This prohibition of mixing milk and meat is derived from the verse "Do not cook a kid (gedi) in its mother's milk,” which is repeated three times in the Torah.1 The sages explain that the repetition of the verse teaches us that not only is one forbidden to cook meat and milk together, but one is also forbidden to eat or derive benefit from such a mixture.2

Although the verse uses the Hebrew word gedi, which is usually literally translated as “kid goat,” in this context, the word actually means any young domestic animal. The sages explain that the Torah simply gives an example of a "kid in its mother's milk" because that was common practice in ancient times.3 In fact, at other times, when the Torah wants to specify a young goat specifically, it uses the term גדי עזים—gedi izim,“kid of the goats.” This implies that at times when the word gedi is used by itself, it does not necessarily refer to just a kid of the goat species.4

But what about chicken and other fowl?

What Is Included in the Biblical Ban on Meat and Milk?

As mentioned, "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk” is repeated three times in the Torah. According to one tradition in the Talmud, the reason for the repetition is to include three types of creatures: 1) domesticated animals; 2) non-domesticated animals; and 3) birds.5

According to this opinion, cooking or eating birds with dairy is included in the biblical prohibition.

Others, however, are of the opinion that birds are not included. The law follows this tradition but concludes that birds and dairy are nevertheless rabbinically prohibited.6

Why Is It Prohibited?

Contrary to popular misconception, the rabbis were not afraid that a piece of chicken has the same appearance as a piece of meat and that people who observe chicken being consumed with milk may think that the people are eating meat.

Rather, their concern was that the kosher dietary laws regarding the preparation of fowl (but not fish) is the same as red meat. Both must be slaughtered and salted properly before they may be eaten.

In light of their similarity in Jewish law, the rabbis were concerned that people may draw wrong conclusions. Here is how Maimonides paints a picture of what these mistakes may look like if chicken and dairy would be permitted:

People may say: “Eating the meat of fowl cooked in milk is permitted, because it is not explicitly forbidden by the Torah. Similarly, the meat of a wild animal cooked in milk is permitted, because it is also not explicitly forbidden.”

And another may come and say: “Even the meat of a domesticated animal cooked in milk is permitted with the exception of a goat.”

And another will come and say: “Even the meat of a goat is permitted when cooked in the milk of a cow or a sheep. For the verse mentions only ‘its mother,’ i.e., an animal from the same species.”

And still another will come and say: “Even the meat of a goat is permitted when cooked in goat's milk as long the milk is not from the kid's mother, for the verse says: ‘its mother.’”

For these reasons, Maimonides concludes, the sages forbid all meat cooked in milk, even meat from fowl, in order to safeguard the Torah’s laws.7

What’s the Difference?

If chicken and dairy is forbidden, is there any practical difference whether the prohibition is of rabbinic or biblical origin?

The differentiation would only come into play when deriving benefit from such a mixture. So for example, if one accidentally cooked meat and milk together, he may not even derive benefit from the mixture (so he would not be allowed to feed it to his dog or sell it to a non-Jew). However, if one accidentally cooked (or bought) poultry mixed with dairy, after the fact, he is permitted to derive benefit from it and can feed it to his pet. As always, one should consult with a rabbi regarding any issues of mixtures between meat or fowl and dairy.

Rabbinic Prohibitions Are Biblical Prohibitions

Once something was decreed by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish High Court) and accepted as Jewish law, it attained the binding status of a biblical commandment. For the Torah says concerning rabbinic rulings,“You are to act according to the word that they tell you from that place that G‑d will have chosen; and you are to be careful to fulfill exactly as they instruct you.”8

The Kabbalistic Perspective

The Zohar explains that the same negative spiritual impact that is caused by mixing meat and dairy is also caused by mixing poultry and dairy. The Zohar then goes on to describe the great merit of being careful with the kosher dietary laws in general, and specifically the laws surrounding mixing meat (or poultry) with dairy.9 It was in this merit10 that Daniel was saved when he was thrown in the lion's den11 and Chananyah, Mishael and Azariah were saved when they were thrown into the fiery furnace,12 as told in the Book of Daniel.

At a time when we need extra protection, taking care to observe the kosher dietary laws is especially pertinent. In this merit, may we all be protected until the time when peace will reign upon the land with the coming of Moshiach. May it be speedily in our days!