The Laws of Meat and Milk: Part III Waiting Between Meat and Milk by Rabbi Chaim Jachter



In this issue we will conclude our series of discussions regarding the laws of meat and milk with a review of the issue of refraining from eating dairy products after consuming meat.  We will particularly focus on the sources for the various traditions of how long one waits between meat and milk.

Talmudic Background

The Gemara (Chullin 105a) cites Rav Chisda’s assertion that “one who consumes meat may not eat dairy products and one who eats dairy products is permitted to eat meat.”  The Rishonim give two reasons for this prohibition.  Rashi (s.v. Chasa) explains that meat has a strong taste that lingers in the mouth.  Rambam (Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 9:28) explains that the concern is for meat that remains lodged between one’s teeth.  The Taz (Y.D. 89:1) writes that normative Halachah takes into consideration the rulings of both Rashi and the Ramban.

The Gemara records an interesting but somewhat ambiguous statement of Mar Ukva.  He called himself “vinegar the son of wine,” because his father did not consume dairy products until twenty four hours (Me’eit L’eit) had passed since he had eaten meat, yet he himself would consume milk products “at the next meal” (Liseudata Acharita) after he had eaten meat. The Rishonim disagree about how to interpret the phrase “at the next meal,” which the Gemara indicates is the earliest time that one may eat milk after eating meat.


The Rambam (Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 9:28) rules that Gemara means that one must wait the usual time one normally waits after eating a meal before consuming another meal.  The Rambam holds that this time is approximately six hours (Kemo Sheish Shaot).  Tosafot, on the other hand, (Chullin 105a sv. Liseudata and 104b sv. Of) believe that if one recites Birkat Hamazon (or the appropriate blessing after eating) and begins a new meal, that one is permitted to consume dairy products during the new meal, even if the new meal commenced immediately after the Birkat Hamazon of the meat meal.  It is interesting that the Rosh (an Ashkenazic Rishon) follows the Rambam’s approach and not the approach of Tosafot.

This author heard from Rav Aharon Lichtenstein who heard from Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik that Rav Chaim Soloveitchik had inferred from the language of the Rambam that one need not wait a complete six hours.  The Rambam states one must refrain from milk “approximately” six hours.  Rav Chaim is said to have ruled that if one has waited five hours and a minute that this is sufficient waiting time, and milk products may be consumed.  However, it should be noted that the Hagahot Ashri (Chullin 8:5) cites as the Rambam’s view that one must wait six hours before consuming milk.  This authority seems to believe that one must wait a full six hours before consuming dairy products. The Tur also writes that one must wait six hours, which would seem to indicate that the full six hour wait is required (see Darkei Teshuva 89:6)

Shulchan Aruch

The Mechaber (Yoreh Deah 89:1) rules that one must wait six hours between meat and milk (it seems that he requires one to wait six full hours).  The Rema (Y.D. 89:1) notes the dissenting opinion of Tosafot, and records the common practice of European Jews (in the sixteenth century) to wait only one hour between meat and milk.  He concludes that it is proper (Nachon) to follow the Rambam’s opinion that one must wait six hours between meat and milk.  Both the Shach (89:8) and the Taz (89:2) cite the statement of the Maharshal urging every Jew fully dedicated to Torah observance to wait six hours.

The fact that the Rema, Maharshal, Taz, and Shach all urged that one should wait six full hours probably accounts for why most Jews of eastern European extraction have the practice of waiting six hours between meat and milk.  In fact, by the early nineteenth century, the practice of all of eastern European Jewry was to wait six hours, as recorded in the Chochmat Adam 40:13.  The Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 89:7), writing close to the turn of the twentieth century, also writes that the common practice is to wait six hours.  Both of these major authorities bolster these practices with strong condemnations of those who fail to wait six hours.  The Chochmat Adam writes that one who does wait six hours violates “Vial Titosh Torah Imecha,” literally “do not forsake the teachings of your mother,” which the Gemara (Pesachim 50b) cites as the source for our obligation to uphold established family practices.  The Aruch HaShulchan similarly writes, “Chalilah Leshanot,” Heaven forfend changing this practice.  Presumably, these authorities use such strong language to emphasize that the practice of East European Jewry had changed since the time of the Rema.

Dutch Jews, however, have maintained the practice to wait only one hour.  The commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch offer two sources for this approach.  The Vilna Gaon (Biur Hagra 89:6) writes that it is based on the Zohar in Parshat Mishpatim, which speaks of the prohibition to eat milk and meat within one hour of each other.  It seems reasonable to assume that this approach essentially follows Tosafot, that one may consume milk following the recitation of Birkat Hamazon after a meat meal.  The contribution of the Zohar is the idea of waiting an hour.

The Taz (89:2) cites an entirely different explanation of the practice of some to wait one hour between meat and milk.  He writes that it is a compromise between the opinion of Tosafot, who holds that Birkat Hamazon is the only boundary needed between the two meals, and the Rambam who believes that we must wait approximately six hours.

The commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch do not mention practice of German Jewry of waiting three hours.  However, this practice has a source in a Rishon – Rabbeinu Yerucham (Issur V’heter no. 39) – and is alluded to in the Chayei Adam (127:10).  Some of my students (including Yitzchak Haber and Steven Kluger) suggested two explanations for this practice.  One possibility is that it is a compromise between the Rambam and Tosafot (similar to the Taz’s explanation of the one hour opinion).  Another possibility is that this approach believes that three hours is the normal time one waits between meals.

Pitchei Teshuva (Y.D 89:3) cites an interesting ruling of the Chatam Sofer.  He rules that if someone is ill and must drink milk, he is permitted to drink milk even after just one hour.  The Chatam Sofer writes that this applies even if the individual is not seriously ill.  The consensus of authorities accepts this ruling.  Chochmat Adam (40:13) and the Aruch HaShulchan (89:7) similarly rule that “someone who is not healthy who is instructed by his physicians to drink milk can rely on the opinion of Tosafot by waiting for one hour and cleaning out his mouth.  Similarly, a young individual who is weak and requires milk is permitted to drink milk after waiting only one hour.”  This author heard Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik rule similarly for someone who had an ulcer and whose physician advised him to drink milk.

The basis for this ruling is that Ashkenazim essentially follow the opinion of Tosafot, but their Minhag (custom or practice) is to follow the Rambam.  However, they did not undertake this practice in case of pain (Bemakom Tzaar Lo Nahagu).  It should be noted that it is very possible that this lenient ruling may not apply to Sephardim, since Rav Yosef Karo unequivocally rules that one must wait six hours after eating meat before consuming milk.  One should consult his Rabbi if such a problem arises.

Hard Cheese

The Rema (Y.D 89:2) codifies the practice to refrain from eating meat after consuming hard cheese.  The Shach (89:15) and Taz (89:4) rule that if the cheese is six months old or “with holes” that it is considered hard.  Both the Chochmat Adam (40:13) and the Aruch Hashulchan (89:11) codify this ruling of the Shach and Taz.  Rav Soloveitchik explains that the time frame of six months refers to the aging process.  If the cheese is aged that long, its taste is very strong, so the aforementioned reason of Rashi for refraining from milk after meat is relevant.  Thus, we should not eat meat after eating such cheese.

The Acharonim debate how long one must wait after eating hard cheese before partaking of meat. The Shach (89:16) is inclined to rule that one is required to wait only one hour, and the Aruch HaShulchan (89:11) seems to follow this ruling. The Pri Megadim (Siftei Daat 89:16) writes that the consensus opinion of Acharonim is that one must wait six hours after consuming hard cheese.

The Yad Yehuda (a major commentary to the Yoreh Deah section of Shulchan Aruch) rules that one need not refrain from meat after consuming hard cheese that has been cooked.  The reason for this is straightforward – the hard cheese loses its strong taste during the cooking process.

Case of Doubt- Safek

                Acharonim debate whether one may be lenient if he is uncertain whether the six hours after eating meat has elapsed (see Darkei Teshuva 89:5).  On one hand, since the rule of waiting between meat and milk is a Rabbinic prohibition (meat and milk is biblically forbidden only when two are cooked together – Derech Bishul Asrah Torah  [Chullin 108a]), the rule of Safek Derabanan Lekula (one rules leniently in a case of doubt where the prohibition is rabbinic in nature) should apply. On the other hand, perhaps this rule should not apply, since it is a Davar Sheyesh Lo Matirin –one can refrain from dairy products for an extra few minutes (the rule that one rules leniently in case of doubt of a Rabbinic prohibition does not apply if the prohibition will elapse after a reasonably short period of time, such as a doubt whether an egg was laid on Yom Tov; see Beitza 3b).  On the other hand, perhaps Eastern European Jews did not accept the practice of waiting six hours in case of doubt.  The Darchei Teshuva and the Badei HaShulchan (89:9) are inclined to rule leniently on this issue.  However, Rabbi David Heber presents a cogent argument to rule strictly on this question (see the Torah journal of the Orthodox Union, Mesorah 6:92-94).


We hope that our readers have enjoyed our review of some of the laws of milk and meat.  We pray that just as we respect the various practices among observant Jews with regard to waiting between meat and milk, we should grow to respect the other differences in Halachic practices and Hashkafic orientation among ourselves.

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