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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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Rochel Chein June 22, 2016

Re: Abraham For a look at these questions, see Was Abraham Jewish - and How Did the Torah Exist Before it Happened? Reply

Daniel nv 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. Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org December 6, 2015

Re: Could the milk be from another cow other than mom? This and other questions on this topic are addressed here. Reply

Jay Fulton 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. Reply

Anonymous 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? Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org 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. Reply

Jay Fulton 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. Reply

Isaac 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.... Reply

Ashley 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. Reply

Anonymous New Glasgow, NS, Canada 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? Reply

Menashe Cape Town September 15, 2010

Re: Asher Why would the Torah repeat the same thing three times? Reply

Asher New York, US 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. Reply

Ryan perth 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). Reply

Scott Miami, FL 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. Reply

Saul 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. Reply

Beth Stuart Fl. May 31, 2017
in response to Saul:

Love your reasoning! Reply

Menachem Tauber Miami, Florida 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. Reply

Baruch Davidson (author) 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. Reply

Yehudah Szuch Cleveland, OH/USA November 15, 2008

Kosher Laws I think we must contemplate whether eating dairy and meat together is wrong. I believe a in depth study into what is kosher and not would prove otherwise.

Also, if Abraham thought his visitors were goy, why would he bow to them and call them my Lord? I believe he knew who they were and he served foods that are biblical kosher. Reply

Shoshana-Rose Benjamin Ramat Hasharon, Israel November 14, 2008

Dairy and meat served to angels The verse allows the following reading: if you separate the taking of the butter and milk and the giving of the meat into discrete acts, then the angels may have first been served a light dairy meal to stave their appetite while Abraham was busy preparing the calf (slaughtering it, skinnning it, roasting it and cutting it into portions), which would have taken considerable time. Abraham would have then returned to serve the "main course," and, standing near by, under the tree, presided over the feast. Separate courses, separate cooking vessels -- no violaton of laws of kashrut or of the mitzvah of hospitality --would you leave your guests waiting hours for dinner without offering them a bite to eat in the meantime? Reply

danny November 14, 2008

impossible the talmud view that abraham kept all torah laws is proven false by the food that he gave them. he served milk and meat in the same meal. this is not torah observance. Reply

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