Can my hungry baby eat meat with milk?

November 26, 2009
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Question: I have a young baby of seven months and I have just started to wean. Like a good Jewish girl, she eats her chicken with gusto but I have been told that to ensure she continues to grow, she needs milk with every meal. So I am permitted to mix meat with milk?

Rabbi Naftali Brawer

Naftali Brawer is rabbi at Borehamwood and Elstree United Synagogue.

There are three basic age categories in relation to the observance of mitzvot.

Post bar- and batmitzvah, one is considered a full adult in the eyes of Jewish law and is therefore obligated to act accordingly.

A child between the age of about five years until bar- or batmitzvah is referred to in Jewish law as “a minor who has reached the age of chinuch” (education.) That is to say that while a child in this age category is not obligated to observe mitzvoth, it is nonetheless incumbent on the parents to train him in their observance.

Then there is the infant or very young child under the age of chinuch. For a child this young there is technically no prohibition against eating non-kosher food, nor do the parents necessarily have to restrain their child from eating forbidden food. However, the parents are not allowed to actively feed the child forbidden food even at such a young age (See Talmud Yevamot 114a and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 343). Practically, this means that parents mustn’t hand-feed the child forbidden food, although they don’t necessarily have to restrain their child from eating it.

Given the fact that your daughter is all of seven months, from a strictly Jewish legal point of view, you needn’t worry about making her wait between eating meat and milk. I would still recommend that you don’t actually mix the two together but that she eats one after the other.

There is, however, a mystical point of view that goes beyond the strict confines of Jewish law and asserts that ingesting non-kosher food at any age is harmful to the soul. Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1520 -1572) was so concerned about this that he recommended an infant only be nursed by a woman who herself eats only kosher food lest the baby imbibe even a trace of forbidden nourishment (Rema, Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 81:7.)

Whatever you choose to do, it is worth bearing in mind that children are far more astute than we give them credit for. At a remarkably young age, they already start to absorb the subliminal messages we give off. It is not for nothing that the rabbis saw the Jewish home as the greatest of Jewish institutions and the Jewish mother as the most influential of Jewish educators. Make the most of the time you have with your daughter now to lay the foundations for her life as a committed and passionate Jew.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain

Jonathan Romain is rabbi at Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue.

It is great to hear that things are going so well. We tend to assume that is going to be the case, but as we know from the Bible, the survival of both babies and mothers after birth was not automatic then, while even today nothing can be taken for granted, as many readers will testify.

As for your daughter’s eating habits, I cannot see any real dilemma here. Of course, she needs to eat nutritiously, and that is helped enormously if she actually likes the food you give her and devours her chicken. However, no child of that age has to have meat at every meal, and so it is well within a balanced diet to alternate meat meals and milk meals (or a two-to-one ratio depending on what you feel is best).

It is certainly true that ritual laws can be overturned in order to preserve life, but this does not apply to your situation. She can keep kosher and grow healthily without any conflict.

Something that should exercise you more is how, when she is older and begins to ask questions, you will explain to her why you have adopted a dietary regime that most other people in the world do not observe.

The separation of meat and milk stems from the ban on cooking a kid in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23.19). With a child’s piercing logic, she may well point out that the odds against the milk we drink having come from the mother of the meat we eat are infinitesimally small (and that chicken is fowl, not meat, and should not be in the same category, anyway).

One answer is to agree and say that this is the way that tradition has developed for historical reasons (just as we drive on the left hand side of the road, whereas most others are on the right) and that the real object is not to fulfil that particular verse but to achieve other goals.

These would include personal identity, communal bonding and also a thrice-daily reminder of the ethical behaviour we should pursue. To put it colloquially, it is not just what goes into our mouth that is important, but also what comes out: there is no point keeping kosher but telling lies or spreading gossip.

Keeping kosher is the easy bit, teaching her to know why and to take it seriously is the real task.

    Last updated: 10:40am, November 26 2009