Between Meat and Milk

Torah prohibitions concerning meat and milk * Our Sages forbade eating meat with milk even when not cooked, and therefore required having to wait between meat and milk * According to the Talmud, one must wait between meals, but the poskim disagreed how to define that * Most poskim, including those from Ashkenazic communities, instructed to wait six hours * Those who keep one or three hours should not be opposed * Some people wait five hours plus, but it is preferable to wait six whole hours * Meat stuck between teeth after more than six hours * Why are we required to wait an extended period of time after eating meat?

Meat and Milk

The Torah prohibited cooking meat with milk, as it is written in this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim: “Do not cook meat in milk, even that of its mother” (Exodus 23:19). This prohibition is mentioned three times in the Torah, teaching us that there are three elements of the prohibition: a) it is forbidden to cook milk and meat together. B) It is forbidden to eat them together. C) It is forbidden to derive benefit from them (Chulin 115b).

The Torah prohibition is precisely when mixing milk and meat by means of cooking, because the process of cooking blends the two thoroughly. But when the tastes of meat and dairy are not mixed by means of cooking, such as by soaking, there is no Torah prohibition against eating them, however our Sages forbade eaten such mixtures (S. A., Y.D., 87:1).

Eating Dairy Foods after Eating Meat

Since our Sages prohibited eating meat and milk even without having been cooked together, they 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.

In regards to this, Mar Ukva, one of the great Amoraim 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).

The Rishonim differed with regards to Mar Ukva’s statement. Some say according to the letter of the law, after eating meat one can cleanse his mouth by eating something else and rinse it by drinking, and would then be permitted to eat dairy food immediately. Mar Ukva would not cleanse and rinse his mouth, and therefore had to wait until the next meal (Bahag, RaZaH, Rabeinu Tam).

In practice, there are no poskim who follow this lenient opinion, rather, all follow the opinion of the vast majority of Rishonim who believed that the custom of Mar Ukva is the required halakha, since it seems that he did not follow his father’s minhag chassidut (custom of extreme piety), but went according to the letter of the law. Therefore, it is forbidden for one who eats a meat meal to eat milk until the following meal. However, the Rishonim differed in the meaning of this, and out of their disagreement branched the differences in Sephardic and Ashkenazic customs.

Ashkenazic Custom

According to the opinion of some of the leading Ashkenazi Rishonim, what we have learned from the words of Mar Ukva is that it is forbidden to eat meat and milk in the same meal, but if one were to recite the Birkat Hamazone (Grace after Meals), clean-off the table, cleanse and rinse his the mouth, it would be permissible for him set a table for a dairy meal, since it would be considered a different meal (Tosephot, Ravyah). But since it is explained in the Zohar that one should not eat meat and dairy in the same hour, one should be meticulous to wait at least an hour between eating meat and milk. This is the custom of some Ashkenazim (Rema 89:1; Schach 7).

The Custom of Sephardim and Most Poskim

According to the majority of Rishonim, seeing as the usual waiting time between meals was approximately six hours, this is the required amount of time to wait between eating meat and milk (Rambam, Itur, Rosh, Rashba, and Ran). This is the custom of all Sephardim, and most Ashkenazim (S. A. and Rema 89:1).

The Ashkenazic Custom in Recent Times

Although in the times of the Rishonim the accepted practice in Ashkenaz was to wait one hour between eating meat and milk, since most Rishonim wrote to wait six hours, the Ashkenazic rabbis at the beginning of the Achronim period tended to lean towards this opinion. In the words of Rema: “The simple custom in these countries is to wait for one hour, after which one may eat cheese…the more scrupulous wait six hours after eating meat to eat dairy, and this is the proper custom.”

There are families in Western Europe who in principle accepted the opinion of the majority of Rishonim that between meat and milk one must wait the amount of time between meals, however, since the shortest waiting time between meals is three hours, their custom is to wait three hours between eating meat and milk (see, Darchei Teshuva 89:6).

There were eminent Achronim in Ashkenaz who encouraged everyone to wait six hours after eating meat, as Rabbi Shlomo Luria wrote, that anyone “who has even a scent of Torah” should act stringently and wait six hours. His words were quoted by Rabbi Shabtai Cohen in his important commentary to the Shulchan Aruch (Schach, 89:8). About a hundred and fifty years ago, this minhag became binding in Eastern Europe, to the point where the Aruch HaShulcan wrote: “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).”

Should Those Who Wait One or Three Hours be Encouraged to be Stringent?

Since it is appropriate to highly respect Jewish customs founded by the eminent Torah scholars, those whose family minhag is to wait an hour or three hours should not be encouraged to change their custom. Especially when it comes to rabbinic Jewish law, since the general rule is that in rabbinic laws, the halakha goes according to the lenient opinion. And it is possible that the rabbis who encouraged everyone to hold six hours did so in communities where many people had already been accustomed to be stringent, but in communities where the custom was to wait for one or three hours, they did not encourage people to change their minhag.

Six Hours after the Conclusion of Eating Meat until the Beginning of Eating Dairy

As we learned, the accepted minhag is to wait six hours between eating meat and milk. The waiting period is from the conclusion of eating meat until the beginning of eating dairy, even if from the time of Birkat Hamazone until nitilat yadayim (ritual washing of the hands) of the following meal, six hours did not pass (Dagul Merevava 89:1).

Six hours, or More than Five?

Some poskim are of the opinion that the intention of the Rishonim was not to wait exactly six whole hours, for indeed they had no watches and most probably did not require being precise about it; rather, as long as more than five hours had passed, seeing as the sixth hour had already started, it was permitted to eat dairy (Se’ach Nahum 46). Some say that after more than five and a half hours, seeing as the majority of the sixth hour had already passed, one is permitted to eat dairy (see, Yebiah Omar, Sect. 1, Y.D. 4).

However, in the opinion of many Achronim, it is obligatory to be precise that six whole hours have passed, and this was codified in the Shulchan Aruch (89:1). And perhaps since watches have become commonplace and many 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.

In practice, l’chatchila (ideally) one should wait six whole hours, and be’shat ha’tzorech (when necessary) one can be lenient after five and a half hours; when the need is greater, it is possible to be lenient after five hours-plus have passed, as is the custom of some yeshiva’s, so as to maintain the learning schedule.

One who wants to be lenient l’chatchila after five hours-plus have passed has sources to rely on. Those who are scrupulous (mehedrim) are stringent to always wait six whole hours (and this is the custom of my father’s family).

In a case of doubt whether or not six hours have passed after eating meat, even the mehedrim can be lenient and eat dairy.

After Eating Food Cooked with Meat

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. Therefore, those who eat potatoes cooked with meat, or broth-soup cooked with meat, must wait six hours before eating dairy.

After Eating Food ‘Be-Chezkat Basari’

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 immediately eat dairy foods.

For example, a person who eats salads served at a meat meal, and the same utensils are used to serve both the meat and the salads, the salads are considered ‘be-chezkat basari‘ because they may have a little meat or grease from the meat on them, and therefore cannot be eaten with dairy foods. But since there is no meat flavor in the salads, there is no need to wait six hours after eating them.

Similarly, one who eats in a restaurant where meat and parve foods are served on the same utensils, one should not eat the parve foods with dairy foods, but after eating them, one does not have to wait six hours.

And even if meat was fried in oil, and afterwards, falafel balls were fried in the same oil, as long as they have no meat taste, one does not have to wait six hours. This is the general rule: as long as there is no clear taste of meat in the food, it is considered ‘be-chezkat basari‘ and cannot be eaten with milk, but there is no need to wait afterwards.

And conversely, after eating meat one is allowed to eat food that is ‘be-chezkat chalavi‘ as long as there is no noticeable taste of milk in it.

The Reason for Waiting between Meat and Milk

There are two main explanations given for the severity of waiting between eating meat and milk. A) Meat has a strong aftertaste and its flavor is likely to be noticeable in the mouth for up to six hours; perhaps this is caused by its taking longer to digest. B) Generally, meat is tough and pieces of it can get stuck between one’s teeth, and after six hours they become disengaged or their taste dissipates with the mouth’s saliva.

Meat between Teeth after Six Hours

One who finds a particle of meat between his teeth after six hours is required to remove it and cleanse his mouth, and then he is permitted to eat dairy food immediately (S. A., Rema 89:1). But if bediavad (after the fact) he swallowed a piece of meat that was between his teeth, since its taste had already been weakened during the time it was in his mouth, he should cleanse his mouth, and is then permitted to eat dairy food immediately.

One who finds a piece of meat between his teeth in the course of six hours should remove it from his mouth and is not required to wash his mouth, because until six hours pass, the meat will have already lost its taste completely.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

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