One And Done

Halakhic Logic for Waiting One Hour Between Meat and Dairy
I’ll skip the usual apologies for neglecting the blog; I’m a “part time” Rabbi and I’ve always believed that real life takes precedence over virtual life. Actually I think I’ve fulfilled my “virtual” requirements quite nicely on my Twitter feed.1 Case in point, one Twitter conversation discussed the halakhic topic of waiting to eat dairy foods after consuming meat. There are varying cultural traditions regarding the length one must wait ranging from one to six hours but the minimum time of waiting only one hour is the least commonly observed practice. The reason for this phenomenon is likely the result of social factors – a cultural affinity towards selective stringencies being one of many- than legal hermeneutic. (The support for longer waiting periods certainly has halakhic support with Rambam (Ma’achalot Assurot 9:28) and Shulhan Aruch (O.C. 89:1) stipulating a 5-6 hour waiting period but Ashkenazi Jews follow these authorities inconsistently). In this post I will argue that the minimum position of waiting one hour, typically not considered normative, maintains halakhic validity.


We must first begin our discussion with the Talmudic sugya in
B. Hullin 105a
which introduces the waiting period (Soncino translation):

בעא מיניה רב אסי מרבי יוחנן: כמה ישהה בין בשר לגבינה? א”ל: ולא כלום; איני, והא אמר רב חסדא: אכל בשר – אסור לאכול גבינה, גבינה – מותר לאכול בשר! אלא, כמה ישהה בין גבינה לבשר? א”ל: ולא כלום. גופא, אמר רב חסדא: אכל בשר – אסור לאכול גבינה, גבינה – מותר לאכול בשר. אמר ליה רב אחא בר יוסף לרב חסדא: בשר שבין השינים מהו? קרי עליה: +במדבר י”א+ הבשר עודנו בין שיניהם. אמר מר עוקבא: אנא, להא מלתא, חלא בר חמרא לגבי אבא, דאילו אבא – כי הוה אכיל בשרא האידנא לא הוה אכל גבינה עד למחר עד השתא, ואילו אנא – בהא סעודתא הוא דלא אכילנא, לסעודתא אחריתא – אכילנא.

R. Assi enquired of R. Johanan: How long must one wait between flesh and cheese? — He replied. Nothing at all. But this cannot be, for R. Hisda said: If a person ate flesh he is forbidden to eat [after it] cheese, if he ate cheese he is permitted to eat [after it] flesh! — This indeed was the question. How long must one wait between cheese and flesh? And he replied. Nothing at all.

The [above] text [stated]: ‘R. Hisda said: If a person ate flesh he is forbidden to eat [after it] cheese, if he ate cheese he is permitted to eat [after it] flesh’. R. Aha b. Joseph asked R. Hisda: What about the flesh that is between the teeth? — He quoted [in reply] the verse: While the flesh was yet between their teeth (Bamidbar 11:33). Mar ‘Ukba said: In this matter I am as vinegar is to wine compared with my father. For if my father were to eat flesh now he would not eat cheese until this very hour tomorrow, whereas I do not eat [cheese] in the same meal but I do eat it in my next meal.

This sugya notably does not offer an objective period for waiting between eating meat and dairy2, rather implying from Mar Ukva’s statement that the minimum time is until the next meal. Rambam quantifies this delay in light of the biblical reference to the meat stuck between people’s teeth:3

מי שאכל בשר בתחלה בין בשר בהמה בין בשר עוף לא יאכל אחריו חלב עד שיהיה ביניהן כדי שיעור סעודה אחרת והוא כמו שש שעות מפני הבשר של בין השינים שאינו סר בקינוח.

Someone who eats meat first [i.e. before dairy], be it beef or fowl, may not eat dairy afterwards until the time of another meal, and this is approximately six hours. This is because of the meet that remains between one’s teeth that is not removed with wiping (Rambam Forbidden Foods 9:28).

In contrast, the more lenient opinion of the Tosafot defines “next meal” literally:

לסעודתא אחריתא אכילנא – לאו בסעודתא שרגילין לעשות אחת שחרית ואחת ערבית אלא אפילו לאלתר אם סילק השולחן ובירך מותר דלא פלוג רבנן.

This does not only apply to the meals which are normally eaten after morning and evening prayers, but even immediately after eating a meal if one has cleared the table and blesses after the meal, the rabbis did not differentiate (Tos. Hullin 105a sv. Le-s’udata aharita achilana).

While R. Yosef Karo rules similar to Rambam, R. Moshe Isserlis not only cites the Tosafists opinion, but asserts, “the accepted practice in these territories is to wait eating meat one hour before eating cheese” (Y.D. 89:1).

According to the Tosafot’s literal definition of “next meal,” even the practice of waiting one hour would be more than necessary. However, I suggest that the minimum standard of one hour may still be required in accordance with the Tosafists position based on a halakhic time limit of when a meal ends.

M. Berachot 8:7 discusses the protocol for forgetting to recite birkat hamazon:

מי שאכל ושכח ולא ברך בית שמאי אומרים יחזור למקומו ויברך וב”ה אומרים יברך במקום שנזכר עד אימתי הוא מברך עד כדי שיתעכל המזון שבמעיו:

Until when may one bless [birkat hamazon]? Until the time it takes for the food to be digested in his stomach.

Unlike the ambiguous sugya in B. Hullin 105b, the Talmud in B. Berachot 53b does attempt to quantify an otherwise subjective biological condition:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף נג עמוד ב

עד אימתי הוא וכו’. כמה שיעור עכול? אמר רבי יוחנן: כל זמן שאינו רעב; וריש לקיש אמר: כל זמן שיצמא מחמת אכילתו. אמר ליה רב יימר בר שלמיא למר זוטרא, ואמרי לה רב יימר בר שיזבי למר זוטרא: מי אמר ריש לקיש הכי? והאמר רב אמי אמר ריש לקיש: כמה שיעור עכול – כדי להלך ארבע מילין! – לא קשיא: כאן באכילה מרובה, כאן באכילה מועטת.

UNTIL WHEN CAN HE SAY THE GRACE. How long does it take to digest a meal? — R. Johanan said: Until he becomes hungry again; Resh Lakish said: As long as one is thirsty on account of the meal. Said R. Yemar b. Shelemia to Mar Zutra, or, according to others R. Yemar b. Shezbi to Mar Zutra: Can Resh Lakish have said this? Has not R. Ammi said in the name of Resh Lakish: How long does it take to digest a meal? Long enough for one to walk four mil? — There is no contradiction: one statement refers to a light meal, the other to a heavy one (B. Berachot 53b).4

In this matter R. Yosef Karo assumes the more subjective measure:

עד אימתי יכול לברך, עד שיתעכל המזון שבמעיו; וכמה שיעורו, כל זמן שאינו רעב מחמת אותה אכילה, ומשעה שהתחיל להיות רעב, אע”פ שלא נתעכל עדיין לגמרי, כנתעכל לגמרי דיינינן ליה; וכן נמי לענין אכילת פירות ושתיית יין, אם אינו רעב ולא צמא ותאב לאותם פירות, יברך, אם אינו יודע לשער אם נתעכלו.

Until when may one say [birkat hamazon]? Until the food has been digested in his stomach. And what is its time? As long as the person is not hungry from that eating. And from the time he begins to become hungry again, even if the food has not been digested completely [biologically], it is as if it had been digested from his perspective…(O.C. 184:5)

However, there is precedent for quantifying the length of time it takes to walk a mil from other areas of Jewish law. Perhaps the most recognizable examples are the 18 minutes dough reminds idle before becoming hametz and forbidden on Passover,5 and certain opinions regarding the beginning of Shabbat.6 Therefore, if we assume this designation of 18 minutes to a mil, then based on B. Berachot 53b a meal is halakhically over 72 minutes after the cessation of eating.

Following this line of reasoning, when Mar Ukva establishes the delay between eating meat and dairy as “between meals,” R. Yohanan’s limit of walking four mil may serve as an upper bound – the maximum time one is considered to be connected to the previous meal – which would amount to 72 minutes, or slightly more than one hour.

To be clear, I am not advocating anyone change their custom, nor am I imposing this interpretation on any earlier halakhic authority. Rather, my intent is only to apply a halakhic analogy which may assist in quantifying the otherwise ambiguous span of “from meal to meal.” Since halakha elsewhere caps the association with a meal to 72 minutes, I suggest that metric is also applicable towards waiting between meat and dairy.

1. Truth be told, one of the biggest contributions Twitter has made to society is that in the old blogging days all that inane chatter would clog up the internet in the form of distinct blog posts. Thanks to twitter, all that nonsense is relegated to its own island – though the map should probably be redesigned, but I digress…
2. Anticipating Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the Talmud’s specification of cheese extends to all dairy products.
3. In context this verse discusses the plague brought in response to the Jews’ complaining for meat while wandering in the desert. Interestingly, the “flesh” in this verse refers to quail, which as a type of fowl, is only considered meat rabbinically. See B. Hullin 113a.
4. Rashi and Tosafot disagree over whether the time it takes one to become thirsty again is shorter than walking the distance of 4 mil (Rashi) or the reverse (Tosafot).
5. See Shulhan Aruch O.C. 459:2 who evaluates the time as slightly more than one quarter of an hour.
6. See Cohen, Alfred. “Late for Shabbat”. The Journal of Halakha and Contemporary Society. Spring 2001 Vol. 41. p. 5-61; In particular pages 20-26.

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