One of the important aspects of observing kosher is keeping milk and meat properly separated. This prohibition is derived from the verse, "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk." This verse appears in the Torah three times, twice in Exodus1 and once in Deuteronomy.2 The Sages3 explain that the repetition of the verse teaches us that it is not only forbidden to cook meat and milk together, but it's also forbidden to then eat or derive benefit from the mixture.

The Hebrew word g'di (kid goat) is understood to mean any young domestic animal—not only a kid goat.4 In fact, the Torah forbids the cooking, eating and benefit of the meat of any kosher domesticated animal, in any kosher milk. The Torah simply gives an example of a "kid in its mother's milk" because that was common practice in ancient times.5

The Reason

The Torah forbids the cooking and consumption of any milk with any meat Several reasons have been suggested for this mitzvah. Some argue that it is cruel to cook a baby in the very milk that was intended to nourish it. The Torah forbids the cooking and consumption of any milk with any meat to prevent one from cooking a kid in its mother's milk.6

Others suggest that the reason for this mitzvah is health related.7

Maimonides8 asserts that an ancient pagan ritual which involved the cooking and consumption of meat and milk is the source of the prohibition. (Seforno9 suggests that the purpose of this practice was to elicit a blessing for plentiful crops or flocks.) The mitzvah of not cooking milk and meat together distances the Jewish people from this idolatrous behavior.

Yet others cite Kabalistic sources which explain that meat represents gevurah (the Divine attribute of Judgment) and milk represents chesed (the Divine attribute of Kindness). These two opposing characteristics are not to be mixed with each other.10

In any event, it is clear that the main reason for this mitzvah is beyond comprehension. Hence, it is referred to as a chok—a statute that we fulfill simply because it is the will of G‑d, although we don't understand it.11

Rabbinic Laws

Since the Torah is somewhat vague in defining the parameters of this mitzvah, the rabbis felt it necessary to safeguard it by adding further restrictions. They felt that without these additional prohibitions, people would mistakenly think that it is only forbidden to actually cook a baby goat in its mother's milk.12

The following prohibitions were added by the rabbis:

  • Torah law only prohibits the cooking (and eating) of the meat of a domesticated animal in milk. The rabbis added that one may also not cook (or eat) the meat of a kosher wild animal or bird with milk.13
  • Torah Law only prohibits the consumption of meat that was cooked with milk. The rabbis added that one may not eat meat and milk together even if they were not cooked together.14
  • In addition, the rabbis instituted that one must wait a certain amount of time between eating meat and milk.15
  • The rabbis also decreed that two acquaintances may not share a table if one is eating dairy products and the other is eating meat products.16

Waiting Between Meat & Milk

With the passing of six hours, however, the taste dissipatesThe Talmud tells us that after eating meat, Mar Ukvah would wait until the next meal before eating dairy products.17 Most commentaries understand this to mean that he would wait six hours. This is because the rabbis in those days would eat their morning meals around midday,18 so this was the average amount of time between the morning meal and the evening meal.19 There are minority opinions that hold that it's sufficient to wait one hour20 or three hours.21 If one belongs to a community that follows those opinions, he may rely on those leniencies. Otherwise, one should wait a full six hours.22

In any case, one may not eat milk after meat in the same meal, even many hours later.23

Why Wait?

The reason for waiting six hours is twofold. Firstly, because meat is fatty, the taste may linger in one's mouth for a long time. With the passing of six hours, however, the taste dissipates.24 Secondly, if meat gets stuck between one's teeth, it retains its halachic "meat" status for up to six hours.25 After six hours, it is no longer considered meat. (In practice, however, if one finds meat stuck between one's teeth after six hours, one should remove it before eating dairy products.26)

These two reasons serve as the basis for the following law: One who chews meat and then spits it out must wait six hours before eating dairy products27; one who drinks a clear broth of chicken or meat must also wait six hours28; however, one who tastes a clear broth and then spits it out need not wait six hours.29

Additional Laws

  • It is customary that one who eats a dish that was cooked with meat also wait six hours before partaking of dairy foods.30
  • One who ate pareve food (food that is neither dairy nor meat) that was cooked in a meaty pot need not wait six hours, even if the pot wasn't completely clean.31
  • One may not eat meat and milk products on the same tablecloth unless it was washed in the interim.32
  • Pieces of bread that were on the table during a meat meal shouldn't be consumed with dairy products, and visa versa.33

For Children

Very young children do not need to wait between eating meat and milk. However, it is best to feed them something else in between.34 For children from age three to five it is sufficient to wait one hour between consumption of meat and milk.35

Generally, children age six and older should wait six hours between consumption of meat and milk. If necessary, for children up to age nine, one may be lenient and wait just one hour.36

Between Milk & Meat

It's sufficient if one eats or drinks something else in order to cleanse the mouth of any residual dairy foodsSince the taste of dairy products is not as strong and pieces of dairy food do not generally get stuck in one's mouth, it's not necessary to wait as long after eating a dairy product before eating meat. According to the Talmud,37 it's sufficient if one eats or drinks something else in order to cleanse the mouth of any residual dairy foods. The food may be any type of food besides flour, dates, or vegetables, which don't clean the mouth sufficiently.38

The Zohar39 states that one should not eat milk and meat in the same hour. For this reason, it is the Chabad custom to refrain from eating meat for a full hour after eating dairy. One who does this need not eat or drink something else in between.40 Many other communities have a custom of waiting only a half hour before eating meat. They understand that word sha'ah in the Zohar to mean a time period, not a literal hour.

Some authorities add that one may not eat meat following dairy products in the same meal,41 while others disagree.42

Hard Cheese

The Maharam (Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg, 1215-1293) once found a piece of cheese in his teeth several hours after eating cheese. Subsequently, he would wait six hours after eating cheese before eating meat. It is proper for Ashkenazim to follow this stringency and wait six hours after eating hard cheese before eating meat.43 However, this only applies to cheese that was aged44 or that has a very strong taste.45 Two examples of this are Swiss cheese and Parmesan cheese.

Sharing a Table with an Acquaintance

As mentioned above, two acquaintances may not share a table if one is eating dairy products and the other is eating meat products – even if the two would not normally share food46 – unless they set up a reminder to ensure that they will not share food from each other's plates. The reminder may be an object placed on the table which is not usually there, or a placemat under the plate of one and/or the other, if this is unusual.47