Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.

Exodus 23:19

Meat stems from the divine attribute of justice, milk from the attribute of mercy.


In the future world of Moshiach, the prohibition against mixing meat with milk will be annulled.

Rabbeinu Bechayei

The world our five senses experience is a diverse and multifaceted one. We distinguish between matter and spirit, light and darkness, animal and inanimate, male and female; we categorize plants and animals by species, and grade minerals by dollar value per ounce. But how real are these distinctions? How deep runs the difference between gold and copper, between an apple and an orange, or an ox and a donkey?

For we also sense a unity to the universe. The deeper we probe creation’s secrets, the more we uncover the oneness beneath the diversity. The incalculable number of objects that populate our world are shown to be composites of but several elementary building blocks of matter; the diverse forces that hold them together and drive them apart are revealed as mutations of a few fundamental laws. Ultimately, we believe, science will discover the single formula that describes the whole of the physical existence. This underlying oneness to the universe complements our spiritual perception of reality: that every existent entity and force is but an expression of the singular truth of G‑d, who created them all toward a single, unified purpose.

On the other hand, we recognize the validity of the categorizations that define our world. Man is a moral creature (indeed, the only moral creature) because of his capacity to recognize the inviolable borders that differentiate self from fellow, man from beast, the sacred from the profane, the permissible from the forbidden. We recognize that these boundaries are intrinsic to G‑d’s creation, and that without them life would be devoid of order, dignity, meaning or utility.

Indeed, the plurality of our world is an integral part of the Creator’s design for existence. In the six days of creation, we find G‑d categorizing species and setting the boundaries between light and darkness, matter and spirit, and land and sea. Indeed, the divine name that connotes G‑d’s involvement in creation, Elokim, is plural in form, to emphasize G‑d’s particular involvement with the details and distinctions that comprise His creation.

Thus, the Torah, G‑d’s communicated instruction to humanity, not only “separates between the impure and the pure,” defining the permissible and the forbidden, but also forbids the intermixing of species and categories within the realm of the permissible itself. Torah specifies those animals whose meat and milk the Jew may eat, and those species whose meat and milk are forbidden; but it also prohibits milk and meat that have been cooked together, even when each on its own is permissible. Likewise, there are the kilayim (hybridizing) laws that prohibit the wearing of a garment that combines wool and linen, the crossbreeding of different animal species, and the grafting or sowing together of different plant species. In the words of Nachmanides, “G‑d created the species of His world . . . commanding that they emerge ‘each to its kind’ . . . So, one who crossbreeds two species corrupts the workings of creation . . .”

Three Categories

There are exceptions, however. Despite the prohibition to mix wool and linen in the making of a garment, the Torah specifically instructs to spin just such a mixture to create several of the priestly garments worn by the kohanim when serving in the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple). Also, immediately following the injunction “Do not wear shaatnez—wool and linen together,” the Torah commands us to “make fringes on the four corners of your garment”; the Torah is telling us, explains the Talmud, that it is permissible to mix wool and linen to observe the mitzvah of tzitzit.

But license to mix two species to perform a mitzvah is granted only in the case of shaatnez, the mixing of wool and linen. Regarding the other kilayim prohibitions, we find no such exceptions made. Indeed, in the case of meat and milk, the Torah specifically instructs that the two cannot be combined even for the purpose of serving G‑d. In Exodus 23:19 we read: “The first ripenings of your land you shall bring to the house of the L‑rd your G‑d; do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.” Why are these two seemingly unconnected laws stated in the same verse? Explains the Midrash: the Torah wishes to clarify that it is forbidden to mix meat and milk also in the cooking of the kodashim, the holy meat of the offerings brought to G‑d in the Beit HaMikdash.

Upon closer examination, what we have here are three categories of forbidden mixtures:

  1. The mixing of wool and linen, which is forbidden in the manufacture of cloth for mundane, everyday purposes. But it is permitted, in the cases of tzitzit and the priestly garments, for the sake of serving the Almighty.
  2. The cooking of meat with milk, which the Torah specifically prohibits also for purely holy purposes.
  3. The unequivocal prohibition of crossbreeding of plants and animals. Here, the Torah doesn’t even find it necessary to reiterate that it is also forbidden to crossbreed for the sake of a mitzvah, assuming that we will understand the prohibition as applying to mundane and holy endeavors alike.

A Piecemeal Peace

The stated aim of Torah is to “make peace in the world.” To make peace is to unify and integrate; to bring divergent elements, individuals and peoples into harmonious concert. Thus the prophet Zephaniah describes the era of Moshiach, the realization of Torah’s blueprint for life on earth: “Then I shall convert all the nations to a purer language, that they all call on the name of G‑d to serve Him with one consent.” Today, humanity and nature are fragmented and strife-ridden, as each of their multifarious components seeks fulfillment and realization via different and conflicting avenues. The Torah comes to impart a unanimity of purpose to them all, to unite them in the common goal of serving their Creator.

How are we to reconcile this with the boundary-enforcing role of the Torah described above? Did we not say that Torah comes to differentiate and distinguish, to preserve the demarcations of G‑d’s creation?

In truth, however, there is no contradiction. Peace is not about the blurring of borders and the obliteration of identities. Peace does not dictate that nations and individuals disavow their uniqueness to fuse to a seamless whole. On the contrary, such “peace” is always shallow and artificial, as it runs contrary to its participants’ nature and essence, and ultimately disintegrates into chaos and anarchy. True peace is a state in which diverse entities join forces towards a common goal, each contributing its distinct qualities to the achievement of their harmonious endeavor.

Therein lies is the deeper significance of the three categories of “intermixing” defined by the Torah.

Crossbreeding different species is always a negative thing, even when the objective is a mitzvah, the ultimately unifying act of serving the Almighty. Crossbreeding creates a new, hybrid creature that is neither one nor the other of its progenitors, a creature in whom the differences between two species are eradicated. A defining boundary of creation has been diffused, causing a breakdown, rather than a consolidation, in the universal development of peace.

On the other hand, the combining of wool and linen in the making of a garment violates the integrity of neither ingredient. The wool remains wool, and the linen remains linen. One can always unravel the cloth and re-separate the fibers. What has happened is that two elements of creation, each preserving (and employing) its characteristics and qualities, have combined to create a thing of beauty and utility.

Nevertheless, such a combination, when effected for mundane and self-serving purposes, is negative and destructive. Certain elements (such as wool and linen) embody spiritually diverse forces—forces that inevitably clash rather than integrate. According to the Kabbalists, wool embodies chessed (benevolence), and linen, gevurah (severity, restraint). The Torah has therefore forbidden their union. Only when they come together in the ultimate realization of their purpose—to serve their Creator—do these forces converge in harmony rather than in conflict.

A third category, one that lies between the aforementioned two, is the mixing, by cooking, of meat and milk. Here, the corruption of distinction is not as far-reaching as in the case of crossbreeding, where the quintessence of two species (i.e., their reproductive powers) have fused: only the physical properties (taste, aroma, color, etc.) of the meat and milk have blended, while their essential substances remain unaffected. One might therefore think to compare this forbidden dish to a garment spun of wool and linen. The Torah must therefore specify that no, the cooking of meat with milk is a more severe violation of creation’s boundaries than is shaatnez. In cooking, the meat becomes saturated with milk, and vice versa, to the point that are no longer physically distinguishable from each other. Cooked to an inseparable mass, this “hybrid” cannot represent a realization of true peace, and is therefore unredeemable even in the utterly harmonious environment of “the house of G‑d.”

Future Sight

Citing Kabbalistic sources, Rabbeinu Bechayei (Rabbi Bechayei ben Asher, 1265?–1340?) writes that in the future perfect age of Moshiach, the prohibition against mixing meat and milk will be annulled.

The world of Moshiach is a world in which “your Master will no longer be shrouded; your eyes will behold your Master.” A world in which the materiality of our existence will no longer cloak and conceal the divine essence of reality.

The combining of milk and meat will be permissible, because two things will change. First, life will no longer consist of “mundane” and “holy” domains. In a world suffused with the immanence and awareness of G‑d, our every deed and endeavor will be a holy act, an act that is in utter harmony with our, and every creature’s, raison d’être.

Secondly, our perception of reality will be deeper and truer than it is today. In the surface reality we now inhabit, meat and milk that have been cooked together have become, to all intents and purposes, a single object; we cannot access the two differing forces that have been combined. It is therefore kilayim, a destruction of nature’s boundaries. But seen in a more quintessential light, the meat and milk remain two entities, however thoroughly their physical matter has been integrated; ultimately they resemble the combined wool and linen of shaatnez, rather than the hybrid reality of animal and plant kilayim. In the reality of Moshiach, such an integration would not compromise each element’s uniqueness. In a reality where the spiritual essence of every thing is real and tangible, meat and milk will represent a vehicle for true harmony, in which variant elements of G‑d’s creation unite to serve Him.