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Did Abraham Serve His Guests Non-Kosher?

Did Abraham Serve His Guests Non-Kosher?

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Question:

Reading the Torah, I noticed that when the angels, disguised as travelers, visited Abraham, he served them "butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared."1 Isn't this a violation of the prohibition against eating meat and milk together?

Response:

a. A simple answer would be that this story took place before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, and the kosher laws--as well as all other Torah laws--were not yet binding. However, the Talmud tells us that Abraham kept all of the Torah, including the kosher laws, even though he was not commanded to do so.2

b. A careful look at the verse shows that Abraham did not actually dine with his guests. Rather, he served the butter, milk, and meat to people whom he believed to be traveling gentiles (there were no other Jews back then), and were obviously under no dietary obligations. Abraham saw no reason that his personal stringencies should diminish the enjoyment of his guests.3

What about the angels? How could they eat non-kosher? According to one opinion, the angels didn't eat at all; they merely appeared to be eating, out of respect for their host.4

There is, however, a Midrash which contends that this was no show of etiquette; the angels actually ate meat and milk together. Years later, when Moses was about to be given the Torah, the angels protested, saying that mortal man does not deserve G‑d's greatest treasure, the Torah. Moses, in typical Jewish fashion, answered a question with questions of his own, and asked the angels (among other things), "You knew the Torah. Did this stop you from indulging in a mixture of milk and meat at Abraham's place?" The angels had no reply, and the rest is history.5 For more on that altercation, see The Sinai Files.

c. Some commentaries point out that the verse indicates that Abraham first served dairy and then the meat.6 Jewish law specifies that one may eat meat immediately after dairy (except for certain aged cheeses), provided that one adequately cleans one's mouth and hands between the two. See Waiting Periods Between Meat and Dairy for the details. Hence, the meal was in compliance with the kosher laws.

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson

FOOTNOTES
1.

Genesis 18:8

2.

Mishnah Kiddushin 4:14.

3.

See Likutei Sichot, volume 5, page 148; ibid, page 193, footnote 63.

4.

Talmud, Bava Metziah 86b and Midrash Rabbah, quoted in Rashi Genesis 18:8.

5.

Quoted in Tosafos, Bava Metziah 86b “Nir’in K’ochlin.”

6.

Baalei HaTosafos, Chizkuni, and others on Genesis 18:8.

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
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Discussion (15)
March 2, 2014
Food for thought
Is it at all possible that the words chelev and chalav (fat and milk) were mistakenly interchanged in the prohibition? Hmmm....
Isaac
October 28, 2012
It's simple, the Bible doesn't say you can't eat milk and meat together. It says not to boil a kid in his mother's milk. As I understand, this was a pagan practice, to boil a kid in his own mother's milk and spread the milk on the land to make it fertile.
Ashley
December 7, 2010
How could Abraham keep the laws?
How could Abraham keep all of Torah if the laws were not yet binding and he was not commanded to do so. More importantly, if Abraham was never commanded to do so but did so anyway, why can't a gentile keep them too, even though gentiles aren't commanded? Why was it ok for Abraham but not for gentiles?
Anonymous
New Glasgow, NS, Canada
September 15, 2010
Re: Asher
Why would the Torah repeat the same thing three times?
Menashe
Cape Town
September 14, 2010
Kosher laws--meat and dairy
Doesn't G-d keep kosher? Why would he create confusion in the kosher circle of observant Jews? Isn't the only Torah proscription that the calf or kid is not eaten with its mother's milk? Realistically, there is no chance this could take place in current markets, as dairy cattle are not ordinarily consumed, but are used as dairy producers until their life is nearly over.

There is a specific prohibition of eating blood with meat, as it contains "the life." Each kosher prescription is specific, including the not eating meat with the mother's milk. Why would this mean all mothers and not the particular animal's mother? Would not G-d have said "do not eat meat with dairy" if that is what He meant to say? The specificity of the directive indicates to me that the dairy/meat issue (other than the one in Torah) is one created by the mind of man in his attempts to interpret the law.
Asher
New York, US
May 11, 2010
my understanding is that the rule to not eat milk and meat together is so a baby is not stewed/eaten in its mothers milk. Abraham could have made sure that the milk came from a different animal (like goat).
Ryan
perth
December 15, 2009
Interesting Analysis
My understanding is that Abraham knew the three men were not human, but were the Lord. Otherwise, why would he run from his tent to prostrate before them when he sees them for the first time. Why would he call them Lord? Why would he beg and plead that they stay, wash, eat, not pass before being tended to by their servant?

Because he knew they were G-d, but also because Abraham did not know of the Torah (depsite later teachings that he complied with the laws -- something I think is a nice try, but incorrect), we can all excuse Abraham who was simply trying to best tend to his holy guests in the only human ways he knew how.

The real question is why did the men eat it, knowing it was milk and meat. The only explanations I can find with what is definitely a glaring inconsistency with the dietary laws are two -- either (a) the milk was served before the meat and the men are compliant or (b) that the dietary laws apply only to humans.

Both are palatable to me.
Scott
Miami, FL
December 28, 2008
More details
Also, my friends, let us not forget:

1) The visitors were angels. The laws of Kashrut are for "men" not for angels.

2) Angels do not have "free will". They do only as they are instructed, (commanded), by G-d.

3) To question the actions of a angel is to question G-d himself.
Saul
November 16, 2008
And he stood above them (
Just as a note to Rabbi Davidson's reply; There is an opinion that the meat and dairy where choices on the menu, and since one was eating dairy and the other meat on the same table, and they were friendly with each other, Avram had to stand above them to guard against sharing with each other, which would cause mixing milk and meat.
As the halacha states, that if there is no reminder on the table of a separation, such as separate tablecloths or a vase etc., one can have someone reminding them not to share.
Menachem Tauber
Miami, Florida
November 16, 2008
Re: Kosher Laws
Many an in-depth study on the topic has been made on this topic, and consuming milk and meat together is indeed non-kosher. See this link for more details.

According to the Talmudic statement quoted in the article, Abraham kept even the laws that would be later prohibited by Rabbinic law.

Bowing to greet someone was standard procedure in those days, regardless of that person’s faith, as was "my lord" the respectful way to refer to someone, just as Master was in more recent times.

There is an opinion, however, that his statement, "My Lord, if only I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass on from beside your servant," was actually said to G-d, asking Him to wait while Abraham went to call the guests.
Baruch Davidson (author)
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