Written by Rabbis Eli Gersten, Yaakov Luban and Moshe Zywica of the Orthodox Union
There are various customs on how long to wait between meat and milk. Is waiting between meat and milk a Rabbinic obligation or is it a custom?
The Gemara (Chullin 105a) states in the name of Rav Chisda that it is forbidden to eat cheese after meat, but meat may be eaten after cheese. Mar Ukva qualifies that cheese can only be eaten after meat if it is already the next meal. There is disagreement among Rishonim as to how to understand the ruling of Mar Ukva.
- The Rambam held that Mar Ukva was teaching us that one must wait approximately 6 hours, the length of time between meals. The Shulchan Aruch follows the opinion of the Rambam but makes it a precise 6 hours.
- Tosfot understood that Mar Ukva meant that once one eats meat, it is forbidden to eat cheese until the meal is concluded with Birkat Hamazon. In addition, rinsing the mouth is required. The Rama followed the opinion of Tosfot, but noted that there is a minhag (custom) to wait one hour and that the custom of those who are careful is to wait 6 hours. Interestingly, the common German custom is to wait 3 hours.
So, while all agree that there is a definite Rabbinic obligation to wait between eating meat and milk, there are different opinions as to how long one must wait. For Sefardim who follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, waiting 6 hours is an absolute obligation. For Ashkenazim, who follow the ruling of the Rama, the obligation ends after cleaning the mouth and reciting a bracha acharona. Therefore, waiting either one hour, 3 hours, or 6 hours are all part of different customs.