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Moses recounts the dietary laws detailed in Parashat Shemini (Lev. 11) to the Israelites before entering the Promised Land, ending with:
'Do not eat any carcass (meat from an animal not killed according to Torah law)… it may be sold to a non-Israelite. For you are a holy people to the Lord your G-d. Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk' (13:21).
The Halachic rendering of the final prohibition of 'cooking a young goat in its mother's milk' includes the powerful tradition of not consuming meat and milk together. Indeed, Onkleos renders this prohibition as: 'You may not eat meat with milk'.
However, 'do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk' does not appear where it might be most expected: within the details of the dietary laws in Parashat Shemini. Yet it does occur in two other places. Both are in connections with the festive seasons based at the Temple, whose laws finish in an identical verse:
'The first fruits that your land yields shall be brought to the House of G-d. Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk' (Ex. 23:19, 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? Why is it only repeated for a third time in Moses' recount, but not in the original presentation of the dietary laws?
Maimonides, writing in 1195 suggests a link between the prohibition of meat and milk on one hand and idolatry on the other:
'As for the prohibition against eating meat in milk, it is in my opinion 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 one of their festivals' (Guide to the Perplexed 111:48).
Maimonides admitted, however, 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.'
However, 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 tables discovered in 1929 at Ras Sharma in Syria. These date back to the 14th century BCE, and contain a reference to their festival-cooking of a kid in milk. 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.
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 nutrient's which nourish produce, so appropriate behavior on festivals is to bring its first fruits in thanks and recognition of G-d's munificence. 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.
And in this week's parasha, Moses brought the law in connection with doing business with a non-Israelite (which is not the context of Parashat Shemini). Though you may sell them non-kosher meat, 'you are a holy people to the Lord your G-d, therefore you may not (perform an act of disloyalty to Him by following their idolatrous practice; you may not) cook a kid in its mother's milk' (13:21).
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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