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TCS Question - Why don't people eat chicken and milk?

In the Torah on three occasions we read the line “do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk”, twice in Shemot (Exodus) and once in Devarim (Deuteronomy). This led to the joke:
God says to Moses: “Do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk”.
Moses thinks for a moment and says: “Okay so we will avoid eating things that combine milk and meat.”
So God says: “Do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk”.
And Moses responds: “Okay, we’ll make sure that after we eat milk products we’ll wait half an hour before we eat anything meaty, and we’ll wait three hours in the other direction.”
So God says: “Do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk”.
To which Moses says: “Okay, I get it, we’ll have separate dishes for meat and milk, with separate cutlery and separate sinks.”
So finally God says to Moses: “Have it your own way then.”

At its core this joke is a reminder that from a very brief commandment, repeated three times, we get a whole range of laws for what is and is not permissible to eat. It is also an indication that there are some who believe that this was not originally intended as a dietary law. Scholars, including Rabbi Moses Maimonides in the twelfth century, have suggested that originally this may have been related to idolatry and the sacrificial practices of the neighboring peoples. In this way the prohibition was intended as a way of preventing the Israelites from slipping into idolatry rather than as a dietary regulation.

Nevertheless, as a result of this commandment, and the way that the Rabbis interpreted it, we are forbidden from eating cheeseburgers, meat lasagna, and various other dishes. The question that we may want to ask is why is chicken counted as a meat?

Within the commandment not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk there is a sense in which we are respecting the natural world by not taking a young animal and then using the very substance that was supposed to nurture it in our preparation of it for eating it. But I am yet to see a chicken that produces milk, and so we might ask why the prohibition was extended to poultry.

While in Orthodox communities the inclusion of poultry today is clear cut, in the days of the Talmud there was discussion about whether chicken counted as meat. We read that Rabbi Akiva understood that the commandment was given three times so that it did include 1, wild kosher animals; 2, non-kosher domesticated animals; and 3, fowl. However, we also read in the Talmud that Rabbi Jose the Galilean permitted the eating of chicken and milk.

In the Talmud the text actually goes further, as they make sense of Rabbi Jose’s opinion. “Rabbi Jose the Galilean maintains that fowls are not even prohibited by the Rabbis… In the place of Rabbi Jose the Galilean they used to eat fowl’s flesh cooked in milk” (Talmud Chullin 116a). They do not challenge this view, instead accepting this difference of opinion. However, despite this, as we might have guessed it is Akiva’s inclusion of fowl which was ultimately accepted as the law.

The other reason for prohibiting chicken and milk is due to a Jewish legal concept of marit ayin – the appearance of the eye. In this way people don’t eat chicken and milk in case someone saw them and assumed that they were actually eating meat and milk – transgressing a commandment.

With this as the foundation for not mixing chicken and milk there are Reform Jews today who have considered the original Biblical injunction alongside the Rabbinic interpretations and have decided that the eating of chicken and milk is permissible. It is a case where we, as Reform Jews, need to do some studying of the text and of our tradition so that we can make an informed choice for how we choose to keep kosher. 

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