed, and perhaps from different species as well, when specific purposes called for such. It wouldn’t make sense to apply these verses to the exceptional family which had only one animal to milk, as they are addressed to the general population.
In an era where material goods were expensive (no big factories producing milk cans), we can reasonably assume that the milk of the various mothers were mixed in together. In the past, I’ve owned a small herd of goats. To keep their milk separate would have been a logistical nightmare, both in the milking and storage.
Often too, milk was fermented in one manner, until enough could be collected, and then fermented in another follow-up manner, for example, perhaps yogurt would be made, and later the yogurt turned into cheese. Cheesemaking can be an arduous and time-consuming task, with a large amount of whey being the side-product. The milk solids and fat are a smaller portion of raw milk. For this reason, it is better done with several larger batches of milk, rather than milk from one milking session, let alone one animal.
Now our verse reads, “You shall not boil, stew, cause to ripen, cook or otherwise prepare or serve a baby goat, baby sheep or baby cow in, on or with any goat, sheep or cow’s milk, or yogurt, kefir, cheese or other milk product made from any goat, sheep or cow’s milk.”
This doesn’t cover what to do with the adult kosher mammal when one wants to cook it. I can only say at this point in my own studies, that the Written Torah is not meant to stand alone, without explanation and interpretation. No, HaShem instructed Moses to choose elders, teachers, judges who’s purpose was and is to expound upon the principles addressed in the Written Torah. This system never ended, but developed into a serious specialty. See my post entitled Did HaShem Tell Moses to Institute Teachers Over Israel? for my views on this.
Another point often made is that the Torah concise, with not one wasted word. Thus, the reasoning goes, that since this exact set of instructions is repeated several times, there is an imperative here that must be explored and held to strictly.
“The choices first fruit of your land shall you bring to the House of HaShem, your God.”
“The first of your land’s early produce you shall bring to the Temple of HaShem, your God.”
“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.”
The fact that the proper contributions to the Temple, obviously paramount, and then the verse in Deuteronomy where the edict is coupled with the commandment not to eat a dead carcass, (is this interpreted as something that died of itself, or merely something not ritually slaughtered in the prescribed manner?) clue me into the gravity of these instructions.
The topic is worthy of in depth study. I merely attempt to provoke naysayers to think more deeply before they criticize and second-guess. The rabbis of old were serious men, educated men, wise and good men, who sought to obey their Father in Heaven and who sought to enable all of Israel to obey their Father in Heaven. The rabbis of today do not exceed what has been taught by the Sanhedrin, which is written down in the Mishneh. I encourage those who would reject what the rabbis teach out of hand, merely as an emotional reaction or because it doesn’t suit them, to look more deeply at their reasoning.
I also encourage those who choose to scorn rabbinic teachings, please do look into history. There is continuity between the Sanhedrin of old and the rabbis of today.
To them are entrusted the oracles of HaShem.
***See what happens when we superimpose English usage onto Hebrew concepts? At the least — confusing, at worst, well….