רֵאשִׁית בִּכּוּרֵי אַדְמָתְךָ תָּבִיא בֵּית יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא־תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמֹּו 23:19
Exod. 23:19 “The choicest of the first fruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the Lord, your God. You shall not cook a kid with the milk of its mother.” [Return to 1Sam. 7:9]
The last part of this verse is normally translated as “You shall not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.” As a result, this verse (and the other two that say this later) became the basis for many of the kosher laws. It has been interpreted to mean that dairy products and meat are not to be mixed together. My translation could mean something else: That a kid shall not be sacrificed until it is weaned, which could have taken place as early as about 21 days of age. At the least it shall not be taken to be sacrificed while it is suckling. In Exod. 22:29, God tells us that on the eighth day the first born of any animal is for the Lord. No animal should normally be weaned at that age, because its digestive system is not yet capable of accommodating anything other than milk. However, as the animal will not be living any longer than at most one day, why think about its digestive capability? So what this part of the verse may be saying is that the animal should not be sacrificed until it has digested its mother’s milk. In other words, wait a reasonable time after removing the animal from its mother’s teats. Now why is the traditional interpretation better or more valid than mine? There is no elucidation of this verse anywhere in the bible. But there are other verses in Deuteronomy which contain commands about mothers and their babies that are consistent with my interpretation.
For example, a mother bird sitting on a nest must be driven away before taking its eggs or its chicks (Deut. 22:6 and 7). Thus you do not allow the mother to witness the demise of its young or its removal while it is still with milk. To my way of thinking, my interpretation of v. 23:19 is amply supported by these verses in Deuteronomy, while the traditional interpretation is not supported anywhere in the bible.
Furthermore, I wonder when the separation of meat and dairy was instituted. Abraham served the visiting angels meat to eat and milk to drink (Gene. 18:7 and 8). If the practice was not started by Abraham, Isaac or Jacob, it certainly wasn’t instituted in Egypt. Where and when did it begin? Are there any records about this before the Babylonian exile? The bible contains no references to the practice. In fact, the scribe of Genesis 18 didn’t seem to be aware that Abraham was performing an act that would later in his time be prohibited.
There’s more: What makes milk different from meat? Why should they be separated? Milk is, after all, an animal product. It contains many of the proteins and most other components present in meat (bones are the exception). It even contains blood and fat cells. The primary difference is that milk is more liquid and meat is more solid. Is that a real difference? Is not flesh mostly water? The difference is in the percentages of solid and liquid in each. Milk is over 99% liquid and meat is about 70% liquid. How does that make them sufficiently different that they must be separated? Note also, that poultry was at one time not considered meat and could be mixed with milk. This was because hens did not give milk. However, in the ninth century of the common era the rabbis decided that poultry was also meat. If the definition of meat is so arbitrary, is not also the definition of milk? The consequence of this argument is enormous for Jews.
One final point: I wonder why the verse ends with the words “... with (or in) the milk of its mother.” It seems more natural to me that it should end with “... with the milk of a mother.” Why its mother? I believe this choice of words is key to the interpretation.
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