Parashas Ki Tisa, includes the instruction not to eat meat and dairy products together.
Chazal derive, from the threefold mention of the verse “You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk,” three distinct prohibitions related to meat-milk mixture: cooking it, consuming it, and benefiting from the cooked mixture of meat and milk. Beyond these Torah prohibitions, it is rabbinically forbidden to eat meat and milk together even if they were not cooked together.
Chazal also added an obligation to refrain from dairy products for a period of time after eating meat. It is this obligation that most affects us in our daily lives, when we need to wait those extra minutes or hours before the next cup of coffee with milk.
In the present article we will therefore discuss the specific obligation of refraining from dairy products following the consumption of meat. How long does one have to wait? Is there an obligation to wait even after merely tasting meat? Do even children and sick people have to wait? What is the halachah in case of doubt?
These questions, and others, are discussed below.
The Primary Source for Waiting
One of the primary sources on waiting between eating meat and dairy products is a passage of the Gemara in Chullin (105a) where we find the following statement:
“Rav Chisda said: One who eats meat may not eat cheese; [one who eats] cheese may eat meat…. Mar Ukva said: Concerning this I am vinegar the son of wine. My father, if he ate meat today, would wait until tomorrow to eat cheese. I, however, will not eat them in the same meal, but at another meal I will eat cheese.”
Clearly, then, there is some obligation to wait between eating meat and dairy foods. Just an amud earlier, though, the Gemara suggests that it is sufficient to clean and wash out one’s mouth between meat and dairy products. In fact, the Gemara makes a distinction between meat and dairy, and chicken and dairy: for the former, one must wash one’s hands and mouth, while for the latter there is no need to do so.
Rishonim debate how to resolve this apparent contradiction.
Rabbenu Tam and the Behag (cited by Tosafos 104b) maintain that the two passages are referring to different scenarios. According to these authorities, if one cleans out one’s mouth (by eating bread or something similar, and rinsing with water), one may eat cheese immediately after meat. If not, one must wait until the next meal before eating cheese.
However, most Rishonim explain that everything depends on the order of eating. The idea of cleaning out one’s mouth applies only to eating meat after cheese. However, when consuming dairy products after meat, cleaning out one’s mouth is not enough.
How long must one wait?
The Gemara refers only to a different meal, and Tosafos (105a) note that this is the full extent of the obligation: one must wait until the after the meal.
However, the Rif (see Beis Yosef 89), the Rosh and the Rambam (Forbidden Foods Chap. 9) explain that Mar Ukva did not mean that one must wait for the next meal, but rather that one must wait the average time between one meal and another. According to the Rambam, the time is “approximately six hours.”
The Shulchan Aruch and Commentaries
The Shulchan Aruch (89:1) rules in accordance with the Rambam: “A person who ate meat, even … fowl, must not eat cheese until he waits six hours.”
The Rema cites the opinion of Tosafos, according to whom “there is no need to wait six hours, but rather as soon as he clears the table and recites birkas ha-mazon he can eat cheese after cleaning out and rinsing his mouth.” This, of course, is a far more lenient ruling.
The Rema continues however that “the simple custom in these countries is to wait for one hour, after which one can eat cheese.” He adds that waiting for one hour is only effective after birkas ha-mazon (or shahakol if not eaten in a bread meal) is recited.
The Taz (2) cites poskim that this custom is a form of compromise between the two central opinions: There is no obligation to wait six hours, but on the other hand merely cleaning and rinsing the mouth is not sufficient. Therefore there developed a custom to wait at least one hour.
Yet, the Rema writes: “Some are particular to wait six hours between meat and cheese, and this is the correct practice.” The Taz highlights, “one must chide Bnei Torah and ensure that they do not wait any less than six hours.” The Shach (8) likewise criticizes the lenient customs, and points out that the Maharshal was critical of those who are lenient, and wrote, “This is proper conduct for anybody who possesses any scent of Torah.”
Although some authorities make a distinction between animal meat and fowl, the Rambam writes that they are equivalent, and this equivalence is ruled by the Shulchan Aruch.
There are likewise authorities who make a distinction between meat itself and a meat dish (or a cheese dish). Yet, the common custom (Rema 89:3) is to treat a meat dish as meat itself, and to wait a full six hours between the dish and dairy foods. However, there is no need to wait after eating parev food cooked in a meaty pot.
The Common Custom
There are places where the custom is to wait three hours between meat and dairy foods (the custom is mentioned by the Darchei Teshuvah 3), and this is the custom of many Jews of German and English origin. A less well-known custom is to wait an entire day between eating meat and milk, which is based on the Arizal (Darchei Teshuvah 4).
Some wait only one hour, which is the strict halachah according to the Rema, and this is known as the Dutch custom.
Yet, in the great majority of Jewish communities the regular custom is to wait six hours, and those whose families follow this custom should not be lenient in the matter (Peri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 1; Chochmas Adam 40:13). The Aruch Hashulchan (89:7) writes further that this is “the simple custom among all of Israel,” and warns of departing from it.
The Ginas Veradim (Gan Hamelech 154) writes that one must wait precisely six hours, and not less (comparing the matter to a mikveh, which is only kosher when containing the full required amount of 40 sa’a, not a drop less; see also Shut Mishnah Halachos, who mentions several opinions which concur). However, others write that it is sufficient to wait five-and-a-half hours, based on the Rambam who writes, “approximately six hours” (see Orchos Chaim, Vol. 2, p. 335; Kol Bo 106; Shut Yabia Omer Vol. 1, Yoreh De’ah 4).
Because of the different customs, which derive from different opinions concerning the obligation to wait between meat and dairy products, the Shulchan Melachim (44a) writes that if a person inadvertently made a berachah on a dairy food (after completing his meat meal), forgetting that he had eaten meat, he should swallow a small part of it to ensure that the berachah should not be levatala. Although some dispute this, Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yecheveh Daas 4:41) mentions many opinions that concur.
The Reason for Waiting and its Ramifications
The Rambam writes that the reason for waiting six hours is out of concern that there are pieces of meat left over between a person’s teeth. Even if he cleans out his mouth, we are still apprehensive and only permit him to eat milk after six hours, when we say that the leftover meat in his teeth loses its status as meat and becomes permitted to dairy foods.
Rashi (Chullin 104b), however, gives a different reason for the custom, explaining that the meat continues to gives off a taste in a person’s mouth, which lingers until six hours have elapsed.
The Tur (89) explains that the difference between these two explanations is where a person chewed meat but did not swallow it: According to Rashi there is no reason to wait, for no meat was swallowed, yet according to the Rambam one must wait six hours.
Another ramification is a case where a piece of meat is found in between teeth after six hours: According to the Rambam the meat has lost its status of being called meat, and there is no need to remove it, whereas according to Rashi the meat must be removed from the teeth before eating dairy foods.
Rashi is also stringent for a case of somebody who swallowed meat without chewing it, whereas the Rambam will be lenient, for there is no concern of meat being caught between teeth.
The Tur concludes that it is good to be stringent for both opinions, and this is also the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. For this reason, the Rema (89:1) writes that if meat is found between teeth after six hours, one should remove it.
In spite of the above, we find the Rabbi Akiva Eiger (89:2) rules leniently concerning somebody who chewed meat without swallowing it, deriving from the Rema that one does not have to wait six hours after chewing alone. Yet, some authorities dispute this ruling, and argue that one must wait after chewing alone (Peri Megadim Mishbetsos Zahav 1; Gilyon Maharshak).
However, where neither reason for waiting six hours applies, there is no need for stringency. Therefore, somebody who merely tastes meat, without chewing or swallowing it, does not need to wait at all, and authorities dispute whether he even needs to wash out his mouth (see Pe’as Ha-Shulchan 20; Badei Ha-Shulchan 16).
Similarly, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shut Iggros Moshe, Yoreh De’ah 2:26) writes that there is no need to wait six hours after swallowing a meaty pill, because both reasons are not applicable (he writes that because the halachah doesn’t apply to the pill, it will remain true even if the pill is chewed).
Yet, Sefer Ha-Kashrus (no. 46) cites Rav Moshe that the pill should nonetheless not actually be swallowed together with milk.
Cases of Doubt
A person often has a doubt as to whether six hours have elapsed, and the question is how a case of safek should be treated.
Shut Yad Yehudah (beginning of no. 89) writes that one must act stringently out of doubt, because, although no Torah prohibition is involved, it is a davar she-yeish lo matirin (something that can be done permissively – by waiting until six hours elapse), so that the doubt cannot be used in permitting the eating.
However, some are lenient in this matter, based on the ruling of the Rema whereby according to the strict halachah one hour is enough (Badei Ha-Shulchan).
Moreover, one can also adduce the wording of the Rambam, who rules that a person must wait “approximately six hours.” Based on these additional considerations, it seems that when in doubt if the entire six hours are up or not, one can act leniently and eat dairy products.
The Knesses Hagedolah (Yoreh De’ah 89:5) was asked about what kind of hours one must wait between meat and dairy products: Are these sha’os zemanios, meaning hours that change depending on the length of the halachic day (in this case half of the time between sunrise and sunset), or are these regular hours as we usually refer to them (60 minutes)?
He notes that the Rambam writes in his commentary to the Mishnah (beginning of Berachos) that all “hours” referred to in the Mishnah are zemanios, and not fixed hours. Based on this, some have written that the hours one must wait are also zemanios (see Peri Chadash 89:6). However, the Knesses Hagedolah dismisses this opinion, noting that based on this opinion we would only wait some three hours in the winter, and some eight or more hours in the summer.
This is clearly not the custom, and never has been, and we therefore conclude that the hours are fixed, 60-minute hours. The Pischei Teshuvah (Yoreh De’ah 89:3) mentions a number of authorities who agree with this opinion, and this is also the ruling given by the Aruch Hashulchan (89:1; see also Levush 89:8).
Note, however, that the Mateh Efraim (p. 28d) writes that the stringency of waiting six hours only applies when the night and the day are each twelve hours long (the equinox), and during the rest of the year one can wait a slightly shorter time. However, the Prei Megadim (Mishbetsos Zahav 89, 1) (89:6) notes that based on the rationale for waiting based on a person’s digestion time, there is clearly no room to distinguish between the winter and the summer.
The Young and the Sick
It is permitted for the sick to eat dairy products before six hours are up, if these products are important for them. It is best to wait at least an hour, and to recite birkas ha-mazon before eating dairy foods (Pischei Teshuvah 3, citing from Chasam Sofer 73; the Chochmas Adam 40:13 writes that this is permitted even for somebody who is only slightly ill). The same halachah will apply to a lady in the first month after birth.
A young child (under the age of three) does not need to wait at all after meat, and a child under the age of nine need not wait more than one hour, which is the principle halachah according to the Rema (Shut Chelkas Yaakov 2:88, 3:147; Shut Shevet Halevi 4:84). For a child over the age of nine, one can still be lenient if the child requires milk, after an hour as elapsed.
Yet, it is common custom to train children, from the age of six or seven, to wait six hours where this is possible. Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch (Shut Teshuvos Ve-Hanhagos 1:435) writes that a child over the age of six or seven should wait three hours, whereas a child over the age of nine or ten should wait the full six hours.