More Precautionary Prohibitions

  • Rav David Brofsky

Waiting in Between Cheese and Meat,

Meat and Fish,

Milk and Meat on the Same Table

Leftovers and Tablecloths




Last week we discussed the different customs related to waiting between the consumption of meat and milk and analyzed some of the different reasons for this custom. 


For example, some believe that Chazal prohibited eating meat and milk during the SAME meal, and therefore require only a formal break between meals, such as birkat ha-mazon and/or siluk ha-shulkhan (Tosefot).  Others are concerned with the physical remnants of meat in one's mouth, which may later be swallowed together with milk, and they therefore require either cleaning one's mouth (Rabbenu Tam/Behag) or waiting until all food remnants or aftertaste have disappeared (Rashi/Rambam). 


This week, we must ask, do these stringencies apply equally to the consumption of meat after cheese?


In addition, we will address some other precautionary practices, such as refraining from eating meat and fish, and even milk and fish(!!!). Finally, we will summarize the rabbinic proscriptions regarding the physical proximity between milk and meat on one's table.


Meat After Cheese


The gemara (Chullin 105a) states, "Rav Chisda said, one who ate meat, may not eat cheese; one who ate cheese, is permitted to eat meat."


The Shulchan Arukh (Y.D. 89:2) rules, in accordance with this gemara and the ensuing discussion, that after eating cheese, one should ensure his hands are clean (and wash them if they aren't), chew on a solid substance ("kinuach") and rinse his mouth ("hadacha").  If one only drank milk, "hadacha" alone is sufficient.  It would appear that brushing one's teeth is the functional equivalent of both "kinuach" and "hadacha." 


Some have the custom of waiting half an hour before eating meat after eating cheese.  This practice is most likely based either upon extra cleanliness precautions, or upon the passage in the Zohar cited in the previous shiur, which implies that one should not eat meat and milk in the same hour.  


Hard Cheeses:


The gemara (cited above) explicitly states that after eating cheese, one may eat meat.  Seemingly, there is no reason to wait after eating cheese, as the properties of cheese differ from those of meat.  However, one might ask, if a certain type of cheese would indeed remain between one's teeth or leave a strong aftertaste – might one be required to wait before eating meat?


The Darkhei Moshe (Rav Moshe Isserlis, author of the Rema) cites a teshuva of the Maharam Mi-Rutenburg who relates that once, in between meals, he discovered cheese between his teeth.  He then took it upon himself to wait after eating cheese just as he waits after meat, though he notes that he was lenient in this regard when it came to the consumption of fowl.  The Darkhei Moshe (Y.D. 89:2) proceeds to cite other sources that limit this stringency to cheese that has aged at least six months.


The Rema (Y.D. 89:2) cites the custom of waiting after hard cheese, even before eating chicken, and notes that other authorities rule leniently in this regard.  He then concludes that one should not object to those who follow the lenient position, so long as they perform "kinuach," "hadacha" and "netilat yadiyim."  However, he adds, "it is preferable to be stringent." 


The popular custom seems to be to indeed wait after eating hard cheese.  But which cheeses nowadays fall under the category of "hard cheeses"?  The rishonim define these "gevinot kashot" as cheeses that have aged at least six months (and have therefore become very dry and hard), and as cheeses which leave a very strong taste in one's mouth. 


Most cheeses do NOT fit into this category.  Rav Zev Whiteman, the Rav of the Tnuva dairy company in Israel, summarizes the different contemporary positions in an article available at


Meat, Cheese and Fish?


Though they do not directly relate to the preventative measures enacted by Chazal to ensure that one does not eat meat with milk, I would like to briefly address two other scenarios in which one may or may not need to wait between two foods.


The Tur (O.C. 173) records that his father (the Rosh) would wash his hands in between meat and fish, as "danger is more severe than prohibition" ('chamira sakanta me-issura').  The Beit Yosef cites a gemara (Pesachim 76b), in which Mar bar Rav Ashi prohibits eating fish cooked in the same oven with meat, as it causes "bad breath" (reicha) and "davar acher," which Rashi understands to mean tzara'at.  He interprets the gemara as informing us that a mixture of fish and meat is harmful to one's health.


The Shulchan Arukh (Y.D. 116:2-3) warns against eating meat and fish together, and rules that one should wash his hands and eat bread in between to avoid danger.  The Rema notes that the custom is to permit eating one after the other, recommending merely eating and drinking something in between. 


The Magen Avraham (O.C. 173:1) suggests that this stringency should not apply nowadays, as this halakha is no different from many other "dangers" cited by the gemara which nowadays do not pose any threat.


It seems that common custom is to refrain from cooking, mixing or eating fish and meat together.  Furthermore, many are stringent to use different forks for meat and fish, or at least clean them from one to the other.  Some even claim to have a custom of drinking a "shot" of liquor between fish and meat due to this concern.


Fish and Milk


Some, particularly Sefaradim, have the custom to refrain from eating even cheese and fish together.


This minhag is based upon the Beit Yosef's comment (Y.D. 87) that one should not eat fish and milk together because of "sakkana" (danger).  The Darkhei Moshe claims that this sentence must be the result of some textual error – a "ta'ut sofrim," and that the "Beit Yosef mixed his milk with his meat" ("acharonish" humor). 


Although most acharonim reject this stringency (see Magen Avraham O.C. 173), some Sefaradim still refrain from eating "tuna-melts" and other mixtures of fish and dairy in deference to this ruling of the Beit Yosef.  Despite the variant customs among different sefaradim, Rav Ovadaya Yosef (Yechaveh Da'at 6:46) recommends refraining at least from fish and milk, even if some are lenient regarding fish and butter.  Ashkenazim, he notes, are not stringent in this matter at all.  


Separations Between Foods and People


As we mentioned in last week's shiur, the Rabbis not only prohibited eating milk after meat, but also imposed restrictions relating to the physical proximity of milk to meat.


The mishna (Chulin 103b) states that "it is prohibited to place (meat) on the table with cheese."  The next mishna (Chulin 104b) explains that this prohibition only applies to a "table on which one eats; but on a table onto which one merely places the food, one may put one alongside the other without concern."


This Shulchan Arukh (Y.D. 88:1) rules in accordance with these mishnayot, explaining that we are concerned that keeping milk and meat on the same table may lead one to eat them together. 


The gemara applies this halakha not only to the presence of two foods on one table, but also to the proximity of two people eating milk and meat at the same table.  The mishna (Chulin 107b) states: "Raban Shimon ben Gamliel said: two guests may eat at the same table – one meat and one milk, without any need for concern." The gemara explains that the mishna refers to a case where the two guests do not know each other.  If they DO know each other, then even if they don't particularly "like" one another, they may NOT eat meat and milk on the same table.  The gemara limits this prohibition, however, to eating "be-ke'en tefisa achat," literally "with the appearance of being handled together."  If they do not eat in this manner, then even two acquaintances may eat meat and milk together at the same table.

What exactly does this phrase, "be-ke'en tefisa achat," mean?  The rishonim debate the meaning of this limitation. Tosefot themselves (Chulin 107b) cite two explanations.  According to one interpretation, "ke-en tefisa achat" refers to "hotza'a achat," or one expenditure.  In other words, if two people shared the cost of food, some dairy and some meat, they may not eat the food together at the same table simultaneously.  The concern is clearly that since both paid for the food, each will feel perfectly at ease taking from the other's meal, which may lead to a violation of basar be-chalav.


According to another interpretation, "ke-en tefisa achat" refers to the physical proximity of the two people eating meat and milk.  Since these two acquaintances eat on the same table, we consider them as if they eat together, giving rise to the concern that one may eat from the other's plate.


Therefore, Tosefot write, if one can create a noticeable "heker," or separation, between the two guests, they MAY eat their meals on the same table. Tosefot observe the custom to either place a loaf of bread or pitcher in between them, or make a point of eating on separate place mats.  In either of these scenarios, enough of a separation is established that one will not come to eat off the other's plate. 


The Shulchan Arukh (Y.D. 88:2) rules in accordance with the second explanation, allowing the two guests to eat milk and meat at the same table as long as they eat on separate mats, or if they place some object between them.  The acharonim point out that since the heker (the mat, loaf of bread or pitcher) is intended to serve as a reminder, it must be something unusual, that the two people would not normally keep on the table.  Therefore, they may eat one separate mats if they do not normally do so, or place in between them a loaf of bread or pitcher that they do not plan on using during the meal.


Clearly, as it is the proximity of the meat to milk that concerns us, the prohibition does not apply to two people eating at separate ends of a long table, such that they do not eat near each other.


(This halakha, as well as the heter of using a heker, is, of course, reminiscent of hilkhot nidda – a nidda and her husband likewise may not eat together at the same table without some "shinuy" separating them.  It might be interesting to compare and contrast the specific guidelines concerning these two halakhot.  See Y.D. 195:3.)


Tablecloths and Leftovers


The Tur (Y.D. 91) cites the Yerushalmi (Pesachim 6:4) requiring one before eating meat to remove all bread from the table if cheese had been eaten on it.  Apparently, this requirement stems from our concern that the bread may have touched the cheese on the table.  The Shulchan Arukh (Y.D. 89:4) also cites this halakha, requiring that one remove from the table all leftover bread before eating meat.


Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l (Igrot Moshe Y.D. 1:38) writes that the halakha requires one to remove only sliced pieces of bread from the table.  However, since one is generally careful not to let the loaf itself touch the other food on the table, one may use full leftover loaves of bread with meat. 


The Hagahot Ashri (Chulin 8:7), citing the Or Zarua, deems it a "mitva min ha-muvchar" to remove ALL food that was on the table during the dairy meal, before eating meat on that table.  The Beit Yosef, as well as the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (Y.D. 89:15) and other acharonim, cite this stringency.  Therefore, some have the custom of not using salads, kugels and other foods eaten during a dairy meal, with meat. 


Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l, in the aforementioned teshuva, explains that this practice constitutes a chumra, a "ma'ala le-harchaka yetera," and is NOT required by the Yerushalmi.


It seems that one should employ simple common sense regarding this matter. 


In addition to leftovers, the poskim speak as well about a tablecloth used during a dairy meal.  The Ramban (Teshuvot Ha-Meyuchasot Le-Ramban 172) writes that one should not use the same tablecloth for meat and dairy meals, as drops of grease and other residue often stick to the table.  The Shulkhan Arukh (Y.D. 89:4) rules accordingly.


(Needless to say, the tablecloth may be washed and then used for either meat or dairy.)


The Pitchei Teshuva (Y.D. 89:8) cites the Radbaz who explains that the Ramban referred to times when meat and cheese were placed directly on the tablecloth. Nowadays, however, when people customarily bring food to the table on plates, the Ramban's stringency isn't required, and may even be fulfilled by merely shaking out the tablecloth and brushing it off.


In summary, we have seen different types of precautionary measures intended to prevent the consumption of meat with milk.  Next week, we will learn about one more preventive proscription -  the prohibition against dairy bread.