This section of study was devoted to examining the development of one of the main features of observant Jewish life – waiting between the consumption of meat and milk. It turned out that this is a clear example of a practice which has become increasingly more stringent over the years. In the written Torah, we have the simple commandment not to cook a kid in its mother’s milk (sources 1, 3, & 4). The oral Torah expands this to include not only cooking, but eating and deriving benefit as well (source 5). The prohibition comes to include various mixtures of meat and milk (source 6).
Meat and milk can’t be consumed at the same meal and precautions, such as not having them on the same table where one is eating (source 7) and ensuring the cleanliness of one’s mouth and hands (source 8 & 9), must be taken to protect against mistakes. The talmud (source 10) says that after meat, one must wait until the next meal before having milk. According to the simple meaning, the next meal could be a few minutes later. This is indeed the position of Rashi and Tos’fot (sources 12 & 13), who lived in Ashkenaz in the 11th and 12th centuries.
At the same time in Sephardic lands, the Rambam determined that six hours was the appropriate amount of time to wait (source 14).
The reasoning is probably as follows. In Talmudic times, people ate two big meals a day, a late morning meal (perhaps around 10:00 or 11:00) and an evening meal near sunset. An early meal in the morning was meager, if at all. Mar Ukva (source 10) did not mean “this meal” and the “next meal” literally, but rather that one must wait between meat and cheese the amount of time that generally transpires between meals.
We can trace that the beginnings of this more stringent practice entered into the Rabbinic literature in Ashkenaz in the 13th century work Sha’arei Dura (source 15). Nonetheless, a more lenient position of “from one meal to the next” persisted in Ashkenaz in the form of one hour (source 16 and the Rama in source 18).
There are some who wanted to understand the concept of hours between meals as “temporary hours”. If we take the hours of sunlight and divide by twelve, we reach the length of a temporary hour. In the winter, daylight hours are fewer than 12 hours of 60 minutes, and perhaps hear the waiting time between meals would be shorter. This is how some (cited in source 19) wanted to understand the custom of three hours. I am a bit skeptical of this way of thinking and think that three hours might simply have been a compromise much like the compromise mentioned in source 16.
I’d be curious to know the custom of the participants in this course, if not your personal custom, at least with what you are familiar. Apparently, the custom in Holland is to wait one hour. The custom of German Jews was to wait three hours. The custom in Eastern Europe was to wait six hours. The custom in most Sephardic lands is to wait six hours.
I did an informal survey and asked twenty colleagues (Ashkenazic Conservative Rabbis mostly hailing from or living in N. America) as to their custom.
1. After eating a meat product, how long do you wait before eating a milk product?
2. After eating a milk product, what do you do (if anything) before eating a meat product?
3. What is the origin of your custom(s)? (For example, my grandparents emigrated from so and so and that was the custom in their community; or my parents’ house was not kosher but this was how it was done in my youth movement, etc).
1. Fifteen responded that they wait 3 hours. Four people wait one hour. One person waits 6 hours.
2. Most simply rinse out their mouths. Others wait 10, 15 or 20 minutes, eat bread, brush teeth or some combination thereof. A few noted that after hard cheeses they wait longer (one said 3 hours).
3. Approximately half of the respondents grew up in kosher homes and half became kosher or more kosher along the way. Out of those who grew up in kosher homes it was their parents’ place of origin which dictated the custom for a few such as one hour (Amsterdam) or three hours (Central Europe). A few noted that their ancestors were from Eastern Europe where the custom was six hours but the family subsequently adopted a custom that was prevalent in America of three hours. [This describes my family as well].
Out of those who became kosher as adolescents or adults, the three hour custom was the influence of the practice in Young Judaea, Ramah, the college arm of the Conservative movement, JTS, “people I knew”, or grew out of self study.
Self study also led three people to adopt the practice of one hour.
In sum, 15 respondents out of 20 wait 3 hours following meat – 75%. I suppose that I was expecting at least this high of a number.
If I were to ask this question to 20 American Orthodox Rabbis, what would be the results? My hunch is that the majority would wait six hours.
Do the three hours reflect “minhag America” or just the prevalent custom in the Conservative Movement? Is it possible that since the custom in Germany was 3 hours and the original leaders of the Conservative movement in America hailed from Germany, this therefore became the predominant practice in Conservative circles?