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Waiting in Between Meat and Milk

  • Rav David Brofsky



As we explained in last week's shiur, the Torah prohibits cooking, consuming, and benefiting from a mixture of meat and milk. Furthermore, it is forbidden, mi-derabbanan, to eat meat and milk together, even though they have not been cooked together.


The halakha also demands that one take special precautions in order to avoid eating milk and meat together. For example, the gemara proscribes that one may not eat dairy immediately after eating meat. Similarly, the Chazal also relate to the physical proximity between meat and milk, at times prohibiting their presence together on the same table. Furthermore, the gemara even prohibits the consumption of dairy bread, as one may accidentally come to eat the bread with milk!


In the upcoming shiurim, I would like to address these three types of harchakot (precautions) and their practical ramifications.


Eating Cheese after Meat:


While common practice is to wait between eating meat and milk, amoraim as well as the rishonim debate the reasons behind this proscription as well as its parameters.


The gemara (Chullin 105a) says,


"Rav Chisda said: one who eats meat may NOT eat cheese, (one who eats) cheese, MAY eat meat… Mar Ukva said: regarding this, I am like vinegar, the son of wine. My father, if he would eat meat today, would wait until tomorrow to eat cheese. I, however, will not eat them during the same meal, but at another meal I will eat cheese…"


While the story of Mar Ukva's father, as well as the exact understanding of his own practice, remain unclear, THIS gemara certainly maintains that one must wait in between eating meat and milk.


On the other hand, another gemara (Chullin 104b) seems to suggest otherwise. The gemara cites two rulings.


Firstly, CHICKEN and cheese may be eaten "carelessly" (be-afikoren"), without washing one's hands and without washing out one's mouth.


Furthermore, in between milk and meat, one must clean and rinse one's mouth (kinuach ve-hadacha).


The simple understanding of THIS gemara leads us to the conclusion that after CHICKEN one need not wait at all (either because chicken and milk is only rabbinically prohibited, or because chicken is not as sticky as meat)! Furthermore, after meat, one need only clean and wash one's mouth and then one may eat cheese, immediately!


The rishonim debate how to resolve this apparent contradiction.


Rabbenu Tam and the Behag (see Tosafot 104b) maintain that the gemarot are referring to two different scenarios. If one cleans out one's mouth (kinuach and hadacha), one may eat cheese immediately. If not, one must not eat cheese until the next meal.


Clearly, they are concerned solely with the cleanliness of one's mouth, and they demand that one either physically clean one's mouth, or wait a period of time which we may assume allows the mouth to become clean of meat residue.


Most rishonim, however, assume when the second gemara, in the second case, requires kinuach and hadacha, it is referring to a situation in which one ate cheese BEFORE meat. As for the first case, which allows one to eat chicken and cheese "be-akiforen" (carelessly), the Rashba cites the Rambam who interprets the gemara as referring to one who eats cheese before chicken, and the Ramban who even permits cheese after chicken! In other words, when eating milk after meat, all agree that one must wait.


If so, then we must of course ask ourselves a number of questions.


Firstly, is the halakha is accordance with those who permit one to eat dairy immediately after kinach and hadacha, or much one wait "until the next meal"? And when the halakha requires us to wait, for how long? What did Mar Ukva really mean when he suggesting waiting until the "next meal"? And finally, do we distinguish, practically, because meat and chicken?


Regarding how long one should wait between meat and milk, and why, seemingly, the practice of Mar Ukva's father should be a good starting point. Why did he insist upon waiting a day in between meat and milk? One might suggest that Mar Ukva's father was concerned that he had meat particles in his mouth for an entire day. However, this explanation seems unlikely.


Rather, it would seem that there is a simpler understanding. Apparently, Mar Ukva's father would not eat meat and milk during the same day, for "experiential" reasons. He preferred to wait until another period of time until he would eat cheese. In other words, Mar Ukva's father felt that meat and milk should be consumed in different, distinct, times.


What did Mar Ukva think?


Tosafot (105a) writes, referring to an opinion that disagrees with the Rabbenu Tam and Behag, that if one recited birkat hamazon and clears away the table one may then eat cheese. In other words, as soon as one FORMALLY finishes one meal, one may then eat cheese, as one has entered a new and distinct time period.


Other rishonim, however, imply that Mar Ukva rejects his father's entire premise! The Tur (89) writes that Rambam and Rashi maintain that one must wait until the next meal, but not because of the formal status of the next meal. Rather, they claim that there are external, technical reasons which demand that one wait.


The Rambam (Hilkhot Ma'akhalot Asurot 9:28) writes that one must wait "approximately six hours because of the meat between one's teeth with is not removed by cleaning." Rashi, on the other hand, writes that one must wait after eating meat because "the meat expels fat which sticks to one's mouth and who's taste is felt for a long time."


The Tur points out that one could suggest a number of distinctions between the opinion of the Rambam and the Rashi. For example, while the Rambam would require a mother who merely chew's on meat to soften it for her child to wait six hours, as there is most likely meat between her teeth, Rashi would seemingly be lenient, being that she didn't ingest the meat.


(Incidentally, for many years the Semikha exams of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate asked whether a person with removable teeth (dentures) must wait in between meat and milk. Obviously, they expected one to answer that while the Rambam should be lenient, Rashi would be stringent.)


In summary, we cited a number of opinions. Some assert that there is a "formal" requirement to wait for the next meal, for which "siluk ha-shulkhan" and "birkat ha-mazon" may suffice (Tosafot). Others point to the meat remnants in one's mouth, for which kinuach and hadacha may suffice (Rabenu Tam and Behag), or alternatively one might have to wait six hours, due to the meat between one's teeth (Rambam) or the greasy aftertaste of meat (Rashi).


The Position of the Rema:


Rav Yosef Karo (Y"D 89:1) rules that one must wait six hours in between meat and milk. The Rema, on the other hand, writes as follows:


"Some say that one need not wait six hours, rather immediately after clearing the table and reciting birkat ha-mazon one may eat cheese after cleaning and rinsing (kinuach ve-hadacha) one's mouth.

The common custom in these areas is to wait one hour after eating meat and then to eat cheese, as long as one recites birkat ha-mazon, as it is considered as new meal…"

There are those who are scrupulous in their observance and wait six hours after eating meat, and that is the correct practice to adopt."


The Rema clearly rules, fundamentally, in accordance with the position of the Rabbenu Tam and Behag. However, apparently the custom in the Rema's time and place was to wait an hour before eating cheese. The acharonim question the source and rational of this custom. Some explain (see Taz 89) that the hour is simply a compromise between the two opinions that the people made on their own. The Gr"a, on the other hand, cites a Zohar (Parashat Mishpatim) which implies that one should not eat meat and cheese in the same hour.


Seemingly, one could suggest the minhag reflects an attempt to not only TECHNICALLY finish the meal, but also EXPERIENTIALLY. In other words, we notes that Mar Ukva, according to Tosafot, apparently felt that while his father insisted that one move on to a new chapter in time before eating cheese, he maintained that one must merely complete the current meal. It would seem that the custom cited by the Rema requires that one both finish the meal from physical and halakhic perspective, and move past it from an experiential perspective. We shall return to this suggestion when we discuss the German custom of waiting three hours.


The Rema's final suggestion, to wait six hours, was strongly endorsed by the acharonim. The Shakh, for example, writes that "anyone who has the 'smell of Torah'" should wait six hours. Therefore, most Ashkenazic communities, aside from the Dutch Jews, wait more than one hour.


Three Hours, Five Hours, Etc.


The custom of German Jews, as well as many English communities, is to wait three hours in between meat and milk. Being that we have yet to see such an opinion cited by the rishonim, many question the source and rational of this practice.


Some explain that the custom is based on an interpretation of Mar Ukva's statement mentioned above. We questioned whether Mar Ukva insistence that one wait until "another meal" referred to the conclusion of the present meal, or to the next meal. And if he referred to the next meal, was he using this measurement merely as a means of measuring when one's teeth and mouth are clean, or is there a greater significance to the next meal?


The Peri Chadash claims that while many rishonim posit that one must wait six hours, this number is subject to change, dependent upon the season. While during the summer, one must wait six hours, as it is customary to eat every six hours, during the shorter days of the winter when one eats in smaller intervals, one need only wait four to five hours. After all, the gemara merely says that one must wait "until the next meal."


Some explain that the German custom must be based on that rational. Apparently, the ancestors of the German community ate approximately every three hours, and therefore it became customary to wait only three hours in between meat and milk!


I would like to suggest a slightly different explanation. We explained that the custom cited by the Rema, to wait an hour in between meat and milk, may be an attempt to conclude one's meal both technically and experientially. Being that three hours is generally viewed as the "half-way point" in between two meals, we might suggest that Mar Ukva felt that one should not eat meat and milk during the same "meal period." However, after three hours, while it may not yet be time for the next meal, the time of the previous meal has passed. Ten o-clock in the morning may not be lunchtime, but it is no longer breakfast time either. Once one has left the time of the previous meat meal, one may then eat milk and cheese.


Among those who wait six hours, there are some who really wait "into the sixth" of a wait five and one half hours. What is the source of this custom?


Rav Ovadya Yosef investigated this custom, and suggests that the source may be the Rambam's vague language of ""ke-shesh shaot." The simple understanding would probably indicate that regarding a practice which is no more that a precautionary measure for an issur de-rabbanan (i.e. eating meat and milk which aren't cooked together is only rabbinically prohibited!), when in doubt (who wore watches 600 years ago!) one need wait only "approximately" six hours. However, some maintain that "ke-shesh" indicates that at either the beginning of the sixth hour, or towards the end of the sixth hour, one may eat cheese. Furthermore, the Meiri also writes that one must wait "five or six hours" in between meat and milk, seeming to allow one to wait only five hours after meat.


What is Considered Meat?


In previous shiurim, we learned that after eating pareve food cooked in a meat pot, or after eating food cut with a meat knife, and seemingly even after eating an onion cut with a meat knife, one need not wait before consuming milk.


If so, we may ask ourselves, what is considered "meat" for this halakha? Soup? A potato from the cholent?


The gemara (Chullin 105b) states that while washing between two "tavshilin" (i.e. foods cooked WITH meat or milk) is a "reshut" (optional), washing between a cooked food and cheese (tavshil le-gevina) is mandatory.


What is the gemara referring to? Is it referring to washing after a meat "tavshil" (i.e. a food cooked with meat) and before eating cheese? If so, then apparently one need not wait in between a meat "tavshil" and cheese!


The Rashbam (Tosafot d"v lo shanu) maintains that the gemara is referring to "a meat tavshil and the cheese BEFORE it." In other words, if one wishes to eat a food cooked with meat after eating cheese, one must wash ones hands.  However, after eating a food cooked with meat, one must certainly wait until the "next meal" before eating cheese.


Rabbenu Tam, however, disagrees. He maintains that between a "meat tavshil" and a "dairy tavshil," washing is optional. Furthermore, between a "meat tavshil" and cheese, one must wash, but need not wait. Only after eating actual meat must one wait before eating cheese.


The Beit Yosef (O"CH 173) cites a discussion among the rishonim regarding the scope of Rabbenu Tam's leniency. For example, the Smak question whether Rabbenu Tam's leniency applied only in a case in which eggs were fried in meat fat. If, however, one eats meat gravy, than maybe even Rabbenu Tam would agree that one must wait. Similarly, while Rabbenu Yona rules that one may certainly eat cheese after a meat soup, Rabbenu Yerucham is stringent regarding a thick soup. The Beit Yosef concludes by citing the Mordechai, who testifies that his teachers refrained from consuming cheese even after eating eggs fried in animal fat, as a precaution of milk. The Beit Yosef notes that this is the prevalent custom and "ein lifrotz geder," one should not violate this well established minhag.


Interestingly, in his Shulkhan Arukh, Rav Yosef Karo (Y"D 89:3) rules in accordance with the lenient opinion, requiring only "netilat yadim" between a meat "tavshil" and cheese. It is the Rema who cites the custom to wait, and the Beit Yosef's ruling, "ein lifrotz geder."


In summary, the custom is to wait after any food containing meat or meat taste. However, if one eats rice into which one dipped a dripping meat spoon, or if one eats a felafel which was served with greasy fleishig tongs, seemingly one need not wait, unless one can actually taste the presence of meat.


Next week, we will discuss whether one must wait in between cheese and meat, and fish and meat, and we will also address the other precautions prescribed by Chazal in order to prevent eating meat and milk.