Q & A - WITH RABBI RISKIN
The Sages explained the reason for this repetition as follows: once to teach us the prohibition of cooking meat and milk together, a second time to teach the prohibition of eating meat and milk together, and a third time to teach the prohibition of deriving benefit from such a mixture.
The reason for the Torah formulating the command with the expression “a kid in its mother’s milk” is to stress the attribute of mercy: although we are permitted to eat meat, it should ideally be kept within bounds, and we should do whatever we can to avoid causing pain to animals.
The biblical prohibition, then, involves cooking or frying meat together with milk. An example of such a mixture would be cooked or baked lasagna containing both meat and milk. The rabbinical prohibition also involves “joining” meat and milk, for instance by spreading butter on bread and then putting meat on it as a sandwich.
The Gemara adds that in order to keep ourselves far from any possibility of mixing meat and milk, it is forbidden to eat them together at the same meal - for instance, eating meat or chicken as an entrée followed by a dessert containing whipped (milk) cream.
Following the talmudic period it became customary to wait a certain time between eating meat and eating milk, even if they were not consumed at the same meal. In the Shulhan Arukh, the Rama mentions two different customs: one involves waiting six hours (or, according to some of the early authorities, waiting until within the sixth hour). The other custom is to wait one hour.
The accepted explanation for six hours is that this is the ideal period required for meat to be digested in the intestines. The custom of waiting one hour is based on the calculation that one hour is the time required for the teeth to be cleansed of any remaining meat.
The custom of waiting three hours between eating meat and milk, which originated with German Jewry (and has since become widely accepted in Israel and elsewhere), is not mentioned in this context, nor is either explanation suited to it: three hours is neither the time required to digest meat nor the time required for the mouth to be empty of remaining meat particles.
Rav Elimelekh Bar-Shaul, of blessed memory - the previous Chief Rabbi of Rehovot - suggested a different explanation for each of the three customs. He claimed that each custom arose from the particular local habits concerning the wait between meals. In Poland and Russia it was customary to eat three meals each day, with a wait of five to six hours in between. Breakfast was eaten around 6:00 am, lunch at 12:30, and supper at about 19:00 pm. The custom was therefore to wait six hours between meat and milk. In Germany, meals were also eaten at 10:00 am and at 16:00 pm, and so the custom there (and perhaps also in Israel, in places where these meals were usually eaten) was to wait three hours between meat and milk. And in the Scandinavian countries, where it was customary to eat several smaller meals during the day, the custom is to wait one hour.
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