(Related podcast: “Thou shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exod. 23:19). Why? (Podcast-audio))
This verse appears thrice in the Bible (additionally in Exod. 34:26; Deut. 14:21). It serves cornerstone for a large portion of Jewish dietary Kosher laws (regarding cooking and eating), forbidding mixing together meat with dairy products.
What is the logic behind this seemingly non-sensical fundamental tenet of Jewish way-of-life, setting the latter apart from all other peoples of the world (including followers of Islam, which comes closest to the Jewish Kashrut rules)?
The succinct answer is this:
Judaism is extremely strict about total separation of Life from Death.
And whenever an eventuality may occur, that the two may even remotely overlap or intermingle — a tall separating wall is constructed in Jewish law to ensure that this never happens. In that sense, Jewish Kashrut laws are just one instance in a sea of like-wise laws, ensuring that a Jew, strictly pursuing Moses Law (as specified succinctly in the written Torah and explicated in Oral Torah, later expounded in the Talmud), will never be exposed to scenarios, where Life and Death accidentally intermingle.
The origin for this total and strict separation is probably best articulated in the Divine commandment:
“I call this day to witness against you the heaven and the earth — I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore, choose life that both you and your seed may live” (Deut. 30:19).
And the choice of Life over Death requires strict separation between the two, as reflected in numerous Jewish laws (we will elaborate on some soon).
Why eating meat with dairy products, with no time separation between the two, implies intermingling of life and death?
The answer is straightforward:
- Eating meat is the result of killing an animal; This means Death;
- Dairy products are derived from milk, originally created to assist life, namely, the growth of the just born; This means… well, Life.
Therfore, meat and dairy, associated with death and life, respectively, cannot be mixed and concurrently consumed.
Finally, we note that killing animals, in order to eat meat, had been permitted by the Divine only after realizing that “the impulse of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). Following Noah’s own initiative to sacrifice some of the animals that kept him company just now, for the last hundred and fifty flood-days (Gen. 8:20), God concludes that “the impulse of man’s heart is evil”; Consequently, a permit is now granted: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; As green herb have I given you all” (Gen. 9:3).
Where else do we see the same underlying principle of Jewish life, total separation of Life from Death, so that one may more easily be led to “choose life that both you and your seed may live “?
Here are some examples:
- “But flesh with its life, which is its blood, you shall not eat” (Gen. 9:4); This requires, by Kashrut laws, washing away all traces of blood from the meat prior to cooking; An egg with stains of blood inside likewise is not edible;
- A Jewish cemetery is surrounded all around by a tall wall, strictly and explicitly separating the living from the dead; and when a Jew leaves the cemetery, he washes his hands, demonstrating symbolically and stating in no unclear terms that spiritually no “traces” of the dead remain on his body when he departs the cemetery;
- There is a set time for a mourning period (“Shivah”); This ensures that subsequently the deceased would not psychologically and spiritually intervene with the living;
- Judaism strictly forbids contacts with the dead via spiritualistic conferences; The living are not supposed to talk to the dead: “A man or a woman that is a medium or a spiritist shall surely be put to death; they shall be stoned with stone, their blood-guiltiness is upon them” (Leviticus 20:27);
- A woman at the end of her menstrual cycle is forbidden sexual contact with her spouse; The former (menstrual period) marks life-potential not realized, the departure process of a potential life-generating egg, not consumed, now dead; The latter (sexual contact) is associated with live sperm, marking potential for generating life; The two are strictly forbidden from unholy mixture via time-concurrency: “Also thou shalt not approach to a woman in the impurity of her menstrual flow to uncover her nakedness” (Leviticus 18:19).
All these examples, regarding Jewish living in accord with Moses law, point to a deeper principle, prevalent throughout the Jewish faith:
Everything that one thinks and speaks (orally or by other means), everything that one does, our behavior in its totality – these are all spiritually meaningful. They have a spiritual effect on our soul, and they ultimately return like a boomerang to affect our lives (favorably or otherwise). In Hebrew, the arbitrary, seemingly meaningless, “Thing”, is Davar, deriving from same root as “speak” (Daber). All that we encounter in life “speak” to us— no “Thing” is insignificant.
Jewish laws, at first looking arbitrary, devoid of any rational justification, like “Thou shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk”, now acquire new very deep meaning:
We realize that violation of these laws, implying intermingling of Life and Death in our own every-day life, may affect our spiritual well-being; Ultimately, this will also be affecting our well-being physically.
5 replies on ““Thou shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exod. 23:19) — Why??”
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Wow!! Insightful, Interesting and reveling.
Am happy you found it so. Thank you for the comment.
Interesting and instructional. Thanks, Prof Shore.
Ong, Thank you for your comment.