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Rabbi Yisroel Langer, cRc Dayan
Chazal take many measures to ensure that the prohibition of eating basar b’cholov, meat and milk, not be transgressed. Perhaps the reason why chazal are extra cautious with regard to this prohibition more so than other prohibitions is because the Torah places an emphasis on the kedusha of klal yisroel with regards to this mitzvah. The possuk says, “You are a holy nation unto Hashem, do not cook meat and milk together” (see Issur V’heter 31:20). By Torah law, the only time a person transgresses the prohibition of eating basar b’cholov is if the meat and milk were cooked together prior to eating them. However, Chazal forbade us from eating meat and milk together even if they weren’t cooked together. Chazal even went as far as to make a gezeira (enactment) not to eat meat at a table that has dairy on it, and not to eat dairy at a table that has meat on it. This gezeira is the subject of our discussion.
The mishnah in Chulin (104b) brought by the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 88:1) states that it is forbidden to eat meat or poultry on a table that has dairy on it. Shulchan Aruch (ibid) explains that the reason for this gezeira is that we are afraid lest one forget himself and eat the meat and dairy food simultaneously. This gezeira applies to one who is eating alone, as well as to one who is eating in the company of others. The poskim (Badei Hashulchan 88 s.k. 6) even prohibit one who is eating meat from having a closed package of dairy or a closed bottle of milk on the table. However, one who has finished eating his meat (or poultry) but has not yet waited the required 6 hours, may still eat parve at a table that contains dairy products. Additionally, this gezeira is only applicable to one who is eating. One who is merely setting up foods may place the meat and dairy foods side by side on the same table (being careful that they don’t touch) (S.A. ibid).
Many times family members or friends will want to sit down and eat a meal together with some members desiring to eat fleishigs and others milchigs. How can this be done in a halachically permissible way?
1) One permissible method is if the dairy products are out of hands reach from the person eating meat, and the meat products are out of hands reach from the person eating milk products. In this situation chazal were not concerned that a person may forget himself and eat from the “wrong” foods (Pischei Teshuvah 88:3 citing Maharshal).
2) Each person eating on his own tablecloth or placemat will serve as a reminder for the one eating fleishigs not to eat from the dairy food and vice-versa. If one eats his fleishigs over a placemat and the other eats over the bare table that is also a sufficient reminder for both of them not to eat from the wrong food. However, the poskim point out that if it’s customary for these individuals to eat on placemats all the time, then the placemats cannot serve as a reminder (Yad Avraham see also Badei Hashulchan 88:16-17).
3) A third permissible method is to place a “heker” in between the one eating fleishigs and the one eating milchigs. A “heker” is defined as an object which is not usually placed on the table (or at least on that part of the table). Food, such as a loaf of bread, can also serve as a heker provided that nobody at the table will eat from it. (There is a dispute amongst the poskim whether the loaf must be whole- see Pri Migadim S.D. 88:8.) The heker must be large enough to be noticeable.
The first permissible method (“out of reach”) may be used whether one is eating alone or in the company of others. With regard to the second and third methods (“placemats and “heker”) there is a dispute amongst the poskim whether these can be used when one is eating alone. The Chochmas Adam permits these latter methods whether one is eating meat in the company of others eating dairy, or if one is eating meat alone while have dairy on the table. However, the Darchei Teshuvah quotes a number of poskim who only permit these latter methods when one is eating in the company of others, and not when one is eating alone. (If others are present at the table, even should one forget himself and reach out for the “forbidden” food, his friend will remind him that it is forbidden to him.) For a final ruling in this matter one should consult their rav. (Note: the Badei Hashulchan 88:14, holds that eating with a minor has the same status as one eating alone and is subject to the above dispute).
The only time chazal were concerned that one would take from another person’s dairy food while eating fleishigs or vice-versa is if the other person is a good friend or family member (even if they aren’t on the best of terms). However, two strangers may eat at the same table with one eating his milchigs and the other eating his fleishigs without the need for any of the above heterim, as there is no concern that one would take from the other’s food.
Eating With Non-Jews
If one is sitting next to his non-Jewish friend who is eating non-kosher food there is no concern that a Jew will come to eat from that food since it is always forbidden to him (except for non-kosher bread where we are concerned, see Shach 88:2). However, if the non-Jew is eating kosher food (that is dairy, and the Jew is eating meat or vice-versa) and one is friendly with him to the point where he would feel comfortable taking from his food, this gezeira would be in effect. (Note: one could use the first method “out of reach”. The latter two methods would be subject to the dispute between the Chochmos Adam and the other poskim quoted by the Darchei Teshuvah).
Published in Parsha Encounters, Pinchas 5767