Must we Separate Meat and Milk?

Must we Separate Meat and Milk?
James Scott Trimm

Three times the Torah commands us: “You shall not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.” (Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21)
In the Midrash Mekhilta (2nd or 3rd century) we read:

Simeon b. Yohai says, “On what account is this matter repeated three times?”
“One serves to prohibit eating it, one to derive benefit from it, and the third
to cooking it under any circumstances”
(Mekhilta LXXX:II:6)

It appears that cooking a kid in milk was a pagan sacrificial right in ancient times.  If we look at the archeology of a place called Ras-Shamra, it appears that seething a kid in its mother’s milk was a pagan Canaanite ritual. A Ugaritic text says:

“Over the fire seven times the sacrificers cook a kid in milk…”
(Driver, G.R., Canaanite Myths and Legends. Edinburgh: T.& T. Clark, 1956. p.121.)

Simeon b. Yohai was active after the destruction of the Temple and after Nazarenes and Rabbinic Judaism separated. His interpretation is very weak based solely on the fact that the prohibition appears three times in the Torah, and from this he derives this halacha. He did not learn this interpretation from his teacher Rabbi Akiva, for Akiva taught a totally different reason that the prohibition was given three times:

Rabbi Akiva says, “On what account is this matter repeated three times?”
“One is to encompass, in particular, a domesticated beast, the second a wild
beast, the third a fowl.”
(Mekhilta LXXX:II:8)

Moreover there is no record of any debate of this issue between Hillel and Shammai themselves, and no mention of the decree in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

However the first century commentator Philo writes:

(142) And our lawgiver endeavors to surpass even himself, being a man of every kind of resource which can tend to virtue, and having a certain natural aptitude for virtuous recommendations; for he commands that one shall not take an animal from the mother, whether it be a lamb, or a kid, or any other creature belonging to the flocks or herds, before it is weaned. And having also given a command that no one shall sacrifice the mother and the offspring on the same day, he goes further, and is quite prodigal on the particularity of his injunctions, adding this also, “Thou shalt not seethe a lamb in his mother’s Milk.”{22}{exodus 23:19.} (143) For he looked upon it as a very terrible thing for the nourishment of the living to be the seasoning and sauce of the dead animal, and when provident nature had, as it were, showered forth milk to support the living creature, which it had ordained to be conveyed through the breasts of the mother, as if through a regular channel, that the unbridled licentiousness of men should go to such a height that they should slay both the author of the existence of the other, and make use of it in order to consume the body of the other. (144) And if any one should desire to dress flesh with milk, let him do so without incurring the double reproach of inhumanity and impiety. There are innumerable herds of cattle in every direction, and some are every day milked by the cowherds, or goatherds, or shepherds, since, indeed, the milk is the greatest source of profit to all breeders of stock, being partly used in a liquid state and partly allowed to coagulate and solidify, so as to make cheese. So that, as there is the greatest abundance of lambs, and kids, and all other kinds of animals, the man who seethes the flesh of any one of them in the milk of its own mother is exhibiting a terrible perversity of disposition, and exhibits himself as wholly destitute of that feeling which, of all others, is the most indispensable to, and most nearly akin to, a rational soul, namely, compassion.
(Philo, On the Virtues)

Now we know that Philo traveled to Jerusalem at one point in his life, and made offerings at the Temple.  If there was a general dietary custom, even only in Jerusalem, of separating all meat from all milk, Philo should have been aware of it.  Yet Philo is clearly unaware that such a custom or interpretation existed in his time, which leads us to conclude that the decree against eating meat with milk is a late Rabbinic chiddush (innovation) and not authoritative to Nazarene Judaism. The first century halacha seems to have only prohibited eating meat of an animal with a milk product made from its specific mother, and not from milk products in general.

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5 thoughts on “Must we Separate Meat and Milk?”

  1. Very surprised at your conclusion, contrary to current rabbinate thoughts. I have learned the underlying principle is all about mixture. Yah hates it! You know the Law of Shatnez. You know the Law of Sowing mixed grains. You know the Law of unequally yoking . This one you have trouble with? The demonic sees no difference between the boundaries Yah sets for us. Here, he separates sacrifice (death) from nourishment (life). Pretty simple actually. If the Canaanites knew something about mixing these, maybe there is more to it then eating a cheeseburger?
    The rabbis do a great job of teaching that actions below effect the heavens above.
    I’m sure you know this!

    1. That lesson can still hold true, if the halacha applies to the actual mother of the animal being eaten, as Philo of Alexandria understood the halacha in the Second Temple Era.

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