Why is kosher law on meat and dairy so broad?

Deuteronomy 14:21 and Exodus 23:19 command “You may not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

Like most dietary commandments, this seems to be pretty specific. But it’s been interpreted to have a broadly symbolic meaning that prohibits any mixing of meat and dairy products. When and how did this interpretation arise? Are there Jews who follow a narrower interpretation of this commandment?

Talmud is a bit weird and difficult, but it’s basically a bunch of rabbis from 200-700 CE arguing about what the Torah is saying between the lines, and creating laws based on that. It also records some laws that the Jewish people were already following, and tries to come up with a Torah-based justification for them (with varying success).

Most of the weird stuff in Jewish practice is from Talmud, because the rabbis were working creatively, not just deductively. There’s a charming bit where they call the Shabbat laws “like a mountain suspended from a hair”.

For not mixing milk and meat, there is the idea that a Jew should “build a fence around Torah/the law” and not only not do the prohibited thing, but not do anything that might accidentally be the prohibited thing. So, “don’t boil a kid in its mothers milk” can become “don’t boil a kid in any milk (because you might have got it mixed up with that of its mother’s)”, and so on.

That passage is interesting, because it’s repeated three times in Torah, so the rabbis figured three different things must have been meant, because God wrote Torah and God doesn’t waste word, right?! So they decided that as well as “cooking”, “serving” and…something else I can’t remember but it might be “storing” or “preparing”…was meant.

It’s a really good case study of how Jewish law/halacha works, actually. I think the most important thing to remember is that Talmud was a creative work as well as a rational academic one.

Wait, as a non-Jew I don’t have to follow all of the specific rules, right? I get a different set?

Because a life where I can’t milk a goat every day until I fill up a big vat, steal away her baby, and then light that fucker up is not a world that I want to live in.

Yes, halacha is only for Jews. There are just seven rules for living a righteous life as a gentile:

  1. Don’t murder
  2. Don’t steal
  3. Don’t have immoral sexual relations*
  4. Don’t eat meat from a living animal (i.e., it has to be totally dead when you eat it)
  5. Set up courts and carry out just laws
  6. and 7. I think are variations on “don’t idol-worship” and “don’t blaspheme”.**

So, boil away, baby!

*up for interpretation; the UK Reform movement takes this to mean rape and incest, rather than, for example, gay sex.
**UK Reform interprets this as “don’t be a dick about other people’s religions”, generally.

You think that’s confusing, different Jewish communities have different rules for how long after eating meat you can eat milk. It ranges from 2 hours to 10 hours. then there’s the keeping of seperate pots and pans, which strikes me as vast overkill, especially in the modern age, where you can clean those things pretty thoroughly.

I grew up in a largely Jewish area, and have also had quite a bit of contact with the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox. And I’ll admit I’ve always found halacha to be rather amusing.

Seems to me that there is this tremendous body of law, with guidelines upon guidelines, and commentary upon commentary on how to follow it… and lots of Jewish people spend great amounts of their time figuring out ways around it. I suspect that’s for convenience, and being able to simply get through the day.

Some friends have told me of ingenious ways in which the rules are circumvented, and I always chuckle. Is god a tax attorney? Like he would love to smite you for rulebreaking, except you found a loophole?

A very brief history of development of the laws on kosherut (noun form of adjective koshur) is found here: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2105/do-jewish-and-islamic-dietary-laws-have-anything-in-common

Yes, the early rabbis viewed the laws of the Torah (Pentateuch, first five books of the bible) to be a legal code although of divine origin. While some argued for broad interpretation, the opinion that won out was that this is indeed a set of rule about how to live, analogous to a law code. That’s amusing in some ways, but very sensible in others. Remember that great portions of the law were about property ownership, sacrifices, personal injury claims, etc. Christianity rejected all that, and just maintained the very broad moral principles, but Judaism (traditional Judaism) accepted that this was a law code outlining more than just moral behavior. So, yes, God could play tax-attorney: if you kill someone but it was in self-defense, that’s considered mitigating and God won’t judge you as harshly (we think. we hope.)

Anyhow, the rabbinic authorities, considering God’s laws to be a legal code, felt they were free to intepret, find loopholes, and applications to their own time. The logic is often difficult but can be great fun to try to follow. One bit: since these rules were believed to be divine in origin, God obviously wouldn’t repeat Himself. Hence, if a rule is expressed twice, there’s some deeper secondary meaning. The rule about not boiling a kid in the milk of its mother appears three times in the Torah; thus, it must be important and have more depth than is superficially apparent.

The rabbinic decision was that the first mention means not to eat milk products together with meat products; the second mention means to keep the dishes and pots separate for milk and meat; and the third mention means not to use mixed products (so, for example, an observant Jew could sell a pig to a non-Jew to eat, but could not sell a cheeseburger to a non-Jew.)

Good summary. The only thing you left out is that the rabbis often used these methods to justify current practices. AFAIK, it’s likely that many or most Jews interpreted the dietary laws as referring to a general separation of milk and meat well before the rabbis came up with the rationale from scripture and codified it in the Talmud.

Growing up in a Christian family, I’ve always been taught that Jesus’s main beef with the Judaism in his time were two things: religious leaders not living up to their own standards, and those same leadersdoing the hedge thing to such an extent that the man-made laws were considered more important than the God-given ones.

Now, obviously, modern Jews (and pretty much any other kind) don’t follow Jesus. But, on these particular issues, I think he had a point. Sometimes I wonder if the hedge has become more important than the original to some Jews. (And I could say the same about many other religions, so don’t think I’m picking on you.)

This could be a reflection of the fact that Jewish religious laws have not generally been backed up by secular authority. Romans or Christians or Muslims didn’t care if Jews were following Kashrut. So there was no secular penalty to stop a Jew from looking for loopholes.

It’s also important to keep in mind that most rabbinic literature didn’t start getting written/collected/edited etc. until about 150 years after Jesus’ death.

A Jewish ex-manager I had mentioned that the double drawer dishwashers (illustration) that a local company were producing had found some favour in Jewish households as they kept the two sets of pots and pans separate. (IIRC, some details may be misremembered, void where prohibited, etc).

Remember that the biblical laws were the laws of the land among the Hebrews for many centuries. They don’t just cover what to eat, but how to wage war, how to select judges, how to handle property disputes, how to pay off debt, punishment of crimes, etc. The laws were all viewed in much the same light, as the laws of the land. There was not a distinction between ritual law, civil/criminal law, and ethical laws. Jesus’s point actually was that the laws should be observed MORE STRICTLY than was common – i.e., it’s not sufficient to refrain from adultery, one should not even commit adultery in one’s heart.

It was Paul who later made the split (based on what he said Jesus said after death) between “moral” laws and “ritual” laws, and threw out the ritual laws. At that point, of course, the Jews and early Christians were all living under Roman law, so the biblical law was no longer “law of the land” nor had been for quite some time.

The Jews rejected Jesus’s teachings as impractical. The law can relate to what one does (don’t steal) but not to what one thinks (don’t think about stealing). The former is traditional and typical legal code; the latter is impractical in life and ridiculous as a law code (until the modern era when we actually can have thought-police.) And when Paul threw out 95% of Jewish Law, of course, the Jews rejected that theology as well.

Yes, there certainly are Jews (then and now) who look for loopholes in the law, just as there are Americans who look for tax loopholes, political nut-cases who look for Constitutional loopholes (the income tax law is illegal, Obama isn’t an American, etc.) And just as there are Christians who lie, cheat, and steal but think that they’re saved and special because they love Jesus. (That’s actually not a loophole per se, that’s what they think the religion teaches.) ::: Shrug ::: That’s human nature, that’s not the religion itself.

My personal experience with this is very limited (goy through and through) but I find the idea of eruv fascinating. I first came across it in Michael Chabon’s novel “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.” Basically, observant Jews will create an enclosure around an area in which they are allowed to break certain restrictions on the Sabbath (for example, carrying objects). This is often just a string or twine stretched between buildings. If the eruv is damaged or broken, it doesn’t count anymore, so frequent repairs are needed; some communities use Web sites or phone hotlines to share information about the status of the eruv.

I don’t understand how they think that YHVH, the Creator and Ruler of All Creation, will look down and say, “My chosen people are breaking the rules which I have set down. They better get ready for some bad-ass smiting…oh, wait, they put up a clothesline. That’s OK then.”

Of course, there’s more to it than that, and I wouldn’t want to disagree with hundreds of years of Talmudic scholars, but…really?

No cite for this, but I seem to recall that some communities decided that the telephone lines going in and around their community did the trick.

There is a benefit to this sort of thing, from a cultural-evolutionary perspective - it allows for social change in a non-heirarchical religion and culture (where there is no central authority laying down the law for everyone).

Hundreds of years of rabbis arguing about the meaning of the laws twists them into some pretty odd shapes to be sure, but it allows for gradual change within a tradition, multiple viewpoints, and gradual liberalization of obsolete social laws - without the necessity of chucking the whole thing (though of course that is always an option as well for some).

In fact, carrying objects is the only restriction which is affected by an eruv. You can’t carry objects between two domains, so the eruv unites them into one domain. It’s a bit more than a string stretched between buildings, though. The string has to be set up in fairly specific ways. :slight_smile:

Also, some Orthodox Jews do not avail themselves of the leniencies afforded by the eruv.

As others have explained at length at times, for example C K Dexter Haven, there is a philosophical difference in the way Jews look at the biblical laws that explains this. They are considered a legal code, in which every word is important. If there is a “loophole” around a particular law, then that loophole was left in place deliberately by God, so God intended for Jews to discover it and make use of it.

Which brings us full cicle back to my OP. Why haven’t some Jews said “Hey, we can eat cheeseburgers. The law specifically says goats and cheeseburgers are made out of cows.”

Because we don’t just go on what the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) says. Sola scriptura is a Protestant Christian thing, not a Jewish thing. Jewish tradition is at least as important in determining what is and isn’t OK to do as what’s actually written in the Tanakh. Some Orthodox Jews would claim that those traditions and interpretations were actually spoken by God to Moses at Mt. Sinai and passed down orally.