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Milk and Meat — and Chicken and Fish

Question:

My question concerns food, since I am a chef. And so far, no rabbi was able to explain this to me to my satisfaction. My question is: Why do we consider chicken “meat”? When it comes to the verse “Do not cook a calf in its mother’s milk”, well, chickens don’t produce milk! Even some fish are more “meaty” than chicken — tuna for example — yet we can eat fish and milk together. So please, I hope you can give me an answer I can “live with”. Thanks.


AskTheRabbi.org answered:

Ah, your question brings back memories: I’m at a friend’s wedding in the ballroom of a five-star hotel here in Jerusalem. A tuxedoed waiter circles the table and ladles each person a bowl of smooth, creamy liquid. I taste it: Cream-o’-pumpkin. Mmm mmm good! If I didn’t know this was a kosher hotel serving a meat meal, I would almost swear I tasted cream.

So I’ll try to give you an answer you can “live with”; but if I fail, I hope egg-whites or soy milk are a milk substitute you can live with. (And they’re cholesterol-free!)

I agree with you that tuna steaks look incredibly like meat. And there are birds that swim and fish that fly. But these physical similarities are not what are relevant.

The meat of the matter is that chicken and meat have many points of Jewish law in common. For instance, both chicken and meat require ritual slaughter (shechita). Fish do not. Blood of both chicken and meat is forbidden. Fish blood is not. Both chicken and meat are invalidated by certain physical defects (treifot). Fish are not… etc.

So, from the perspective of someone keeping Jewish law, chicken has a lot more in common with meat than fish does.

Let me add that it wasn’t just “someone” who decided that Jews shouldn’t mix milk and chicken. Rather, this decision was made by the Sages of the Sanhedrin, whose authority to make rabbinic decrees is explicit in the Torah (Deuteronomy 17:8-10).

Keeping kosher does not require forfeiting any of this world’s pleasures, but rather channeling pleasure in the right time as a vehicle for the spirit. Keeping kosher builds character. Not every indulgence is immediately available, especially at the expense of the life of a living creature.

I wish you much success as a kosher chef and bestow upon you what I call “the chef’s blessing”: May you find much success in creating a great variety of kosher dishes that your clients will enjoy with enthusiasm and express their gratitude for your efforts!

View this question on the AskTheRabbi.org website

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