Previously we explored the parameters of the Biblical prohibition of meat and milk, and how Chazal had extended the prohibition from mammals (the females of which produce milk) to include also birds, and in the process extended the prohibition conceptually from “kid goat in its mother’s milk” to “meat and milk.” The Rabbinic extensions, however, are not limited to the type of meat (and milk), but also apply to the very prohibited activity itself. The Torah only prohibits cooking the two together, and – according to Rabbinic interpretation – eating and benefitted from the product of such cooking. However, it is Biblically permitted to eat them together if they have not been cooked with each other. That means that if I have a salami and cheese sandwich, I am not violating a Biblical prohibition. And if it is a turkey and cheese sandwich, the act is two degrees removed from the Biblical one – (a) the meat is fowl, not from a mammal, and (b) they are only combined through a cold mixture, and not through cooking.
Nevertheless, the Rabbis extended the prohibited acts. First, they forbade the eating of meat and milk together, even if they were not cooked together – there goes the salami and cheese sandwich! The also prohibited this even if the meat was from a bird – there goes the turkey and cheese sandwich! They then prohibited someone from having the two on the table at the same time (Mishna, Chullin, 103b)- no cheese on the table when I am eating my salami or turkey. Then they said that I have to wait between eating meat and eating dairy products the same amount of time that I would normally wait between meals (Chullin 104b-105a).
We have progressed by now quite a distance from the original Biblical prohibition. How are we to understand all of these Rabbinic prohibitions? As safeguards, they would seem to be quite excessive if the goal is to protect us from violating the Biblical prohibition. This would seem to violate the general dictum of eyn gozrim gezeirah li’gezairah, we do not make a safeguard to protect a safeguard. This is a question that the Gemara itself (Chullin 104a) asks in regards to this prohibitions, and the answer seems to be that this rule is not hard and fast, and that there are times when we do make many safeguards (see Tosafot, 104a, s.v. u’Mina).
However, just saying that there are times when we make multiple safeguards does not answer the question. Why do we do it here and not elsewhere? Moreover, some of the parameters just do not make sense. The Mishna (104b) states that the prohibition of having meat and milk at the same table does not apply to the table upon which one arranges the food, e.g., the countertop, but only to the table from which one eats. Now, as the Gemara itself notes, it is only possible to transgress the Biblical prohibition if the foods are mixed in a hot vessel that just came off the fire, a kli rishon. On the table where one eats, this is generally not possible, as even the serving vessels were not on the fire itself, and are considered a “second vessel,” a kli sheini. The only scenario that can lead – at least in this circumstance itself – to a Biblical prohibition is when the two are put on the countertop together, but that is explicitly allowed!
It seems, then, that we are not dealing with a gezeirah, a Rabbinic restriction meant to safeguard the Biblical one. Rather, as in the case with birds, we are dealing with a Rabbinic extension of the Biblical prohibition. The Torah prohibited cooking milk and meat together and eating what was cooked together, and the Rabbis prohibited, simply, eating milk and meat together. This is not a concern that one will transgress the Torah’s prohibition, it is rather an abstraction, broader and, because less nuanced, simpler application of the prohibition. So, forbidding me to eat a turkey and cheese sandwich is not a gezeirah li’gezairah, a double safeguard. Rather, it is the Rabbinic prohibition of eating meat (which includes fowl) and milk together (in any way, even if not jointly cooked).
This explains also why they only forbade the table that one eats on. They are not afraid that you will cook them together, or that you will eat what was cooked together, they are rather redefining what “together” means. Eating meat and milk “together,” means (a) even if they have not been cooked together, and are just both in your mouth at the same time, and (b) even if they are just on the table together. If the cheese is right next to the meat that you are eating, then when you eat that meat, you are eating it “with” cheese. This explanation gains even more force when we realize, as Meiri (104b) points out, that the tables referred to in the Mishna we individual serving trays (as they ate of off in Roman lands). To have meat and cheese on the same table then would be equivalent now to having meat and cheese on the same plate. This is truly eating them “together”.
[This approach also explains Rambam’s position (Forbidden Foods, 9:3) that one can cook chicken and milk together, although one cannot eat them together. If the concern was that one might transgress the Biblical prohibition, this makes no sense, for even if eating is more common than cooking, as it is impossible to transgress the Torah’s prohibition against eating without first cooking them together. However, if we are dealing with a Rabbinic redefinition of the prohibition, it is possible to say that because eating is a universal activity that everyone engages in, it was only eating that they redefined. I can cook chicken (not Biblical meat) and milk, and I can pickle (not Biblical cooking) my meat in a milk solution – when it comes to cooking, we use the Torah’s parameters. However, I cannot eat my turkey (Rabbinic meat) on the same table (or plate) with cheese, because that is eating meat and milk “together.”]
It is helpful to consider these two approaches -that the Rabbinic rulings are a form of a safeguard, on the one hand, or that they are a redefinition/expansion of the Biblical prohibition, on the other hand – when considering some of the halakhic parameters of eating at the same table. Tosafot already (107b, s.v. ki’Eyn) states that if one were to have a divider on the table, with the meat on one side and the milk on the other, that would suffice. He then states that is would even suffice if the meat and milk eaters had their foods on separate mats. The question is – what is the salient feature of these dividers that allow meat and milk to be eaten at the same table? Is it that they form physical obstructions (or at least – in the case of mats – physically different spaces), or is it that they are unusual and serve as visual reminders? Many of the commentators on Shulkhan Arukh seem to assume the latter, and thus rule that if the divider is usually there – for example, a large candelabrum – then it would not suffice. On the other hand, if one had a reminder without it being a divider – say the unusual object was on the table by not directly between the two people – that would suffice. There are even those who take this a step further and suggest that it would suffice if one designated a person to watch him and remind him if he reached for the other food, or who would allow it at a meal with many people, based on the Rabbinic principle that many people will remind one another. However, there are those who disagree with all of the above, and state that a candelabrum which serves as a physical divider – even if usually there – suffices, and that having people to remind you is not acceptable. How are we to understand this debate?
It would seem that the issue at stake is whether to allow eating at the same table one has to define it as two separate tables, or whether one has to just ensure that he will not actually eat the meat and milk together. Those that emphasize a physical separation understand that the goal is to define the one space as separate spaces, the one table as two. This makes a great deal of sense when you consider that we have translated the Mishna’s “table” to be the equivalent of our table, when really it is the equivalent of our plate. Once we apply it to our large table, we also move back closer to the original meaning, and define circumstances where things can be on the same table, but considered to be at different tables – in essence, to be on the same table, but not on the same plate (poskim do NOT take this so far as to say that separate plates suffice). However, if the whole issue is that one may accidentally eat the meat and milk together, the key is having a reminder – an object or a person – which will prevent this from happening.
Said another way, the question is whether this is a gezeirah, a safeguard against eating the two together, in which case a reminder would be the remedy, or whether this is a Rabbinic redefinition of what it means to eat milk and meat together, in which case only by defining them to be at separate tables, would it not be considered as if they are being eaten together.
Finally, perspective allows us to address a series of questions raised by the commentators of Shulkhan Arukh. Why, asks the Shach, do we not also forbid eating kosher food at the same table as non-kosher food? Some poskim have actually extended this Rabbinic concern to such a case, but Shach states that we have never found it expressed other than by basar bi’chalav. Shach’s answer is that we are always wary of non-kosher food and will not come to eat from it accidentally. However, since meat and milk are each permitted separately, we might come to eat from the other and therefore the Rabbis forbade it. To explain the statement of a Rishon, he also states that it might be that it does apply to chametz on Pesach (we shouldn’t eat on a table where others are eating chametz), but that this can be explained on the basis that bread is a staple, so it is more likely that we will forget and eat from the bread (and also, that bread is not forbidden when it is not Pesach). Thus, it is also not surprising that there are those who extend it to cases when the food is not even on the table, and say that one cannot eat milk on a table that has fat-based oil lamps overhead, lest the fat drip onto the dairy food. All of these positions – those who extend it to non-kosher meat, and Shach who does not , and those concerned with the fat-oil lamps – assume that the problem is that we will forget, and thus see a reason to be concerned with a similar case of non-kosher meat (although Shach in the end rules that there is no reason to be concerned in that case).
If we do not see this as a gezeirah, however, the answer is quite simple. The Rabbis took the Biblical “together” which means “cooked together” and redefined it to mean “eaten together” and even “eaten with both on the same table together.” This is a redefinition, not a safeguard, and thus is completely irrelevant to the world of non-kosher meat or of chametz, where there is no prohibition regarding eating things together, and equally irrelevant to the case of the lamps, since when the meat is not on the table, it cannot be considered to be eaten together with the milk.
This issue – redefinition or safeguard – needs to be raised as well regarding the waiting period between meat and milk. We will take up this topic in another post.