Customs for Waiting Between Meat and Milk

December 8, 2017 | by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld

I see that some people wait 6 hours between meat and milk, while some wait 3 and some wait 1. Are all these customs valid? Can someone without an established family custom choose whichever custom he wants?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

You are right that a number of different customs exist for waiting between meat and milk. The notion of waiting is based on the Talmud (Hullin 105a) where a sage refers to himself as waiting from one meal to the next between eating meat and milk. The implication is that the required waiting time is the typical amount of time between meals. Several early authorities state that in a typical day, in which lunch is eaten at midday and supper at nightfall, the amount of time which passes is 6 hours.

Based on that, the most common custom is to wait a full 6 hours between meat and milk. Some do a variation of this, waiting 5½ hours. This might be based on Maimonides, who states that the time between meals is “about 6 hours” – implying that the wait does not have to be six hours on the clock. (As I once heard a rabbi comment, more likely is that in Maimonides’s time people simply didn’t have accurate timepieces. They would have to estimate the number of hours which had passed.)

There is a custom among German Jews to wait only 3 hours. Later authorities have struggled to find a source for this. It’s been suggested that it was simply a matter of their eating habits – that at some time in the past Germans would eat 5 small meals a day, waiting 3 hours between each meal, and this became their custom even until today. Or perhaps since in a short winter day nightfall can be as little as 3 hours after midday, that became their accepted practice throughout the year.

There is also the custom of Dutch Jews to wait a single hour between meals. This is based on a different understanding of the Talmud – that waiting from one meal to the next does not imply a specific number of hours. The concern is rather that one not eat meat and milk in the same meal. But in different meals it is fine, even if a person would theoretically begin his next meal immediately after the previous (say if he has an appetite like some of our teenagers).

If so, why even a one hour wait? This is based on the Zohar, which states that one should not eat meat and milk in the same hour. Thus, even between meals, one hour is the minimum waiting time.

In practice, the almost universally accepted custom is to wait a full six hours between meat and milk. Unless you specifically know that your family has a different tradition, this is the practice you should follow. See also this response about the reasons for waiting between meat and milk.

(Sources: Talmud Hullin 105a, Rambam Ma’achalot Assurot 9:28, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 89:1 with Rema, Shach 89:5,Chochmas Adam 40:13, Aruch HaShulchan 89:7.)

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