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Bring the choicest first fruits to the House of G-d. Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk (23:19).
The Halachic understanding of not cooking a young goat in its mother's milk embraces the tradition of neither consuming, nor cooking, nor benefiting from a mixture of meat and milk. Indeed, Targum Onkelos renders this prohibition as: "You may not eat meat with milk".
It appears a total of three times in the Torah. Twice in connection with the festive seasons based at the Temple, whose laws finish in an identical verse:
"Bring the choicest first fruit to the House of G-d. Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk" (Ex. 23:19 in this Parasha, and 34:26).
Why does the prohibition of cooking a young goat in its mother's milk occur in connection with Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles as celebrated in the Temple?
Maimonides suggests that one key reason that cooking a kid in its mother's milk is forbidden is because of idol worship. He writes:
"As for the prohibition against eating meat in milk, it is not improbable that - in addition to this being undoubtedly very gross food and very filling - idolatry had something to do with it. Perhaps such food was eaten at one of the ceremonies of their cult or at one of their festivals" (Guide to the Perplexed 3:48).
However, Maimonides states that he could find no support for his suggestion:
"…this is the most probable view regarding the reasons for this prohibition... I have not seen this set down in any of the books of the Sabeans [pagans] that I have read."
Sforno follows this line, explicitly connecting the first fruits and milk and meat with:
"Through bringing the first fruits of your land, you will have a good quality fruit harvest". Quoting from Ezekiel in support: "The first fruits of all things… you shall give to the priest so that he may cause a blessing to rest in your house" (Ez. 44:30). The Sforno continues with: "Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk - as was the way of the pagans who thought this practice would bring prosperity in their fruits or flocks".
In short, it is the first fruits - not the kid in its mother's milk, that will bring prosperity.
The connection between this prohibition and idolatry does appear to be supported by more recent discoveries on the regional pagan practices of the time, namely on the Ugaritic tablet discovered in 1929 at Ras Sharma in Syria. Dating back to the 14th century BCE, it contains what appears to be a reference to the festival-cooking of a kid in milk, though its legibility and translation is currently debated by scholars. In the Canaanite ritual, the milk in which the kid was cooked symbolized the milk that the newly born gods were given when suckled by the pagan goddesses Athirst and Rahmay. The mixture would then be sprinkled on the fields to promote agriculture through supernatural means.
Thus the basic prohibition of not cooking a kid in its mother's milk appears to be based on idolatry. It is the land's nutrients of G-d's creation that nourish produce, so appropriate behavior on festivals is to bring its first sprouts in thanks and recognition of G-d's kindness and generosity. Thus: "The first fruits that your land yields shall be brought to the House of G-d". And inappropriate behavior would be copying the pagans, whose festive rituals involve saluting the newly born gods with the practice of cooking a kid in milk.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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