July 13, 2024
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Have the Six Hours Elapsed? A Difference Between Sephardim and Ashkenazim, Part II

It is a typical question faced by observant Jews: I am unsure if the waiting period between meat and milk elapsed—may I eat milk products now or must I wait until I am sure the customary time has passed? Not surprisingly, poskim have devoted considerable discussion of this frequently asked question. This week we shall conclude our discussion of this issue as set forth in the Gemara, Rishonim, the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries, Acharonim and contemporary authorities.

Last week we noted the Gemara (Chullin 105a), which records a somewhat ambiguous statement of Mar Ukva—that he would consume milk products “at the next meal” (l’seudata acharita) after he had eaten meat. The Rishonim disagree about how to interpret the phrase “at the next meal.” Tosafot understand the phrase literally—one may consume milk after eating meat, provided that it is eaten as part of a separate meal (and one has washed and cleaned his mouth). Rambam, though, believes that one must wait the normal interval between meals—six hours. We noted that Sephardic Jews and East European Jews follow the Rambam’s approach.

What about Dutch and German Jews? Dutch Jews essentially follow Tosafot with an added hour. The Vilna Gaon (Biur Hagra 89:6) writes that this practice is based on the Zohar in Parshat Mishpatim, which speaks of the prohibition to eat milk and meat within one hour of each other. This approach essentially follows Tosafot, that one may consume milk following the recitation of Birkat Hamazon after a meat meal. The contribution of the Zohar is the idea of waiting an additional hour.

The practice of German Jews to wait three hours has a source in a Rishon—Rabbeinu Yerucham (Issur V’heter no. 39)—and is alluded to in the Chayei Adam (127:10). There are two suggested explanations for this practice. One possibility is that it is a compromise between the Rambam and Tosafot. Another possibility is that this approach believes that three hours is the normal time one waits between meals.

What if one is unsure if the time has elapsed?

Case of Doubt—Safek

Acharonim debate whether one may be lenient if he is uncertain whether time after eating meat has elapsed (see Darkei Teshuva 89:5). On one hand, since the rule of waiting between meat and milk is a Rabbinic prohibition (meat and milk is Biblically forbidden only when two are cooked together—derech bishul asrah Torah [Chullin 108a]), the rule of safek d’rabbanan lekula (one rules leniently in a case of doubt where the prohibition is Rabbinic in nature) should apply. On the other hand, perhaps this rule should not apply, since it is a davar sheyesh lo matirin, and one can refrain from dairy products for an extra few minutes (the rule that one rules leniently in case of doubt of a Rabbinic prohibition does not apply if the prohibition will elapse after a reasonably short period of time, such as a doubt whether an egg was laid on Yom Tov; see Beitza 3b). On the other hand, one could argue that Eastern European Jews did not accept the practice of waiting six hours in case of doubt. The Darchei Teshuva and the Badei HaShulchan (89:9) are inclined to rule leniently on this issue.

Hacham Yitzhak Yosef rules that Sephardic Jews also may consume milk products if they are unsure if the requisite six hours have passed. Hacham Yitzhak accepts the approach of the Tzlach (Rav Yechezkel Landau) that the rule of davar sheyesh lo matirin applies only to a doubt in regard to a specific item that is forbidden. In such a case, Chazal instruct us to defer eating until the time of uncertainty has passed. However, regarding the waiting between meat and milk, no specific object is forbidden and thus the davar sheyesh lo matirin rule does not apply.

Both Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews may consume milk products in case of doubt whether the wait time between meat and milk has passed. However, it is best to pay careful attention to the finish time of eating meat to avoid this question altogether.

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

 Rabbi Haim Jachter is the rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck.

 

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