For those who keep kosher, it’s not enough to just eat meat and milk separately. There is a waiting period before one can eat milk products after eating meat.
On this page:
- Source of the Halachah (Jewish Law)
- Diverse Halachic Opinions on the Waiting Period
- Do Children Have to Wait?
- Eating Meat after Dairy
- Waiting after Hard Cheese
Source of the Halachah (Jewish Law)
Rambam explains that meat tends to get stuck in one’s teeth, and if one consumes dairy shortly after eating meat, the two may mix in the mouth (Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 9:28). Rashi maintains that since meat leaves fatty residue and an aftertaste, time is needed to allow them to dissipate (Chullin105a).
Waiting was mandated on all types of meat, including poultry, livestock or wild beasts.
Opinions on the Waiting Period
The Talmud relates that the great sage Mar Ukva contrasted his approach to waiting after eating meat with that of his father: “If Father would eat meat now, he would not eat cheese until the next day at this time. I, however, will not eat [cheese] at this meal, but I will do so at the next meal” (Chullin 105a).
Mar Ukva’s father was super stringent and went beyond the requirements, whereas Mar Ukva went according to the letter of the law. Mar Ukva’s practice of “waiting until the next meal” is seen by halachic sources as being the basis for the requirement to wait after eating meat before eating dairy.
Authorities, however, do not agree on how long Mar Ukva waited. Some opine that Mar Ukva simply provided us with a general rule: Do not combine dairy and meat at the same meal; and, if you eat a meat meal, you cannot have dairy until the meat meal has been completed. Any further waiting is optional. Others maintain that Mar Ukva advocated waiting a specific duration of time, and that this is what halachahrequires.
The Shulchan Aruchpresents various approaches. In Yoreh Deah 89:1, Rabbi Yosef Karo— whose authority is binding on most Sephardic Jews— states in no uncertain terms that one must wait six hours after consuming meat before eating dairy. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Rema— whom Ashkenazic Jews follow— who posits that the rule is to not consume meat and dairy in the same meal.
While Rema maintains that, according to the letter of the law, one may eat a meat meal, recite Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals) and then immediately begin a dairy meal, he endorses the more scrupulous practice of waiting the full six hours. Ashkenazic Jewry has accepted the custom of waiting this length of time between meals.
Rema further explains that though the custom in his community (Krakow) was to wait an hour between meals, one should wait six hours. Nowadays, most Jews wait six hours, though Dutch Jews wait one hour, and German Jews wait three hours.
(It should be noted that instead of stating that one must wait six hours between eating meat and dairy, Rambam [Hilchot Ma’achalot Asurot 9:28] states that one must wait “about six hours.” Rambam’s intent is a point of dispute among halachic authorities. Some interpret this to allow for a five-and-a-half-hour waiting period.
It all goes back to Mar Ukva’s statement about waiting “until the next meal.” Some interpret the “next meal” to mean six hours, the average amount of time from lunch to dinner or from a late breakfast—“brunch”—to dinner. (In Talmudic times, most people ate only two meals: “brunch” and dinner.)
Others believe Mar Ukva meant that one should wait an hour, the amount of time it takes for digestion to begin (Chochmat Adam 40:13). Those who wait three hours may understand Mar Ukva to be referring to the interval between breakfast and lunch, rather than that between lunch and dinner.
Sephardic Jews mustwait six hours as a matter of halachah; there is no room for divergent customs or leniencies (except in a case of medical need, of course).
Ashkenazim, however, wait as a matter of accepted custom, similar to the Ashkenazic custom to refrain from eating kitniyot on Pesach. For Ashkenazim, it is always necessary, however, to recite the required brachot upon completing a meat meal before eating dairy. The brachot serve to separate the meals.
If—after waiting the requisite period of time—one finds meat stuck between their teeth, they must cleanse their teeth and rinse their mouth. There is no need to wait any longer. (There is also a disagreement regarding the one-hour period. Some authorities rule that a person who always waits one hour needs to clean their mouth before eating dairy, whereas others disagree.)
Do Children Have to Wait?
Although children who do not yet have a basic understanding of a given halachic principle are not bound to observe it, it is prohibited for an adult to directly cause a child to violate halachah. Therefore, one is not allowed to feed a child—even an infant—meat and dairy together. (The general rule is that an adult may not make a child transgress a biblical prohibition. Some authorities make exceptions for rabbinic prohibitions in certain cases. The overall topic is very complex and is beyond the scope of this article.)
Very young children who do not understand the basic principle of not mixing meat and dairy do not need to wait. Once a child has a minimal understanding of the prohibition, he should wait an hour after eating meat before eating dairy. As a child grows older, he should be encouraged to wait longer (unless he is from a Dutch family).
The exact amount of time to wait depends on the child’s maturity and ability to wait; other factors may also be considerations. (For example, if a child’s younger siblings are allowed to wait less time, and this may cause him to view the halachah negatively, this must be factored into the decision.) Consult a competent rabbinic authority for guidance.
Eating Meat after Dairy
After eating dairy, one can eat meat so long as they do the following:
- Cleanse their mouth
- Rinse their mouth, and
- Wash their hands
Some also have the practice of reciting the necessary brachot (blessings) after the dairy meal, waiting, and then reciting new brachot for the meat meal. The need and permissibility of reciting brachot in this case is a subject of halachic controversy.
One may clean their mouth by eating or drinking something parve. Any solid parve food other than dates, raw flour and greens can be used.
Steps 1-3 may be done in any order. One must wash their hands and clean their mouth even if they feel that they are clean. An exception to washing one’s hands is made for one who used utensils and had absolutely no physical contact with the food.
If the meal to follow consists of poultry and not beef, there is no need for one to cleanse their mouth or wash their hands. (This is because mixing poultry with dairy is only rabbinically prohibited.)
Although there is no halachic requirement to wait after eating dairy before eating meat, some wait an hour or half an hour, based on a statement found in the Zohar. (The Zohar’s exact wording can be found in the commentary of the Vilna Gaon on Yoreh Deah 89:1.)
Waiting after Hard Cheese
The halachah after eating hard cheese is different than after all other dairy products. Rema posits that if one wants to eat meat after eating hard cheese, they should wait for the amount of time that they wait after eating meat before eating dairy (for example, three or six hours). Commentators note that Rema is only referring to hard, aged cheese since such cheese adheres to the mouth and leaves an aftertaste, somewhat similar to meat.
What qualifies as hard, aged cheese? According to halachah, this is cheese that is aged for six months or so. The exact application of this axiom is the subject of discussion among halachic authorities.
The decisors of the OU Kashrut Department have ruled that cheese that is endowed with a unique texture or lingering taste—akin to the texture or taste classically acquired via aging—qualifies as hard cheese, regardless of the precise aging period. Click through for a list of many different types of aged cheeses and whether they require a wait time before eating meat.
Many authorities are of the opinion that one need not wait after eating cheese that is melted since melting compromises the texture and flavor of the cheese. Thus, there is no need to wait after American cheese, as it is a blend of cheddar cheese and additives that has been melted and re-formed. This is the OU’s position as well.