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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
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 writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Discussion (22)
June 22, 2016
Re: Abraham
For a look at these questions, see Was Abraham Jewish - and How Did the Torah Exist Before it Happened?
Rochel Chein
June 21, 2016
Abraham
Hello, I don't understand. How could have Abraham been Jewish, when the tribes weren't developed yet. And all there was, was the 7 laws for humanity. I believe Abraham was at a advanced level in adhering to the 7 laws and beyond. Due to Shem raising him, and grooming him, and teaching him all about G-d. I think there should be more teachings on Shem. Because you can't have one without the other. Thank you.
Daniel
nv
December 6, 2015
Re: Could the milk be from another cow other than mom?
This and other questions on this topic are addressed here.
Eliezer Zalmanov
for Chabad.org
December 6, 2015
In most farms there is more than one cow providing milk and the milk of several cows is mixed. Therefore, cooking a calf in milk would include cooking it in its mother's milk plus others; at least this is how I personally interpret this.
Jay
Fulton
December 6, 2015
Could the milk be from another cow other than mom?
The Torah says not to cook a calf in it's mother's milk. Why does this equate to no meat and milk together at all?
Anonymous
September 11, 2015
Re: Jay
No doubt Artscroll was quoting the opinions in point C of the above article.

With regards to meat right after dairy, while in theory, technically one may eat meat immediately after dairy provided that one adequately cleans one's mouth and hands between the two, according to the Zohar, one should be careful to refrain from eating milk and meat not only in the same meal, and but also in the same hour. For this reason, it is the Chabad custom to refrain from eating meat for a full hour after eating dairy; other communities have a custom of waiting a half hour before eating meat.
Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org
September 4, 2015
A footnote in my Artscroll Chumash indicates that Abraham served the dairy first, then the calf (Daas Zekeinim). The verses in the scripture seem to be run as if the calf was killed, cleaned, butchered and served within the time it takes to prepare a meal today. However, I doubt Sarah had a microwave oven, at least. My own thought is that the meal was served according to Jewish tradition today. Although I am not Jewish, should I expect a Jewish family, who invited me to dinner, to serve me meat (beef or chicken) and dairy at the same time? I doubt this.
Jay
Fulton
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