Kid in Mother’s Milk not Taken Literally
The Torah states a clear law, “You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.” How in the world can this be taken as the basis for not eating meat and milk together at all, not even in the same meal? The Torah is perfectly clear about what is forbidden! How can the Rabbis arbitrarily extend it?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
Thank you for your very important question. The Talmud discusses this issue at great length (Hullin 113-116), and after detailed analysis concludes that the verse was not intended to be limited to a kid and its mother, but is rather a much more general injunction about not cooking or benefiting from meat and milk cooked together. (One of the many indications of this is based on the fact that this identical statement appears three times in the Torah – Exodus 23:18, Exodus 34:26, and Deut. 14:21. Why repeat something we were already taught? The clear implication is that the Torah intends to convey more than the simple interpretation implies.)
(One important aside is that the common translation of “g'di” as “kid” – implying a goat – is not a correct translation of the Hebrew. The word actually implies the young of any domesticated species - which is why (as the Talmud notes) when referring to goats, the Torah always uses the phrase “a kid of the goats” (e.g. Genesis 38:20).)
In truth, the Talmud does make a few inferences from the exact wording of the verse. According to some, the word “kid” comes to exclude non-domesticated animals. Likewise according to some, the phrase “its mother’s milk” comes to exclude birds which do not produce milk. (Consuming fowl and milk together, however, is forbidden by Rabbinic decree since it resembles meat and milk.) The word “cook” may likewise exclude frying meat and milk together (from Torah law). (Waiting between meals is a further Rabbinical precaution.) Regardless, all the Sages of the Talmud are in agreement that these verses forbid more than the literal meaning implies.
And this is actually quite significant. Not to sound facetious, but anyone who is at all familiar with the Talmud knows that it contains quite a lot of debates. Virtually every topic it discusses is subject to debate in one form or the other. But this law is not one of them. When everyone in the Talmud agrees to something, we can be quite certain that the law is a tradition passed from Sinai (see Maimonides, intro. to Mishne Torah, par. 34, Mamrim 1:3). Everyone knew the basic law that we may not cook or eat meat and milk (which of course had been practiced by Jews since the days of Moses). The only question of the Talmud was exactly how the law may be derived from the verses.
This leads us to the final question: Why did the Torah state this law in such a striking way? Why not simply say, “You shall not cook meat and milk together?”
Several of the commentators explain simply that this was a common practice in the ancient world for various reasons, either practical or pagan, so the Torah expressed this law by taking that example (Rashbam to Exodus 23:18 compare to Ibn Ezra, Seforno to Exodus 34:26). Ramban (Deut. 14:21), together with Ibn Ezra and Rashbam, explain further that such a practice was especially heartless – to take the mother’s milk, intended to nurture the child, and to use that very milk to cook the child, and then to eat them together. Ibn Ezra and Rashbam compare it to the likewise forbidden practices of slaughtering a mother animal together with its child on the same day (Leviticus 22:28), and taking a mother bird together with its eggs (Deut. 22:6).
Another answer is suggested by Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits of Jerusalem. In general, when the Torah teaches a law, it states it in the most extreme case – as a way of teaching us the extent of its application. I.e., this law even applies in in such a case, when we might least expect.
For example, when the Torah teaches the husband’s obligations to his wife – food, clothing and marital relations, it teaches it in the case where a man purchases a maidservant and then frees and marries her (see Exodus 21:7-11). In other words, even this woman – whom he thinks of as his slave, he must fulfill his obligations to as his full-fledged wife. All the more so a woman he takes in a typical marriage.
Perhaps the same notion applies here. Even when the meat and milk are as similar as possible – i.e., they are both products of the same mother, they still are viewed as opposites and may not be mixed. If so, this is certainly true of meat and milk of unrelated animals.