On the Separation of Meat & Milk: Why the Traditional Halachah Should be Followed


by Geert ter Horst

Recently, Tim Hegg (TorahResource ministry) has written a paper on the issue of the separation of meat and dairy. [1] He concludes that this part of traditional kashrut is not biblical and can be ignored by Messianics. We at Messianic613 don’t agree with Hegg and are actually of the opinion that his approach to halachah on this point shows some serious defects, and that his exegetical method leads to irresponsible and anti-traditional reductions and simplifications in kashrut observance, to endless community disputes, and even to a dissolution of the traditional halachic framework as a whole. However much as we appreciate Hegg as a reliable biblical scholar on many Torah-related questions — in particular the question of Gentile observance — we are unable to go along when he takes issue with the traditional kashrut laws of Judaism.

We intend to go into the details of Hegg’s exegesis in a separate article. Here we’ll limit ourselves to a critical review of the basic ideas of his paper.

The fundamental problem with Hegg’s paper is that it takes the Protestant Scriptura Sola axiom — plus its accompanying maxim that historical-grammatical interpretation is the all and everything — as the guideline for establishing halachah. But historical Judaism never was committed to this principle or to this exegetical maxim.

Messianics perhaps will be surprised to hear that the kashrut laws cannot be established by means of only the Written Torah. Take for example the question which species of fowl are kosher. The Pentateuch only presents us two lists of fowl families that may not be eaten (in Lev. XI, and Deut. XIV). These lists have never functioned in Jewish tradition as an exhaustive categorization of treif fowl. They are considered to be a summary of the most important prohibited fowl families, which presents us the criteria for determining which fowl is kosher and which is not. The Sages have never concluded that we can eat all fowl species that aren’t explicitly mentioned in these lists. Instead, rabbinic exegesis extracts four indicators from them, which are used as traditional criteria for determining kosher fowl species. [2] To avoid all risk of error the Rabbis have since long refused to add any later discovered species to the list of permitted fowl. Only species uncontested by tradition are permitted. They are the following: All members of the chicken family, domesticated ducks, domesticated geese, pigeons, and domesticated turkeys.

There is no dispute in the messianic world about this, and everyone seems to accept the rabbinic tradition on kosher fowl. At least until now we don’t hear of Messianics that want to expand the list of kosher fowl to everything that isn’t included in the families explicitly prohibited by the biblical texts. However, Messianics generally are so ignorant in halachic issues that the majority of them may never have heard of the fact that the criteria for kosher fowl are to a high degree dependent on rabbinic tradition.

Another important principle of kashrut is that milk and eggs are only permissible if they are produced by kosher cattle and fowl. This is not a biblical commandment but part of the Oral Torah. [3] This principle is also accepted by Messianics, at least in in practice. Or, if it is not, new discussions will inevitably come up, e.g. about the permissibility of camel’s milk and ostrich’s eggs.

The traditional separation of meat and milk has to do with typical features of halachic exegesis, which differs from historico-grammatical exegesis. In halachic exegesis the main purpose is not to find out the literal and/or historical meaning of the text, but to rely on an interpretation which minimizes the danger of transgressing the Torah. From a traditional viewpoint historico-grammatical exegesis is always feeble and unreliable, since historical knowledge can change. One would take great risks if one tried to establish the halachah solely on the basis of the discipline of historical-grammatical scholarship. Now since the Torah text says “thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk” and it is difficult to establish what exactlty is meant by this injunction, halachic exegesis opts for the interpretation that all mixtures of meat and milk are prohibited. By doing so we are quite sure that, whatever is the true and divinely intended meaning of this commandment, we won’t transgress it. And that’s the essential thing.

It may be clear from the above that the concept of “biblically kosher” is erroneous and unsustainable. It only leads to endless discussions and congregational quarrels, resulting in the situation of each individual making his own halachah. Such a disaster should be avoided at all costs. The rules of kashrut are a community matter which concerns the whole Jewish nation and the whole Assembly of Messiah. No-one can make decisions here on his own, for this would lead to a complete chaos. And no local congregational leadership or ministry has any say in this matter.

Messianics do better not to try to outsmart the Rabbis in these highly technical domains such as kashrut, the rules of Shabbat, the construction of a mikvah and so on. The classical solutions are often the simplest and the best.

Perhaps it may be added to this that observing the separation of milk and meat is not a burden at all. The point is simply to take the trouble of installing and kashering one’s kitchen once and for all and separate all items correctly. After that, everything goes smoothly. But Messianics often seem to be so concerned with possible ‘burdens’ that they actually prefer to make matters more complicated and burdensome by their endless and repetitive discussions and quarrels on long-established matters, presumably having the idea that they should re-invent the wheel. As said, this is simply not a smart appraoch.

In its classic form, kashrut teaches us symbolically about two great truths of the Torah. The first is that there are things that are bad, e.g. stealing and lying, and that there are things that are good, e.g. honoring one’s parents and speaking the truth in love. This truth is symbolized by the distinction between kosher and treif. The second truth is that there are things that are good in their own right but cannot be combined with other things, e.g. family love and marital love, the combination of which is incest; or working for one’s bread and the Sabbath day, which constitutes a transgression of the Sabbath. Working for one’s bread is good and observing the Sabbath day is good, but working for one’s bread on the Sabbath day is not good. Marital love is good, and family love between children and parents and sisters and brothers is good. But both cannot be combined in one and the same relation. This truth is symbolized by the separation of milk and meat.

Kashrut is full of spiritualtity and beauty, if kept in its entirety and according to its traditional standards. [4] Properly understood and observed, it gives us a ritual awareness in all situations of daily life, which is something to be experienced as a great blessing.

In his paper Hegg relegates everything that isn’t contained in the text of the Pentateuch to the level of rabbinic legislation, which in his eyes can be ignored. He doesn’t seem to realize that his opinion leads to a complete dissolution of traditional Jewish observance. The daily recitation of the Shema for example cannot be deduced from Scripture by historico-grammatical exegesis. Dt. 6:6-7 doesn’t say that we should recite the Shema twice daily. It says that “these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart”. It also says that we “shall talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up, &c”. But it never says that the Shema must be ‘recited’ — as part of the evening and morning prayers. This text doesn’t even properly single out the words of the Shema, for it simply refers to “these words, which I command thee this day”, which may indicate the Torah in general. [5]

Does the fact that the traditional obligation to recite the Shema twice daily cannot be demonstrated from Scripture by historico-grammatical exegesis imply that we can neglect it? Surely not. According to the traditional interpretation the reading of the Shema is indeed part of the scriptural commandments. Maimonides declares that it is expressed in the words : “and thou shalt talk of them” (Dt. 6:7). [6] Here we see how the commandments of the Written Torah are intricately interwoven with their interpretation and determination by the Oral Torah (and later rabbinic tradition). To ensure that we shall “talk of them”, i.e. that the words of the Written Torah are found in our mouth, we are told (by the Oral Torah) to recite that part of it which constitutes its spiritual center, the Shema. This result can never be obtained by historico-grammatical exegesis. It is born out of the halachic mindset to be attentive to all details of the text that may contain injunctions, and to devise practical clues on how to execute them. As a consequence of Hegg’s approach, however, the daily recitation of the Shema should fall under the same verdict as the separation of meat and dairy and be disapproved of as an ‘unbiblical’ practice.

This is only one illustration of the disastruous effects of disrespecting the Oral Torah and Jewish tradition. It leads to a type of observance which differs so much from the traditional, that in practical terms it will be viewed as establishing a new religion, based on the subjective exegesis of the biblical texts by individual ministers and their followers. Messianics should be aware of this typical Protestant pitfall of individualism.

As Messianics we should be firm in maintaining that Scripture has supreme authority. But this doesn’t imply at all the Calvinistic dogma of Sola Scriptura, making Scripture the only and exclusive source of authority. This dogma is never taught in Scripture itself.


[1] Hegg, T., “Separating Meat & Milk: An Inquiry”, at: TorahResource.

[2] The traditional four criteria are: (1) that the muscular wall of the gizzard must be easy to peel off by hand; (2) that the bird doesn’t eat in the manner of hunters, which use their claws for capturing and holding their prey; (3) that they have three toes in front and one in the back; (4) that they have crops. The first two criteria are of primary, the other of secondary importance. Ducks and geese are kosher, despite the fact that they don’t have crops, since they fulfil the two primary and one additional criteria.

[3] View for example the following summary, in the Shulchan Aruch, at: Torah.org.

[4] The only exception to this for Messianics would be the rabbinic halachah on gentile wine, cheese and bread. To keep the rabbinic halachah on wine makes no sense for (Gentile) Messianics, since it stipulates that the wine becomes treif if a Gentile opens the bottle, even if before opening it was rabbinically kosher according to the strictest criteria.

[5] Rivkin 272: “The Pentateuch begins with the creation of the world; the Mishnah, with the reading of the Shema. The first laws commanded to Israel relate to the Passover, whereas the first tractate of the Mishnah deals with prayers not even mandated in the Pentateuch”. [Rivkin, E., A Hidden Revolution — Abingdon, Nashville 1978]

[6] Sefer HaMitzvot #10: “By this injunction we are commanded to read the Shema daily, in the evening and in the morning. This injunction is expressed in his words (exalted be he), And thou shalt talk of them“. [Maimonides, The Commandments. The Soncino Press — London, Jerusalem, New York 1967, 1984]


8 Responses to “On the Separation of Meat & Milk: Why the Traditional Halachah Should be Followed”

  1. 1 Dan Benzvi November 29, 2012 at 1:20 am

    Geert, you are falling into the trap of rabbinism which I call the “Elvis syndrome.” (see at the end).

    1) “you shall not boil a kid in it’s mother milk.”

    What about it’s grandmother? It’s aunt?

    2) Will they shoot me if I recite the Shema six times a day?

    Elvis Presley used to wear a cross and a star of David on his neck. When asked why he replied” “Because I do not want Not to reach heaven on a technicality.”

    The Rabbis put fences around the Torah for one reason, to protect it, not for practical reasons that you are assuming. That is not to say that halacha should be shund, but let’s face it, kosher tchelet for the tzitzit? Isn’t wearing a tzitzit without a thread of blue breaking a commandment?

    Since MJ reject Gentiles wearing a tzitzit, what should be the halacha for them in that matter?

    • 2 messianic613 April 19, 2013 at 12:54 am

      To Dan Benzvi

      The reasons I give for the rabbinic fences follow from the presuppositions of rabbinic-halachic exegesis, which is practice-oriented. It is always the aim of this type of exegesis to keep the biblical text as practically relevant as possible. A consequence of this is that it is considered preferable to explain the text in such a way that it is still applicable today. A historical explanation, which views the enigmatic sentence “thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk” only as a prohibition of an idolatrous sacrificial rite which died out ages and ages ago, does not contribute to that applicability. Moreover, the rabbinic explanation need not be conceived as being in conflict with historical exegesis, since it could well be that those who mix meat and milk come dangerously close to unknowingly imitating that presumed ancient idolatrous rite.

  2. 3 Jesse Seidler January 8, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    i really love the taste of camel milk and it is nutritious too.’

  3. 4 Trimming in Scottsdale May 24, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    Hi! I’ve been following your weblog for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the great work!

  4. 5 Theo West August 13, 2015 at 11:27 am

    My friend. Read Bereshit 18:1-8. (verse 8) And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.(CJB)…And he took curd, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat. (KJV). Consider. If it was kosher(kashrut)for GOD to eat dairy with meat, why is it considered not kosher for us.

    • 6 Messianic613 August 14, 2015 at 1:19 pm

      Thanks for your comment. Your argument shows several flaws, however.

      The first is that the prohibition against cooking a kid in its mother’s milk (i.e. mixing meat and milk) as well as many other laws were not yet given in the time of the Patriarchs. Another example is that Jacob was permitted to marry Lea’s sister Rachel, although the Torah explicitly forbids a man to marry a woman and her sister.

      The second flaw is that, even assuming that this prohibition was known, it doesn’t follow at all that the three visitors of Abraham in Genesis ch. XVIII ate a mixed dish of dairy and meat. Since slaughtering a calf and preparing it requires a considerable time it is quite possible that the butter and milk (and perhaps the cakes baked by Sarah (18:6)) were consumed before the meat dish was served.

      The third flaw is to assume that the Angels or HaShem himself are bound to the laws of the Torah. The Torah is given to men, not to Angels. Neither did HaShem legislate the Torah to himself. Do Angels wear tzitzit or does HaShem bring sacrifices?

  1. 1 Halachic conversion | Gttaxbookkeepi Trackback on November 9, 2012 at 12:09 am
  2. 2 Dimensional Construction Trackback on February 27, 2015 at 8:27 pm

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