The Torah forbids cooking meat and milk together, eating such cooked foods, or even gaining benefit from it. For many of us, these mitzvos have become second nature. We are familiar with the signs of a kosher kitchen: the separate counters, the marked pots, the drawers labeled “milk,” “meat,” or “pareve.” Yet few observant Jews question the reason behind these mitzvos.
In a certain sense, this is how it should be. Our observance of mitzvos does not ultimately depend on our understanding their rationale. It is enough that Hashem commanded us to observe them in His Torah. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, zt”l, explains, it is no different than our acceptance of nature:**
“In the Torah, even as in nature, God is the ultimate cause. In the Torah, even as in nature, no fact can be denied, even though the reason and the connection may not be understood…In nature, the phenomena are recognized as facts, though their cause and relationship to each other may not be understood, and are independent of our investigation. So, too, the ordinances of the Torah must be laws for us, even if we do not comprehend the reason and the purpose of a single one.”
Even so, we do find much Torah literature attempting to explain the “reasons” for the mitzvos. Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, zt”l, famed Telzer Rosh Yeshivah, once clarified that the terminology used by our gedolim for these “reasons” is actually ta’amei hamitzvos — the “taste” of the mitzvos.
It is pure fantasy to believe that any human can fathom the wisdom of the Omniscient’s purpose or design. Rather, these “reasons” spice our mitzvah observance; they help us identify more with the mitzvah, giving it more of a “taste.” As our connection to the mitzvah increases, our zeal and commitment to its proper observance increases as well. It is in this spirit that we present a few reasons suggested by the Rishonim for the laws of basar b’chalav:
The Rambam explains that since it is the way of idolaters to eat meat and milk together on their festivals, the Torah forbids this mixture to us. This is the reason that the verse, “You must not cook a young animal in its mother’s milk” (Shemos 23:29), is juxtaposed with the Torah passage concerning the observance of the three pilgrimage festivals.
Sefer HaChinuch compares the ban on meat and milk to the prohibitions of kil’ayim (crossbreeding or grafting different species) and sha’atnez (mixture of wool and linen), for all these forbidden combinations constitute tampering with Hashem’s creation and corrupting the goodness implanted in each element of His world.
Ibn Ezra focuses on the cruelty of cooking a kid in its mother’s milk. likening it to two similar prohibitions in the Torah: slaughtering a cow and its calf on the same day and taking a young bird from its mother in her presence. According to this explanation, only the milk of an animal’s own mother should be forbidden. The Torah, however, forbids the milk of other animals to prevent the inadvertent use of the mother’s milk.
It is interesting to note that although the Torah speaks specifically of cooking meat and milk together, the Kesef Mishneh maintains that the main prohibition is eating them together. Thus, cooking them together is forbidden lest one come to eat them together.*
May it be Hashem’s will that these few “spices” enable us to appreciate
the wonderful flavor of this special mitzvah.
The Nullification of Meat and Dairy
Bittul b’shishim (“nullification in sixty”): A mixture containing sixty times more kosher food than non-kosher food (or sixty times more milk than meat, or vice versa) is kosher, because the taste of the non-kosher food (or the milk or meat) is nullified.
Sixty is measured by volume, not weight. If both the kosher and non-kosher food (or the meat and milk) are of equal density, one may measure their ratio by weight.
Therefore, if dairy falls into an amount of meat sixty times its volume, the dairy is nullified, and the meat remains kosher.
Similarly, if dairy falls into pareve food sixty times its volume, the food remains pareve, and meat may even be added (in which case the food would no longer be pareve). If a meat spoon was accidentally inserted into a pot containing sixty times as much milk as the meat absorbed in the spoon, the milk remains kosher.
 Shemos 23:19, Rashi.
 Nineteen Letters, footnote to the eighteenth letter.
 Moreh HaNevuchim, section 3.
 Mitzvah 92. See also Kli Yakar (Shemos 23:9).
 Shemos 23:29. See also Vayikra 22:28 and Devarim 22:6–7.
 Hilchos Tum’as Mes 1:2.
Yad Soledes Bo
Yad soledes bo is a degree of heat that when felt or touched causes one to draw back his hand. Most poskim are of the opinion that it is approximately 113ºF (45ºC). It is important to point out that it applies more often than one might realize. The following are some common household examples of varying degrees of heat.*
- Lukewarm bath water (for a young child)
approx. 99º–100ºF (37º–37.8ºC)
- Average bath water
approx. 101ºF (38.3ºC)
- Hot bath water (comfortable for some adults)
approx. 104º–105ºF (40º–40.6ºC)
- Hot tap water in average home (at medium setting)
approx. 120º–125ºF (48.9º–51.7ºC)
- Cup of hot coffee (with some milk and sugar added)
approx. 125ºF (51.7ºC)
- Glass of hot tea (almost too hot to sip)
approx. 165ºF (73.9ºC)
- Hot bowl of chicken soup (upon ladling into bowl)
can be as hot as 180ºF (82.2ºC)
*Taken from The 39 Melochos (Feldheim Publishers).