Question: How long should one wait between eating meat and milk?
Answer: The prohibition against mixing meat and milk is the strictest law of all the rules of Kashrut. On three different occasions the Torah commands: You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. [Exod. 23:19, Exod 34:26, Deut. 14:21]. From here the Rabbis learned that there are three different prohibitions concerning the mixing of meat and milk – namely, cooking, consuming and profiting from the resulting mixture.
The Talmud [BT Hullin 105a] quotes the opinion of Rav Hisda that one who consumes meat may not eat dairy products but one who eats dairy products is permitted to eat meat. From here we learn that the requirement of separating meat and milk extends to waiting between eating meat and milk meals. Rashi [ad loc] explains that the reason for this is that meat has a strong taste that lingers in the mouth after it is eaten. Maimonides [MT Forbidden Foods 9:28] says the reason is that bits of meat remain stuck between ones teeth, and we must wait until these bits have been digested.
How long do we wait? The Talmud records the statement of Mar Ukva, who called himself “vinegar the son of wine,” because his father waited until 24 hours had passed before consuming dairy products after meat, yet he himself only waited until the next meal. The implication is that his father was particularly pious, whereas he followed the Halachic norm.
There are several ways to interpret the term ‘until the next meal’. Maimonides [Forbidden Foods 9:28] says that one waits the normal time between meals, which is six hours. At the time of the Talmud people generally ate two meals each day – one mid-morning (say 10 am) and one in the late afternoon (say 4 pm). The requirement to wait six hours is also recorded in the Shulchan Aruch [YD 89:1]. This is the custom of all Sefardi Jews as well as the majority of Eastern European communities.
On the other hand, the Tosephot [Hullin 105a L’Seudata] say that one simply waits until the end of the meal. It is enough to complete the meal by reciting the Grace after Meals and then one is allowed to consume milk. Following this opinion, the custom of Dutch Jews is to wait only one hour.
In many Central European communities the custom was to wait three hours. This isn’t rooted in either of the above opinions. There are those who say that in northern Europe the day is very short in winter and therefore people ate their meals at closer intervals. On the shortest winter days there would have been only a three hour gap between meals, and this became the standard waiting time in these countries. This also explains why some communities, presumably further south, waited 4 hours between meat and milk.
There is not a clear ruling on this subject. We therefore follow the Halachic principle of nahara nahara u’pashtei –literally – each river flows down its own river bed. Each community should follow its own custom, and individuals should follow the custom of their family.
Rabbi Chaim Weiner
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