How the different customs of waiting between meat and milk was established – six hours, one hour, and three hours * Today, when clocks are used to tell time, ideally, the six hours waiting period must be accurate * Infants do not have to wait between meat and milk – only their mouth’s should be cleansed * For young children before the age of education, it is preferable to wait an hour * Upon reaching the age of education, it is preferable to wait three hours, and later on in age, six hours for those whom this is their custom * The definitions are not clear cut, because the mitzvah of education depends on the nature of the child, parents, and other factors * According to halakha, after eating yellow cheese there is no need to wait
Q: Should we be strict with children who have reached the age of education, not to eat dairy products within six hours of eating meat, even when this may disrupt the dinner-time schedule – a meal usually based on dairy products?
Eating Milk after Meat
First, I will explain the halakha, and afterwards, discuss how it applies to young children. Our Sages forbade eating dairy foods after eating meat, lest a particle of meat or its taste remained in one’s mouth, and as a result, meat and milk would be eaten together. Regarding this, Mar Ukva, one of the early Amoraim, (the Jewish Torah scholars of the period from about 200 to 500 CE, who “said” or “told over” the teachings of the Oral Torah), said: “I am as vinegar is to wine”; in other words, his father was strict, and would wait twenty-four hours between eating meat and dairy, whereas he would wait only until the following meal (Chulin 105a).
Most of the Rishonim (the leading rabbis and Jewish law arbiters who lived approximately during the 11th to 15th centuries) learned from this that it is necessary to wait six hours between eating meat and milk, since in the past, when it was customary to eat two meals a day, this was the shortest interval of time between two meals. This is the practice of all the Sephardic Jews, and most of Ashkenazic Jews (S. A. and Rama 81:1). Some eminent Ashkenazi poskim (Jewish law arbiters) believe that the main thing is not to eat meat and then milk in the same meal, but rather, first to finish eating meat, to wait an hour, and then it is permissible to eat milk. This is the custom of some Ashkenazim (Tosafot, Rav’ya, Rama). And there are some families in Western Europe who in principle accepted the opinion of most of the Rishonim that one should wait between eating meat and milk the amount of time between one meal and another, but since today the custom is to eat three meals a day, the shortest interval of time between meals is approximately three hours; therefore, they would wait three hours between eating meat and milk (see, Darchei Teshuva 89:6).
There were some eminent Achronim in Ashkenaz who encouraged everyone to wait six hours after eating meat, until about one hundred and fifty years ago this custom became binding in Eastern Europe, as written in the book ‘Arukh HaShulchan’: “It is the common practice in all of the Diaspora to wait six hours and God forbid to change this, and one who does is in the category of ‘ha’poretz geder’ (one who breaks down Rabbinic ‘fences’, and as a result, deserves to be bitten by a snake) (89:7).” Nevertheless, since it is appropriate to highly respect Jewish customs founded by eminent Torah scholars, those whose family minhag is to wait an hour, or three hours, should not be encouraged to change their custom.
Six Complete Hours
In any event, the custom of all Sephardim and most Ashkenazim is to be strict to keep six hours, however some poskim believe that this does not mean six complete hours, since in the times of the Rishonim there were no clocks to calculate six hours exactly; consequently, the meaning is approximately six hours, and anything over five hours (Siach Nachum 46), or five and a half hours (see, Yibiyah Omer I, Y.D. 4), is permissible to eat milk. However, in the opinion of many of the Rishonim, it is obligatory to be meticulous that six complete hours have passed, and this was codified in the Shulchan Arukh (89:1). And perhaps since watches have become commonplace and most people determine their time of day precisely, the separation of meat and milk should also be done accurately, and therefore, the six hours should be six whole hours.
Moreover, when the time of waiting six hours was set, it was determined by the shortest interval between two meals, when in practice, the majority of people waited seven or eight hours.
‘Be’shat ha’tzorech’ (when necessary) one can be lenient after five and a half hours; when the need is even greater, it is possible to be lenient after five hours-plus have passed. Those who are scrupulous (‘mehedrim’) are stringent to always wait six whole hours. In a case of doubt whether or not six hours have passed after eating meat, even those who are ‘mehedrim’ can be lenient and eat dairy.
After a Meat Dish
One who eats food that was cooked with meat, although he did not actually eat the meat, and therefore, according to the letter of the law, does not have to wait six hours, since whatever he did eat had a noticeable taste of meat, the minhag is to be stringent and wait six hours before eating dairy. However, if one ate food that is ‘be-chezkat basari’ but has no meat taste, even though it is forbidden to be eaten together with dairy foods, after having eaten it, one can eat dairy foods immediately.
General Rules in the Laws of Educating Young Children
There are some basic rules in the education of children: 1) it is forbidden to feed, even a newborn baby, prohibited food. 2) It is a mitzvah to educate children to wait between eating meat and milk, and the mitzvah to educate them to do so is when they understand the commandment, and are able to calculate the hours that one must wait between meat and milk. 3) A food that is intrinsically kosher, but is temporarily forbidden to be eaten because not enough time has passed, is not included in the prohibition if children find it difficult to wait, and therefore, we do not educate young children (six and seven-year-old’s) to fast for a number of hours on Yom Kippur. 4) As far as education of young children is concerned, in times of need, it is possible to rely on lenient opinions. In line with these rules, I will clarify the progression of educating towards keeping the interval between eating meat and milk.
Infants who do not yet understand the difference between meat and milk are allowed to be fed milk after meat, provided their mouths and hands are cleaned from the remains of the meat, so as not to feed them meat and milk together.
When the toddlers begin to understand the difference between meat and milk, but have not yet reached the age when they can calculate the hours – approximately between the ages of three and five – it is correct that, when possible, they should wait about an hour between meat and milk. When necessary to feed them milk so they can fall asleep, or to avoid crying, their mouths and hands can be washed, and then fed milk without waiting for an hour.
Children from the Age of Education
Once the child reaches the age of ‘chinuch‘ (education to mitzvoth), around the age of five or six, one should start to train them to wait between eating meat and milk. And since often the time for their next meal is less than six hours after having eaten meat, it is sufficient to accustom them to wait for approximately three hours, the shortest interval of time customary to wait between two meals.
Once they reach the age of nine or ten, since they already know how to calculate the hours and can wait longer between meals, it is correct to accustom them to wait for approximately six hours. And when necessary, such as when they eat with their younger siblings and it is difficult to feed them afterwards, they may wait only three hours between meals. Similarly, at a birthday party when it is difficult for them to resist eating dairy foods, they can be lenient after waiting three hours. The closer they get to the age of mitzvot, the more they should be trained to keep six hours.
Education: Gradually, and with Flexibility
A person reading this should not be surprised that the halakha pertaining to education is not cut and clear, for in truth, this is the mitzvah of education – to teach a young child to progress gradually over the years until he keeps six hours (the custom of the majority of Jews). And since this is a process that depends on many factors, this halacha has a general intention which must be acted upon with flexibility according to the situation. Therefore, aside from consideration of a child’s age, one must take into consideration the physical and mental state of the child, for a healthy child cannot be compared to one who is weakly, and a brave child cannot be compared to a spoiled child. In addition, the mitzva of education depends on the nature of the parents: every parent is commanded to educate according to their character – some parents tend to be strict, while others are lenient – and we cannot demand from someone who is similar in character to Shamai, to behave like Hillel, and vice-versa. Education also depends upon how a household is organized: if a family has small children, mealtimes are closer, and there is more need to be lenient. Therefore, it is impossible to set clear boundaries, but rather basic guidelines alone, and consequently, the halakha is expressed by words such as “correct” and “proper”. Correspondingly, we find that most of the poskim as well gave general guidelines; among those who tried to give detailed advice, diverse and contrary guidance was presented, mainly due to differences in lifestyles.
Waiting after Eating Yellow Cheese
Q: Is someone who ate yellow cheese permitted to eat meat afterwards?
A: Some of the eminent Rishonim in Ashkenaz were strict to wait between eating hard cheese and meat, similar to waiting between eating meat and milk, because the taste of this type of cheese is strong and lasting – no less than a meat dish, and just as we are strict to wait after a meat dish, one must wait after eating hard cheese. However, these rabbis instructed to do so according to their custom of waiting an hour after eating meat, and consequently, they instructed to wait an hour after eating hard cheese. But since many people in Ashkenaz waited six hours between meat and milk, there were those who were strict to also wait six hours between eating hard cheese and meat.
Indeed, the hard cheese they referred to was a cheese that had been prepared for six months, or had been prepared for less time, but had been hardened by means of worms and molds that produced a ferment greatly strengthening its taste. And there were some poskim who went further, and were strict in regards to all hard cheese, even if it was prepared in only a few days, like yellow cheese, lest pieces of it get stuck in one’s teeth.
However, in practice, the halakha goes according to the majority of poskim, and it is not obligatory to wait after eating hard or yellow cheese more than regular cheese. One who wants to eat meat after eating regular or yellow cheese, has to cleanse and rinse his mouth, by eating a hard food such as bread, and drinking water or some other beverage, or by brushing his teeth to remove any remaining milk from his mouth. And those who wish to enhance the mitzvah, wait an hour between eating hard cheese and meat.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: