Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 10 September 2011 / 10 Elul 5771

The Lox and Cream Cheese Dilemma - Part 1

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
Meat and Fish
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The next time you are at a bris, as you are about to smear a nice dollop of cream cheese on your bagel and add the lox (obviously not at the fleishig brissos that are ubiquitous here in Eretz Yisrael, and rightly so[1]), look around and see if others are doing the same. You might just find that certain people (probably Sefardic or Chassidish) will refrain from doing so. Aside from those who are allergic to or can’t stand fish, there is a large portion of observant Jewry who will not eat a fish and milk combination.

“Hold your horses!” one might exclaim. “I’ve never seen any mention of this in my Chumash, or even Shulchan Aruch! Not only that, The Shulchan Aruch[2] says that the exact converse is true – that one may cook together milk and fish, for there is no issur involved, even d’rabbanan! Is this a new chumra of the week? And how exactly am I expected to go to a bris and not have bagels with lox and cream cheese? It just wouldn’t seem Jewish!”

Actually, although this is not a new chumra, he would be correct as there is no mention of such a halacha in the Shulchan Aruch at all. But, to better understand where such a shita comes from, first one must understand the halachos of mixing fish and meat.

The Shulchan Aruch[3] writes that one must be careful not to eat meat and fish together, for this mixture may cause tzara’as(very loosely translated as leprosy). It is generally accepted that this prohibition includes chicken, turkey, and all other fowl as well.

This is also the reason why in between a meat and fish course, for example on Shabbos, after the gefilte fish, we rinse our mouths (or drink a l’chaim) and eat something – kinuach v’hadacha. Sefardic custom is to also wash hands in between[4]. Some maintain it is preferable to have the fish course (usually the appetizer) before the meat course as well.

All this, just to maintain a separation between the two, and to make sure that at the time of eating one, there should not remain even a trace or residue of the other, due to the Talmudic dictum “Chamira Sakanta M’Issura”. This means that something that involves a severe health risk is considered more stringent than regular prohibitions. A good example of this involves the halacha of bittul (nullification). In a normal scenario where one encounters something non-kosher which might have accidentally fallen into a kosher mixture, the halacha, in most cases, maintains that if there is present 60 times the amount kosher against the non-kosher, the non-kosher product is considered nullified, and one is permitted to partake of the mixture. However, in a case of a severe health risk, halachically there is no nullification, as halacha is extremely cautious when it comes to people’s health.

However, our situation may not be the standard one, for some opine that there are plenty of people in the world who do mix meat and fish, and there has not been any recent news of leprosy outbreaks!

The Magen Avraham actually addresses this and advances the notion that the teva (roughly translated as environmental conditions) has since changed, and therefore one does not have worry about this.[5] Other notable authorities, including the Aruch HaShulchan and the Mishna Berura seem to accept his argument as halacha. Furthermore, there is no mention of this danger of eating meat and fish together in any of the works of the Rambam, the best known Jewish doctor.

However, most halachic authorities do not agree with this chiddush and maintain that the basic halacha follows the Shulchan Aruch and that this mixture remains forbidden.

Yet, many authorities do take the lenient opinion into consideration to allow for some leniency in certain questionable situations. They therefore maintain that nullification is applicable here, as it is not considered a true case of sakana.[6] In fact, the OU designates certain Worcestershire and steak sauces with an OU Fish designation, denoting that the fish content within is not nullified, and one may not serve it on meat. If it contains 60 times the fish content, they assume it to be nullified and do not designate it as OU Fish[7].

The bottom line is that if meat and fish would not be actually cooked together in the same pot, the majority of halachic decisors would permit it to be eaten. In fact, one may cook fish in a meat pot, as long as no actual meat remains in the pot[8]. The same would apply to cooking fish in a meaty oven[9].

“That’s all fine and dandy”, one might exclaim, “but what does that have to do with mixing fish and milk?”

Iy”H, in the next article we will discuss the connection. To be continued….

[1] See previous article “Meat for Breakfast?!”.

[2] Y”D 87, 3.

[3] Y”D 116, 2based on Gemara Pesachim 76b.

[4] See Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 173, 2) and Shulchan Aruch and Rema (Y”D 116, 3).

[5] Magen Avraham (O.C. 173, 1) Aruch HaShulchan (ibid. 2) Mishna Berura (ibid. 3).

[6] Taz (Y”D 116, 2) Pischei Teshuva (ibid. 3).

[7] Shu”t Shulchan HaLevi (vol. 1, 23, 1), from the OU’s Posek, Rav Yisrael Belsky, shlit”a.

[8] Taz (Y”D 95, 3).

[9] For more on this topic see:

Disclaimer: These are just a few basic guidelines and overview of the Halacha discussed in this article. This is by no means a complete comprehensive authoritative guide, but rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issue. One should not compare similar cases in order to rules in any real case, but should refer his questions to a competent Halachic authority.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.

L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda.

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