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Question 6.16:
Why do Jews separate Milk and Meat?

Answer:

Note: Much of this information is summarized or extracted from Steve Weintraub's Kashrut Class on Meat and Milk, http://www.chelm.org/jewish/kashrut/l3.milk_and_meat.html, with permission.

The Torah commands us three times (Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21) not to cook a kid in its mother's milk. The Talmud widens this to the complete separation of milk and meat, including bird meat. Why do we do this?

There are many possible reasons, but we should not, in general, try to find reason in Torah prohibitions. It is not for us to fathom G-d's reasons in telling us to do something; it simply should suffice that G-d asked us to do it. And, by doing it, we are reminded of G-d's commandments and the fact that we are Jewish.

Everything in the Torah is considered to have meaning; thus, the rabbis have determined that the triple repetition of the warning in the Torah means three different types of prohibition:

  1. You may not cook such a mixture
  2. You may not eat such a mixture
  3. You may not benefit (in any way) from such a mixture

This was interpreted very strictly. Meat products were not permitted to come into contact with milk products in any way. Food, and the utensils used to cook and serve food, were divided into three categories:

Milchig and fleishig food can not be eaten together. There is a waiting period (depending on your tradition, as previously discussed in the FAQ—see the answer to question 6.6) between eating meat and milk. No waiting period is required after eating milchig food before eating fleishig food, but one should rinse one's mouth. There is a rule that one must wait an hour after hard cheese for just this reason (a hard cheese being defined as a cheese that has sat for six months or more).

Along with not eating, the two types of food can not come in contact while cooking, nor can utensils used for such cooking come into contact. This has typically led to the "two sets" one sees in Kosher kitchens: Utensils and plates for meat, and utensils and plates for milk. Add in Passover, and you'll see that a Kosher household has four sets of dishes, at minimum. These are all stored separately, and typically are marked so as to clearly differentiate them. Food cooked in the wrong pot is not kosher.

Of course, there are some exceptions:

  1. Glassware. Glass was considered non-absorbent by the Rabbis. As a result glass can be used interchangeably between the two types of food, as long as it is cleaned well. The custom among Askenazic Jews is to soak the glass 72 hours before interchanging, the Sephardic say soaking is unnecessary.

  2. Sinks. First, stainless steel sinks are preferred, as they can be rekashered (porcelin sinks are porous, and are difficult to make kosher). If there is a double sink, one half can be used for milk and one half for meat. If this is impractical, then you treat the sink as treif (non-kosher). Utensils and food should then only touch it if they are going into the dishwasher. Individual dish racks (meat, milk) should be used in the sinks to avoid contact. In treif sinks, you may not soak utensils or food; a separate kosher basin must be used.

  3. Ovens and ranges. It is not necessary to have separate ovens and ranges for meat and milk. If the same oven is used for both, great care should be taken to avoid spills and splatters. Both types of food should not be cooked in the same oven at the same time. Grills used for one can not be used for the other without kashering. When cooking on top of a range food should be covered, and great care needs to be taken to avoid splatters. It is best to specify the meat and milk burners, covering the unused side with foil. Many people avoid this problem by having separate ovens.

  4. Dishwashers. A dishwasher can be used for both meat and milk dishes, but not at the same time. Dishes should be well rinsed before being put in the dishwasher. Between the two types of loads, a rinse cycle should be used. It is also preferable to have separate racks for meat and milk. Many people address this problem by using the dishwasher for either milk or meat, and hand washing the other.

  5. Towels Towels that are freshly clean can be used either with meat or milk. Once they are used for one or the other, they must be washed before use with the other. It is best to have different towels for each to avoid confusion.

For traditional Jews, the prohibition from benefiting from a mixture is interpreted strictly, so buying a cheeseburger for a non-Jewish friend is forbidden. Note that the mixing of milk and meat only applies to meat made from kosher animals (so you can buy your friend a ham and cheese sandwich), and the stricture is stronger for cooked food than uncooked food. Milk and meat that accidentally mixed, but not cooked, can be sold or given away. Milk and meat that is mixed and cooked must be thrown out.

You'll find the separation of meat and milk to be followed in the traditional movements, as well as the Conservative movements. In Reform Judaism, these rules are only followed in those households that find the observance of Kashrut a meaningful practice.


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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