Why don’t Jews eat meat and milk together? Because the Torah says: “Do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Lo t’vashail g’di ba’cha’laiv eemo.) To the modern Jew, however, this phrase seems a far cry from mixing meat and milk.

It could be assumed that the Torah was merely teaching a law about demonstrating compassion for animals. However, since the exact phrase is repeated on three separate occasions in the Torah (Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21), the rabbis interpreted the law to forbid cooking, eating and benefitting from any combination of cooked meat and milk.

One might ask how this prohibition, which seems very specific, came to refer to all types of meat and any kind of combination. According to Rashi , the word g’di refers to all young domesticated animals (sheep, cows and goats). Only if the verse had said g’di eezim would it have been specific to a young goat. The reason that the prohibition applies to all meat (even that of an old cow) is possibly because, once butchered, one cannot distinguish the age of the animal. Similarly, if one has meat together with a piece of cheese, one cannot be certain that the cheese was not made from the milk of the already butchered mother. Therefore no combination of meat or milk can be allowed.

The Torah law applies specifically to meat, not poultry–since mother birds do not produce milk. However, in order to prevent confusion (since people commonly regard poultry as meat), the sages extended this law to poultry as well.

Why did God command this separation? Many have offered explanations but, in truth, the laws of mixing milk and meat are known as a chok, a statute that we follow because God said so, not because we understand its purpose.

This Treat was last posted on May 4, 2010.

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