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I was recently invited for Shabbat dinner. It was a wonderful, uplifting experience. One thing I was unfamiliar with is that everyone was told to take a drink between the fish and the chicken. I am familiar with separating between meat and milk, but not meat and fish. Can you give me some guidelines about this?
The separation we make between meat and fish is actually based on a health concern. The Talmud (Pesachim 76b) writes that eating meat and fish cooked together is harmful to one’s health (and also causes bad breath). (I've heard that some actually find that the combination these two types of proteins is difficult to digest.) Although some later authorities have noted that we are not familiar with any such health issues today, practically speaking, we make a small separation between the fish and meat courses of a meal. To ensure that the meat and fish do not come in contact with one another:
(a) We serve the fish on a separate plate and eat it with a separate fork.
(b) We take a drink between the fish and meat course. (It needs not be alcoholic, although some take the opportunity to make a “l’chaim” at this point during the meal.)
(c) We eat a little bit – such as a few bites of challah – between the fish and meat course. (see Rema Yoreh Deah 116:3)
One of the important messages of this is that Judaism is equally concerned for our physical as our spiritual well-being. Deuteronomy 4:15 states, “You shall be very careful with yourselves” – which many take figuratively to mean we must care for our health (see Talmud - Brachot 32b). We take seriously as remote a health concern as consuming meat and fish together; all the more so visible dangers.