Saturday, March 17, 2012

A cheeseburger dilemma?

Every time I walk into MacDonald's I experience a guilty uneasiness.  Here I am wearing a Tzitzit and about to order a cheeseburger. Oh, Lord, have mercy on me.....

Does the Torah forbids eating meat and milk together?

לא תבשל גדי בחלב אמו -" Lo tevashel gedi bechalev (not bechalav. see below) imo."  (you shall not cook a kid in its mother's milk.  Exodus 23:19). It is repeated two more time in exactly the same language. (Ex. 34:26 and Deut. 14:21).  This verse, through the years was the subject of hundreds of Mitzvot, and rules by various Rabbis and became the Kashrut laws as we know them today.  Especially the Kashrut of separating milk and meat.

What caused God to "wake up" one morning and decide that it does not suit His purpose for the "Children of Israel" to eat cheeseburgers?  Just like that? Without a reason?  Or maybe it was the Rabbis, throughout history who did not understand the writing of Moses?

Archaeological digs in Tel Ras Samara (north Syria), revealed instructions for an ancient pagan ritual at the time of the Canaanites, to sacrifice the offspring of the sacrificial animal (its mother) in its fat as an offering to the god-du-jour, be it Baal, Ashtoret, or Anat.  It was one ritual among other known rituals in Tanach time that was practiced by the pagans who dwell in proximity to the children of Israel.  Could that be the answer?  You bet it is...  Jump five verses forward and in Exodus 23:24 we find the reason why God commanded what he commanded in Exodus. 23:19: " You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, not do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them, and break their pillars in pieces."

It is clear from this context that the reason was not "don't eat this kind of food." but it is a command not to worship other gods.  If the verse was speaking of food, wouldn't it be logical to expect it to be included with other verses where God speaks about what, and what not He allowed to consume?  The verse itself does not speak of eating but of cooking.

Now to the Hebrew.  Two words:

חלב-with a Kamatz under the Lamed- Chalav- milk.

חלב - with a Tzeire inder the Lamed- Chalev- animal's fat. (according to the Bible dictionary of Bar-Ilan univ. P. 301) (see also 1 Samuel 15:22).

The ancient Rabbis wrongly interpret Exodus 23:19.  One of the reasons for this is, they suffered from what I call "The Elvis Syndrome."  You see, Elvis Presley wore a necklace with a cross and a star of David.  when asked for the reason he replied: " I Do not want NOT to reach heaven on a technicality."  The Rabbis, then, and today are suffering from the same syndrome.  Even some leaders in Messianic Judaism.  I know of a leader of a Messianic Jewish congregation who alternates Onegs of milk and meat on Shabbat services.  The reason he says is not to offend Jewish people who come to visit.  You see, he actually agrees that there is no mandate to separate milk and meat in the written Torah, his reason is not to offend....

And I ask, how many Halacha keeping Orthodox Jews ever visited his congregation?  Elvis syndrome is still in force....

So, dear blog readers (tip of the hat to Judah), go ahead and have your cheeseburger.


  1. Great post, Dan. I'm thinking about all the separate kitchens I've seen. That's a lot of effort (for a very long time) in the wrong direction, isn't it?

    And the Elvis necklace thing is, obviously, just ridiculous.

  2. While I agree with what you said, the context where the admonition appears in Deuteronomy 14, appears to be more in line with what you eat and how you eat it. So, perhaps not only is one to avoid that combination of cooking and the worshipping of idols, but might as well extend to avoid preparing and eating it as such anyway - something like a fence law? The reason I say this, is that is how some persons have argued it to me. I'm of the similar interpretation that you have outlined.

  3. Thanks for the comment Marko.

    Check Lev. 17:15 against Deut. 14:21. A contradiction?

  4. What about extra cheese? :P

  5. Good post, Dan.

    I eat at restaurants. I don't have qualms about meat and cheese because I -- gasp -- think Judaism is wrong about this.

    It's not from lack of understanding Jewish tradition, or not engaging with Jewish sources. It's acknowledging that the Jewish religious world can make mistakes. This matter of separation of meat and diary is a mistake in interpretation.

    And before I'm accused of going it alone and not bowing to the majority, as MJism often does, consider that Christian scholars do not interpret this commandment the way Judaism does. So it's not a matter of bucking authority, but a matter of principle in standing for convictions.

  6. Interesting post, Dan. As long as we're all making confessions here, I always will admit to some uneasiness. But I agree with Judah that Judaism makes mistakes. I think, for example, that some of the halachah regarding writ of divorce (get) are unfair. But then I think "who am I to challenge however many thousands of years of tradition?" and so the uneasiness continues...


  7. Re: contradiction? I'm not sure what parts of the passages you are comparing. Is it the fact that one (Lev 17.15) doesn't mention the cooking/boiling of the meat with milk/fat while the other does (Deut 14.21), or that one (Deut 14.21) says not to eat treif meat (but OK to give to the ger), while the other (Lev 17.15) says if anyone (natural born, or not) ate treif meat, one has to bath/mikveh, wash one's clothes and wait until evening to be ritually clean (so that one may approach to offer a sacrifice)? The latter subject seems to warn NOT to eat meat with the blood not fully drained, but if one did, there is an allowance to remove the sin/iniquity/wrongdoing with a mikveh before a sacrifice.

  8. Looking up old files about this topic and came across a page from a website that has expired (but I copied before it did). Posting this in sections (only allowed 4,096 max characters) for your consideration and reading pleasure:

    Am ha-Aretz / עם הארץ
    Judaism of the masses (the blog)

    October 03, 2004
    Do not boil a kid in its mother's fat [Critique]

    Proposition: Torah, on three occasions, says "You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk" (Exodus 23:19, 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21). In Hebrew, the words for milk and fat are written the same, and only differ in pronunciation. Without the Oral Torah, how do we know that the word here (bachalayv) is 'cholov' (milk) and not 'cheylev' (fat)? If it is 'fat', it would be much like the other dietary laws forbidding the use of certain fats, especially when considering the context of Exodus 34:26, which like the verses before it, speak about Shabbat, Festivals, sacrifices, etc. Later on in Leviticus we see laws in the same context that discuss the fats also, and because the context is similar, or because of the other dietary restrictions concerning fats, we can assume that it really means 'its mother’s fat', and not its milk.

    Response: 1. Herman Rubin gives the following explanation. When a newborn animal is born, the newborn's mother starts producing milk. Since the newborn drinks the milk, the only way for people in ancient times to get to the milk was to separate the newborn from its mother. Without its mother's milk, even if the humans did not slaughter it, the infant animal would die.

    Thus, in ancient times, it was very common to have a dead infant animal of a milking animal. Perhaps there was a pagan ritual in which the infant animal was boiled in its mother's milk. The ritual could have signified the life / death cycle: people have food (milk) and life through the infant animal's death. Torah could be speaking out against this pagan ritual, as it does concerning other pagan rituals. The other reading, that the kid is boiled in its mother's fat, does not make sense. To get to the fat, the infant animal's mother could have to be slaughtered. Why would the ancients slaughter a perfectly fine milking animal, especially right after it started giving milk?

    2. In modern times, whether we read "its mother's milk" or "its mother's fat" does not make any practical difference. When was the last time anyone wanted to cook an animal in its mother's anything?

    3. Dr. Shlomo Argamon says that the verb used here, bishul, can only mean to cook in liquid: boil, seethe, poach, etc. Thus, it cannot be referring to fat, since cooking in fat is frying, not boiling.

    Bishul appears in the Tanakh 28 times. Twice, it is used figuratively, to mean "ripe". The rest of the time, it translates as "boil" or one of its synonyms. At times, there is no indication that there is cooking specifically in liquid, but there is also no indication that there is cooking in oil; thus, those times, it could still mean cooking in liquid. There is only one problematic instance of the word. 2 Samuel 13:8 says "So Tamar went to her brother Amnon's house; and he was lying down. And she took dough, and kneaded it, and made cakes in his sight, and did bake / bishul the cakes." It's difficult to imagine that bishul in this passage could mean cooking in liquid. Then again, it might just be that I do not know all there is to know about ancient culinary.

    4. Mesorah, the traditional pronunciation, says that the word here is "milk", not "fat". Remember that mesorah is not the same an an Oral Torah and does not require an Oral Torah.

  9. 5. Let us see if the prohibition makes sense given the surrounding text. In both Exodus 23:19 and 34:26, the full verse is "The choice first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of YHWH your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk." Assuming that the verse is forbidding a pagan ritual, the verse makes a lot of sense. It says: this is the correct way to elevate fruit, and this is the wrong way to elevate "fruit" / infant animal.

    Ex 23:19 has the form "this is the right way, and this is the wrong way". Just before the verse, there are several passages that have the same form. For example 23:4-5: "When you encounter your enemy's ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him. [right way] When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it [wrong way], you must nevertheless raise it with him." 23:12: "Six days you shall do your work [right way to work], but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor [wrong way to work on the seventh day], in order that your ox and your ass may rest, and that your bondman and the stranger may be refreshed." 23:13: "Be on guard concerning all that I have told you [right way]. Make no mention of the names of other gods [wrong way to mention other gods]; they shall not be heard on your lips."

    Near Ex 34:26, in 34:10-16, it talks about destroying the pagan nations, destroying their ritual objects, and not worshiping other gods, as those pagan nations do. If boiling a kid in its mother's milk was a pagan ritual, then the prohibition is continuing the thought of not following the ways of the pagans.

    Deuteronomy 14:21 is given in the context of a list of meats that are forbidden to eat, which also makes sense.

    Posted by Ami at October 3, 2004 09:20 AM

  10. it would also seem redundant to mention that Helev is being referred to here - since it is already known to be forbidden.

    We could equally make thousands of other combinations, eg in pig lard, pig fat, etc etc, but since we know they r already forbidden, this prohibition would be superfluous.

    Posted by: Eddie at October 3, 2004 08:44 PM


    One of the problems with the Oral Law argument is that they assume the recipients of the Torah were as ignorant of Biblical Hebrew as today's average Jew is (or even Rabbi).

    Ther is also the cultural knowledge - again it is assumed that 3000 years ago, peopel dint knwo how to do anything, and needed an Oral Law to tell them. The Torah doesnt explicitly say how humans procreate, however, people did it in those days, but that doesn't imply they needd an Oral law to tell them how.

    On a less facetious note, we can look at forbidden birds - which apparently we need the Oral Aw to know which species the Bible refers to. But i think such an argument is clearly false. An example would be: In England, everybody knows what a Magpie is - its a common bird, with distinct colours and even legends surrounding it. However, when i mention the magpie to most Americans, they have no idea what it is, unless they are ornithologists. That doesnt mean that the British have some extra constitution, a hidden Magna Carta, that was not written down, to identify the Magpie. The same would apply to many other species. I don't recall having seen a Robin or starling in Israel, or a squirrel for that matter.
    In Scandinavia they have flying suirrels, but an israeli (lacking photographic evidence) might mistake it for a bat.

    A lot of the argumentation for the Oral Law assumss ignorance of their audience.

    Posted by: Eddie at October 3, 2004 04:33 PM


    1)Or perhaps they weren’t really concerned over this. They may have had other goats for milking. The fat we are cooking in is commonly referred to as LARD, and is still used just about everywhere.BUT, lard is already forbidden.

    3)Ever deep fry anything? Ever boil anything in oil? Deep fried turkeys are all the rage these days. Damn tasty, too.

    Of course, there would be a very practical reason why you cannot boil a kid in its mothers fat. There just wouldn’t be enough fat. Goats are especially lean animals. The only liquids in any kind of abundance would be blood or milk.


    Posted by: at October 3, 2004 10:49 AM